Many people we know can’t imagine why we chose to come and live the life that we do here in Extremadura. I tend to waffle, offering some trite homily about seeking a simpler life, or una vida mas tranquila if it happens to be a Spaniard who’s asking. They look unconvinced, and probably wonder from whom or what we ran away.
The real reason behind my boiler-plate baloney is that I don’t have a cogent answer. Maybe it’s time I tried to work it out. I’ll start with what our presence here is not about.
For a start, it’s not asceticism, or any other religious or spiritual quest. I’m not against luxury, technology or wealth, and not here for for any moral or ethical reasons.
Neither am I here through poverty. We certainly wouldn’t claim to be rich, but we’re not forced to find a more efficient and cheap way to live; we do so by choice.
We’re not environmentalists, climate change zealots, animal-righteous or any of the many varieties of tree-hugger, either. If there’s such a thing as an inactivist, I’m it.
So why then?
Better health and lower stress.
Although I only have empirical and anecdotal evidence, I’m convinced that I suffer less from minor ailments than I ever did. The winters are no longer a six-month hackathon. Weight is well under control, and migraines are a thing of the past. Fingers crossed that it should continue.
More time to follow personal interests and goals.
Individually or together we’ve both had time to resurrect past hobbies (photography, painting, reading, cooking and preserving, running, sewing, DIY, crafts) and take up new ones (writing, vegetable gardening, birdwatching, hiking, cycling and more).
Differentiating between what you actually do, and what you think you do.
I used to sail. Or did I? Back in blighty, for a few years I kept a yacht in the marina at Chichester harbour. Far from some playboy status symbol, this was a six metre tub of 1960s fibreglass and rusting galvanised plate, and smelt vaguely of mildew and old petrol. In my last year of ownership I spent many a wet weekend underneath the hull, scraping and painting in the salty muck next to the slipway. I spent over £2000 in mooring fees, plus slipway fees, insurance, paint and other materials. I got cuts and abrasions and ruined clothes and shoes. I sailed her twice that year. Truthfully, I used to spend my time not sailing.
Differentiating between what you need and what you think you need.
We now know that we don’t need:
- A freezer, a dishwasher or a microwave oven.
- A fixed phone line (internet is via WiFi); we need mobile phones only for emergencies or odd situations (30€/yr is a typical spend on mine).
- Paid-for sources of music, TV or films. The free ones are more than adequate.
- Much electricity (largely because we don’t have a freezer, dishwasher or microwave). The cheapest 3.5kW supply is more than enough.
- Mains water and sewerage; the well and septic tank work fine for our needs.
- Bin collections – we fill a bin bag once a fortnight, and recycle everything else.
- A fancy car with sat-nav, electric windows, alloy wheels and central locking – or the fancy maintenance and depreciation costs that come with it.
- Smartphones, whether or not there’s an App for that.
- Hypermarkets. We shop locally, trade eggs and vegetables, and grow food – not because it’s cheaper (it isn’t), but because we know where it came from, and we always have what we have chosen to grow. It’s also seasonal.
- Debt – because we live within our means.
So, how do I encapsulate all this for the occasional inquisitor? Surely somebody must have thought this way before, and pigeon-holed it into a neat off-the-peg philosophy?
Simplified living has roots going back to the ancient Orient, supported by big cheeses such as Zarathustra, Buddha and Confucius. But many of the best-known ideologies started with the Greeks, so I will too, with the aid of my good friend Wikipedia.
Diogenes used a simple lifestyle to criticise the values and institutions of what he claimed was a corrupt society. That sounds close … but hang on. Diogenes set his sights on living virtuously. I don’t want to be accused of virtue (not that it’s ever happened so far). Besides, Diogenes lived in an earthenware jar, owned only a lamp, and lived on a diet of onions. Diogenes was a nutcase.
Antisthenes, a pupil of Socrates, proposed that we should all live in agreement with nature (OK so far). People, he said, could gain happiness by rigorous training (!) and by rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, luxury, sex, and recognition (err … ). Instead, they must lead a simple life free from all possessions. To heck with that, though at least there’s no talk of onions.
Epicurus upheld the untroubled life as the route to happiness. Specifically, he reckoned that the troubles of maintaining an extravagant lifestyle tend to outweigh the pleasure of having it. He concluded that what is needed for happiness, bodily comfort, and life in general should be maintained at the minimum cost, while all things beyond what is necessary for these should either be limited by moderation or completely avoided. Unlike Hedonists, Epicureans don’t continuously seek out pleasure, they concentrate instead on cutting out the pains, irritants and problems in life, then finding satisfaction in what remains. That sounds pretty darn close to me.
Am I ready yet to come out and declare for this lifestyle choice of Epicureanism? To proclaim myself this kind of glass-half-empty Hedonist? Maybe not quite.
For the moment, though, I will admit to being epicurious.