Part 1: Making Choices

Alternative Giving

Part 1a: Simple Living

Treasury of Celebrations:

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From the Beginning...

There is a spirit movement among the peoples of this land: born of a longing for more integrity between our spiritual and economic values; born of a resentment that national and international issues, as well as the most personal aspects of our lives, are the objects of manipulation by a society whose values are closely interlocked with consumption; born of an anger that our most sacred celebrations are spiritually bankrupt, their meanings prostituted by the notion that the only vehicle for expressing joy, gratitude, love, or sorrow is purchased with money; born of a sense of estrangement among families, friends, and communities because the values of human relationships have been replaced by crass materialism; born of a sense of alienation from the land, and a fear that our world is well on the way to committing ecological suicide; born under the judgment that the precious limited resources of Earth have been exploited for the sake of the few privileged at the expense of the many without privileges.

These are not new ideas or new complaints, of course. Amos, a biblical prophet in the seventh century BCE, raged against the empty ritualism and materialism of his time:

I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your
solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your
burnt offerings and grain
I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of
your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of
your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of
your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an
everflowing stream.

(Amos 5:21-24)


Throughout the ages, prophets have spoken similarly. They demand that we protect Earth and all Earth's peoples. Chief Seattle, speaking in his Native Duwarmish, delivered the following oration in 1854:


If We Sell You Our Land, Love It

Attributed to Chief Seattle

The Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. The Great Chief also sends us words of friendship and goodwill. This is kind of him, since we know he has little need of our friendship in return. But we will consider your offer. For we know that if we do not sell, the white man may come with guns and take our land.

Every part sacred

Every part of this Earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sand shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people.

So, when the Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land, he asks much of us.

The red man has always retreated before the advancing white man, as the mist of the mountains runs before the morning sun. But the ashes of our fathers are sacred. Their graves are holy ground, and so these hills, these trees, this portion of the earth is consecrated to us.

Plundering stranger

We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs. The Earth is not his brother, but his enemy, and when he has conquered it, he moves on... He treats his mother, the Earth, and his brother, the sky, as things to be bought, plundered, sold like sheep or bright beads. His appetite will devour the earth and leave behind only a desert.

I do not know. Our ways are different from your ways. The sight of your cities pains the eyes of the red man. There is no quiet place in the white man's cities. No place to hear the unfurling of leaves in spring or the rustle of insects' wings... What is there to life if a man cannot hear the lonely cry of the whippoorwill or the arguments of the frogs around a pond at night?

The air is precious to the red man, for all things share the same breath - the beast, the tree, the man, they all share the same breath. The white man does not seem to notice the air he breathes. Like a man dying for many days, he is numb to the stench.

Precious air

If we sell you our land, you must remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also receives his last sigh. And the wind must also give our children the spirit of life...

We will consider your offer to buy our land. If we decide to accept, I will make one condition. The white man must treat the beasts of this land as his brothers.

I have seen a thousand rotting buffalos on the prairie, left by the white man who shot them from a passing train. [But] I do not understand how the smoking iron horse can be more important than the buffalo that we kill only to stay alive.

You must teach your children that the ground beneath your feet is the ashes of our grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children what we have taught our children, that the Earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons of the Earth.


All things connected

This we know. The Earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the Earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected.

Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

But we consider your offer to go to the reservation you have for my people. We will live apart, and in peace. It matters little where we spend the rest of our days. Our children have seen their fathers humbled in defeat; they turn their days into idleness and contaminate their bodies with sweet foods and strong drink.

It matters little where we pass the rest of our days. They are not many. A few more horses, a few more winters, and none of the children of the great tribes that once lived on this Earth or that roam now in small bands in the woods will be left to mourn the graves of a people once as powerful and hopeful as yours. Men come and go, like the waves of the sea.

Even the white man, whose God walks and talks with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all; we shall see.

One thing we know, which the white man may one day discover - our God is the same God. You many think now that you own him as you wish to own our land, but you cannot. He is the God of man and his compassion is equal for the red man and the white. This Earth is precious to him and to harm the Earth is to heap contempt on its Creator.


