Voluntary Simplicity

In a culture like ours where consumption is elevated almost to the level of a religion, it might seem like a dubious proposition to try to get people to live a bit more simply.  But that’s exactly what the voluntary simplicity movement is all about. 

Voluntary simplicity is not about living in deprivation.  It’s about focusing on those values that sustain you the most.  It’s also about eradicating those things that get in the way of finding peace, joy and happiness in life (too much time spent slaving away at work and shopping at the mall for things you really don’t need).

You may not know it, but some of the greatest figures in human history have espoused principles of voluntary simplicity in one form or another:  Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha), Jesus of Nazareth, St. Francis of Assisi, Leo Tolstoy, Henry David Thoreau, Albert Schweitzer, Dorothy Day, and Mohandas Gandhi, among many others.  What all these people understood was that our insatiable desire to possess stuff very often leads to our being possessed by the very things that we crave.

Tips for Simplifying Your Life

1.  Don’t buy it unless you have the money [CASH] to pay for it.   Debt is one of the leading causes of stress in the average person’s life.  One way to avoid this stress is to make a commitment to never buy anything unless you have the cash on hand to pay for it now.  Use a credit card, by all means:  just make sure you only have one card and that you always pay your bills in full at the end of the month. 

2.  Bring your lunch with you.  If, instead of buying a $7 lunch every day, you packed a homemade $3 lunch and invested the savings at 5%, in five years you would have saved $5,500 and in twenty years $32,600.  If you don't believe us, check out the Lunch Savings Calculator to see how much you can saving by brown-bagging your lunch. 

3.  Wear the same clothes several days in cold weather before washing them.   Here's an interesting fact: we spend more time doing the laundry than our great grandmothers did, even though we have time saving appliances to help us.  The reason for this is because we wash our clothes so often.  Washing less saves time, money (on detergent, electricity) and wear on the clothes themselves.  And, believe it or not, no one is going to think you smell bad just because you wear the same outfit three or four times before washing it (It's all in your head!). 

4.  Don’t buy clothes that need to be dry-cleaned.   Besides being an expense you don’t need, the chemicals used in dry cleaning clothes are highly toxic.  Try to buy clothes that will look fine machine washed. 

5.  Stop the flow of junk mail.  All those catalogues that clog up your mailbox are not just a temptation for you, they also are a major problem for the planet (where do you think all that paper comes from, anyway?).  You can reduce the amount of junk mail that you receive by registering with the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service.  This service won’t totally eliminate all unwanted mail, but it will greatly reduce the flow.  If you find yourself being harassed by telemarketers by phone, you can put your name on the National Do Not Call Registery.

6. Get your family to opt out of gift-giving at Christmas time.  Christmas is the biggest racket in the world.   It's the time of year when corporations make most of their profits off of the sentimentality of people who feel that they absolutely have to buy expensive gifts for their family members.  Instead of giving into the consumeristic sentiments of the season, consider just saying "no" to presents at Christmas time.  Consider making gifts for each other, or give the gift of spending time together as a family.  If you must buy gifts, try limiting your purchases to $100 for the entire family.

7.  If you really need a car, buy a fuel efficient, reliable second-hand car.  Remember: A new car loses 30% of its value the moment you drive it off the lot.  If you buy a car that is one or two years old, it will still be in great shape, and much less expensive.

8. Take time off from the rat-race.  There are only twenty-four hours in a day.  Make sure that at least eight of those are spent sleeping every night and that you take some time every day to de-program (i.e., meditate, do yoga, commune with nature, listen to music, etc.). 

9. Get rid of anything that you haven’t used in two or more years.  If it really has sentimental value, keep it of course.   But 90% of the stuff you own is simply crap that is cluttering up your life and has no useful purpose.  Give this stuff away to people who can really use it and you will feel liberated.

10. Try to live on half of what you earn and save the other half.   If living in an expensive part of the country makes this goal unrealistic, start by trying to save a minimum of 10-15% of what you earn and building up from there. Then quit the job you hate, do what you love, and spend less time at work in general.

Alternatives to Buying

We all have needs in life and in some cases you won't survive if your basic needs are not met.  But this doesn't necessarily mean that you have to buy things either.  The Internet, in fact, has made it possible to get many things you want or need for free, to rent them instead of buying them, or to swap them for things that you possess but no longer need:
  • Neighborgoods - borrow things you need (i.e., a snowblower) from someone in your local community rather than buying them youself. 
  • Swap.com - swap what you have for what you want.
  • I-Ella - buy, borrow, or swap the latest must-have fashion apparel, accessories and more.
  • Swapstyle - fashion swap site.
  • BookMooch - swap books you have for books you want. 

Consumerism Sites

One of the greatest threats to the future of the planet and to the well-being of those who inhabit it is the excessive consumption of consumer goods.  No one is saying that you have to live like a monk, but we Americans in the 21st century have taken consumerism to levels unseen in human history.  The following sites provide useful information about the ecological and personal toll of consumerism:

Voluntary Simplicity Sites

The Voluntary Simplicity Movement has been growing by leaps and bounds over the past twenty years.  As a result, the Internet is filled with wonderful sites that can get you moving on the path to simplifying your own life.  Here are just a few sites that we would recommend:
  • Voluntary Simplicity - article by Duane Elgin and Arnold Mitchell that lays out the meaning and principles of the movement. 
  • Center for a New American Dream - organization dedicated to creating a new American dream grounded in community, ecological sustainability, and a celebration of non-material values.
  • Simple Living Forum - a place to get ideas on simple living from the folks in the trenches.

Voluntary Simplicity Reading List
The following are considered essential reading for anyone seeking to delve deeper into the study of Voluntary Simplicity.  Title links are for Amazon.com, but all of these books are available for free at your local branch of the public library or through interlibrary loan:


For those times when you just don't have the energy to pick up a book:
  • Affluenza and Escape from Affluenza - PBS documentaries on consumerism and voluntary simplicity. 
  • The Story of Stuff - Annie Leonard's wonderful on-line film about where our stuff comes from and where it ultimately goes.  A real eye opener!
  • The High Price of Materialism - Psychologist Tim Kasser talks about the hidden costs of our addiction to stuff (on-line).

Popular Posts