Frugal is cool.
Less is, like, way more.
There’s even a book called “Shabby Chic.”
Voluntary simplicity is a bona fide trend of the ‘90s, and it’s growing. Faith Popcorn devotes a whole chapter to the subject in her best seller, “Clicking.” So does “Trends 2000” author Gerald Celente.
Bookseller shelves bulge with titles such as “Simple Abundance,” “Keep It Simple” and “Lessons of St. Francis: How To Bring Simplicity and Spirituality into Your Daily Life.”
Another 14 new books with “simplicity” in the title are on their way.
Cecile Andrews saw it coming. “In 1989, I scheduled a workshop on voluntary simplicity, and only four people signed up,” recalls the former Seattle community-college administrator.
“We tried again three years later and got 175. The next quarter, we had over 200.”
That’s when Andrews resigned her full-time position to nurture the movement through workshops and newspaper columns. Thursday evening she’ll read from her book “The Circle of Simplicity: Return to the Good Life” (HarperCollins, $20) at Auntie’s.
Friday she’ll offer a free lecture at the Deaconess Health and Education Center, and follow that Saturday with a workshop titled “The Riches of Simplicity.”
Voluntary simplicity isn’t new. Even Francis of Assisi followed a path worn smooth centuries earlier.
So why is cutting back suddenly hot, particularly here in the Northwest?
Two reasons, says Andrews.
“One is the environment,” she explained during a recent telephone interview. “‘When people realize how consumerism affects the planet, it gives (the philosophy) a sense of immediacy.
“The other thing,” she says, “is that we may have a good economy now, but most people don’t feel secure; they worry everything could change overnight. Voluntary simplicity encourages a sense of security.”
Andrews, who writes a monthly column for The Seattle Times, doesn’t concentrate on the minutia of frugality, as do books like “365 Ways to Simplify Your Work Life.”
Nor does she accept the role of “simplicity police.”
“I once got asked by the producers of ‘Oprah’ to go through somebody’s house and show the owners what they were doing wrong,” Andrews says.
“I told them that’s not what this is about. You don’t walk into someone’s kitchen and say, ‘You shouldn’t be using paper towels.”’ For Andrews, 55, voluntary simplicity isn’t a formula; it’s getting people to think about what really brings them happiness.
“The quote I use most often in my workshops is by Thoreau, who wrote, ‘I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately … and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.’ “To me,” says Andrews, “the reward of voluntary simplicity is living deeply, having a sense that you’re really involved in life.”
Less work, less rushing, less debt; more time for family, friends, community, nature and the spiritual side of life.
Of course, not everyone gets it, which explains articles like a Wall Street Journal piece that ran under the headline, “How to Sell More to Those Who Think It’s Cool to Be Frugal.”
Instead of spending our way to simplicity, Andrews recommends participating in “simplicity study circles” - small gatherings where people discuss things like the relationship between consumption and contentment.
“Most of us are comfortable talking about restaurants and movies,” says Andrews, “but we don’t go further. We seldom ask others how they really feel about life.
“In simplicity circles, people talk about their lack of time, lack of meaning in their lives, and what they can do about it.”
Anyone can start a simplicity circle, she says.
“You don’t need training, you don’t need to be a good group leader, and there’s no need to join an organization or pay dues.”
Andrews’ book offers 10 weekly agendas to get simplicity circles started.
One session focuses on reducing consumption. Another examines ways to build community.
Each session includes time for discussion, consideration of alternatives and developing a plan of action.
Andrew’s goal is twofold: to help individuals discover more meaningful, enjoyable lives, and to weaken the power of greed to set America’s priorities.
“People say, ‘If everybody consumes less, we’ll ruin the economy.’ “Well, I don’t think this is such a great economy,” says Andrews.
“Compared to other industrial nations, we’re No.1 in big homes, but we’re also No. 1 in homelessness. We’re No. 1 in billionaires, but No. 1 in children and elderly living in poverty, too.
“And look what overconsumption has done to the environment.”
Andrews imagines a 21st century where people have shorter work weeks and stronger communities, where people support local businesses and find time to help their neighbors. It’s the sort of world she created for herself when she quit her job six years ago.
Now Andrews hopes to nudge the rest of America in that direction, too - one simplicity circle at a time.
, DataTimes MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. Simplicity author Seattle author Cecile Andrews will read from “The Circle of Simplicity: Return to The Good Life” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Auntie’s Bookstore, 402 W. Main. At 7 p.m. Friday she’ll offer a free lecture at the Deaconess Health and Education Center, 910 W. Fifth. Then Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Andrews will moderate a workshop titled “The Riches of Simplicity” at the same location. The cost is $10. The lecture and workshop are sponsored by Creating the Future, Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, and Deaconess Medical Center. For more information, call 448-9142. 2. Information sources For more information on voluntary simplicity, contact: The New Roadmap Foundation, P.O. Box 15981, Seattle, WA 98115; (206) 527-0437; www.slnet.com/cip/ nrm on the Internet. Simple Living Journal, 2319 N. 45th St., Box 149, Seattle, WA 98103; www.m2n.com:200/cip/slj/ default.htm Simple Living Network, www.slnet.com Northwest Environment Watch, 1402 Third Ave., Suite 1127, Seattle, WA 98101-2118; (888) 643-9820; www.iglou.com/why/resource/ r1097.htm The Center for a New American Dream, 156 College St., Burlington, VT 06401; (802) 862-6762; www.newdream.org Seeds of Simplicity, P.O. Box 9956, Glendale, CA 91226; (818) 247-4332.