CHICAGO 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. Up at 6 a.m. and getting home from work in time to watch the late-night news, 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 out of a huge apartment and into something smaller 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.
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 (''You'd think I would have walked out and sat by the water or swam, but I barely did''). 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.
''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.''
Michael Muetzel, another author who's studied twentysomethings, puts it this way.
''I might refer to it as a movement toward family and social activities,'' says Muetzel, Atlanta-based author of ''They're Not Aloof ... Just Generation X.'' ''Why not put your trust and resources in things that you absolutely can trust?''
Indeed, trust is an issue for many young Americans. While they're big 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 believe in the political process or corporate Amer-ica.
''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.
''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.
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.''
Some refer to it as ''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.''
On the Net: http://simplicityforum.org
EDITOR'S NOTE Martha Irvine can be reached at mirvine(at)ap.org
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