Whites shall pass

The whites too shall pass; perhaps sooner than all other tribes. Continue to contaminate your bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own water. But in your perishing you will shine brightly, fired by the strength of the god who brought you to this land and, for some special purpose, gave you dominion over this land and over the red man. That destiny is a mystery to us, for we do not understand when the buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses are tamed, the secret corners of the forest [are] heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills [is] blotted...

Where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone. And what is it to say good-bye to the swift pony and the hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival.

If we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you take it. And with all your strength, with all your mind, with all your heart, preserve it for your children and love it... as God loves us all.

Almost 100 years after Chief Seattle spoke those words, Akwesasne Notes published the following article:


Reverence of Life: A View from the First Nations

Gayle High Pine

Our entire existence is reverence. Our rituals renew the sacred harmony within us. Our every act - eating, sleeping, breathing, making love - is a ceremony reaffirming our dependence on Mother Earth and our kinship with her every child. All of existence flows through us, and so we know the sacredness of all being. It is knowledge that cannot be grasped or defined, absolute in itself, with no meaning beyond itself.

All that is given us of the Great Spirit is sacred - life, death, the wish to avoid death and the wish to receive it, pain, hunger, anger, growth. To live in harmony with the Earth and all life, one does not use Western value judgment, isolating what might be labeled "good" (such as life, love, or pleasantness) and avoiding the "bad" or harsh (darkness, anger, discomfort, pain, or death). To be in harmony with the death of a loved one, for example, is to know grief - not to suppress, deny, or escape from it, but to flow with it, grow with it, plunge into it, celebrate it.

Technology is a superficial form of growth. A tribal people, among whom the spiritual is the first consideration, constantly tests everything new and old against its spiritual and social harmony; at its own pace it absorbs into and discards from its spiritual rhythm.

Our time perception is spherical - there is no past or future, for they are one with the present. Each point in time is itself - the unique interaction of infinite happenings since the beginning of time - with infinite consequences. As every spatial point is the center of the universe, so every point in time is the center of time - the unique and precious instant the Earth has been preparing for since her beginning.

No matter how many millenniums old a nation is, it is new, being created, growing. Language, myth, legend, song, ceremony, art are at once manifestations of tribal consciousness and instruments of its creation. Through the song we resonate with the pulse of the Earth. The song is forever but like a flat surface - so the ceremony is given us, given of the sacredness that surrounds us, extending forever on all sides. Through the ceremony, the sacredness is given shape. But the ceremony is not forever in time - for that we are given our individual consciousness, through which we experience and feel and know - as individuals, we are all earth and all time. The richer the culture - the myths, songs, ceremonies, customs, etc. - the more life and consciousness is created and the more joy and immersion in existence.


- Reprinted with permission of War Resistors League, New York, NY 10012


We know, from the voices of our forebears, from the distressed voices of Creation calling to us, and from the voices within our hearts, that it is time for the human race to begin to walk again. It is time to walk slowly. The Secretary for Peace, Justice and Human Rights for the Lutheran World Federation offers the following encouragement:




Ten Reasons for Choosing A Simpler Lifestyle

by Jorgen Lissner

1. As an act of faith performed for the sake of personal integrity and as an expression of a personal commitment to a more equitable distribution of the world's resources.

2. As an act of self-defense against the mind- and body- polluting effects of over-consumption.

3. As an act of withdrawal from the achievement neurosis of our high-pressure, materialist societies.

4. As an act of solidarity with the majority of humankind, which has no choice about lifestyle.

5. As an act of sharing with others what has been given to us, or of returning what was usurped by us through unjust social and economic structures.

6. As an act of celebration of the riches found in creativity, spirituality, and community with others, rather than in mindless materialism.

7. As an act of provocation (ostentatious under-consumption) to arouse curiosity leading to dialog with others about affluence, alienation, poverty, and social injustice.

8. As an act of anticipation of the era when the self-confidence and assertiveness of the underprivileged forces new power relationships and new patterns of resource allocation upon us.

9. As an act of advocacy of legislative changes in present patterns of production and consumption, in the direction of a new international economic order.

10. As an exercise of purchasing power to redirect production away from the satisfaction of artificially created wants, toward the supplying of goods and services that meet genuine social needs.


