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Conscious Simplicity

--by Duane Elgin (Oct 20, 2014)
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Here are three major ways that I see the idea of simplicity presented in today’s popular media:

1) Crude or Regressive Simplicity: The mainstream media often shows simplicity as a path of regress instead of progress. Simplicity is frequently presented as anti-­‐technology and anti-­‐innovation, a backward-­‐looking way of life that seeks a romantic return to a bygone era. A regressive simplicity is often portrayed as a utopian, back-­‐to-­‐nature movement with families leaving the stresses of an urban life in favor of living in the woods, or on a farm, or in a recreational vehicle, or on a boat. This is a stereotypical view of a crudely simple lifestyle -- a throwback to an earlier time and more primitive condition -- with no indoor toilet, no phone, no computer, no television, and no car. No thanks! Seen in this way, simplicity is a cartoon lifestyle that seems naive, disconnected, and irrelevant -- an approach to living that can be easily dismissed as impractical and unworkable. Regarding simplicity as regressive and primitive makes it easier to embrace a "business as usual" approach to living in the world.

2) Cosmetic or Superficial Simplicity: In recent years, a different view of simplicity has begun to appear -- a cosmetic simplicity that attempts to cover over deep defects in our modern ways of living by giving the appearance of meaningful change. Shallow simplicity assumes that green technologies -- such as fuel­‐efficient cars, fluorescent light bulbs, and recycling -- will fix our problems, give us breathing room, and allow us to continue pretty much as we have in the past without requiring that we make fundamental changes in how we live and work. Cosmetic simplicity puts green lipstick on our unsustainable lives to give them the outward appearance of health and happiness. A superficial simplicity gives a false sense of security by implying that small measures will solve great difficulties and allow us to continue along our current path of growth for decades or more.

3) Deep or Conscious Simplicity: Occasionally presented in the mass media and poorly understood by the general public is a conscious simplicity that represents a deep, graceful, and sophisticated transformation in our ways of living -- the work we do, the transportation we use, the homes and neighborhoods in which we live, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and much more. A sophisticated and graceful simplicity seeks to heal our relationship with the Earth, with one another, and with the sacred universe. Conscious simplicity is not simple. This is a life way that is growing and flowering with a garden of expressions. Deep simplicity fits aesthetically and sustainably into the real world of the twenty-­first century.

Today's world requires far more than crude or cosmetic changes in our manner of living. If we are to maintain the integrity of the Earth as a living system, we require deep and creative changes in our overall levels and patterns of living and consuming. Simplicity is not an alternative lifestyle for a marginal few, but rather a creative choice for the mainstream majority. What does a life of conscious simplicity look like? There is no cookbook we can turn to with easy recipes for the simple life. The world is moving into new territory and we are all inventing as we go.

Duane Elgin is an author, visionary and an untiring voice for a living universe.  The excerpt above is from the first chapter of the 2010 edition of his now classic book, Voluntary Simplicity. 

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On Oct 25, 2014 Shilpa K. wrote:

 As much as I've enjoyed seeing various minds reflecting upon these concepts all week--the more I think about it, the more flippant and unhelpful this except seems. It does not seem that the "crude" and the "superficial" sections were discussed consciously...they lack nuance and promote "one right way" of thinking about conscious simplicity when in truth, there can be multiple ways that will absolutely contain elements of both the crude and the superficial (because we live in a complex world with many unsupportive policies currently instated). If someone chooses to buy recycled paper rather than virgin paper, it may not address the root problem (too many resources exploited to make paper) but it may be a conscious choice that mitigates the harm created (it is only superficial if the person sees the mere act of buying paper marked "recycled" as "enough" rather than considering personal and societal impact upon the planet). Similarly, if somebody chooses to give up a phone or a car  See full.

 As much as I've enjoyed seeing various minds reflecting upon these concepts all week--the more I think about it, the more flippant and unhelpful this except seems. It does not seem that the "crude" and the "superficial" sections were discussed consciously...they lack nuance and promote "one right way" of thinking about conscious simplicity when in truth, there can be multiple ways that will absolutely contain elements of both the crude and the superficial (because we live in a complex world with many unsupportive policies currently instated).

