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100% life: irene routté

08/01/12 , , , ,

The idea of “simple living” was first introduced to me when I moved to Seattle four years ago. At the time, straight out of college, the idea only meant living a fulfilling life, using as little as possible. I think that living in this manner appealed to me because it stood in contrast to the hyper competitiveness and highly privileged experience I was a part of as a Princeton student. For all I gained in college, I felt I had lost part of myself  as well. I was so focused on the next best thing, whether that was a social opportunity or a job opportunity, without knowing if that was what I really wanted. So when the chance came around for the experience to “live simply,” I jumped. For two years I lived in cooperative communities while working for a community based organization. The first year I earned six hundred dollars a month; four hundred dollars went to rent, one hundred to communal food shopping, leaving one hundred dollars a month for personal expenses. The following year I earned a bit more, but again gave the majority to communal expenses, leaving a small portion for personal expenses.

Adjusting to this way of living was stressful at times (figuring out how to cover unexpected medical costs), but it did not seem difficult. I was immediately surrounded by other women who were invested in living the same way. We weren’t afraid of the unexpected because we knew that together we could find some solution. It did require me to work concertedly on being inwardly honest and outwardly vulnerable; to be honest with those desires and needs and be vulnerable enough to ask others to help you meet those needs. This is how I see simple living and building community as intertwined. Allowing for honesty and vulnerability allows you to see that you might not need something but someone. This has been a genuine lesson for me as I try to build meaningful relationships, create community and continue to see the world for all its possibility, especially when resources are short.

Those two years really framed the way I want to make my lifestyle choices. Granted the initial framing was done while working with a meager income. But the experience influenced more than just my spending and consumption habits. I began to really define for myself what living simply and genuinely in community meant. Simple living, at its base, may be a view towards consumption; one’s wants versus one’s needs. What it’s not is about accepting poverty or ignoring the benefits of building wealth. Rather it is about defining how wealth, any wealth, influences and impacts your actions and decisions (maybe instead it should be called living deliberately). This deliberateness in my everyday life allowed me to let go of the unnecessary desires that foster jealousy, breed bitterness and create anxiety.

Finally having this intention allows us to be open to the present pleasures and joys we might have become numb to. One of my favorite authors, bell hooks, describes the experience of simplicity in her book All About Love: New Visions:

Living simply is a crucial part of healing. As we begin to simplify, to let the clutter go, whether it is clutter of desire or the actual material clutter and incessant busyness that fills every space, we recover our capacity to be sensual. When the asleep body, numb and deadened to the world of the senses, awakens it is a resurrection that reveals to us that love is stronger than death. (219)

Living simply gives us the power to engage the world, every object, every person, at a whole new level. My original (maybe romanticized) idea of it has developed and will continue to develop I’m sure. Simple living isn’t a lifestyle that you can just automatically create. It’s a perspective from which to view the world.

Sometimes I also think of living simply as a meditation. It is a meditation, a practice perhaps in the joy of sensuality, that I can, when I remember, practice every minute of every day.

I can meditate on what I can let go of today; whether it is a material item or a negative thought.

I can meditate on what I can pay more attention to in this very moment; whether it is my breathing, or the way the light reflects off the glass I am drinking from.

I can meditate on what the most beautiful thing is within my hand’s reach.

I can meditate on that beauty right now and realize the joy I find in its simplicity.


In 11th grade Civics class, the teacher called on Irene and asked her if she would rather live in a rational world or a passionate world. Her response was the passionate one. Irene hopes that every day she can bring passion and more importantly, compassion to every single little thing she does.

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