Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Volunteering and the Simple Life

By Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Somebody recently said to me if you are going to have a simple life you need to focus on you, yourself and I, that people must learn that simplicity is about focusing only on yourself, your home and your direct family. I found this quite an interesting, if not sad, perspective, I guess because I don't equate giving of oneself as complicating my life in any way. I do find that running around shopping, errand doing or bombarding myself with media images or too much tv complicates my life immensely, but would never say that any of my volunteering roles have done anything but add another beautiful layer to my life.

As a teenager I volunteered with children in a hospital, doing admin for a new hospice which had just opened in my home town and collecting for various charities. While studying at University I volunteered in a health centre which provided medical appointments as well as health education programs, volunteered in a speech and language centre and a school, and voluntary tutored two children with learning difficulties whose parents could not afford private tuition. Since I've officially become an adult I've volunteered as a youth group leader, lead a youth group, volunteered as a cat socializer and dog walker, volunteered in a cafe whose proceeds went to charity and had various roles through Church. For over a year I cared for four children in my home while working, obviously at that time my roles needed to change so instead I was able to volunteer in their schools and collected for charities - I did this not because I had a great deal of extra time on my hands, but because I knew how rich and beautiful a life of volunteering is and I wanted the children to understand the importance of serving others and appreciating all that you do have. This wasn't learned through grand gestures, but simply every day actions like sending cards or notes, making soup for sick friends and taking food to the food bank.

It is conceivable that volunteering could add stress to your life, but I don't think you limit stress by focusing on oneself. Through my volunteering I have learned to appreciate what I have, I've been able to peek into the life experiences of someone with no vision or with no legs. I've made friends, basked in the beauty of knowing there are good people everywhere and begun to understand what simplicity truly is - it isn't shutting everyone else out, it's appreciating the richness from little.

Next week I board a plane, I'm off to volunteer overseas in an orphanage and working with special needs and dying children. People comment that I'm doing something good or mention how much they'll learn from me. The reality is, the blessings are all mine, I'm the one who needs to learn from these children what beauty, richness and simplicity is all about.

I'd love to hear from you! Do you find volunteering fits into your simple life? What have you learned about simplicity through volunteering and serving others?

For those interested, I will be blogging while I'm away!


katie z. said...

I find my volunteering is more limited while I have small children (4, 2, and 0), but sometimes I "volunteer" by making it possible for my husband to do more volunteering through the school he works at while I stay home with the kids. Once a month, he works at a diner for homeless, needy, etc., and the girls think it's really cool that Daddy helps feed those who need help. It makes me feel good that I can let him be gone an evening without complaining. I also volunteer through my church teaching Sunday School. It can be a juggling act, but, as you say, I want my kids to know who wonderful giving to others is!

Notes From The Frugal Trenches said...

Katie those are great examples of the little things we can do, even with young children! Thank for you sharing :)

The Younger Rachael said...

I think the key to the "simple life" is living generously. You need others to just make it by sometimes, and no one is every a successful loner. Sometimes, it means doing some official volunteer work. More often, it means helping others out in some smallish way. But we MUST live with our hands open, not only can we not hold tightly to physical possession, but we can not hold tightly to our time.

Laura @ Getting There said...

Well said, Rachael! :)

I used to volunteer a lot as a teenager, but these days I am so busy raising small children, homeschooling, and running a business, that I just don't have the time to take on new activities. But once my children are a bit older, finding opportunities for us to volunteer together is something I really look forward to.

Simply Authentic said...

Somehow it surprises me that people would think that about the simple life being only about the individual. While I definitely agree it can "simplify" to think only of oneself, I somehow thought that part of authentic, simple living was to get to the point where you're living generously. To me volunteering or giving of one's self is a greater reward--even if it's just the smallest thing. "Volunteering" to give someone a lift to the airport, sponsoring a scarf drive for homeless in winter, donating an afternoon at a carwash. I too used to volunteer much more as a high school and undergrad student, these days my giving of myself tends to be more related to the above examples I gave...which I actually think is unfortunate. I think I'm a much happier, simpler, and authentic person when I'm giving more freely of myself to others. said...

Volunteering is a great way to deal with stress. I've taken my six kids along with me on volunteer opportunities all their lives and they are branching out on their own, volunteering as they go. Our most memorable time was volunteering at an evac center after the Northridge earthquake in California. Even my two year old could sit and sort shoes. There was always something to do, we were never bored, and it really took our minds of the terror we'd just lived through.

Anonymous said...

I'm considering a serious downsizing of my life and minimizing work. Apart from friends, family and garden, volunteering/activism is one of the things I would do.

With less financial restraints due to downsizing and fewer time restraints due to less work so many opportunities open up.

Michelle J said...

I've volunteered in quite a few capacities, for quite a few organizations, but my most memorable volunteering moment was as a "baby rocker" at Mary Bridge Children's hospital.

I rocked all of the babies in their turn, but spent every spare minute that I could rocking on little girl whom the hospital staff had nicknamed Brooke.

Brooke was born in prison to a drug addicted mother. She had many health issues, but was an otherwise perfect little girl. She had no one to rock her, because her mother's family wanted nothing to do with this physically imperfect baby. So I was her love. I rocked and sang quietly to her and even snuck in a few kisses on her little head.

I hope that wherever little Brooke is now, that she is a happy and healthy girl who is LOVED. She both broke my heart and filled it up, and I feel so lucky to have had that time with her.

veronica said...

I think that volunteering is key to learning to live a simpler life. My husband and I are currently full-time volunteers living and working in rural Romania (through the US Peace Corps). We've not only learned more about being global citizens, but we've learned that often less is more, that simpler is often richer, and that a smile and a helping hand go a long way to promoting peace and friendship.

Best of luck with your travels and your volunteering!!

Kathryn said...

I think that a part of simplifying is cutting out the extraneous so that we can do the more important. For some of us, volunteer projects are part of that.

That said, i don't feel i do enough. Good reminder, thank you.

Ann at Singing Teaching in Paradise said...

I do lots of 'volunteer' work as part of my job! All rehearsals and performances of my pupils and many folk on the island love to join together for shows and concerts. We have a teenager in a wheel chair, a cerebrap palsy girl with learning difficulties and all ages - it is a therapy in it self!
I feel passionately that it is very much a part of the job, and I also feel that music is for everyone, and not just the highly talented few.

Belinda said...

I honestly think that during the early stages of simplifying that the person you were speaking to had a point. Many people are so disconnected from themselves and their family that some times really connecting there and working out what resources are surplus is necessary.

Once you get past the initial stages though I suspect many people naturally branch out into serving within their community. At the point I am at volunteer work is an important part of my simple life but I know when I first started out learning everything I felt I needed to know took up much of the energy that I had.

Kind Regards

Gremlina said...

oh we've been seriously convicted about our lack of community service! We glean with SoSA, but it's been a while. With kids I feel it's especially important to share this sense of one does it alone, so focusing inward seems ridiculo, to say the least!

Rhonda Jean said...

While I like to close our gate and have quiet time, I think that simplicity is enhanced by generosity and volunteering. My voluntary work has opened up my life and enriched it in a way nothing else could. What a wonderful way to spend your next few weeks. I bet you'll see much sadness but you'll be filled to the brim with love too. {{hugs}}