written by: Terrie Schultz•edited by: Donna Cosmato•updated: 5/17/2010
Voluntary simplicity is a way to live a richly rewarding life by focusing on what is most important and letting go of the rest.
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What is Voluntary Simplicity?
Voluntary simplicity is a concept that is often misunderstood. It does not mean renouncing everything and living the life of an ascetic, nor does it romanticize poverty. It does not require moving to the country and growing your own food. It means enriching your life by embracing the things in life that matter the most, and eliminating the things that are unimportant. In the words of author Duane Elgin, voluntary simplicity is "a life that is outwardly simple, inwardly rich."
Adopting a simpler lifestyle begins with examining priorities and assessing what is truly important to you. This might be a meaningful job, more quality time spent with family and friends, volunteering for social or environmental programs, or having more time for relaxation, recreation, and personal growth.
With the important things clearly in focus, you can then identify the things that are unnecessary, create stress, waste money, or stand in the way of accomplishing what you really want to do, and begin to eliminate or release them. These might be activities that take up your time but are not enjoyable, like subscriptions to magazines or newspapers that you don't read, cable television you don't watch, a second or third car that you could do without, or any number of things that produce clutter and take your time and money without adding satisfaction or joy to your life.
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Many people find themselves caught in a vicious cycle of buying things, working to pay off debt, and accumulating more things. They may come to realize that a large house, new cars, trendy clothing, and expensive entertainment aren't the keys to happiness.
Being free of the burden of debt can be accomplished by avoiding excessive consumerism and buying only what is necessary and useful. Before you buy something, ask yourself these questions:
Do I really need this?
Do I already own something similar?
Can I borrow it from someone?
What kind of maintenance will it require?
How long will it last?
Is it recyclable?
Reducing consumption benefits individuals by saving them money and reducing clutter, as well as benefiting the environment. It can be done in countless ways, such as reducing fuel consumption by carpooling or taking public transportation to school or work, buying in bulk to reduce the amount of plastic packaging going into landfills, repairing things instead of throwing them away and buying new ones, and only buying what is needed. Some also rethink the holiday season, volunteering or spending time with family instead of giving gifts. Start with small steps giving up the things that mean the least to you in order to focus on the things that mean most!
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The Simple Living Network has many excellent resources about all aspects of voluntary simplicity, including a free online newsletter, articles and book reviews, how to find or start a local simple living group, a discussion forum, and much more.
For a comprehensive overview of the global impact of over-consumption, see the Affluenza website.
Duane Elgin, Voluntary Simplicity, William Morrow and Company, New York, 1993.
Janet Luhrs, The Simple Living Guide, Broadway Books, New York, 1997.