What is Voluntary Simplicity?


This is not the easiest question to answer. When I talk to my friends, they will say something like, “I really can’t do that simple living thing, because I really like my china (or big screen TV, or doll collection, etc.)” Or “I feel like a hypocrite, because I only own 5 outfits but I get my hair done every month.” And I am not comfortable calling myself a minimalist, because I own a motor home that I love and my husband collects mopeds.

But that’s the spirit of voluntary simplicity. It’s not about giving up everything–unless you want to! Voluntary is the key word here. Here are some things I’ve learned about this lifestyle:

1. Everybody is a hypocrite. This is because we all aspire to be more than we are. That is a good thing! We’re always striving to improve, which means that our ideal is more than we are. In my ideal world, we would never watch television. The reality is that the Bean has a set of Wonder Pets beanie babies that are her favorite toys. And she can sing all of the songs! But a television-free lifestyle is something we are striving for.

2. Nobody does everything. I have yet to meet anyone who follows a philosophy completely. Yes, we practice attachment parenting. But we have ignored bedtime tantrums in certain situations. Yes, we do prefer treating health conditions naturally. But we do vaccinate. Yes, we try to eat whole foods. But we do occasionally drink soda. Picking and choosing what works for you is a part of thinking for yourself and educating yourself. It’s not all or nothing.

3. It’s not all or nothing. Piggy-backing on #2, you have to start somewhere. Maybe you want to start eating more whole foods. Then just start. Go to the farmer’s market. You don’t need to immediately go 100% organic. Maybe you want to create less waste. Then choose one thing to change. You don’t have to do it all at once.

4. Voluntary simplicity is not martyrdom. If you’re miserable, you’re doing it wrong. Voluntary simplicity should make your life less stressful, not more. It’s about getting rid of the extra “clutter” in your life. If something brings you joy, then it is not clutter. Having a motor home makes my life less stressful, because we do a lot of visiting. Having a million knick-knacks made my life more stressful, I got rid of those.

5. It is about distilling your life and living deliberately. When you get rid of the clutter, you can spend more time on the important things. There were some “essentials” that we found to be clutter. We do just fine without an electric mixer, a blender, a television, a couch, a ton of dishes, and a dishwasher. We’ve pared down the Bean’s toys so that helping her pick up her room is a very quick task (about 5 minutes). I don’t spend all of my time on housework, so I can do things I enjoy–like going outside with the Bean, cooking, and writing this blog!

6. It’s not just about possessions. It’s about time as well. Everybody knows they should learn to say “no” more, but voluntary simplicity is about actually doing it. It’s about no longer wearing “busyness” as a badge. It’s perfectly all right to spend a weekend together as a family. Make sure your obligations are things you truly want to do.

So what does voluntary simplicity mean to you?

One thought on “What is Voluntary Simplicity?

  1. Pingback: Letting Go of Stylish Stress, Step 1: Declutter | Journey to Ithaca

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