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Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown: The Diderot Effect

Have you ever purchased or been given something, something you really wanted, only to find that this new acquisition made the rest of your stuff seem a bit old and dated? Rather than discarding the new acquisition or accepting some disunity in the style of your possessions, have you then been tempted to upgrade your old and dated stuff? In the 18th century, the French philosopher Denis Diderot wrote an... read more

The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less (Video Lecture)

Barry Schwartz is a sociology professor at Swarthmore College and author of The Paradox of Choice. In this talk, he explains how and why the abundance of consumer choice in modern society is actually making people miserable. But far from being a litany of despair, his is ultimately a message of hope, and a message implicitly supportive of the Simplicity Movement. Don’t think buying stuff through... read more

Facebook as an Oppositional Tool for Activists? A Highly Qualified Defence of Social Media

Until 2011, I spent a total of about 4 minutes on social media like Facebook, MySpace, etc. I signed up for an account a couple of years ago, but then immediately forgot my password and, until very recently, never looked back. Like many others, I feel that social media is consuming an alarming amount of people’s time and energy, often in ways that seem rather wasteful and uninspired. (Tweet: “I just... read more

The Curse of Affluenza (Video Lecture)

‘Affluenza’ can be defined as a collective psychological disorder that leaves people feeling deprived despite their plenty. The link below leads to an insightful and powerfully argued video lecture on the subject. The 29 minute lecture is delivered by Richard Denniss, who is the Executive Director of Australia’s most influential think-tank, the Australia Institute. Denniss is also the... read more

Stories of Simplicity

Do you have a story you could share about your personal exploration of the simple life? Was there a moment when you realized that it was ‘the simple things’ in life that matter most? What do you understand by ‘the simple things’? Perhaps you would like to share some of the difficulties with simple living and how you deal with them? Perhaps you would like to share some of the... read more

The Walden Experiment

(For the background to this post, click here.) On Independence Day, 1845, a few days before his twenty-eighth birthday, Henry Thoreau left his town of Concord, Massachusetts, and went to live alone in the woods, on the shores of Walden Pond, a mile from any neighbour. He there built himself a modest cabin and for two years and two months earned a simple living by the labor of his own hands. He also wrote,... read more

Thoreau on Materialistic Culture

‘Let us consider the way in which we spend our lives,’ Henry Thoreau began one of his most provocative essays, noting that since time was short he would ‘leave out all the flattery, and retain all the criticism,’[1] as was his way. ‘What is it to be born free and not to live free?’ he asked his fellow citizens. ‘Is it a freedom to be slaves, or a freedom to be free, of which we boast?’... read more

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
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