Posted by: Stephen Paul | August 22, 2007

Downscaling life

This week’s ” You Can Save the World:  Simple Actions You Can Take”

Downscale. I recently read in a local paper that developers are selling 4,000-5,000 square foot, zero-energy-use homes on a near-by mountain. I was delighted to see that the builders are incorporating that high level of efficiency, but wouldn’t it make better environmental and economic sense to buy a smaller house instead? (The average house size has increased significantly in our lifetime.). You would automatically reduce furnishing expenses, your upkeep costs, your mortgage payment…and you would save more energy.

When the time comes to make any new or replacement purchase, seriously consider trading down. For example, trade in your current vehicle for a smaller, cheaper, or more efficient one. Better yet, why not move closer to your workplace, your kids’ schools, and the services you use so you can walk or bike, instead of driving at all.

This week think smaller…and think less…any time you have a choice. 


  1. I recently moved from Minneapolis, Minnesota, to live in Bangkok, Thailand. It is a lesson for me in the art of living.
    Thailand is a remarkable country. Something like 95% of the Thai population are professing Buddhists who, at least nominally, embrace and celebrate the Thai King’s “sufficiency economy” philosophy — which aims at basing the whole economy on modesty, simplicity, environmental gentleness, local activity, reduced dependence upon external resources, minimizing personal consumption, and practicing spirituality. This philosophy is very close to Stephen’s philosophy of simplicity, harmony and respectfulness.
    The irony, however, is that Bangkok is one of the most automobile-dominated (and hence energy-inefficient) cities I have ever seen, and it is also replete with materialist consumerism — not to mention environmental damage — and ruthless, competitive behavior. In addition, the need to practice the gentle “sufficiency economy” ideology is actually one of the rhetorical justifications used by the military government to justify the coup d’tat that brought them in to power. Voluntary simplicity promoted by the military force!
    My point is that, even in a country (or a city) that is dominated by institutions and people who are ostensibly committed to the values of simplicity, harmony and respectfulness, it takes real effort and serious intelligence to find a feasible way to practice these virtues in day-to-day living. Believing in these ideas is the first step; after that it takes hard work and disciplined thought.
    Against that backdrop I must share a counter-observation … an observation of hope. In the midst of frenetic and apparently materialist Bangkok, I never cease to be humbled by the sight of poor food vendors on the side of the street who smile spontaneously, and who appear to have sufficient resources to emit joy, despite having (what, by my standards) almost no material wealth at all.

  2. Steve
    I’m so glad you are writing this blog. The ideas you present here, they’re not big, fat, honking ideas, they don’t shake the world, they don’t curve trajectories of states, they don’t spill blood of revolutionaries — but they do alter the fabric of the real lives we lead. It reminds me of a favorite silk tablecloth my mother had when I was young. I loved the weave of the cloth, which was tight and nappy, but I most resonated with its colors. As I was looking at it one day, I realized that what I loved most was a single strand of turquoise silk that appeared for only a short course, then disappeared again for several inches of the cloth. That tiny little spirit line in the cloth was a huge contributor to making the entire thing precious for me.

    That’s how I think of these little things, like mowing with a hand mower, or planting a garden, or a simple act of affection. They’re simple, inconsequential threads in themselves, but they change the feel of the whole cloth.

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