The Greening of Letting Go: Jim Merkel, inspiration for radically simplifying

radicalsimplicitybook2When it comes to inspiration for reducing the number of possessions we come to depend on in our lives, the one that comes to mind for me, because his book is one of my “nightstand books,” is Jim Merkel, author of Radical Simplicity:  Small Footprints on a Finite Earth and founder of the Global Living Project.  I was so disappointed to have missed him in a weekend workshop retreat at Pendle Hill in Pennsylvania in January, that I just looked up his website to see where else I may be able to catch him this year, and I’m thrilled to see that there are a couple of opportunities this spring, particularly if you live in the Northeast.

April 6 in Haverhill, MA, a talk on Radical Leadership

May 15-17 in Albany, NY, a 3 day retreat  focused on lifestyle choices, simplicity and ecological footprints, acknowledging our true wealth, (family, relationships, soil, water, etc) and living a richer life.

Jim Merkel’s story

Merkel had a conversion experience during the time of the Exxon Valdiz disaster, while working as a military engineer and arms trader.   Realizing the responsibility that each of us bears for disasters like this, he quit his job in order to be the change he wanted to see in his world.

He downsized drastically, and determined to live in an income level under $5,000 a year and has done so ever since.  Today he spreads the word around the country.  

For him, letting go meant letting go of habits that will eventually mean the destruction of the planet.  In place of trying to fit these new habits into a culture that supports opposing values, he preaches a shift in global living that replaces power with equity, exploitation with respect, and consumption with sustainability.

In the book he makes a case for a different model for society, and offers very practical information for shining a light on our own habits and how to make a difference in our lives.

Read this book if you are interested in:

  • Exploring some thought-provoking models for a society that supports living lightly on the earth
  • Learning exactly the negative environmental impact that use of every one of your possessions represents
  • Determining your current footprint on the earth so that you can make quantifiable changes
  • Challenge yourself to make these changes

My favorite parts of this book were:

  • Chapter 1:  Building the Case for Global Living
  • Figure 6-7:  Ecological Footprint Quiz (you can also take a version of a footprint quiz online at
  • Chapter 9:  Applying the Tools (you actually should  read Chapters 5-6 first, but they’re pretty weighty if you’re not a numbers person)

I would have added Chapter 7,   The Second Tool:  Your Money or Your Life, but I’ve long ago read and reread that book, so I skipped that chapter.  (By the way, the third edition is now available with updates.)

One of my favorite quotes from this book:

Our intuition doesn’t need a factual basis to know what to do; it is a way of knowing without the use of our rational minds.  Intuitive information is like an internal compass, guiding us in considering the well-being of the whole.  Does your intuition and spirituality influence you to share the Earth?  Most spiritual paths include kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and reciprocity.  If your scientific mind looks deeply into natural phenomena, while our spirituality embraces all life, and we pay attention to our intuition, our personal ethics will influence how we make day to day choices.  As we get out of theory and down to practice, some ethical questions might be:

  • Could Earth support all the world’s people at my standard of living?
  • Do other species or people suffer because of my lifestyle?
  • Do good things come from each dollar I spend?
  • Do other species have inherent value?
  • Should my race, gender, strength, taxonomy, education or birthplace allow me to consume more than others?
  • Are wars being fought over resources that I use?
  • Do I support corporations or industries that damage the environment or exploit workers in sweatshops?
  • Is my lifestyle in alignment with my own values?

This gets to the heart of why we should let go of our stuff, let go of our bad energy habits, let go of wants that don’t help us or our planet.