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What is Voluntary Simplicity?

Voluntary Simplicity involves liberating ourselves from the non-essential activities that permeate modern life in order to live in accordance with our most important goals and values. The priorities of our consumer and work-oriented culture often run counter to that which enriches and inspires us. These priorities include spending more time with family, building community, participating in a favorite sport or hobby, connecting with nature, and focusing on our spiritual development.

When we practice voluntary simplicity, we turn off "automatic pilot" and put ourselves in the driver's seat. We make conscious decisions about how to spend our time and our money. As we make new choices, we have more energy to focus on what's truly important to us. Simplifiers often find that decisions we make to enhance our own lives (e.g., reducing consumption, decreasing the amount of time at work) have positive benefits for the environment as well.

While individuals who practice voluntary simplicity are diverse, they share certain values and practices:

Essential Values that Characterize Voluntary Simplicity

Essential Practices that Characterize Voluntary Simplicity

The following benefits typically accrue to those who practice Voluntary Simplicity:

[Adapted from Mark Burch in 1997; from participants on the Positive Futures list who took part in a "delphi" process aiming to identify the essential values, practices and benefits which characterize voluntary simplicity.]

There are no rules to follow when practicing voluntary simplicity. Participants are free to simplify at their own pace and in the areas in which they find the greatest personal benefit. Simplifiers usually find it beneficial to interact with and gain support from others who are moving along a similar journey.

The Voluntary Simplicity Movement

Duane Elgin, who wrote a book about voluntary simplicity in 1981, recently noted a quiet revolution has been underway for the past few decades. Surveys done in the United States show that as much as one quarter of the adult population has made significant changes in living and working in an effort to shift away from consumerism and toward simpler ways of living.  

Richard Gregg, who was a student of Gandhi, coined the term voluntary simplicity.  In 1936 he wrote:

"Voluntary Simplicity involves both inner and outer condition.  It means singleness of purpose, sincerity and honesty within, as well as avoidance of interior clutter, of many possessions irrelevant to the chief purpose of life.  It means an ordering and guiding of our energy and our desires, a partial restraint in some directions in order to secure greater abundance of life in other directions.  It involves a deliberate organization of life for a purpose.  Of course, as different people have different purposes in life, what is relevant to the purpose of one person might not be relevant to the purpose of another.... The degree of simplification is a matter for each individual to settle for himself."

See Elgin's article entitled The Garden of Simplicity to learn more about the variety of ways voluntary simplicity is expressed in people's lives and check out the Resources section of this web site for a sample of the many books written on this subject.