Is the Voluntary Simplicity Movement just about Increased Leisure for a Privileged Few?

The Simplicity Movement is sometimes described, occasionally even by its advocates, as a leisure expansion movement. The criticism sometimes implicit in this description is that voluntary simplicity is a self-centred, narrowly hedonistic philosophy of life available only to a privileged few. While voluntary simplicity by its very nature is indeed ‘an ethic professed and practiced primarily by those free to choose their standard of living,’ the broad-based affluence in the developed world today means that the choice of voluntary simplicity is available to some degree to the vast majority of people. Put otherwise, down-shifting does not just mean selling the Porsche and buying a Prius, or retiring at 40 and living off the income of investment properties. It can be practiced by all those who have a degree of discretionary income.

Furthermore, the simple life is not just about improving one’s own life through leisure expansion. The Simplicity Movement may indeed be a leisure expansion movement for some, which in itself is no grounds for criticism; in fact, trading income/consumption for more free time is one of the most important cultural shifts needed in the developed world today. But to characterize the Simplicity Movement merely as a leisure expansion movement is to betray an ignorance of the diverse motivations people actually have for adopting voluntary simplicity, which often include environmentalism and social justice. Bearing those ethically-based motivations in mind, the fact that simple living can also be described as a form of ‘alternative hedonism’ seems to provide, not grounds for criticism, but further support for the Simplicity Movement.

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