Alternatives Promotes Voluntary Simplicity.

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What Is Voluntary Simplicity, Anyway?

Gerald Iversen of Simple Living Works! - successor to Alternatives - offers these insights about Voluntary Simplicity.

Voluntary Simplicity is based on five life principles, not a list of rules.

  1. Do Justice
  2. Nurture People (Not Things)
  3. Learn from the World Community
  4. Cherish the Natural Order (Care for Creation)
  5. Nonconform freely
[from Living More with Less by Doris Janzen Longacre]

Living more simply is about personal responsibility. It's about seeing our lives as extravagant, even out-of-control, and deciding what to do little by little, day-by-day, week-by-week to cut down on over consumption. We recommend not going cold turkey for fear that we'll get so frustrated that we'll give up.

It is a consciousness, an awareness. Every time we go to buy something, to use something, we first think, Do I really need to buy this? Do I really need to use this? Yes, I do need a car. Do I buy the one I like, the one that will impress? Or do I buy the economical one: the one that will get me around using less gas?

We believe that for every negative, wasteful habit, there is a positive, constructive one (or at least one that's less wasteful).

Living simply means wrestling with trade-offs. We can't do what's right 100% of the time. But we wrestle. We consider options, we read labels, we do what we can without letting the struggle consume us, without going about automatically doing what we've been taught (and are still continuously taught) by the media.

Living more simply can be lonely. Others in our families, in our church, in our social circle may think we're weird. It's important to find another Simple Liver or to start a support group. Alternatives is working to put people in touch with each other for support. It may mean dealing with our own resentment when others don't get it, when we are making corrections to live more responsibly and others don't seem to have the slightest inclination to change their wasteful ways. Living Simply faces great challenges from the powerful forces of peer pressure and advertising.

What It's Not:

Voluntary simplicity is not romanticizing poverty, monks, the Amish or people who struggled through the Depression. Two thirds of the world population live in poverty INvoluntarily. We have a choice.

Voluntary simplicity is not living on the cheap. It's more than frugality, far from being a tightwad, and surely not being a miser. In some cases we'll actually need to pay more for tools that are Earth-friendly. Instead it's a journey to find more meaning, more joy, more fun in life by getting out from under the burden of so much stuff, to remove the barrier of stuff that keeps us apart from other people, from God and even from ourselves.

Living simple is not simple. It requires constant vigilance. The temptations to extravagance and waste are constant. It means challenging not just the obvious temptations to splurge but even the everyday habits that we've inherited, probably from loving, well-intentioned family and friends.

Social Change:

The three basic steps to social change are:

1. Self - evaluating and changing ourselves, our attitude and the way WE live, our buying and consuming habits.

2. Direct aid - offering time, energy and money to help other, such as food and education for self-sufficiency, influencing others to simplify, such as giving to CARE, working in a soup kitchen, leading a study circle on voluntary simplicity.

3. Systemic change - advocacy for change of community and government policies toward the needy world-wide, through Bread for the World or denominational advocacy offices.

All three steps are essential. We may do them all at once. Alternatives has the toughest job - step #1! It seems easier to give others advice than to deal with our own wasteful ways.

There are two main paths now in Voluntary Simplicity in North America. The secular approach is called downshifting (not downsizing.) A young executive is cruising along in high gear, peddling her sports car as fast as she can. She thinks, This is too much work! So she downshifts. Maybe she takes a different job that has a smaller income but less stress. Maybe she moves into a smaller house in a rural area and grows her own tomatoes. Maybe she gets smart, gets control of her credit card and pays off her debts. Basically she's downshifting to increase her personal happiness.

Christians also adopt Voluntary Simplicity for personal happiness. But there's more: to be in touch with God and to help others. Voluntary Simplicity is a lifestyle of integrity, living as a disciple of Jesus, walking our talk.

Voluntary Simplicity is hot right now. If it's just a temporary trend, Alternatives will still be here when the fad's over. We work to help it catch on: to ease our country and our world into sustainability.

Prophets of the modern Voluntary Simplicity movements include Richard Foster, Duane Elgin, Doris Janzen Longacre and Alan Durning.

Contact Gerald Iversen SimpleLivingWorks@yahoo.com. For hundreds of free resources for children and adults, seasonal and year-round, visit SimpleLivingWorks.org >> Archives.

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This page last updated 5 October 2013 (originally 27 February 2003)

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