If someone chooses to buy recycled paper rather than virgin paper, it may not address the root problem (too many resources exploited to make paper) but it may be a conscious choice that mitigates the harm created (it is only superficial if the person sees the mere act of buying paper marked "recycled" as "enough" rather than considering personal and societal impact upon the planet). Similarly, if somebody chooses to give up a phone or a car or live more naturalistically and it is a conscious choice, why is that labeled "crude" and "regressive"? Is it assumed that people who are not living exactly like mainstream, urban people in industrialized nations are incapable of nuance and integration as they move towards living in a more connective manner "off the land"? Or that people who have always lived this way are "backwards" and not part of the "21st Century"? The author may attempt to attain a state of "conscious simplicity" while continuing to have a phone or to drive, but that in itself does not make such a path superior. I comprehend the vision of the final section, but we live in a paradoxical world with increased social stratification, unsustainable policies, and more and more humans throwing ecosystems off balance. How is writing off choices that don't meet a particular aesthetic a creative or synergistic act?

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On Oct 25, 2014 Shilpa K. wrote:

 As much as I've enjoyed seeing various minds reflecting upon these concepts all week--the more I think about it, the more flippant and unhelpful this except seems. It does not seem that the "crude" and the "superficial" sections were discussed consciously...they lack nuance and promote "one right way" of thinking about conscious simplicity when in truth, there can be multiple ways that will absolutely contain elements of both the crude and the superficial (because we live in a complex world with many unsupportive policies currently instated). If someone chooses to buy recycled paper rather than virgin paper, it may not address the root problem (too many resources exploited to make paper) but it may be a conscious choice that mitigates the harm created (it is only superficial if the person sees the mere act of buying paper marked "recycled" as "enough" rather than considering personal and societal impact upon the planet). Similarly, if somebody chooses to give up a phone or a car  See full.

 As much as I've enjoyed seeing various minds reflecting upon these concepts all week--the more I think about it, the more flippant and unhelpful this except seems. It does not seem that the "crude" and the "superficial" sections were discussed consciously...they lack nuance and promote "one right way" of thinking about conscious simplicity when in truth, there can be multiple ways that will absolutely contain elements of both the crude and the superficial (because we live in a complex world with many unsupportive policies currently instated).

If someone chooses to buy recycled paper rather than virgin paper, it may not address the root problem (too many resources exploited to make paper) but it may be a conscious choice that mitigates the harm created (it is only superficial if the person sees the mere act of buying paper marked "recycled" as "enough" rather than considering personal and societal impact upon the planet). Similarly, if somebody chooses to give up a phone or a car or live more naturalistically and it is a conscious choice, why is that labeled "crude" and "regressive"? Is it assumed that people who are not living exactly like mainstream, urban people in industrialized nations are incapable of nuance and integration as they move towards living in a more connective manner "off the land"? Or that people who have always lived this way are "backwards" and not part of the "21st Century"? The author may attempt to attain a state of "conscious simplicity" while continuing to have a phone or to drive, but that in itself does not make such a path superior. I comprehend the vision of the final section, but we live in a paradoxical world with increased social stratification, unsustainable policies, and more and more humans throwing ecosystems off balance. How is writing off choices that don't meet a particular aesthetic a creative or synergistic act?

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On Oct 24, 2014 Bradley wrote:

 As I have reflected more on simplicity, I began contemplating needs vs. wants. And within this, there are spiritual and physical aspects. I need a (paying) job, but I really don't want one. Almost all of my wants are becoming more and more spiritual, or something that cannot be touched. But, I need many of my wants because my wants are what gives my life purpose. My wanting to serve others; wanting to be spread kindness; wanting to be a teacher. Is the place to live at the intersection of wants and needs? Simplicity to me is when wants = needs <3



1 reply: David | Post Your Reply
On Oct 23, 2014 Kristof Sibilla wrote:

Live simply so others can simply live.
Mahatma Ghandi ,the real superman put  the truth in few words , to live simply we need to be His students.He thought by example that what made Him so powerful.As long as I want to live the western way,it is hard for  me to even
think about simplicity.
Kristof



On Oct 21, 2014 Jagdish P Dave wrote:

 My life is mostly simple. I learned simplicity by living with families and  friends who lived a simple life.One thing that sands out in our simple living is what we eat. Our food is very basic, cooked at home and not costly.We do not waste any food because we do not cook more than necessary. We grow vegetables in our back yard. We eat more nutritional organic food which is good for our health. We have all the basic things we need in enough quantity. We turn water off and lights off when we do not need to  use them.We never had any garage sell because we do not have more things than we need. We visit department and other stores only if we need to buy things. We make the full use of things.We do not compare our possessions with others who often go for new things even though they may not need them. Living this way we have more time to spend with each other as we do not have to stretch ourselves for getting things we do not need. Simple living does not mean living&n  See full.

