Voluntary simplicity is a way of life that puts personal, inner growth ahead of material, outer growth. Also known as simple living, it advocates living with less, not as a result of poverty, but as a conscious choice. Self reliance is a principle central to this lifestyle. It encourages creating, growing and building your own world rather than being dependent on money to buy things. It promotes smaller scale living and working environments in which citizens feel supported and connected to others rather than feeling like they’re just another number, lost as to what their meaning in life and purpose of their work is. Living simply results in a more environmentally sound lifestyle because it’s based on mindful consumption—buying only what is needed and making sure one’s purchases are built to last.
Stuff has become so cheap to buy that the concept of value is vanishing. In our throwaway culture there’s little incentive to fix a TV when you can hop online and get a brand new one delivered to you for under $200. As a consumer in this economy it becomes difficult to show gratitude for what we already have. But now more than ever before that gratitude is essential. The practical reason is that with product costs continuing to plummet and the marketing machine creating ever more desire to purchase, we face consumer gluttony: bad for the health of humanity and the planet.
Voluntary simplicity is a call to experience inner richness and show gratitude for the things we already have rather than constantly struggling to acquire more and more stuff we don’t need. When lived fully, voluntary simplicity leads to a lifestyle of gratitude. The idea of “less is more” is never more applicable than when living simply. When making do with less, the attitude of gratitude naturally extends into all areas of life: having clean air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat. Being grateful for life itself.
According to the World Bank, 80 percent of humanity lives on less than $10 a day. Mindful attention to one’s consumer habits can make us feel more connected to those living in poverty. If we consume only what we need and consistently show gratitude for the things we have, only then can we start to empathize with those living in poverty.
We can own the most expensive consumer goods ever created and still not appreciate a single one of them if we don’t mindfully turn our attention to what we’re using those goods for. A top-of-the-line set of golf clubs won’t bring much satisfaction if used to chase a ball around the course while being distracted with thoughts or ringing cell phones. Rather, a cheap, used set of clubs would do much better when put in the hands of a golfer who focuses on the game.
With mindfulness it becomes easier to appreciate the sights and sounds of nature. Hobbies become less necessary to enjoy life when a simple walk through the park can bring joy. With enough gratitude for life itself, just a focus on breath and the consciousness of being alive is enough to bring happiness.
Some reject voluntary simplicity because it’s boring. With all the things to do in the world, why would someone choose to do less? It seems like a logical question. Looked at from the ego’s point of view, it makes complete sense to strive to do more and more. The ego constantly creates things for us to do so that we become reliant on it, thus perpetuating its dominance over us. If we saw through its protective veil, it would serve little need other than making sure we get the basic necessities of life. However, if trying to connect to our true Selves, living a life no longer dominated by the overwhelming desires of the ego, it makes sense to do less, even if that means “being” bored. “Being” is the natural state of present moment awareness. Rather than continually striving for more and more, boredom can help us turn our attention towards this state of mindfulness. From this place, peace, contentment and gratitude naturally flow.