September 03, 2003


Donald Norman, author of The Design of Everyday Things has an essay in progress on his web page entitled "The Complexity of Everyday Life" in which he ponders the proliferation of gadgetry and associated maintenance needs in our lives.

And yet his conclusion is that the problem will only be addressed through further complexity. First through social interactions with a new service industry aimed at maintaining domestic automation systems, and second through another layer of gadgetry aimed at integrating the various thingummies into a single supposedly self-maintaining whole.

He says "The increase in complexity is increasing, in part because of the natural, inevitable trend of technology to put together ever-more powerful solutions to problems we never realized we had."

And in so saying, I think he has identified another potential trend. Isn't it likely that people will rebel against the ever-increasing array of must-have thingamabobs?

This rebellion is already happening on a semi-fringe basis in the guise of the Voluntary Simplicity movement.

Becky and I became aware of this movement back in the early 90s when we read Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin's excellent book Your Money or Your Life. While that book is primarily about transforming your relationship with money, that transformation inexorably leads to awareness that time is money and that when you buy a thing you also commit to the effort it will take to maintain, repair, use, and eventually dispose of that thing.

Our epiphany upon reading YMoYL helped us to stop being slaves to our manufactured desires. We learned to live within our means, paid off our credit cards, and bought a house.

And in buying a house, took a step backwards into a slavery to material things that we had moved away from.

Buying the house wasn't a mistake. Even with the time it takes from our lives, we still come out ahead between not paying rent and the absurd tax benefits to giving lots of money to our bank in interest. But it's caused us to lose ground in the battle between more stuff and more time.

We're starting to regroup and work on these issues again so I'm starting a new category here for some of the things that we want to remember and share.

(Norman link via Seedlings & Sprouts)

Posted by jeffy at September 3, 2003 01:44 PM

Jeff, you might want to check out for more info/resources (if you haven't already) - I believe it is affiliated w/YMoYL

Posted by: Tracy at September 4, 2003 07:16 PM

Thanks. Great insight. I agree. It is indeed a battle between stuff and time. A battle that requires wisdom and strategy.

Posted by: Julie at September 5, 2003 12:32 AM

My first encounter with the simple living movement
was through the simple living magazine. It looked
like "simple living" had already been corporately
co-opted as a way to sell "simple" stuff. And
there seems to be no end of "simple stuff" that
is really just "more stuff".

Take a look at,,
and One click at each of those
sites, and it takes you to a place where you can
buy some more stuff. Makes me suspicious.

Simple living should never cost you anything.

Posted by: at September 5, 2003 01:13 PM

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

I am, indeed aware of the Simple Living Network (, and while it's true that there are opportunities to consume on their site (I'm wearing a T-shirt from one of their hosted sites right now ;-), they're a great source of information and inspiration.

I share my anonymous commenter's skepticism about organizations that seem to be using the S-word as a guise for further money grubbing, but I think that site in particular isn't guilty of that sin. Can't speak for the others (though maybe in a future entry I will do the research)

Posted by: jeffy at September 5, 2003 05:50 PM

Oops. I didn't mean to be anonymous.

Posted by: Dan L at September 7, 2003 01:48 AM