 My life is mostly simple. I learned simplicity by living with families and  friends who lived a simple life.One thing that sands out in our simple living is what we eat. Our food is very basic, cooked at home and not costly.We do not waste any food because we do not cook more than necessary. We grow vegetables in our back yard. We eat more nutritional organic food which is good for our health. We have all the basic things we need in enough quantity. We turn water off and lights off when we do not need to  use them.We never had any garage sell because we do not have more things than we need. We visit department and other stores only if we need to buy things. We make the full use of things.We do not compare our possessions with others who often go for new things even though they may not need them.

Living this way we have more time to spend with each other as we do not have to stretch ourselves for getting things we do not need. Simple living does not mean living poorly or superficially. In fact simple living has created more quality time for us to relate to each other more compassionately and deeply.In simple living, there is no mad rush for buying more and more and having more and more. Simplicity has its own beauty, grace, inner strength and inner richness. The belief system -big the better and more the merrier -leads us to hanker after getting fulfillment from outer world at the cost of inner peace and contentment.

Different people have different ideas about simplicity. Ultimately it boils down to making wise choices of living in tune with nature and cultivating connectedness. It is the art of learning to live from within.

Namaste-bow to simple living.

Jagdish P Dave
 

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1 reply: David | Post Your Reply
On Oct 21, 2014 Cal wrote:

Reading these comments was a fine wrap-up to my day, except that I'm now buzzing with thoughts and comments of my own, and not so inclined to sleep. Definitely would be an all-nighter if we were having this dialogue in person. Thanks to all. Just a couple of additions for me, tonight.... First, I'm struck by my awareness that I find myself in each of these perspectives at different times, if I'm paying attention. I can be somewhat "simpler than thou", when I have an insight that I really like, about how all of this works. I can think sometimes that only the minimal-est of the minimalist is the "real deal" of simplifying life. I sometimes allow myself to be satisfied by my fairly easy efforts such as downsizing, turning off lights, using more energy efficient items, etc , and become complacent. At the other extreme, I can be discouraged by my and others' inability to "fix this planet", and feel, "what's the use? I'm  See full.

Reading these comments was a fine wrap-up to my day, except that I'm now buzzing with thoughts and comments of my own, and not so inclined to sleep. Definitely would be an all-nighter if we were having this dialogue in person. Thanks to all. Just a couple of additions for me, tonight....
First, I'm struck by my awareness that I find myself in each of these perspectives at different times, if I'm paying attention. I can be somewhat "simpler than thou", when I have an insight that I really like, about how all of this works. I can think sometimes that only the minimal-est of the minimalist is the "real deal" of simplifying life. I sometimes allow myself to be satisfied by my fairly easy efforts such as downsizing, turning off lights, using more energy efficient items, etc , and become complacent. At the other extreme, I can be discouraged by my and others'
inability to "fix this planet", and feel, "what's the use? I'm just not doing enough!"

At my best, I see that there's a kernel of truth in each of these attitudes, and that the less useful energy of each position is usually connected to ego, and I chuckle. Isn't it amazing how this big new brain of ours can get simplicity all tangled up in self-focused cognition? I guess for me, that chuckle is the saving grace that from time to time allows me to fall back into better balance. I think of that balance as my ARIA, (yeah, like the opera). My AWARENESS, REFLECTION, INTENT, and ACTION just sort of flow with ease and strength and grace and appreciation and harmony. It's a good song, when it happens like that. Wow!

I'm sleepy again. Thanks, all, for the lovely nightcap. Namaste'

                                                   Cal
   
 

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On Oct 21, 2014 Manuel Castrillo wrote:

 Simplicity is relative .... what I do and earn simple can be complex to another .... the feel with the fluidity and the condition of living our life without complications, and harmonically unrelated to conditioning factors that limit us our powers, the enjoy something simple .... we will be simple as far how we perceive our actions and the pace of our life ..



