Voluntary Simplicity: Creating a Sustainable Future

By Dove, Roxana A.; Bailey, Sue | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, April 2003 | Go to article overview

Voluntary Simplicity: Creating a Sustainable Future


Dove, Roxana A., Bailey, Sue, Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


Trends Research Institute estimated that 88.5 million people would pursue a scaled-down lifestyle by 2002 (Guidera, 1995). The essence of voluntary simplicity is a life in harmony with one's authentic self, while striking a balance with humanity and the environment.

Richard Gregg ([1936] 1977) coined the term voluntary simplicity and defined it as:

. . . singleness of purpose, sincerity, and honesty within, as well as avoidance of exterior clutter, of many possessions irrelevant to the chief purpose of life. It means an ordering and guiding of our desires, a partial restraint in some directions in order to secure greater abundance of life in other directions. It involves a deliberate organization of life for a purpose (p. 20).

The search for simple living has existed throughout history and the "new trend" of voluntary simplicity brings together past ideas and values. Shi (1986) illustrated in his book that simple living has always been a prominent aspect of American life.

People are drawn to volunteer simplicity for a number of reasons:

Seeking Solutions to Societal Needs

Individuals involved in the movement cite materialism, debt, environmental crisis, and alienation from authentic self and community as the problems with contemporary society. Dominguez and Robin (1992) state, "It's debt that keeps us with our noses to the grindstone making a dying to pay off pleasures we've long forgotten and luxuries we scarcely have time to enjoy" (p. 160).

Creating a Meaningful Life

The reasons to simplify are to create a meaningful and purposeful life, cultivate values that improve one's quality of life, and enhance time. Levering and Urbanska (1992) desire to have ". . . time out to write letters, time to set on the porch watching the sun go down, enjoying time. Time to visit . . . linger with the newspaper. The simple sorts of things that unfrazzled people do" (p. 94).

Connecting with Others

Voluntary simplicity is about authenticity, frugality, and spirituality. It is being ecocentric; that is, having a concern for others and the environment. "Without the authentic self, one cannot meet the needs of connection, connecting with self, others, and a wider universe" (Andrews, 1997, p. 72).

Articulating a Sustainable Agenda

The voluntary simplicity movement agenda is holistic.

At the personal level we need a magnified global awareness and simpler ways of living. …

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