Simplicity has its price

A newly launched magazine wants to help you simplify your life. Step one: Be prepared to pull out the plastic.

March 26, 2000|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,Sun Staff

Almost two decades ago, self-help gurus began touting voluntary simplicity as the path to well- being. Stressed out by work? Quit your job.

Too much stuff? Recycle.

Feeling out of touch? Stop and smell the roses.

But simplicity isn't that simple, it seems. Thousands of books ("Simplify Your Life"), Web sites (The Simple Living Network: and bumper-sticker mantras ("Live Simply So That Others May Simply Live") have proliferated to help consumers understand how they can be more like that Thoreau guy and simplify, simplify, simplify.

Real Simple, a new magazine out this month, is the latest offering. Targeted at well-educated working women in their 30s and 40s with median household incomes of $62,000, the magazine covers the basics -- life, home, body and soul. The slick minimalist publication is defined by editor Susan Wyland as "dedicated to helping you simplify every aspect of your life. ... It's about quality, not quantity."

Real Simple's stories are brief and explore such topics as how to wash your face, how to clean your bathroom, how to cook a fabulous one-dish supper and how to display a flower in a jar instead of a vase.

There are few men, and even fewer children, mentioned or pictured in the magazine. Perhaps neither is simple enough. Or maybe they're too simple. We aren't told.

Mostly, though, Real Simple ($2.95) is about stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. Mostly expensive stuff. Sumptuous photo layouts come accompanied by prices for objects and information on where to buy them.

Enjoy life's small pleasures by having a cup of tea. (Jasmine Pearls tea: $224 per pound; cup and saucer: $30)

Dress for work in the new, basic clothing. (Wool T-shirt: $365; knit sheer cardigan: $119)

Take a nap. (Cashmere throw: $295)

Then there are the ads. Some 112 of Real Simple's 216 pages are ads, a fact it brags about in its press kit. We're not talking about ads for beans and bulgur either. The magazine hawks mahogany fainting couches, platinum chokers and sheets embellished with a tiny little man playing polo.

Wyland defends the seemingly commercial, consumerist bent of her magazine by saying that one need not go live in the woods to live the simple life.

"There are a lot of different versions of simplicity," she says. "I don't think people want to simplify their lives if it means they can't have anything. What we want to show people is that simple can be beautiful."

Betsy Taylor agrees with that notion. She is executive director of the Center for the New American Dream, a national nonprofit group based in Takoma Park that advocates simplicity.

But she detests how Real Simple equates simplicity with stuff.

"The idea that you can buy simplicity is ludicrous," she says. "Simplicity is really about loving something more than you do 'more.' The idea that buying the products advertised in this magazine will make your life real or simple is so Madison Avenue! How much more are people going to have to work to make enough money to go out and buy these things?"

Hmmm. Good question. But way too complicated to think about right now.

Instead, unclutter your mind by turning to Page 143 of Real Simple and contemplating the simple beauty of a bowl filled with six blush-tipped roses floating in water.

The price: $1,130, please.

Which raises one more simple question: Will that be cash or credit?

Simple differences

Confused about the difference between voluntary simplicity and the simplicity being touted in the new magazine Real Simple? Here's our simplistic take on the topic:

Voluntary simplicity

Buy less

Clean out closets

Pay off debt

Don't eat out

Be spiritual



Buy more, better stuff

Build one really big closet

Pare down to one platinum card

Eat only caviar

Buy a yogi

Pub Date: 03/26/00

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