What is Voluntary Simplicity? 10 Easy Ways to Live a Simpler, Kinder & More Values Driven Life!

With Earth Day coming up next week, I thought it would be helpful to explore the (low impact on our planet) philosophy of Voluntary Simplicity.

Because right now there seems to be an unconscious move towards “Voluntary Simplicity” in our (middle class) societies. Whether you roll your eyes or love it, the shifts we see to homemade, local and unique are all part of an “en masse” reaction to corporate greed and the de-personalisation that every one of us feels as a result.

Think how important you feel when made to wait 25 minutes to speak to a customer service agent to explain your problem (again). Or how it feels when toxic chemicals aren’t cleaned up and impact our local environment like this current issue with untreated wastewater from a mine in Tampa Bay, Florida. And who feels like a valued member of society when we have to wait months or years for health treatment – assuming you even have “insurance” or can afford to pay for it?

I believe this de-personalisation has led us to seek the personal, homemade and unique. Consider Etsy – a huge ecosystem of handmade, craft and vintage products. Or the chunky reusable Mason jars we see used in every conceivable way. Farmer’s Markets are more popular than ever, and people are moving to rural areas to find community and make their own jam, pickles (guilty!), weave their own baskets, make kombucha and even cheese (hoping to in the future!).

So, what has this to do with Voluntary Simplicity?

Voluntary Simplicity shown by local wine, delicious homegrown and homemade food

Dinner: Everything is home made/grown/local and organic!

With Earth Day around the corner, consider that Voluntary Simplicity is good for the planet.

It’s about making a conscious choice to live a simpler life – and covers everything from growing your own food to buying less to buying locally, from composting and recycling to a focus on people and relationships, a healthy mind AND body, work-life balance and connecting with nature!

As a philosophy Voluntary Simplicity was popularised by Henry Walden Thoreau in the late 1800s, although it’s arguably been around since about 300BC when a Greek philosopher called Epicurus advocated enjoying life through simple, moderate living.

Another name for Voluntary Simplicity I really like is “Compassionate Living”.

COVID has added fuel to the Voluntary Simplicity “Fire”

The COVID pandemic has caused many of us to examine our busy, often overwrought lives and ask: What really matters? What makes me happy? Why am I still doing X or Y or Z?

COVID has helped us see how fragile life is, and how much we might take our health – and existence – for granted.

And each and every one of us (even if we’re lucky and are still working) has seen during this pandemic, how easily our financially comfortable lives can be upended. We all know people (maybe ourselves) who are unable to work and are trying to make ends meet right now.

For me, COVID has shown that living a simpler, kinder life – in community with others and in harmony with nature – is more important than ever.

So, what is Voluntary Simplicity?

Voluntary Simplicity is about creating a simpler life, aligned with our values. A life of meaning.

And while everyone’s values are different, at a fundamental level our values always boil down to a core few: joy, love, health, security, peace, integrity and respect. Sounds good to me!

A simple life is not seeing how little we can get by with – that’s poverty – but how efficiently we can put first things first… When you’re clear about your purpose and your priorities, you can painlessly discard whatever does not support these, whether it’s clutter in your cabinets or commitments on your calendar. Victoria Moran

I wonder if this appeals to you? If so, I’ve outlined some easy ways to get started below.

10 Easy Ideas to Begin Moving Towards Voluntary Simplicity

As you read the list below, begin to ask yourself, what ONE thing could I do – or start doing? Remember to be kind to yourself, keep it simple – just one easy thing!

1) Grow some food

Dig over a little patch in your garden. Buy some seeds and read the instructions or get some plant starts and put them in.

Even if you live in an apartment, use your balcony to grow lettuce, strawberries or herbs. It’s incredible how a tiny dried up old seed can turn into food or a beautiful flower.

2) Learn (Get inspired)

If you haven’t already, watch some documentaries so that you understand what’s going on behind the scenes of our societies. Start with The Corporation, Food, Inc., Century of Self or The Social Dilemma (all links to IMDb). This will give you motivation to do things differently.

And if, like me, you’ve overdosed on documentaries that leave you feeling a bit down (eek!), try watching inspirational documentaries and nature shows that remind us of how incredible and precious our planet and its inhabitants are. Try Dancing with the Birds, Brene Brown’s Call to Courage or My Octopus Teacher. Or check out the movies I listed for International Women’s Day here.