On Oct 21, 2014 david holtzman wrote:

simple use less stuff share more stuff love more hate less heal yourself "slow down you move to fast you got to make the morning last" feeling groovy lol



On Oct 21, 2014 david doane wrote:

 To me, conscious simplicity means to be conscious of the simple basic fact that each of us, our earth, and all that is are manifestations of One Infinite Sacred Being.  We are of one another and all that is, not separate from, so it follows that we be compassionate and respectful with one another and take care of our planet.  To abide in that consciousness is to live compassionately ongoingly.  It is a transformation.  I don't know when I first became aware of this conscious simplicity.  I do know that it has become a much more ongoing awareness that results in my being more compassionate in general, toward others and toward our environment.  When I harm the environment, I harm everyone and everything, including myself.  When I am kind to the environment, I am kind to everyone and everything, including to myself.  That awareness has made my living deeper, which I appreciate.  That deeper feeling is a test for me as to the kind of simp  See full.

 To me, conscious simplicity means to be conscious of the simple basic fact that each of us, our earth, and all that is are manifestations of One Infinite Sacred Being.  We are of one another and all that is, not separate from, so it follows that we be compassionate and respectful with one another and take care of our planet.  To abide in that consciousness is to live compassionately ongoingly.  It is a transformation.  I don't know when I first became aware of this conscious simplicity.  I do know that it has become a much more ongoing awareness that results in my being more compassionate in general, toward others and toward our environment.  When I harm the environment, I harm everyone and everything, including myself.  When I am kind to the environment, I am kind to everyone and everything, including to myself.  That awareness has made my living deeper, which I appreciate.  That deeper feeling is a test for me as to the kind of simplicity I am facing.  That is, when I engage in or face regressive simplicity, I feel nostalgic at best; when I engage in or face cosmetic simplicity, I feel cosmetic, fake, shallow; when I engage in conscious simplicity, I feel a depth and connection with all that is. 

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On Oct 21, 2014 Ragunath wrote:

Category 3, the so-termed Deep and Conscious Simplicity, if it has to be achieved, must have its origins in the status quo (we cannot launch it from Mars). And in the transition period, it will contain all kinds of experiments, crude and superficial included. So it does not do good to belittle the experiments because there is no way to evolve a Deep and Conscious Simplicity that is cut off from the current reality. Any sophisticated and sustainable lifestyle must be conceived and executed from the current cities, factories, farms and boats. From wherever they are conceived, they will have the limitations of their source. What is Mr.Elgin doing now for food, transportation, clothing, energy, communication etc when the Deep and Conscious Simplicity is not yet a reality?  A person working in a CF bulb factory or renewable energy company is well aware of his or her limitation (where else will he or she go?) but is making an experimental response to the status quo. Mr.Elgin has the gi  See full.

Category 3, the so-termed Deep and Conscious Simplicity, if it has to be achieved, must have its origins in the status quo (we cannot launch it from Mars). And in the transition period, it will contain all kinds of experiments, crude and superficial included. So it does not do good to belittle the experiments because there is no way to evolve a Deep and Conscious Simplicity that is cut off from the current reality. Any sophisticated and sustainable lifestyle must be conceived and executed from the current cities, factories, farms and boats. From wherever they are conceived, they will have the limitations of their source. What is Mr.Elgin doing now for food, transportation, clothing, energy, communication etc when the Deep and Conscious Simplicity is not yet a reality?  A person working in a CF bulb factory or renewable energy company is well aware of his or her limitation (where else will he or she go?) but is making an experimental response to the status quo. Mr.Elgin has the gift of intelligence and elegant expression and has done a lot to respond to the status quo. Are all those responses Deep and Conscious? None of them crude and superficial? I don't know. There is great value in studying and analyzing the benefits and limitations of an experiment but it is a disservice to arbitrarily categorize experiments in a negatively critical manner. With true and deep respect to Mr.Elgin, I'd say he is just being glib in this piece.

