My earliest memories of my grandmother are of a beautiful lady in a white. dress with a light grey shawl. As a matter of fact, I remember her only in these clothes; I don’t recall seeing her in any other dress.

Those were times of great simplicity. It wasn’t just us, everyone we knew lived like this.

We had a comfortable lifestyle as children as my parents were fairly well off. However, I don’t remember having too many clothes in my childhood, other than the school uniform. I even wore cast-aways from my elder brother, because that’s what people did in those days. Even toys were passed down as kids grew older. 

We had one telephone and one car. In his entire life, my father bought only two cars:an Austin A40 and, later, after selling this, an Austin A 70. Going out to eat was a rare treat. Movies? Maybe once or twice a year. 

There was no air pollution in those days, at least in Lucknow and New Delhi, where I spent much of my childhood and  teen years. There could be a little fog on very cold winter days and perhaps, on Diwali evening when children let off fire crackers. We read reports of air pollution and acid rain in Los Angeles, USA but they didn’t really register with us in India as never saw anything like that during my youth.

Things have really changed over the last three decades or so, when air pollution levels have gone through the roof. Significantly, during the same decades, we have moved towards a mass consumption economy. The old principles of simple living, that worked well for thousands of years, have been thrown overboard. 

It seems  everyone is buying more and more goods, not just in India, but all over the world. Buying more goods means producing more goods and this requires more manufacturing. More vehicles on the road means more roads, and more pollution. People now buy things they don’t really need, like more mobile phones for every member of the family, more tablets, more laptops. Clothes are purchased and thrown away in a year or two, making their way to some garbage dump, somewhere in the world.

People talk about reducing green house gases or producing more renewable energy, but they hardly ever talk about the root cause of our problems:overconsumption of goods and services, the rapid move away from simple living. Huge solar farms are being set up, and this is, no doubt a good thing. However, the photovoltaics that form the basis of solar farms have a life span of only 25 years or so; does anyone worry about the waste that will be generated 25 years from now?

How can we simplify our lives? As always, Om Swamiji shows us the way. During one of his interactions, he mentioned that he has essentially two sets of clothing: the robe he was wearing, and a black robe. After five years of use, he is thinking of changing one robe, because it shows some deterioration following the havans. Yet, he always looks radiant because radiance comes from inner purity, not from the clothes that we wear.

How environmentally friendly is your own life style?Here is a simple quiz, offered as a self-evaluation tool.

Have you right-sized your home to meet your needs, not your desires?
Do you respect your purchases, keeping things for a long time?
Do you eat what your body needs, rather than just following your desires?
Do you avoid wasting food, in the home and when eating out?
Do you make your clothes last a long time, not just throwing them away when fashion change?
Do you keep gadgets like mobile phones, tablets and laptops for a long time?
Do you take active steps to simplify your life?
Do you respect Mother Nature, taking as little from it as possible?
Do you respect your own body, keeping it in good running condition?
Do you avoid   returning things that you buy, to avoid the environmental costs of re-processing?

Give your self a score of 1 for each positive response. 

I must confess, I didn’t do all that great on this self-assessment score; there is plenty of room for improvement in every front.  I don’t respect my body all that much and have very little immunity against junk food, especially of the Indian variety. I  drive a bigger car than I need, but both my wife and I lead very simple lives. We mostly buy things that we need, and then look for the best quality so that they last a long time. We rarely succumb to peer pressure. We do have electronic gadgetry in our house, but we don’t change our mobile devices at the drop of a hat; we wait till they stop working.

We do believe that simple living is the answer to most of our environmental problems. If nothing else, simple living gives us peace of mind, and that alone is worth a fortune.

We do believe that simple living is the answer to many of the world’s problems. If nothing else, it gives us peace of mind and that, alone, is worth a fortune.