Frances Moore Lappe Quote About our World3) Eat less meat

Buy a vegetarian (or even vegan) cookbook and find some new favourite recipes.

My current favourite cookbook is Everyday Kitchen by Richa Hingle (link is to Amazon, but try ordering from your local bookstore!). It has delicious sauces (peanut, sweet and sour, curries) that can be mixed and matched with different dishes. Vegan yet so yummy you won’t care!

Another great idea is to keep your meat “budget” the same, but buy organic. So, spend the same amount, but buy less, higher quality, kindly raised meat.

4) When making a purchase ask, is this a “Need” or a “Want”?

Before buying something ask yourself why you’re buying it. Is it a “Need” or a “Want”? Remember that the more stuff we have, the more energy it takes to store and care for it etc. And less stuff = a better bank balance too!

Also consider, is it beautiful? Because art and things we truly love uplift our homes.

You may also want to consider de-cluttering the stuff you already have.

5) Watch TV consciously / Rediscover the joy of reading

If not already, you could get rid of “satellite” TV with hundreds of channels you never watch. Instead only sign up for one or two services you actually use. This will save you money too…

Then only watch TV when you really want to eg. for a specific program or for a set period of time to unwind. Binge watching is not the worst thing in the world, but why not make it a treat rather than the norm, something you do without thinking?

And instead, read a book eg. personal development, inspirational books or memoirs of people you admire. You may like, Slow is Beautiful by Cecile Andrews , The Hero Within by Carol S. Pearson, Trauma Farm by Brian Brett (a poetic book about running a farm – it’s not traumatic at all!). I love Alice Walker (I always feel inspired to write after reading her books) and anything by Brene Brown!

Or read a fun or entertaining novel – just for pleasure!

7) Shop mindfully

First, support your local economy. The people who run stores in your community live in your community and wow, has COVID ever decimated our local businesses. Help them survive! Yes, it may mean paying a little more because your local stores don’t have the buying power of Amazon or a supermarket chain. Small stores don’t get bulk discounts – so they’re not gouging us, they’re disadvantaged to start with.

Looking for gifts? Try Etsy or see who in your local community is open/has an online store. If you choose a bigger store to shop with, find one with values that align with yours. For other kind AND fun gift ideas check out the article I wrote for holiday gift shopping here.

Some other ideas include:

  • Check how far your food has travelled, and choose the more local option.
  • Choose products with less, reusable or recyclable packaging.
  • Choose organic and/or Fair Trade companies (if you can).

8) The 4 Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Repair and Recycle

You all know these already. ‘Nuff said.

9) Build your life around those who are most important to you

Who is most important to you? Who matters most? Do your habits and lifestyle reflect that?

If you’re not spending quality time with those who matter most, what gets in the way? What could you do differently?

10) Make time for things (or one big thing) you really, really enjoy – regularly

Voluntary Simplicity is not all effort and cutting back. Finding ways to enjoy life is a core principle: What do you love to do? What do you enjoy? Is there one thing that just makes you happy?

For example, I love to sing (I’m OK, but not great). So we recently bought some karaoke equipment online from a local music store. I felt a bit silly – but my hubbie and I have already had several karaoke evenings (just the two of us), and I’ve been practicing my singing lessons… On those evenings I go to bed with a full heart 🙂

If you’d like some easier things to get started, try out this exercise: What Makes Your Heart Sing?

Wrap up

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Quote on ChangeVoluntary Simplicity is not about denial, it’s about living respectfully with each other, nature and our planet and making deliberate, compassionate and thoughtful choices.

It’s taken my hubbie and I 20 years of ever increasing voluntary simplicity (and mistakes and practice) to get where we are today. We’ve gradually educated ourselves, shifted our beliefs and aligned our lives with our values.

And we’re still growing – learning more about what makes us happy, what really matters in the world, and trying to be gentler with ourselves. When I look back over how much my life and decision making has changed, there is NO way I could have done it all at once. It’s not simple to make several huge changes at once!

So, if the idea of Voluntary Simplicity appeals, remember the alternative name, “Compassionate Living”. Take it slow and be KIND to yourself, others and the planet.

Fierce Kindness LogoAs we head towards Earth Day, what ONE action could you take towards a simpler life?

If you liked this article on Voluntary Simplicity, you may also like:

Change the world. Start with You!


Image of Woman with her dog living a life of Voluntary Simplicity by Ivan Mandic via Unsplash

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