Simple Living Is Better for Everyone

August 10, 2016 Carol No comments exist

What is the meaning of life? To be happy and useful. – Dalai Lama


Simple living is better for everyone. You can improve your own life and help improve the lives of others, not just for our generation, but for future generations as well.


What is simple living, anyway?


In his essay “Voluntary Simplicity: The Poetic Alternative to Consumer Culture,” Samuel Alexander, defines simple living as “a post-consumerist living strategy that rejects the materialistic lifestyle of consumer culture and affirms what is often just called ‘the simple life,’ or ‘downshifting.’”


When I Googled “definition of simple living,” the results included an absolute gem. Bob Corbett created it for his philosophy Webster University. Here is the link: DEFINITION, CRITERION AND STEPS TOWARD VOLUNTARY SIMPLICITY.


Wikipedia also offers a good definition of simple living: Simple living.


What could motivate someone to embrace voluntary simplicity?


Historically, many people have embraced simplicity for religious reasons. In the 1960’s and ’70’s, there was a movement whose participants valued voluntary simplicity for reasons of social justice. Two important books were instrumental in this movement: Frances Moore Lappe and Joe Collin’s FoodFirst and E.F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful. In the 1980’s and ’90’s we began to hear more about simplicity for ecological harmony. Duane Elgin’s book, Voluntary Simplicity, espouses the need to reduce our environmental impact and steward the earth’s resources more carefully. At the same time, he extols the freedoms of a simpler way of life.


A large body of sociological and psychological research has emerged which suggests that once human beings have their basic material needs satisfied, further increases in material wealth stop contributing much to well-being. Rather than wasting time pursuing more and more material goods, a goal that will do nothing for you, why not use that time in more constructive ways? You just might be able to free up more time for those things that truly inspire you and make you happy!


You might think about these motivational factors as a sort of  “push” and “pull.” The “push” is the need to preserve our earth’s resources. The “pull” is the desire to achieve a freer, happier, and more productive life for yourself and others.


The Ecological Footprint


Humanity needs what nature provides. If we want everyone on our planet to have enough, then we need to be mindful of how we consume Earth’s resources. So how do we know how much we are using, and how much is available for us to use? The Ecological Footprint is an accounting system designed to answer that question.


simple living is better for everyone


The demand side (Footprint) tracks how much land and water area a human population uses to provide all it takes from nature. The supply side (biocapacity) is a measure how much biologically productive area is available to provide these services. Since the 1970’s, humanity has been in ecological overshoot. It takes 1.5 years for the Earth to regenerate the renewable resources that people use, and absorb the CO2 waste they produce, in that same year.


Simple Living and Economic Equality


Wake up people! Wealth and income inequality in America needs to be fixed. The top 1% has 40% of the wealth. The bottom 80% has only 7% of the wealth. The top 10% has 72% of the wealth. The bottom 50% has only 2% of the wealth. 


simple living is better for everyone


In the 1960′s and ’70′s, there was a movement whose participants valued voluntary simplicity for reasons of social justice. This is still a great reason to embrace simple living today!

Social inequality is different from economic inequality, though the two are linked. Social inequality refers to disparities in the distribution of economic assets and income, while economic inequality is caused by the unequal accumulation of wealth; social inequality exists because the lack of wealth in certain areas prohibits these people from obtaining the same housing, health care, etc. as the wealthy, in societies where access to these social goods depends on wealth. — Wikipedia


So, we can readily understand that a more equitable distribution of wealth is desirable. But is economic growth the answer? NO! What’s needed instead is a sharing of the world’s resources, especially as those resources are limited. That’s where simple living comes in! The less I consume, the more I have to share with others.  The choice to live simply becomes an act of sharing. Sharing can be an alternative to growth.


Getting Started Toward Voluntary Simplicity


First, recognize that this is a journey, not an immediate achievement; in fact, there is no definite end point. The important first step is to make a commitment to start on the journey. Resolve to  make conscious choices to leave materialism behind and move on to a more rewarding and fulfilling lifestyle.


It is important to note that the path to simplicity will be different for each of us.  The specific changes that you decide to make in your life should be voluntary, in tune with your personal aspirations and your particular circumstances. Even then, every one of us will adjust our paths as we continue the journey.


Yes, each of our paths will vary, and they will change over time. However, there are some general steps which seem to apply to virtually every version of simple living. These are:

  • Reduce the amount of money it costs you to live.
  • Reduce the possessions you own.
  • Develop an honest and regular assessment of your spiritual self.
  • Inform yourself. Consider some of the materials listed under “Further Exploration” below.
  • Take on some large, important task. Use this task to motivate yourself and keep you critically aware of where you want to go.


Have you started on a path toward voluntary simplicity? How has it changed your life?

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