Health & Wellness Articles

The Benefits and Virtues of Voluntary Simplicity

Simplify Your Life!

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By Dean Anderson, Behavioral Psychology Expert         
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These days, voluntary simplicity is less about doing without certain things, and more about having just enough. It’s about living a full life by intentionally designing your life so that you don' t have to sacrifice anything important or waste your time, energy or material resources on things you don't really need or cherish.  It’s also about integrating basic ethical concerns such as fair distribution of labor and resources and the well-being of the natural world into your personal choices.

There is no one-size-fits-all definition of voluntary simplicity, or a single set of rules to follow. It means different things to different people and in different situations. What you might find comfortable or enriching could be a life of deprivation and boredom to someone else. Your level of simplicity also depends on your existing responsibilities to other people—it does not mean abandoning legitimate commitments and starting over, or imposing your values on other people.

Moving Towards Voluntary Simplicity
The first step towards constructing a voluntarily simple life is to gradually begin paring your life down to basic essentials—the things, activities and relationships that you truly need or genuinely cherish. For most people, this takes time and careful planning. Abrupt or poorly-planned changes, like quitting a job with nothing else lined up, can result in disaster. The goal here is to unburden yourself of possessions and activities that lock you into the “rat race” of earning more and more money to pay for more and more things you don’t really need; and to free up more time, resources, and energy for things that add real quality and meaning to your life.

Here’s a short list that many people focus on while trying to move towards voluntary simplicity:
  • Limiting material possessions to what is needed and/or cherished
  • Meaningful work, whether paid or volunteer
  • Quality time with friends and family
  • Joyful and pleasurable leisure activities
  • A conscious and comfortable relationship with money, charting a course between deprivation and excessive accumulation
  • Connection to community, but not necessarily in formal organizations
  • Sustainable spending and consumption practices, such as recycling and supporting local, community-based businesses with fair labor and environmental practices
  • A healthy lifestyle, including exercise, adequate sleep, and nutritious food
  • Practices that foster personal growth, an inner life, or spirituality, such as yoga, meditation, prayer, religious ceremonies, journaling, and/or spiritual reading
  • A connection to nature, such as spending time outdoors regularly
  • Aesthetic beauty in personal environment
The “Secret Ingredient”
There are several good books about voluntary simplicity and intentional living. One of my favorites is Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Way of Life that is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich, by Duane Elgin. Elgin suggests that the practice of voluntary simplicity helps us make the shift from “embedded consciousness” to “self-reflective consciousness,” which is crucial for personal growth and the well-being of self and society.
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • This was an excellent article, and very timely for me. Very affirming, and although I did not read all the many responses, I found them to also be very positive and helpful. Many of us have come to a simpler life not out of choice but because something happened, and I was interested to see how people were able to adapt to make something better, and many have found a strong spirituality as a result. - 4/11/2016 7:20:12 AM
  • Thank you for the Birthday Greetings and for this article on Voluntary Simplicity. I especially like this term. A few years ago when I was struggling with a divorce, change of career, and having the youngest one leave home and start her life I was overwhelmed with the choices. A dear friend gave me a copy of a book called "God on a Harley". It has the most profound impact on my life. I did start over, and keeping it simple became my mantra. I love the simple life. How we define that depends on the person, but I feel I do it very well for me.
    Bless you! - 2/20/2016 4:24:25 PM
  • This is the way I am attempting to live. I don't think I've ever seen it expressed so eloquently as I have here, but then Coach Dean is one of my favorite SparkPeople coaches/writers. All of his articles are worth reading! Thank you for populating my "Favorites"! - 1/29/2016 6:44:11 AM
  • Very good article. This is something I am working toward since I retired. - 11/18/2015 11:37:56 AM
  • MARY_POPOVER
    What a terrific article from one of Spark's finest coaches! I've found there's so much peace and satisfaction to be gained by relinquishing the role of a "stuffologist" ;) It's easier on the earth, too! - 10/15/2015 7:05:03 PM
  • Enjoyed this article very much. - 10/5/2015 5:54:22 AM
  • DEBORAH3498
    Very good article. I too, had to learn the hard way. I had lost my job a couple of years ago and I was totally unprepared. In the beginning, living simply was not a choice, it was just the way it was. But after a few weeks, I gradually learned I did not need all of the things I wanted. I found the difference between the meaning of wanting and of needing. Today I am thriving and doing well. My life is a testament in how God provides and how to trust in Him completely. Letting go of me and holding onto Him. - 8/17/2015 8:18:13 AM
  • CEVIZAGACE
    Simplicity started out involuntarily for me, when I had to stop working because of a chronic disease. I still have some income, but it's a bare minimum. I came to like the simple life pretty soon. Fortunately, I don't own a house so no mortgage, I live in a reasonably cheap apartment. I don't own a car and don't need one - do everything by bike and if it's too far by train. I don't go on holidays anymore, and am always on the search for free or cheap things, free or low budget courses (I love learning), second hand clothes and furniture (or I make them myself). Don't have cable anymore, if I really want to watch things I can always find them online. Started gardening on my very small patch of ground. Stopped buying books but get them from the library now. I enjoy my relatively simple life (which is, compared to life in really poor countries, still quite luxurious).
    Only thing I miss is being able to give my son some extra money so he has to take a considerable student loan, and perhaps taking more classes. - 7/28/2015 4:54:19 AM
  • Two years of unemployment knocked this sense into me, When I FINALLY was able to land a job (PT) I learned to live on that income and enjoyed the simplicity of it. 5 years later I am lovin' life and heading toward retirement in another 5 years. I'll be ready if I do decide to retire but I doubt it. I love my PT job and God has been to good to me.

