Voluntary Simplicity is an Expression of Freedom

MARCH 2009


Invitation / Incitation

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead



  • Voluntary Simplicity Presentation and Discussion – This Wednesday 1st April, 5-6.30 pm, Gryphon Gallery, Graduate Centre, 1888 Building (near the corner of Swanston St and Gratten Streets, Carlton, Melbourne.). All welcome! For more information on this and other events (including ‘State of the Environment Report: A Debate’ which is on tonight, 5.30-7pm, see:

  • Life Poets’ to Promote Voluntary Simplicity at the Melbourne Social Forum – Our Collective has been invited to provide a workshop/seminar at the Melbourne Social Forum. The Forum runs from Friday 17-19 April 2009. All welcome! For more information see:
  • Voluntary Simplicity Documentary – 22 April 2009, 9.30pm, Channel 31’s Plug In TV Show, produced by the inspired team at No Way Productions. (The documentary will also be posted online in due course. Location, to be advised.)
  • Voluntary Simplicity Library Established (Melbourne) – See below
  • Membership Expanding – Since the Sustainable Living Festival many more people interested in simple living have joined our Collective, from all around the world, including the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. It seems more people than we might have first thought are interested in exploring simplicity and living more with less. If you would like to be a part of spreading this important message, then please forward this email onto others. It can’t hurt, and could do the world of good.

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers – William Wordsworth


One of the paradoxes of voluntary simplicity is that the idea is rich and complex. It may be helpful, therefore, to spend a moment thinking about how we might define voluntary simplicity. Here are six definitions provided by leading writers in the voluntary simplicity movement. Which aspects speak loudest to you?

  • Voluntary simplicity is a manner of living that is outwardly simple and inwardly rich, a deliberate choice to live with less in the belief that more of life will be returned to us in the process. (Duane Elgin)
  • Voluntary simplicity refers to the decision to limit expenditures on con­sumer goods and services and to cultivate nonmaterialistic sources of satis­faction and meaning. (Amatai Etzioni)
  • Voluntary simplicity involves directing progressively more time and energy toward pursuing non-material aspirations while providing for material needs as simply, directly, and efficiently as possible. It measures personal and social progress by increases in the qualitative richness of daily living, the cultivation of relationships, and the development of personal and spiritual potentials. Simple living does not denigrate the material aspects of life but rather, by attending to quality, it values material things more highly than a society that merely consumes them. … Simplicity is about knowing how much consumption is enough. (Mark A. Burch)
  • Voluntary simplicity involves the quest for calm, balanced, integrated lives; less clutter, less artificiality, and lessened impact on nature; and the elevation of quality over quantity, time over money, and community over competition. (Eric T. Freyfogle)
  • Voluntary simplicity involves both inner and outer condition. It means singleness of purpose, sincerity and honesty within, as well as avoidance of exterior 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. (Richard Gregg)
  • Voluntary simplicity often involves making a conscious decision to accept a lower income and a lower level of consumption to pursue other life goals. (Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss)

The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it. – Henry David Thoreau


In 1845, at age 28, Henry David Thoreau left his town of Concord, New England, and went to live alone in the woods, on the shores of Walden Pond, a mile from any neighbor. He there built himself a modest hut, and for two years and two months earned a simple living by the labor of his own hands. ‘I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,’ wrote Thoreau, ‘to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what they had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.’ What he discovered was that by building his own shelter, wearing old clothes, and cultivating rows of beans and potatoes, he was able to provide for all his basic needs by laboring a total of just six weeks per year. By living simply, in a material sense, and rejecting the consumerist values which had begun to infect his society, he found himself radically free to ‘march to the beat of his own drummer.’

Thoreau’s point was not that everyone should live exactly as he was living, alone, by a pond, eating only beans and potatoes. We must each ‘find our own way,’ he wrote in Walden, and ‘there are as many ways as there are radii from one center.’ His point, rather, was to show that surprisingly little is needed to live well and to be free, if only life is approached with the right attitude. ‘Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only,’ he asserted. ‘Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul.’

Thoreau thought that these insights might be of therapeutic value to his contemporaries, because everywhere, in shops, offices, and fields, the inhabitants seemed to him to be doing penance in a thousand remarkable ways. ‘The twelve labors of Hercules were trifling in comparison with those which my neighbors have undertaken; for they were only twelve, and had an end; but I could never see that these men slew or captured any monster or finished any labor.’ It was the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu who said, ‘Those who know they have enough are rich.’ Thoreau was telling his contemporaries that they had enough, but that they did not know it – perhaps a lesson more relevant today than ever before?

By changing our attitudes of mind, we can change the world. William James


I have established a small library consisting of about 30 of the very best books on voluntary simplicity. I would like to make them freely available to anyone who is interested in exploring the literature. I will ask for a small bond of twenty dollars which will be returned when the book is returned. The books can be picked up from Parkville. (If I am not home, I will leave the book in my letterbox). The books will be issued for one month.

Voluntary simplicity is an expression of human freedom, one of whose aims is an increase in that freedom. – Mark A. Burch


A vertical garden? I know, it sounds mad. Here is the idea: There is nothing more natural or sustainable than human beings growing their own food, but urban life does not make this easy. Often, there is not much garden space… at least, not enough horizontal garden space. One way to expand your garden is to go up. With a piece of wood (an old table, an old door, etc) you can make a vertical garden (and perhaps even a work of art?). Make some containers by cutting in half and reusing a few 2-litre plastic bottles. Nail them to a piece of wood (leaving space between them) and then lean your vertical garden up against a wall in a sunny place. Fill each container with good soil and then plant with your favourite herbs, some lettuce, some spring onions, etc. Small things will work best.

There is no wealth but life. – John Ruskin


As well as forwarding this email onto to friends, family, work colleagues, etc., perhaps you would also like to help take simplicity to the streets? I have some Life Poets’ Simplicity Collective ‘business cards’ left over from the Sustainable Living Festival. If you would like to spend an autumn evening dropping some around your neighbourhood, workplace, campus, etc. then please let me know. They could be picked up from my place in Parkville, or, if necessary, I could send them to you. I would love to hear from you and your involvement would be greatly appreciated. (Also, I have attached to this email a short leaflet which could be printed out and distributed as well.)

Let us be pioneers once more,

Samuel Alexander,




Light dawns gradually over the whole. – Ludwig Wittgenstein

No Responses to “Voluntary Simplicity is an Expression of Freedom”

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge