SANDRA GARCIA
Chris Devitto  /  AP
Sandra Garcia, a marketing and communications specialist with the Wyoming Business Council, poses in front of her office in Cheyenne. Garcia, 26, used to work for a television network in Florida but returned to Wyoming for a life that was "calmer and simpler."
updated 1/26/2004 3:21:49 PM ET 2004-01-26T20:21:49

Sandi Garcia was living her dream — or so she thought. With a marketing degree from the University of Wyoming, she moved to Florida, started climbing the corporate ladder and was making good money.

There was only one problem: She was miserable. She was up at 6 a.m. and getting home from work just in time to watch the late-night news, and she often worked weekends, too.

“I got burnt out pretty quickly,” says the 26-year-old, who longed for a life that was “calmer and simpler.” She found it back in her native Cheyenne, Wyo., where she now has plenty of time to ski, volunteer at an animal shelter and enjoy her friends and family.

Experts say Garcia is one of a growing number of Americans — particularly people in their 20s and 30s — who are making a conscious decision to slow down and cut back on all that overwhelms them.

“It’s true among people of all ages. But it’s much stronger, much more notable among the younger generations,” says Bruce Tulgan, a Connecticut-based consultant who tracks generational relationships and trends in the workplace.

They’re simplifying at home: Pierce Mattie, a 28-year-old New Yorker, recently sold his car, moved into a smaller apartment and gave away much of his wardrobe.

“It feels great!” he says, noting that having “so much junk I don’t use” was stressing him out.

Control over schedules
And they’re dramatically changing their work lives.

Gregg Steiner, a 29-year-old in Sherman Oaks, Calif., escaped the busy high-tech world to work at home, and sold his beach home near Malibu — he says he grew tired of never having time to spend there. He also couldn’t stand commuting two hours a day.

“I hate traffic. I hate dressing in a suit. I hate sitting under fluorescent lighting,” says Steiner, who now does customer service via the Web for Pinxav, his family’s diaper rash ointment business.

Tulgan says all those gripes are common for young professionals.

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“The idea of working in a particular building with certain hours seems ridiculous to them,” he says.

But he and other generational experts say that doesn’t mean young people are lazy. They just want flexibility.

“It’s much more likely they’re going to tell you that they’d like more control over their schedule — and more time for the life part of life,” says Tulgan, whose books include “Managing Generation X.”

An issue of trust
Michael Muetzel, another author who has studied twentysomethings, calls it a movement toward family and social activities.

“Why not put your trust and resources in things that you absolutely can trust?” he says.

Indeed, trust is an issue for many young Americans. While they’re into volunteering at a local level, they have little faith in such institutions as Social Security or government in general. And many, given recent scandals, don’t trust the political process or corporate America.

“A lot of us saw our parents or knew other people’s parents who were laid off. There was loyalty to the company, and people were getting huge salaries, and all of the sudden it disappeared,” says Garcia, who now works for the Wyoming Business Council.

And so while their parents’ generation may have focused on trying to “have it all,” many in Gen X and Y are taking a step back to reassess and prioritize.

“I see my parents; they just worked so much, and I don’t think they had much chance to enjoy stuff the way they would have liked to,” Garcia says.

Katherine Josephs said she, too, had to do some soul-searching.

The 29-year-old from Miami was a journalist for Money magazine in New York but quit her job after a road trip to the Pacific Northwest. She found a part-time job and moved in with her parents while figuring out what to do next.

Later this year, she’ll head to a small town in Colorado to write and get a degree in ecopsychology, a field that explores the connection between the environment and personal well-being.

“I’ll be spending most of my time outdoors and transporting myself on a bike and letting my spirit dictate my actions — not Madison Avenue execs,” Josephs says.

Simpler vs. status
Some researchers are finding benefits in a simpler life.

“The upshot is that people who value money and image and status are actually less happy,” says Tim Kasser, a psychologist at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., who has researched the phenomenon.

He says they often report being less satisfied with life and are more likely to experience depression, anxiety and such physical symptoms as back aches and headaches.

Those who weren’t focused on possessions, fame and fortune were, overall, more content with life and felt better, too.

“We found this in people from age 10 to 80 all around the world,” says Kasser, author of the book “The High Price of Materialism.”

Kasser heads the research committee for The Simplicity Forum, a group of authors, speakers and leaders interested in “voluntary simplicity,” also the title of a 1981 book that some say is the movement’s bible.

Garcia has never heard of the movement or the book. Like many others her age, she just listened to her gut and found the simpler life she craved in Wyoming, the state she once wanted to escape.

“Someone told me that you can never appreciate what you have until you’ve left,” she says. “I never thought that was true — but now I really do.”

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