Saturday, 16 March 2013

"Simpler Living" - Valerie Hiebert Lecture


“Simpler Living” is the way Valerie Hiebert of Providence College describes her ongoing journey to live more justly in today’s consumer culture. Six Augustine members attended her lecture on March 9 at McNally Robinson.

One of the slides she used in her presentation gave us several strategies to try:

Her presentation was inspiring because of her own attempts at simpler living, and the explanation she provided of historical forces that have shaped our culture and made it difficult to live out these simpler values.

In her case, her family now lives in the country, raising sheep and chickens, bartering with neighbours and, each day, trying to move towards simpler living. But she stressed that simpler living is a journey, not a destination. We can all wade in at the shallow end, shopping more justly, simplifying, looking more at what we need instead of what we want. Her journey started with simply changing her shopping patterns by shopping at thrift stores. We can all start wherever we have the most passion – by shopping more justly (she provided a list of merchants in the sweatshop “hall of shame.”); by eating locally; by simplifying our lives.

“Don’t be overwhelmed,” she said. “Start simply with what you have a passion for and live that with joy. Don’t judge others who are walking the same road but in different ways.”

One of the main strengths of her presentation was learning the history of how our society has come to be a consumer society and how difficult that makes it to live more simply.  Valerie described the forces that changed our culture from one in which people lived in self-sufficient communities to our present global consumer society.   She described how, in the 17th century, Elizabeth I popularized the concept of “fashion” which created a desire for newness. (Elizabeth I died because of a lead-based make-up she popularized.)  Then, the industrial revolution replaced craftsmen’s shops and local markets with mass-produced goods. The opening of the new world brought colonization and more goods. The concept of “shopping” began, a concept which really took off with the development of the department store in the 1800’s.

She drew a direct line from these early forces to George Bush’s response on 9/11 when he told Americans the strongest response to international terrorism was for Americans to get out and shop.

Valerie’s presentation is available at:

Submitted by Mike M.

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