“The New Good Life” by John Robbins

Thoreau wrote, “I make myself richer by making my wants few.”

Author, humanitarian, and founder of EarthSave International, John Robbins was inspired by Thoreau and took his ideals to heart. At age 21 he walked away from Baskin-Robbins, the company his father co-founded, and a life of wealth. For ten years, he and his wife Deo lived a minimal, subsistence life in a cabin on Salt Spring Island off the coast of British Columbia, Canada. In 2008, they lost most of the wealth they had accumulated to Bernard Madoff’s fraudulent investments. Now in his 60s, Robbins had to start over again.

“The New Good Life: Living Better Than Ever in an Age of Less” (2010) is about doing more with less and achieving financial freedom.

The central idea of the book is that “However much money you have or don’t have, your relationship to the money in your life can be transformational. It can be a doorway into greater consciousness, into greater integrity, and into greater freedom” (page xiv).

To help us become aware of our spending habits, Robbins identifies the six basic money archetypes: the Saver, the Innocent, the Performer, the Sensualist, the Vigilant, and the Giver; and offers four steps to financial freedom: 1. Know your financial net worth; 2. Know your real hourly wage; 3. Know where your money is going; and 4. Know the value of your life.

Most of the book is devoted to the five everyday, essential ways that we spend our money, and how we can do more with less – and live a happier life.

* Reduce our housing costs: Choose a smaller, more intimate home; lower the costs and maintenance of home appliances; choose a neighborhood that is close to the places you need to go, with “walkability,” parks, and fresh water; consider renting.

* Cut down on traffic: If you need a car, choose a used car or hybrid/electric car; look at alternatives like public transit, carpooling, car-sharing, biking, or walking.

* Eat healthier: Buy fresh, local foods; buy in bulk; eat at home and make leftovers fun; cut down on fast food, alcohol, and soft drinks. Here are 12 power foods, inexpensive and nutritionally rich: popcorn, quinoa, flaxseeds, nutritional yeast, sweet potatoes, split peas, lentils, sunflower seeds, oats, cabbage, carrots, and tofu.

* Make smart choices about kids: Consider a smaller family; teach children the importance of communication, helping others, and working together; start family rituals; help them to be skeptical about advertising and trends.

* Keep our homes clean (without chemicals): Avoid expensive and harmful retail cleaning products; reduce clutter. Here are three inexpensive, nontoxic, effective, and safe household cleaning products: castile soap, distilled white vinegar (for non-stone floors and countertops, in dishwashers and clothes dryers), and baking soda (for sinks, tubs, toilets, and carpet cleaning).

“The New Good Life” is optimistic, idealistic, and yet practical, with engaging anecdotes and personal experiences. We can all be happy with less. And we can start today.

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