Today’s Changemaker Interview is with NWEI’s newest intern, EcoChallenge Progam Assistant Eric Elmore, who comes to us just after discovering the benefits of Voluntary Simplicity in his own life. As Eric says, “For many years I was progressively discontented, but was literally too busy to notice or do anything meaningful about it.” Eric reminds us that making changes in our own lives can be daunting, but small shifts can indeed lead to big change.
Tell us about your journey in discovering Voluntary Simplicity. What were you doing before becoming an intern with NW Earth Institute?
Just shy of two years ago, I was living in a 2,000 square foot three bedroom-two bathroom “American Dream” home by myself in an affluent suburb of Phoenix, Arizona. I was largely “stuck” in this home for many years longer (six to be exact) than I would have liked, having purchased this budget-crushing home – because that was what I was “supposed” to do – just prior to the housing market crash of 2008. I was an unhappy and experienced full-time physical therapist working & commuting by car fifty to sixty hours per week, and spending my “free” time and weekends cleaning and maintaining my large home and yard. I lived for the weekend, basically skimming over and racing through a five-day workweek. I rarely took my two full weeks annual vacation to spend time doing what I loved and spoke about all the time…hiking, backpacking and relishing time in the great outdoors.
Tangible change started in early 2014 when the value of my home thankfully came up to a point where I was finally able to sell it without being under water. I quickly moved into an 800 square foot one-bedroom apartment close to my new physical therapy job, forcing me to jettison more than half of my belongings and allowing me to commute by bicycle. During the process of decorating my new, reasonably modest living space, I researched “minimalism design” and stumbled onto the concepts of minimalism & voluntary simplicity as a lifestyle. I was hooked on these concepts’ premises of living simply, meaningfully, and happily with less physical & mental clutter.
How did you continue to incorporate Voluntary Simplicity into your lifestyle? What difference did it make?
I quickly became a verifiable regular at the local Goodwill donation center, constantly asking the question “Does this item add real value to my life?” and subsequently getting rid of those things that failed this singular criteria. I moved from an 800 square foot one bedroom apartment into a 400 square foot studio. I was living happily without things that I had I previously viewed as essential. I was also beginning to make connections between “consumerism” & sustainability.
I began questioning the value of the “stuff” I was eating, having experienced progressive abdominal pains over the course of the previous three years due to basically eating whatever I wanted. A whole foods, non-processed diet prescribed by a gastroenterologist resulted in complete resolution of my stomach issues and nearly thirty pounds of unintended weight loss. I was now eating happily and healthfully in a way that I had never thought possible. I had begun to connect the food I ate to sustainability.
What motivated you to enter the sustainability field?
I also began to question the value of my time, the vast majority of which was spent working in a fast paced, stress-laden, albeit, stable field that I no longer loved or even liked. For many years I had superficially and hurriedly entertained the idea of aligning my love of the outdoors with a new career that reflected that love, but repeatedly brushed it off as impossible and risky. Then I realized if I could make these other changes and “sustain” them, why could I not change my 12 year career as a physical therapist for a career promoting the outdoors, environmentalism, and sustainability? Realizing that my time was not a renewable resource, I made the biggest change yet. I quit my career in healthcare and moved to Portland, Oregon this year to delve into a career in sustainability.
That is essentially how I have now found myself working happily as an intern for the Northwest Earth Institute. The organizational mission to inspire people to take personal responsibility for Earth is a personal mission for me. NWEI’s model of self-guided education and reflection inspires progressive change – and small change inspiring lasting and larger change directly mirrors and reinforces my experience.
What insight and wisdom can you offer to others who are beginning to work in the sustainability field and who are working to make a difference in their communities?
I know real change starts small. Small change snowballs into large. I started small and have changed greatly. If I can do it, I know anyone else can! I am, in essence, starting from ground zero, with more than a decade of education and work experience not in sustainability and environmentalism, and am looking to build a career within that field. If you possess a passion for sustainability issues and are looking to effect community change, simply start…somewhere, anywhere you deem vital. Fear of change disguised as planning for change is frequently a significant impediment to change itself. One essential quote that continues to inspire me is “Once you make starting more important than planning, you will start.”
As the EcoChallenge Program Assistant at NWEI, Eric works to organize & promote the annual EcoChallenge. He has always loved the outdoors, and his interest in/love for the environment has grown significantly over the last several years. Eric discovered NWEI prior to moving from Arizona to Oregon earlier this year while looking for a career change, and found that NWEI’s mission and premise for inspiring change directly reflected his own personal experience. Prior to joining NWEI, Eric worked as an orthopedic/sports medicine physical therapist in Phoenix, AZ for 12 years. He received his BA in physiology from the University of Arizona & his MS in physical therapy from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. After hours, you will find Eric hiking, backpacking, exercising, reading, & playing guitar.
Ready to make a change too? Join us for the EcoChallenge this fall! You can register here.