Living Awareness Institute:

Voluntary Simplicity

There are those who are trying to set fire to the world.
We are in danger.
There is time only to work slowly,
There is no time not to love.
--Deena Metzger

Voluntary simplicity: Living and having more with less

What is voluntary simplicity?
Benefits to individual and society
Ways to simplify
Why simplicity doesn't always seem simple
Voluntary simplicity study circles: getting support
Voluntary Simplicity and the Global Economy

What is voluntary simplicity?

Voluntary simplicity means doing/having/living more with less--more time, meaning, joy, satisfaction, relationships, community; less money, material possessions, stress, competition, isolation. It doesn't mean depriving yourself; it doesn't mean buying "cheap" and always pinching pennies; it doesn't mean poverty. It does mean wanting what you have, and finding joy in having less; and recovering the connection with other people and with the Earth that alone makes life really worthwhile. (For some suggested reading, see the Voluntary Simplicity section of the book list.)

Voluntary simplicity is a growing movement of people who have realized that happiness and fulfillment do not lie in having more money, or new and bigger things, but rather in the time with loved ones and connection with community. They are questioning the consumer society's insistence that possessions, especially of the newest design and color, are the means of fulfillment, or that any material possession can possibly be "to die for." They are questioning this definition of "normal," by columnist Ellen Goodman:

" 'Normal' is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to the job that you need so you can pay for the clothes, car, and the house that you leave empty all day in order to afford to live in it."

Benefits to individual and society

The benefits of voluntary simplicity to the individual are great:

  • More time to spend with family, friends and community.
  • Less money spent on almost everything.
  • Less stress in high-paying jobs or commuting to them.
  • Less worry over possessions getting stolen or damaged.
  • More satisfaction in learning to do things for oneself, such as fixing and maintaining possessions, cooking, gardening and putting food by, mending and sewing, as well as making music and fun.
  • Other benefits that are corollaries of these, including more time to read, less ill health, more opportunity to exercise and do satisfying physical work, less chance of getting in an accident on the freeway, and a general reordering of values from a focus on materialism to to a focus on relationships.
But the benefits when people live a voluntarily simple life go beyond the individual and the family. Benefits to society as a whole and to the Earth are significant, and include:

  • Less pollution from transportation, and less traffic congestion, accidents and need for new roads.
  • Less environmental impact from resource extraction and manufacturing.
  • Less need for new power plants and new water treatment plants as people waste less electricity and water.
  • More community cohesiveness, resulting in less crime and more neighborliness, safer streets and better schools.
  • More grassroots democracy as people take more interest in how their communities operate.
  • More ecological restoration as people find simple pleasure in connecting with their local environment and seek to heal it.
  • A flowering of local culture--music, storytelling, drama, games, poetry.
Voluntary simplicity, as great as its benefits are, is not always viewed in a positive light. Arguments raised against voluntary simplicity and disengaging from consumer society are mostly economic in nature. Here is a discussion of voluntary simplicity and the global economy.

Ways to simplify

Here are some suggested actions you can take to simplify your life. (For more, go to the page on Bioregionalism.)

  • De-clutter your house. Go through clothes, kitchenware, knickknacks, gadgets, small appliances and other possessions and give away or recycle some. Do this until you feel there is some air in your home, some space between the things.
  • Try cooking more meals from scratch. This may sound like the opposite of simplifying, since cooking from scratch can take more time and be more complicated than microwaving a meal from a box, or ordering a pizza. However, you can make larger quantities and freeze the extra for a quick meal later. You also can avoid huge amounts of packaging, which is expensive and wasteful.
  • Ride public transit or a bicycle to get around. If possible, don't even own a car. You'll save thousands of dollars every year from insurance, registration, maintenance and gas. And you'll never have a freeway accident, a breakdown or get caught in a traffic jam.
  • Buy products with the least packaging possible. You will save money as well as resources and reduce your garbage.
  • Buy in bulk. Food co-ops have many foods available in bins from which you fill your own container.
  • Learn to mend clothing, toys, furniture and other items. Sewing holes in shirts and pants can be a relaxing activity. Darning socks and tights is a bit more difficult, but can double or triple the life of these items.
  • Instead of going to a movie, invite some friends over to play charades, Trivial Pursuit, Scruples or some other game, play music together, or read a play. Storytelling as an art is coming back‹anyone can tell stories.
  • Borrow or rent large items that you don't use often, such as tools, garden equipment and party utensils. You can even rent a car for trips.
  • Instead of traveling to faraway places for vacation, look closer to home. Explore the place you live. You will save money on travel as well as accommodations and food, which always cost more at popular vacation spots.
  • Buy clothes and household items second-hand.
  • Get off mailing lists. Write to: Direct Marketing Association, Mail Preference Service, P.Ol Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11725-9008 to have your name removed from lists rented to catalog companies and other direct mail solicitors. This will reduce your mail, save paper and trees, and reduce your exposure to tempting merchandise. Remember to request that your name not be sold to other companies whenever you subscribe to any publication or join any organization.
  • Start a compost pile for yard waste and food waste from the kitchen. This may seem less simple than throwing everything into the garbage, but it will help you to waste less food as you become more aware of where it is going, while reducing garbage, which could save money. The side benefit is, of course, a rich soil additive that will make your garden and all your trees and shrubs grow healthier.
  • Reuse everything you can, from jars and containers to nails to clothing. You will need to buy much less new stuff.
  • Don't fall for the new advertising gimmick using the language of simplicity to sell all kinds of things‹even $30,000 cars. Simplicity isn't about having the right stuff. It isn't a style. And don't fall for the idea that you need a lot of special containers, boxes, and so on to organize your stuff and thereby achieve simplicity.
Simplicity is about enjoying, even delighting in, a life that is uncluttered in every possible way‹physically, emotionally, spiritually‹in terms of things, relationships, obligations. But in today's world, with its constant focus on saving time and saving labor, determining what living a simple life means can be confusing. Here is a brief discussion about why simplicity doesn't always seem simple.

Taken from: Great River Earth Institute]

HomeCommunitySustainabilityWildernessHonoring the SacredForum