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1 reply: Shilpa | Post Your Reply
On Oct 21, 2014 Shilpa K. wrote:

Short answer: by being present and living deeply, especially during daily hikes in wild spaces. I also need to say that conscious simplicity would force us all to re-examine the definitions of "crude" and "cosmetic" and see whether they ring true. Part of conscious simplicity has to be cosmetic (because carpooling may still use fossil fuels, but at least it uses less) and part has to be crude (already, people are finding that relearning traditional skills increases their quality of life and reduces harmful impacts). The danger is in becoming self-aggrandizing for doing these things--because no, simply driving a hybrid car doesn't mean that the environment is being restored, and it's true that if people who live simply in a "crude" manner are isolated, they aren't affecting change in the mainstream--which is why articles like this can be written without accurately representing the diversity of back-to-landers. The manner in which people marginalize and typecast a seemingly "crude" simp  See full.

Short answer: by being present and living deeply, especially during daily hikes in wild spaces.

I also need to say that conscious simplicity would force us all to re-examine the definitions of "crude" and "cosmetic" and see whether they ring true. Part of conscious simplicity has to be cosmetic (because carpooling may still use fossil fuels, but at least it uses less) and part has to be crude (already, people are finding that relearning traditional skills increases their quality of life and reduces harmful impacts). The danger is in becoming self-aggrandizing for doing these things--because no, simply driving a hybrid car doesn't mean that the environment is being restored, and it's true that if people who live simply in a "crude" manner are isolated, they aren't affecting change in the mainstream--which is why articles like this can be written without accurately representing the diversity of back-to-landers.

The manner in which people marginalize and typecast a seemingly "crude" simplicity negates the beauty, innovation, and depth of all the people I know who choose to relearn how to live in "primitive" spaces. Additionally, such a scornful dismissal ignores the fact that many back-to-landers actually incorporate the experiences, technologies, and paradoxes of modern times. My neighbors who live in the woods in wood-and-earth structures they've built  have set up solar power and internet access and running water. It's possible to continue to learn and grow and participate in greater planetary discourse without needing to live in cities.

For that matter, there is nothing wrong with people who choose to live even more radically simple lives without technologies and in rhythm with one another and the land. They are not less conscious than people who choose to embrace the mainstream and may arguably be more so.

What, exactly, is "21st Century living"? While there are marvelous innovations and cross-cultural exchanges, there are also areas of the world where there are people at war, living feudally, without access to clean water, or endangered by nuclear meltdowns. All of this is part of the 21st century living, and so is an infrastructure that is largely unsustainable (which may demand crude changes sooner than people expect). What about the rest of the planet? Whether I want to or not, I am benefiting from the resources taken from other places and brought to where I live. For instance, I cringe at the amount of waste in schools (from paper and food waste to plastics that are routinely and cheaply bought that will never, ever decompose...all for the sake of "education").

My only response to this--the only thing that keeps me sane--is to attempt to live more simply myself. I've chosen to live on a 300-acre ranch/forest, and I hike in wild areas daily. I know the farmers who grow the majority of the produce I eat, I happily choose not to own a TV (although I love internet access and do occasionally join friends for movies or shows), and I can travel easily to cities around me. I dance to eclectic music (and I mean REALLY eclectic--the full spectrum) while washing my dishes. Right now, I have an indoor toilet, but I really enjoyed when I had access to an outdoor composting toilet instead.

I'm saying these things to contextualize my experience, which I consider middle-ground rather than marginal. Like others, I embrace paradox. I use far too many fossil fuels. I can also say that my experiences living close to the land have impacted me profoundly, and I would recommend that others do whatever they can to consciously reconnect with the earth.

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On Oct 20, 2014 mbj wrote:

Bernardo Paz, creator of the halcyon art complex and socially transformation experiment, Inhotim, was asked; how do you envision post-contemporary society?  He replied: "Like going to your grandmother's house, only with technology."



1 reply: Shilpa | Post Your Reply
On Oct 20, 2014 Sai wrote:

 Well I think as you rightly said. The key is conscious simplicity .... But it's a journey and process..... And we will get there.... With baby steps..... As of now I think being mindful is the first step.... Atleast that's what I am trying..... And doing whatever little one can sitting in the space where one is currently...... Instead of having big ideals or talks I think starting small helps..... And to me more feasible.... So I started by sorting my trash and making that little effort to go to the recycle centre..... Always carry shopping bags......Try and reduce consumption..... Recyle as much as possible.... Learn from kids as they learn from school...... Use newspaper for gift wrapping..... Upcycle products and give them a new lease of life..... Get things and gadgets fixed instead of buying new..... Teach kids through example..... Trust me this is quite difficult in a consumerist Dubai..... But small and steady steps really work!,...... Focus on self and not being preachy&  See full.