    Have faith !!! - 3/20/2015 8:20:04 AM
  • This was one of the best articles I've ever read on Spark and I've been here a LONG time. The only issue not addressed was people who must work long hours just to support their family. Companies increasingly treat employees as disposable and demand more and more with the warning "you're lucky to have a job." This attitude is devastating to the individual family and to society as a whole. - 3/20/2015 7:53:14 AM
  • VAINVT
    This was a great article. The suggestions were reasonable and worthy. Although we have downsized, and although I became far more thoughtful about buying new and getting rid of no longer used items, I am way behind many of the people who commented on your article. One thing I'd add to the comments is that when we downsized, I felt "lighter" and less encumbered. It was an eye-opener to read both the article and the comments. - 2/4/2015 7:42:04 AM
  • IRELANDSIS
    Great article. We downsized in 2007 from a 3000 square foot home to a 1000 square foot home for four people. We love it! We have to be more creative with our storage and nearly everything in our home serves a practical purpose and isn't there just to be decorative. We have no attic space, minimal closets, and refuse to pay for off-site storage, so we really have to be careful with what we buy. If we haven't used it in 6 months, it goes out the door to someone else who can find a use for it (donation to charity or a friend). We spend much more time together as a family creating memories than taking care of possessions. It's a good life, but the steps to get here can be overwhelming at first. :) - 12/29/2014 9:58:24 PM
  • This article is very affirming of our decision 7 years ago to take early retirement, sell our house at a loss in the beginning of the Great Recession, and move to FL to become the "family" and full time back up caregivers for our grandchildren who were at that time ages 18 mos. and a newborn. We have a small but adequate home, lots of fun and practical "stuff" and we don't have to lock our doors because we have nothing worth stealing. Our days revolve around helping our daughter's family, supporting them so that the parents can do their work in the medical professions. We are helping them while they help others. Our needs are few, and we have everything we need and most of what we want. We are blessed, thanks Doc Dean for affirming this choice. - 12/20/2014 10:00:22 AM
  • In May 2013 I quit my job of 9 years and got rid of most of my Worldly possessions. I biked across the country for a charity and worked on poverty housing all summer. I joined the Peace Corps right after I got back and obviously the timing was wrong, I was returned shortly after due to safety. I also helped move my partner to Sacramento from Seattle and with all the crazy changes I still think having less stuff is like being given your freedom. When you no longer worry about things being stolen and where to store things, you begin a fabulous journey called life! - 10/17/2014 12:44:02 PM
  • FOXGLOVE999
    This is how I choose to live my life, very simply. I am fortunate to be able to do this. I do have issue with any one who believes that you get what you deserve in this life. Rich people do not deserve to be rich, poor people do not deserve to be poor. You get what you get, sometimes effort plays a part, sometimes it doesn't. The only generalization that can be made about rich and poor people, is that rich people have more money. - 10/3/2014 9:13:51 AM

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