What is Voluntary Simplicity? Simplify Your Life and Be Happier!

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

Dinner is served: Everything is homemade/homegrown/local and organic!


Earlier this week I came across an article on Voluntary Simplicity. I realised this is what my husband Duncan and I have been doing over the last 12 years or so – without realising it!

So I did some research and found that Voluntary Simplicity is actually a philosophy. Popularised by Henry Walden Thoreau in the late 1800s, it’s arguably been around in one shape or form since approximately 300BC when a Greek philosopher called Epicurus advocated simple, moderate living. Another name I really liked is “Compassionate Living”.

Voluntary Simplicity is about making a conscious choice to live a simpler life – and covers everything from growing your own food to buying less and 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!

Voluntary Simplicity is also about creating a life of meaning and living your values. And although everyone’s values are different and change over time – at a fundamental level our values always boil down to a core few; joy, love, health, security, peace, integrity and respect.

And while there are extremists who believe we shouldn’t buy anything we don’t need, I am not one. I love quality and a little luxury. I’m a big believer in having fun and enjoying life. Voluntary Simplicity is not about denial, it’s about living respectfully with each other, nature, the planet. It’s about making deliberate, compassionate and thoughtful choices.

If living a simpler, kinder life appeals to you, here are some easy things you can do to begin the movement towards Voluntary Simplicity:

  1. Grow some food. Even if you live in an apartment, use the balcony to grow some lettuce, strawberries or herbs. How does a dried up old seed turn into food? It’s pretty magical.
  2. Watch and learn. If you haven’t already, start watching some documentaries. Start with The Corporation, Food, Inc., Century of Self.
  3. Eat less meat. Buy a vegetarian cookbook and find some new favourite recipes. Try keeping your meat “budget” the same, but buy organic and/or local – better quality, less quantity.
  4. When making a purchase ask yourself, is this a “need” or a “want”? Ask yourself why you’re buying it. Remember that the more stuff we have, the more energy it takes to maintain. And the lower our bank balance too!
  5. Watch TV consciously – only when you really want to eg. for a specific program or for a set period of time to unwind.
  6. Rediscover the joy of reading. Choose 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 or “Trauma Farm” by Brian Brett. Search on www.AbeBooks.com (an online international used book distributor – started in Victoria, BC – local to me!)
  7. Think about who is most important in your life. Does your lifestyle reflect that? Do you spend quality time with those who matter most? If not, what gets in the way?
  8. Make time for something you really, really enjoy. Regularly!

And here are some more challenging Voluntary Simplicity ideas:

  1. Learn to meditate. You can’t stop your thoughts and feelings arising, but you can learn not be swept up by them. Meditation helps us respond consciously rather than simply reacting.
  2. Get rid of satellite TV altogether and sign up for Netflix and/or Apple TV. Buy/watch TV on demand – only when you really want to.
  3. Challenge yourself and try some vegan recipes: I recommend the cookbook ExtraVeganZa by Laura Matthias. Search on www.AbeBooks.com
  4. Choose your values over price when making purchasing decisions:
    – How far has your food travelled? Then choose the more local food. (Once I decided NOT to buy fish that had been caught in the (Atlantic) USA, processed in China and then brought back to (Pacific) Canada. All for $4.95 on sale!
    – Choose products with less, or recyclable, packaging.
    – Buy from someone you know or a local company rather than a corporation.
  5. Switch your smartphone off, or place it out of sight unless you have a specific NEED for it to be on.
  6. Read books that explore societal issues like “Nickel and Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich or The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Search on www.AbeBooks.com
Duncan and I at a friend's on Salt Spring Island

Duncan and I at a friend’s on Salt Spring Island

When I look back over how much our lives and decision making has changed, there is NO way we could have done it all at once. I wouldn’t have wanted to either! Some of the changes like not having regular television or buying organic (when the regular is on sale) are challenging and can only be made when you’re really connected to your values and beliefs!

It’s taken us 12 years of practicing voluntary simplicity to get where we are today – gradually educating ourselves, shifting our beliefs and aligning our lives with our values. We’re still shifting and growing – learning more about what makes us happy, what really matters in the world, and trying to be gentler with ourselves. And we’re happier and more satisfied with our lives than we have ever been!

If the idea of Voluntary Simplicity appeals, remember the alternative name, “Compassionate Living”. Be KIND to yourself, others and the planet.

Why not pick ONE thing you can simplify and start now?

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