Some thoughts on Voluntary Simplicity

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about changing the culture of consumerism. Today I want to take a step backwards from that discussion and talk a little about voluntary simplicity. I started along the path to voluntary simplicity when I finally realised that most of the stress in my life was being caused by the lifestyle I had chosen to live. Voluntary simplicity appealed to me as a philosophy because it is about making a conscious choice to downshift and simplify to create the life that fits me best.

Some people associate voluntary simplicity with frugality, but voluntary simplicity and frugality are two very different concepts. Frugality is a tool that makes the simpler lifestyle possible, but it’s not the end goal. Voluntary simplicity does not mean you have to live in poverty or practice a lifestyle of self-denial. It’s actually quite the opposite. Developing the habit of being frugal where it really counts can leave you with more discretionary money and time, plus the freedom of being able to decide what to do with both.

Despite huge gains in material wealth over the last 60 years, our society’s happiness levels have remained steady. Our culture of consumerism and materialism does not appear to be making us any happier. Constantly seeking further material wealth (i.e. needing more money to pay for more “stuff”) seems to trap people in jobs they hate and lifestyles that leave them feeling dissatisfied and unhappy.

The authors of Affluenza: When Too Much is Never Enough argue that this addiction to material growth causes over-consumption, “luxury fever”, consumer debt, overwork, waste and harm to the environment. These pressures lead to “psychological disorders, alienation and distress”, causing people to “self-medicate with mood-altering drugs and excessive alcohol consumption”.

Voluntary simplicity provides an alternative. It’s offers the opportunity to find balance in your life, connect with who you really are and create a lifestyle where you wake up each morning feeling a sense of fulfillment and excitement about the day ahead.

Choosing voluntary simplicity does not have to be a complete lifestyle change all at once. Making just a few small changes in your life can make a major difference.

  • Start by limiting unnecessary purchases. Determine if what you are buying is something you really need or if you a going to still want it a few years from now. Buying something on impulse or just because it’s the latest fashion trend may not be the best use of your money. Perhaps the money could be better used for something more aligned to your values.
  • Think carefully about how you are spending your time. Are you rushing around to activities or events that are meaningless to you? Frugality of time is sometimes more important than frugality of money. Start doing things that bring you joy and stop doing some of those things that cause you to feel stressed and unhappy.
  • Appreciate your family life and enjoy the people you love. Spend time with each member of your family and build strong relationships.
  • Do it yourself and become more self-reliant. Learn skills and teach yourself to fix things.
  • Make a connection with nature. Take a short walk, spend some time working in the garden, or just get outdoors and enjoy the beautiful day. You’ll be amazed how much more relaxed you’ll feel.
  • Re-think the way you shop for groceries and the foods you eat. It’s true that “you are what you eat”. Eating REAL food and avoiding preservatives and additives will help make you healthier and happier.
  • Try to find a balance between work and relaxation. Everyone needs some downtime, both physically and emotionally.

Voluntary simplicity is not a limiting lifestyle. Choosing to live consciously and deliberately will give you freedom, more quality time, more discretionary money and more appreciation and enjoyment of every aspect of your life.

Voluntary Simplicity – What is it, and why I want it.

Voluntary Simplicity, Frugality and why all this economic stuff is relevant

Photo by: {Erik}


  1. One of the reasons I became interested in voluntary simplicity as a concept was that I wanted to have more time to explore my hobbies, spend time with my family and my friends, and I felt that working a 9 to 5 job made it difficult to do this.

    The voluntary simplicity movement is partly a reaction to a culture where we are pushing ourselves to work 40, 50, 60+ hours a week and are losing touch with ourselves and our lives. One trend begets another. I only wish the simple living movement was a stronger trend than the consumerist “live large” one!

    By the way, I loved Affluenza!

  2. A thoughtful post once again Mia. I would like to echo your comment that a simple life doesn’t mean a life of deprivation, quite the opposite.

    But, if you are stuck in a consumerist lifestyle (and that is how you have always measured success), then anything else looks like failure.

    Most of my family see it this way. They refer to my lifestyle (working from home, gardening, making and eating good food, building a new house etc) as “reduced”, with the obvious negative connotations.

    And that comes from a guy who loves spending time with his three children, but is out at work 12+ hours per day, five day per week.

    You tell me who has the reduced lifestyle …

  3. I’m reading “Shed Your Stuff” these days.

    My idea for a bumper sticker: “Shed your stuff, Don’t stuff your shed.”

    (I have a lot of sheds on the farm.)

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