The abundance of less. How beautiful, how true, how striking. I am so glad that Andy Couturier changed the title of his book, which was first published in 2009 under the name A Different Kind of Luxury. That was a good title, too, because, yes, I believe living simply is the new luxury, that having time (to do what pleases you the most) is the real luxury, but it is the abundance of less that, in just four words, best captures the essence of this extraordinary book.
Andy Couturier, who spent four years studying sustainable living in rural Japan, tells the stories of ten men and women who left behind mainstream existences in urban Japan to create new lives deep in the countryside and rural mountains. He relates the ways they found to live simply and sustainably, in harmony with their environment, surrounded by the luxuries of nature, art, friends, delicious food, and most important, an abundance of time in which to enjoy it all. The ten people describe the profound personal transformations they underwent as they escaped the stress, consumerism, busyness, and dependence on technology of modern life to establish fulfilling lives as farmers and artists who rely on themselves for happiness and sustenance.
“Don’t imitate our life. Please learn from our life.
Build up your own new life.
Just be as much like yourself as you can be.”
The beauty of The Abundance of Less: Lessons in Simple Living from Rural Japan is not about showing us how to live a simple life. Firstly, it’s not that simple to live simply. One of my favourite quotes from the book is “It takes time to be poor”. This is so true. For example, it takes time to nurture your life through cultivating the land yourself. These people mostly eat what they grow themselves (and live on less than $4,000 a year). It takes months from cultivating the land, to harvesting it and finally being able to cook the food they’ve grown. Not everyone could do it, nor does everyone have to go all the way to find a more authentic kind of satisfaction. But you can make, in turn, the choice of not eating fruit or vegetables out of season, or from far away.
Secondly, you have to be true to yourself. Many of us may not fit into the wold we were given, but each one of us finds happiness in something different. “In the end you have to be honest to what really feels best to you,” says Wakako Oe, one of the interviewees in the book.
So, the beauty of this book is that is has made me ask myself, “What changes can I make to lead a more fulfilled life?” The Abundance of Less is about showing us there is another way. About discovering true success by having a life that matters. It is about showing us that we can find beauty in the everyday, in the ordinary. That we don’t need all the things we buy. That we can shut out much or part of the unnecessary information we are fed every single day. That change and modernization are not always good. That we should preserve the good things of the past, not change everything just for the sake of change. That so many beautiful things in the world are disappearing and that we should at least take our time to stop and gaze at something magnificent when we see it. It is about showing us how simple life could really be… if we really wanted it to be. That making things with your own hands is enriching and enlivening.
But what probably has struck me the most is that it shows us that practicality and simple living do not by any means foreclose a rich life of the mind at all. The women and men in this book may grow their own food and live isolated, but they have reached a level of freedom and of freedom of the mind that many of us can not even comprehend or think possible in our modern world. Furthermore, they are all artists, teachers, writers, philosophers; intelligent, cultured, well-read people and who have, above all, reached an extraordinary level of understanding with the inner self. These are also people who have all travelled extensively and even lived abroad in their youth, and who could have lived a well-off life (by the standards of modern society) if they wanted to. But they have chosen to live this way from one point on. Because this is what makes them happy.
I would like to leave you with a few more of my favourite quotes from the book (there so many), but, before that, I would like to take the liberty of forwarding Andy’s advice to his readers to take their time with reading this book (which took the author fifteen years to write). Consider this the first step towards a slower, more enjoyable, more meaningful way of living. As someone who admittedly often rushes to finish a book, and usually at night, eager to cram into the day one more meaningful thing (I do love books), but which usually feels more like a duty than something that relaxes me, brings me joy and lets my imagination run free, I can tell you it’s enlivening to read it slowly (it’s taken me a month to read it, carefully choosing the time of day or week to delve into its pages), to let it all sink in, to enjoy a good read and its many good lessons in finding your own path to living well.
“I’d like to get my life back to just the simple things:
a picture, a plate and a pot, a flute, some vegetables,
cooking a meal, reading a story.” Koichi Yamashita
“The best art is rough, simple, and artless.
The idea is that nature itself is good.” Akira Ito
“If you make too many things,
even if they are good things,
they become garbage.”Gufu Watanabe
photos: 1-by me / 2,3-Andy Couturier, theabundanceofless.com