Voluntary Simplicity

In the years ahead, millions of North Americans may move beyond materialistic values and choose an outwardly more simple and inwardly more rich lifestyle. The phenomenon could foreshadow a major transformation in Western values, with wide implications for future developments in business, technology, and society at large. Some of these moves come about from an inner longing for something more. Other moves are made as companies downsize, forcing employees to rethink their futures.


Voluntary Simplicity: Lifestyle of the Future?

Duane S. Elgin and Arnold Mitchell

Newspapers and magazines publish occasional articles about people abandoning the "rat race" pursuits of Western society and seeking a simpler lifestyle, less frenetic in its demands and less tied to today's high-consumption, money-orientated civilization.

We believe that these press reports reflect a social movement which has the potential of touching the United States and other developed nations to their cores. This movement is toward what Richard Gregg, many years ago, described as "voluntary simplicity" - a way of life marked by a new balance between inner and outer growth. We also believe that voluntary simplicity may prove an increasingly powerful economic, social, and political force. It could represent a major transformation of Western values and signal shifts not only in values, but in consumption patterns, institutional operations, and national policies.

Although there are many precursors and contributing streams to this social flow (environmentalism, consumerism, consciousness movement, etc.), there is little direct evidence to measure the magnitude of this way of life. This discussion, then, is not intended to be predictive or definitive; rather, as social conjecture and pattern recognition, it is inherently speculative and intended to provoke further thought and comment regarding voluntary simplicity.


What is voluntary simplicity?

The essence of voluntary simplicity is living in a way that is outwardly simple and inwardly rich. This way of life embraces frugality of consumption, a strong sense of environmental urgency, a desire to return to living and working environments which are of a more human scale, and an intention to realize our higher human potential - both psychological and spiritual - in community with others. The driving forces behind voluntary simplicity range from acutely personal concerns to critical national problems. The appeal of simple living appears to be extraordinarily widespread, even gathering sympathy among those who are not presently attempting to simplify their own life patterns.

Voluntary simplicity is not new, but the conditions and trends which appear to be driving its contemporary emergence do seem new in their magnitude and intensity. Historically, voluntary simplicity has its roots in the legendary frugality and self-reliance of the Puritans; in Thoreau's naturalistic vision at Walden Pond, in Emerson's spiritual and practical plea for "plain living and high thinking," in the teachings and social philosophy of a number of spiritual leaders such as Jesus and Gandhi.

A uniquely modern aspect of voluntary simplicity is that it seems to be driven by a sense of urgency and social responsibility that scarcely existed 40 years ago. This sense of urgency appears to derive from many serious societal problems, including: the prospects of a chronic energy shortage, growing terrorist activities at the same time that nations seem increasingly vulnerable to disruption; growing demands of the developing nations for a more equitable share of the world's resources; the prospect that before we run out of resources on any absolute basis we may poison ourselves to death with environmental contaminants; a growing social malaise and purposelessness which causes us to drift in our social evolution; and so on. These are but a few of the elements which converge to make voluntary simplicity a seemingly rational response to the current world situation.


Values central to voluntary simplicity

The social movement toward voluntary simplicity is very rich and highly diverse. Yet there seems to be an underlying coherence to the rich diversity of expression of this way of life. Among the values which seem to lie at the heart of this emerging way of life are material simplicity, human scale, self-determination, ecological awareness, and personal growth. Let us examine each of these in turn.


Material Simplicity: Simplification of the material aspects of life is one of the core values of voluntary simplicity. The American Friends Service Committee, long a leader in exploring a way of life of creative simplicity, defines simple living as a "non-consumerist lifestyle based upon being and becoming, not having."

Living simply implies consuming quantitatively less (particularly items that are energy-inefficient, non-biodegradable, nonessential luxuries, etc.), but it does not mean that the overall cost of consumption will go down drastically. Living simply need not be equated with living cheaply. The hand-crafted, durable, aesthetically enduring products that appeal to frugal consumers are oftentimes purchased at a considerable premium over mass-produced items. Therefore, although the quantity of consumption may decrease and the environmental costs of consumption may be considerably moderated, the overall cost of consumption may remain relatively high since our economy is not oriented to producing the kinds of products which fit these criteria. Material simplicity will thus likely be manifest in consumption styles that are less ascetic than aesthetic, that is, the emphasis will not be on a strictly enforced austerity (doing without material goods) but rather on creating a pattern of consumption that will fit, with grace and integrity, into the practical art of daily living.


