Voluntary Simplicity: Reimagining the Good Life Beyond Consumer Culture

by Lisa Mastny   |   July 22, 2011

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In a new essay, The Voluntary Simplicity Movement: Reimagining the Good Life beyond Consumer Culture, author Samuel Alexander provides a broad overview of "voluntary simplicity," the movement to counter high-consumption llfestyles through simpler iiving.

The author points out some common misconceptions about voluntary simplicity, such as that it is a "glorification of poverty" or a primitive, agrarian, or hippie movement. He also counters common criticisms that voluntary simplicity is escapist, apolitical, or simply "a leisure expansion movement."

Alexander writes: "There is something painfully obvious about the need for individuals in consumer cultures to consume less, differently, and more efficiently. This paper has suggested, however, that this challenge need not sound so depressing. On the contrary, participants in the Voluntary Simplicity Movement see reimagining the consumerist ideal not as a matter of sacrifice or deprivation, but as a coherent path to genuine wealth and freedom."

A summary of the paper is below:

ABSTRACT: "Voluntary simplicity—otherwise known as ‘downshifting’ or just ‘simple living’—is an anti-consumerist way of life that opposes the high consumption lifestyles prevalent in consumer societies today and voluntarily embraces ‘a simpler life’ of reduced consumption. As a practical matter, this living strategy characteristically involves providing for material needs as simply and directly as possible, minimizing expenditure on consumer goods and services, and generally seeking non-materialistic sources of satisfaction and meaning. Variously defended by its advocates on personal, social, humanitarian, and ecological grounds, voluntary simplicity is predicated on the assumption that human beings can live meaningful, free, happy, and infinitely diverse lives, while consuming no more than an equitable share of nature. That, at least, is the challenging ideal which seems to motive and guide many of its advocates and practitioners. This paper examines the nature of the Voluntary Simplicity Movement, including its various definitions, justifications, and practices."

Samuel Alexander is a lecturer at Melbourne University in Australia and co-founder of The Simplicity Institute. The essay is published in the 2011 volume of The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability.