In a few days – on 24 October – a growing number of people will acknowledge, ‘Take Back Your Time Day,’ an initiative established in 2001 by world leaders in the Voluntary Simplicity Movement, most notably, John de Graaf. This initiative falls on 24 October because that is the day many North Americans and Australians would finish work for the year if they worked the same hours per year as the typical European. It makes you think… Do we work too much? What are the personal, social, and environmental costs of overwork? Could we be better off by working less?
‘Take Back Your Time Day’ aims to challenge today’s culture of overwork and time poverty that threatens our health, our families and relationships, our communities and our environment. The purpose of this initiative is provoke thought on our work habits and to suggest that many people, and indeed, many societies, could increase their well-being by consuming less stuff and reducing their working hours accordingly. In other words, ‘Take Back Your Time Day’ raises the question of whether we should be trading some of our income / consumption for more free time, more freedom.
For more information, see http://www.youtube.com/takebackyourtime.
Rethinking attitudes to work is central to the way many participants in the Voluntary Simplicity Movement approach simple living. One simplicity theorist, Charles Siegel, poses the critical question: ‘Should we take advantage of our increasing productivity to consume more or to have more free time?’ If people keep raising their material standard of living every time they come into more money – through a pay rise, for example, or through some new technology which increases productivity per hour – working hours will never decrease and may even rise. Indeed, many Westerners, especially North Americans, Britons, Australians, and New Zealanders, are working longer hours today than they were in the 1970s, despite being considerably more productive. Generally speaking, we have directed all our wealth and productivity gains into consuming more and nicer stuff and have not taken any of those gains in terms of increased free time. But why, one might ask, should we always be working for more consumer products and services and not sometimes be content with less? Why should we not accept a lower material standard of living (e.g. old clothes, smaller house, home-grown food, no luxury travel, etc.) and work much less? Who can say what wonders such a cultural style might not bring! Henry David Thoreau’s opinion on working hours seems to exemplify the perspective widely held among participants in the Simplicity Movement:
Those slight labors which afford me a livelihood, and by which it is allowed that I am to some extent serviceable to my contemporaries, are as yet commonly a pleasure to me, and I am not often reminded that they are a necessity. So far I am successful. But I foresee that if my wants should be much increased, the labor required to supply them would become a drudgery. … I wish to suggest that a man may be very industrious, and yet not spend his time well.
The basic idea here is that if people can embrace simple living and stop the upward creep of material desire, they can take some or all of their pay rises or productivity gains, not in terms of more consumption, but in terms of more free time. And this raises the questions: Are we forced by the ‘curse of labour’ to work so much? Or are we freer than we think we are? The Simplicity Movement is an example of a social movement where people are enjoying the benefits of exchanging money and consumption for more free time.
The message, in short, is this: consume less, work less, live more. It’s time to take back our time. At least, it’s time to think about it. Decide for yourself.
What are your thoughts on this issue? Do you think people in affluent societies could increase their well-being by consuming less stuff and reducing their working hours? I’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts.
P.S. I’ve been contacted by a radio station wanting to interview people who have voluntarily given up a high-paid job to live more simply and with more time. If this sounds like you, and you wouldn’t mind having a short interview, then please throw me an email as soon as possible.