The following blog post is written by Carol Ann Preibis of Ahh The Simple Life. She put together quite a primer on Voluntary Simplicity and I’m happy to share it here. I encourage you to take your time while reading this, and to investigate all the links that are included so you can learn what Voluntary Simplicity is all about and how the choices you make can affect the world around you.
What is voluntary simplicity? Would it be your personal choice? Should it even be a personal choice, or has it become a moral imperative and a global responsibility?
Before we discuss the answers, please take this brief quiz.
Do you value
- Happiness over money?
- People over possessions?
- A happier home over a larger house ?
- A healthier planet over another purchase?
Do you sometimes wonder if your possessions own you, rather than the other way around?
Do you have a number of possessions that are bringing little value to your life? Examples include: clothes you may never wear again, kitchen gadgets you don’t use, living spaces that are seldom occupied.
Do you sometimes think that you are devoting too much of your time and energy on things that don’t really matter?
Are you concerned about the effects of global warming?
Does it distress you to learn that climate change could drive more than 100 million people into poverty by 2030 ?
The world’s population currently consumes the equivalent of 1.6 planets a year, according to analysis by the Global Footprint Network. Do you worry about the ability of our planet to sustain future generations?
Are you concerned about the fact that inequality is at historic levels?
GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is commonly used as an indicator of the economic health of a country, as well as a gauge of a country’s standard of living. Do you think that GNH (Gross National Happiness) would make a better measure of a nation’s performance?
Tally up your “yes” answers.
If you had several, consider taking your first steps towards voluntary simplicity.
What Is Voluntary Simplicity?
Voluntary simplicity, or simple living, is a way of life that rejects the high-consumption, materialistic lifestyles of consumer cultures and affirms what is often just called ‘the simple life’ or ‘downshifting.’
— What Is Voluntary Simplicity | The Simplicity Collective
As Duane Elgin has famously defined it, voluntary simplicity is “a manner of living that is outwardly simple and inwardly rich, … a deliberate choice to live with less in the belief that more life will be returned to us in the process.”
Minimalism is one of the primary attributes of the simple life. In Living With Less, author Rebecca J. Rosen sits down with Joshua Fields and Ryan Nicodemus to discuss what a minimalist lifestyle means to them. Joshua Fields says, “As a minimalist, everything I own serves a purpose or brings me joy. And everything else is out of the way.” Ryan Nicodemus adds, “Clearing the clutter from my life allowed me to regain control of my focus, my time, my finances.”
A Perfect Storm
A “perfect storm” of events has landed us at a very critical point in the evolution of the human race. There are three powerful forces, two pushing, and the third pulling, all to the same place. The forces doing the pushing are climate change and economic instability. The force doing the pulling is the desire to achieve a freer, happier, and more productive life for ourselves and others.
What is this place? It’s a crossroads, where we must choose between two paths:
- We can continue on our current path, described by Duane Elgin as a path “of denial and bargaining, using up precious decades, until we slam into an evolutionary wall.”
- The other choice, as described by Elgin, is to “confront the reality of unsustainable consumer societies, bring this taboo topic squarely into our public conversation, and search for realistic alternatives.”
In “The Perfect Storm,” I have optimistically depicted the second of the two choices. By choosing to live simply, we can transform catastrophe into opportunity. We can make the great transition to an era of sustainable prosperity.
“Simplicity is simultaneously a personal choice, a community choice, a national choice, and a species choice.” — Duane Elgin
The movement to live simply is older than you think. But it wasn’t until the 1980’s that we began to hear more about simplicity for ecological harmony. Duane Elgin’s book, Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Way of Life That Is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich, espouses the need to reduce our environmental impact and steward the earth’s resources more carefully. In 1981, when the first edition of this book was published, the ideas were widely regarded as counter-cultural and unnecessary. Now we realize that simple living could save our planet.
Here are three major reasons to choose voluntary simplicity:
- Every human being, whether living now or in a future generation, should be afforded the opportunity to live a meaningful, happy, an d fulfilling life.
- “Enough, for everyone, forever.” Samuel Alexander first coined this phrase in his creative work of fiction, Entropia: Life Beyond Industrial Civilisation.
- Ecological harmony. Voluntary simplicity can help us to reduce our environmental impact and steward the earth’s resources more carefully.
In effect, there are a multitude of reasons that people consciously choose simplicity. Reading through Duane Elgin’s list (pages 6 and 7 of Voluntary Simplicity: Cool Lifestyle for a Hot Planet), these are the ones that resonate most deeply for me:
- Simplicity promotes fairness and equity among the people of the earth.
- Simplicity cuts through needless busyness, clutter, and complications.
- Simplicity responds to global shortages of oil, water, and other vital resources.
- Simplicity keeps our eyes on the prize of what matters most in our lives — the quality of our relationships with family, friends, community, nature, and cosmos.
- Simplicity is a higher lifestyle that fits elegantly into the real world of the twenty-first century.
Begin Your Journey Toward Voluntary Simplicity
Resolve to make conscious choices to leave materialism behind and move on to a more rewarding and fulfilling lifestyle. The path to simplicity will be different for each of us, and will likely change over time.
There are some general steps which seem to apply to virtually every version of simple living:
- Reduce the amount of money it costs you to live.
- Reduce the possessions you own.
- Develop an honest and regular assessment of your spiritual self.
- Inform yourself. Consider some of the materials listed under “Further Exploration” below.
- Take on some large, important task. Use this task to motivate yourself and keep you critically aware of where you want to go.
These examples may serve to clarify step 5:
- Take a bite out of climate change by adopting a more plant-based diet.
- Join sustainable living advocate Lindsay Miles in her effort to achieve plastic-free living.
- Start a campaign to make your home more energy-efficient.
- Follow these consumer driving tips to reduce your fuel consumption.
The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs
Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin
For a great primer on the topic of voluntary simplicity, see Definition, Criterion, and Steps Toward Voluntary Simplicity. The author is Bob Corbett, professor emeritus at Webster University. Written in 1993, the intended audience was Bob’s philosophy class at the time.
A beautiful essay by Stephen Roberts: To Decrease is to Increase
Minimalism experts answer the question “If you had to decide on the biggest benefit of minimalism in your own life, what would it be?” The Powerful Benefits of Minimalism and Living With Less: 11 Experts Speak Out
Jessica Dang, writer behind Minimal Student, explores the background of minimalism and its connections to Zen philosophy: Zen and the Art of Minimalism – Part 1: Zen Philosophy
During a November 2013 address, Pope Francis rebuked capitalism and called for economic reform that achieves the common good: Pope Francis’ Five Most Radical Statements On Capitalism And Poverty
The founder of Patagonia Inc discusses the value of the simple life, and growing an economy based on buying less, not more: Prosperity with less: what would a responsible economy look like