Young Adults Embracing a Simpler Life
Sandi Garcia was living her dream -- or so she thought. With a marketing degree from the University of Wyoming, she moved to Florida, started climbing the corporate ladder and made good money.
There was only one problem: She was miserable. Up at 6 a.m. and getting home in time to watch the late-night news, she often worked weekends too.
“I got burnt out pretty quickly,” said Garcia, 26, who longed for a life that was “calmer and simpler.” She found it back in her native Cheyenne, Wyo., where she now has plenty of time to ski, volunteer at an animal shelter, and enjoy her friends and family.
Experts say Garcia is one of a growing number of Americans -- particularly people in their 20s and 30s -- who are making a conscious decision to slow down and cut back on all that overwhelms them.
“It’s true among people of all ages. But it’s much stronger -- much more notable -- among the younger generations,” said Bruce Tulgan, a Connecticut-based consultant who tracks generational relationships and trends in the workplace.
They’re simplifying at home.
Pierce Mattie, 28, a New Yorker, recently sold his car, moved from a huge apartment into something smaller, and gave away much of his wardrobe.
“It feels great,” he said, noting that having “so much junk I don’t use” was stressing him out.
And they’re dramatically changing their work lives.
Gregg Steiner, 29, of Sherman Oaks, escaped the busy high-tech world to work at home and sold his beach home near Malibu. He says he grew tired of never having time to spend there.
“You’d think I would have walked out and sat by the water or swam, but I barely did,” he said. He also couldn’t stand commuting two hours a day.
“I hate traffic. I hate dressing in a suit. I hate sitting under fluorescent lighting,” said Steiner, who now does customer service via the Web for Pinxav, his family’s diaper-rash ointment business.
Tulgan says all those gripes are common for young professionals. “The idea of working in a particular building with certain hours seems ridiculous to them.”
But he and other generational experts say that doesn’t mean that young people are lazy. They just want flexibility.
“It’s much more likely they’re going to tell you that they’d like more control over their schedule -- and more time for the life part of life,” said Tulgan, who wrote “Managing Generation X.”
Michael Muetzel, an Atlanta-based author who has studied twentysomethings and wrote “They’re Not Aloof ... Just Generation X,” puts it this way:
“I might refer to it as a movement toward family and social activities. Why not put your trust and resources in things that you absolutely can trust?”
Indeed, trust is an issue for many young Americans. Although they’re big into volunteering at a local level, they have little faith in such institutions as Social Security. And given recent scandals, many don’t believe in the political process or corporate America.
“A lot of us saw our parents or knew other people’s parents who were laid off. There was loyalty to the company and people were getting huge salaries -- and all of a sudden it disappeared,” said Garcia, who now works for the Wyoming Business Council.
So although their parents’ generation may have focused on trying to “have it all,” many in Gen X and Y are taking a step back to reassess and prioritize.
“I see my parents; they just worked so much -- and I don’t think they had much chance to enjoy stuff the way they would have liked to,” Garcia said.
Katherine Josephs said she too had to do some soul-searching.
The 29-year-old journalist from Miami worked for Money magazine in New York but, after a road trip to the Pacific Northwest, quit her job. She found a part-time job and moved in with her parents while figuring out what to do next.
Later this year, she’ll head to a small town in Colorado to write and get a degree in ecopsychology, a field that explores the connection between the environment and personal well-being.
For Brandon Hamm, the wish to cut back on obligations came when he realized that even volunteer activities at his church were starting to feel like work.
“I wasn’t receiving the same joy I had once felt,” said Hamm, 28, who lives in suburban Philadelphia. “I also noticed that most of my interpersonal relationships were very shallow.”
Meanwhile, Jess Bowers, 23, who works at a small college in Baltimore, says she needed to “unplug a little” to allow brainstorming time for her true passion -- writing.
Now she volunteers at a riding stable, does yoga daily and spends her lunch hours reading or writing poetry instead of catching up on work.
Following a tradition that an Eastern religion professor suggested, she’s even started using the no-frills ritual of using the same bowl for each evening meal, then washing it immediately after finishing.
Although some religious faiths have long touted the virtues of a simpler life, researchers are also finding evidence of positive effects.
“The upshot is that people who value money and image and status are actually less happy,” said Tim Kasser, a psychologist at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., who has researched the phenomenon.
Those who weren’t focused on possessions, fame and fortune were, overall, more content with life and felt better too.
“We found this in people from age 10 to 80 -- all around the world,” said Kasser, author of “The High Price of Materialism.” He also heads the research committee for the Simplicity Forum, a group of authors, speakers and leaders in the movement.
Some refer to it as “voluntary simplicity,” also the title of a 1981 book that some say is the movement’s bible.
Garcia has never heard of the movement or the book. Like many others her age, she just listened to her gut and found the simpler life she craved in Wyoming, the state she once wanted to escape.
“Someone told me that you can never appreciate what you have until you’ve left,” she said. “I never thought that was true -- but now I really do.”