Downshifting: the art of living with less

Il downshifting (Climbing up the gear), so fashionable in recent years, is an Anglo-Saxon fashion that after having crossed the USA is now penetrating Europe under the pretext of bringing a breath of fresh air, even if again there is practically nothing in it since its main ideas are based on popular and ancient wisdom. The reason why this movement of thought has been gaining so much strength depends on the dizzying pace at which our contemporary society is moving. Perhaps it is for this reason that the first to apply this lifestyle were precisely managers, senior executives and people who had a certain responsibility in large companies and were therefore subjected to a certain level of stress on a daily basis. The intention, as they argue, was to escape stress, consumerism and the lack of solid human relationships. In short, getting out of the system ... But downshifting is something more than a fashion launched by well-to-do and successful executives who are bored and stressed ... Downshifting in figures According to Datamonitor (a London agency), in 2007 alone, workers who had reduced their pace of work and consumption were around 16 million, of which 2,6 in the United Kingdom alone. It is a lifestyle that mainly people between the ages of 30 and 40 take on.

This contrasts with what some well-known downshifters also claim, according to which downshifting is a viable choice only for people who have worked hard for many years and have amassed small fortunes that allow them to live partly on income (in England it seems to be instead of a choice put into practice by people from all walks of life who have reduced their habitual consumption by up to 40%). The most common way to start downshifting is simply to quit your current job that is too demanding of us, and look for another source of income that allows you to have more free time. Many simply reduce their working hours or put limits on their careers. The most common reasons are: spending more time with the family (one third of the interviewees), followed by the desire to make life more meaningful and the claim to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Perhaps the most interesting fact is that 90% of the people interviewed who had practiced downshifting said they were satisfied with their choice. Clarifying the concepts. Voluntary simplicity. In 1994 the term was first used downshifting, attributed to Gerald Celente, researcher at the Trends Research Institute of New York, although its origins are also attributed to the various ideas already widespread in the 80s regarding the so-called "voluntary simplicity". Many different definitions have followed since then. Some consider downshifting as a skill that allows you to undertake a lifestyle that maximizes personal control over daily life and minimizes consumption and addiction, while others argue that it is simply a direct orientation towards reducing consumption.

One of the most accepted conceptualizations (we can also find it in Wikipedia) is: “workers who voluntarily and consciously reduce their wages and the number of working hours in their professional activity to have more free time”. I must say that these definitions do not satisfy me, I find them too reductionist. From my point of view, downshifting goes far beyond the idea of ​​an external change expressed in the relationship between work commitment and economic benefit, affecting the person as a whole. In my opinion, downshifting does not only mean reducing the pace of work because we are stressed, it is a conscious decision that implies a change in the perspective in which we consider the world and in the hierarchy of our needs. In this way, downshifting helps to reduce daily stress starting from practicing a more satisfying lifestyle. This lifestyle is based on the downsizing of our daily priorities and our goals over time, relying on three fundamental points: the reduction of the work load, the enrichment of human relationships and conscious consumption.

By working less, of course, we will also earn less. We will then have to consciously accept that it is possible to live with much less than what we are used to. It is a question of changing the hierarchy of our needs: we will have to give priority to interpersonal relationships and to our true interests rather than to the economic benefit, adopting strategies for saving and reducing consumption starting from everything that is not really indispensable. This possibility is practicable by anyone, since its essence is supported in the idea of ​​conscious consumption. Let's be honest: we can live on a lot less than what we own. You don't need to change your mobile every year, let alone be the first to buy the latest technology. We can all reduce our consumption levels more or less and this will help us to reduce the stress caused by the need to own the fashionable item. Thinking of downshifting as a simple reduction in hours worked, or because it is currently in fashion, will not bring us great benefits. We should take it as a lifestyle that involves a journey within us in an attempt to find the points that keep us unconsciously hooked to the modern society of cosumes, in order to be able to detach ourselves definitively from it and move on to consciously manage our choices. We always remember that the greatest obstacle to change does not come from the environment but rather from within us. Many people have built a life in which they feel "relatively comfortable" and fear the idea of ​​stepping out of this to face something new and uncertain. Above all, we are very afraid of the idea of ​​assuming our responsibilities and freeing ourselves from a society that tends to homogenize everything and everyone. The simple phrase of Zygmunt Bauman: “consumption, therefore I exist”, is very significant.

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