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Consume More or Work Less?

Rethinking attitudes to work is central to the way many participants in the Simplicity Movement approach simple living.[1] Charles Siegel poses the critical question: ‘Should we take advantage of our increasing productivity to consume more or to have more free time?’[2] If people keep raising their material standard of living every time they come into more money – through a pay rise, for example, or... read more

Food: A Thumbnail Sketch

Eating locally, eating organically, eating out in moderation, eating less or no meat, eating simply, lightly, and creatively, and, as far as possible, growing one’s own fruit and vegetables – these are some of the key characteristics to food production and consumption in the lives of many simple livers.[1] Given some thought and a little discipline, a nutritious, environmentally sensitive diet can be... read more

Clothing, High Fashion, and Voluntary Simplicity’s Alternative Aesthetic

The historic purpose of clothing, as Henry Thoreau pointed out, was to keep us warm and, in time, for reasons of modesty. Today its dominant purpose seems to be fashion and the conspicuous display of wealth and status. People can, of course, spend thousands and thousands of dollars on clothing, if they wish. But simple livers tend to ‘dress down,’ wearing functional, often second-hand clothing.[1] Such... read more

What Kind of Shelter Does One Need to Live Well and Be Free?

Housing (whether purchasing, building, or renting) is typically life’s greatest single expense, so simple livers must think especially carefully about where they live and why, and how much of their lives they are prepared to spend seeking a ‘nicer’ place to live. Exactly what kind of shelter does one need to live well and be free? Obviously, we must answer this question for ourselves – at least,... read more

Vote with Your Money

It is all very well to theorize about the simple life – to debate definitions and evaluate justifications – but theory is empty if it is not grounded upon practice. Accordingly, this post and the following posts seek to enrich the preceding theoretical discussions by providing a preliminary exposition of how the idea of voluntary simplicity is actually lived by participants in the movement. In later... read more

Does Voluntary Simplicity Prescribe Universal Rules by which to Live?

Any discussion of the practice of simplicity ought to begin by acknowledging that there is not one way to live simply. There is no Doctrine or Code of Simplicity to follow, as such; there is no Method or Equation of Simplicity into which we can plug the facts of our lives and be told how to live. That is precisely what the idea cannot do. Voluntary simplicity, it could be said, is more about questions than... read more

The Need for a Politics of Voluntary Simplicity

The Voluntary Simplicity Movement has been criticized, at times, for being ‘escapist’ or ‘apolitical,’ a criticism which, it cannot be denied, has some weight.[1] Leading sociologist on voluntary simplicity, Mary Grigsby, notes that participants in the Simplicity Movement ‘don’t generally talk about policy initiatives, instead focusing on the individual as the primary mechanism for... read more

Creating Meaning and Identity through Consumption: Implications for Simple Livers

A more sophisticated critique of voluntary simplicity arises out of theories of consumption which recognize that commodities have come to play a role in our lives that go well beyond their material functionality. These theories hold that commodities also function symbolically as social artefacts through which people express and create their identities and in which people seek not just satisfaction, but... read more

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... read more

Is Living Simply Primitive? Regressive? Anti-technology?

Voluntary simplicity, furthermore, does not mean indiscriminately renouncing all the advantages of science and technology. It does not mean living in a cave, giving up all the benefits of electricity, or rejecting modern medicine. But it does question the assumption that science and technology are always the most reliable paths to health, happiness, and sustainability. It is certainly better to accept... read more

The Simple Life: Necessarily Agrarian? Just for Hippies?

Living simply does not necessarily imply leaving the city to live in the country; nor does it mean becoming a hippie or joining a commune. Although some may find that an agrarian existence is a very good and natural way to live, it will not be attractive (or available) to everyone; nor will living in a hippie commune. Indeed, learning how to live more simply and sustainably in an increasingly urbanized... read more

Does Voluntary Simplicity Glorify Poverty?

Voluntary simplicity can be misinterpreted sometimes as glorifying or romanticizing poverty, a myth encouraged perhaps by the fact that some of the more extreme proponents of simplicity – e.g. Diogenes, St Francis, Gandhi, etc. – did indeed live lives of staggering material renunciation. Such extremism can be alienating if it is considered to be a defining or necessary feature of the simple life, which... read more

Defining Voluntary Simplicity

Voluntary simplicity is an oppositional living strategy that rejects the high-consumption, materialistic lifestyles of consumer cultures and affirms what is often just called ‘the simple life’ or ‘downshifting.’[1] Sometimes called ‘the quiet revolution,’[2] this approach to life involves providing for material needs as simply and directly as possible, minimizing expenditure on consumer goods... read more

The Voluntary Simplicity Movement in an Age of Commodity Fetishism

In the developed regions of the world today, such as North America, Western Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, etc., decades of unprecedented economic growth have all but solved the economic problem of how to secure the necessaries of life and, indeed, have resulted in most people living lives of relative luxury and comfort.[1] Though a small residue of poverty remains in these regions, on the whole... read more

Will Science and Technology make Consumer Lifestyles Sustainable?

Aside from blaming over-population, a second mainstream response to the ecological crisis is to claim that science and technology will save the planet.[1] From this perspective, rather than focusing on reducing consumption or population, what primarily needs to happen is for scientific or technological advancements to make the production of commodities more efficient; that is, to make commodities... read more
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