 Well I think as you rightly said. The key is conscious simplicity .... But it's a journey and process..... And we will get there.... With baby steps..... As of now I think being mindful is the first step.... Atleast that's what I am trying..... And doing whatever little one can sitting in the space where one is currently...... Instead of having big ideals or talks I think starting small helps..... And to me more feasible.... So I started by sorting my trash and making that little effort to go to the recycle centre..... Always carry shopping bags......Try and reduce consumption..... Recyle as much as possible.... Learn from kids as they learn from school...... Use newspaper for gift wrapping..... Upcycle products and give them a new lease of life..... Get things and gadgets fixed instead of buying new..... Teach kids through example..... Trust me this is quite difficult in a consumerist Dubai..... But small and steady steps really work!,...... Focus on self and not being preachy also has helped me a lot!!.... 
Second step is compassion when we fail..... Once guilt is gone then one cane aisle refocus one's energies back into what els can be done and in a better way!,...... 

Thank you for inspiring !!..... 

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On Oct 20, 2014 Jyoti wrote:

I understand and agree with 1 & 2 but need a lot more to really understand 3. In my experience, I find that little children have that deep simplicity where they gravitate towards love and beauty without conscious effort. I can relate to them easily. Practicing simplicity in my own life is an ongoing effort that keeps peeling away at layers. I see women in high heels or hiding behind masks of makeup and wonder why they torture themselves so, but they probably see my lack of makeup as not loving myself enough to care for my appearance? I agree that there are no simple answers.



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On Oct 19, 2014 susan schaller wrote:

Conscious anything is difficult. Recently I have been so conscious of how I am so unconscious or unable to simply be. Simple consciousness - being here and now.  Being does not take stuff or outside approval.  Being does not require holding on to my history or past relationships, or planning my next move. Being is simply being conscious and conscious of being: the luxury of simply living.  How I wish being simply me, here and now, were as easy as writing about this ideal. Practice, practice, practice, then practice again.



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On Oct 17, 2014 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:

 Conscious simplicity is living in such a way as to do the least harm to the planet, yourself and others. Example, I was living in a home that I felt was too big for one person. When I bought it very cheaply in 1997 I rescued greyhounds, thought i might have a family, hosted many gatherings so it was a perfect space. Then in September 2005, I was single, no longer rescuing or fostering dogs, had left my fulltime job to become a fullt-time Cause Focused Storyteller devoted to connecting cultures and peoples through Story, was divorced and knew I was not having a family. So I sold my house and gave away (or sold) most of my possessions (furniture, books, artwork, kitchen stuff, etc) I then started a volunteer literacy project in Central America (through an invitation). I lived in an 8X10 room (like most of the rest of the world) and it was Liberating!! Question to ask oneself: am I doing more harm than good with my actions/choices. Question 2: do I really this item? What damage mig  See full.

 Conscious simplicity is living in such a way as to do the least harm to the planet, yourself and others. Example, I was living in a home that I felt was too big for one person. When I bought it very cheaply in 1997 I rescued greyhounds, thought i might have a family, hosted many gatherings so it was a perfect space. Then in September 2005, I was single, no longer rescuing or fostering dogs, had left my fulltime job to become a fullt-time Cause Focused Storyteller devoted to connecting cultures and peoples through Story, was divorced and knew I was not having a family. So I sold my house and gave away (or sold) most of my possessions (furniture, books, artwork, kitchen stuff, etc) I then started a volunteer literacy project in Central America (through an invitation). I lived in an 8X10 room (like most of the rest of the world) and it was Liberating!! Question to ask oneself: am I doing more harm than good with my actions/choices. Question 2: do I really this item? What damage might it do to the planet. Example, I had my flip cell phone for 7 years and only purchased a new phone when the other one completely died and could not be repaired. Best wishes to all of us working to live simply.

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