Human Scale: A preference for human-sized living and working environments is a central feature of voluntary simplicity. Adherents of this "values constellation" tend to equate the gigantic scale of institutions and living environments with anonymity, incomprehensibility, and artificiality. The preference for smallness implies that living and working environments (which have grown to enormous levels of scale and complexity) should be decentralized into more comprehensible and manageable entities. Each person should be able to see what he or she contributes to the whole and, hence, have a sense of shared rewards and shared responsibility. Reduction of scale is seen as a means of getting back to basics by restoring to life a more human sense of proportion and perspective.


Self-determination: Voluntary simplicity embraces an intention to be more self-determining and less dependent upon large, complex institutions. Self-determination manifests itself as a desire to assume greater control over one's personal destiny and not lead a life tied to installment payments, maintenance costs, and the expectations of others. To counterbalance the trend toward increasing material dependency, people may seek to become more materially self-sufficient - to grow their own, to make their own, to do without, and to exercise self-discipline in their pattern and level of consumption so that the degree of dependency (both physical and psychological) is reduced.

Self-determination shows up in production as a counterbalancing force to combat excessive division of labor. Instead of embracing specialization, a voluntary simplicity adherent may seek greater work integration and synthesis so that the contribution of their work to the whole enterprise is more evident.

In the public sector, the drive for greater self-determination is revealed by a growing distrust of, and sense of alienation from, large and complex social bureaucracies. Adherents seem to want to take charge of their lives more fully and to manage their own affairs without the undue or unnecessary intrusion of a remote bureaucracy.

This dimension of voluntary simplicity may explain some of the unusual political coalitions that seem to be emerging between the right and left, coalitions that oppose the further intrusion of big institutions into people's lives, and seek greater local self-determination and grassroots political action. The aversion to being controlled by increasingly distant bureaucracies is reminiscent of the stubborn independence which birthed the American revolution.


Ecological awareness: A sense of ecological awareness which acknowledges the interconnectedness of people and resources is central to voluntary simplicity. From this awareness emerges a number of themes that are hallmarks of this way of life. For example, ecological awareness prompts recognition that Earth is indeed limited, with all that implies for conservation of physical resources, reduction of environmental pollution, and maintenance of the beauty and integrity of the natural environment. Importantly, this concern often extends beyond purely physical resources to include other human beings as well. The philosophy of "welfare" espoused by Gandhi - sarvodaya, or not wanting what the least of the inhabitants of Earth cannot have - seems to spring, in large measure, from this intimate sense of felt connection with others. The growth of an ecological awareness expands the vision of voluntary simplicity outward and brings with it a strong sense of social responsibility and worldly involvement to what otherwise could be a relatively isolated and self-centered way of life.

Some of the more concrete expressions of this awareness might include: a willingness to share resources with those who are disadvantaged; a sense of global citizenship with commensurate adjustments in lifestyle, social vision, and political commitments; a preference for living where there is ready access to nature; and a desire to foster human and institutional diversity at a grassroots level.


Personal growth: For many persons taking up a materially simple way of life, the primary goal is to clear away external clutter so as to be freer to explore the "inner life." The themes of material simplicity, self-sufficiency, a more human scale to living and working, and an ecological awareness are, in a way, devices to sweep away impediments to inner growth. The goal, then, is to free oneself of the overwhelming externals so as to provide the space in which to grow both psychologically and spiritually.

Simone de Beauvoir succinctly stated the rationale for this desire for self-realization when she said: "Life is occupied in both perpetuating itself and in surpassing itself; if all it does is maintain itself, then living is only not dying." In the view of many adherents to voluntary simplicity, contemporary society is primarily occupied in perpetuating itself and living has become "only not dying." They seek an outlet for their growth potential.

A concern for the subjective aspect of experience and for the quality of human relationships has been reflected in a number of developments over the past 30 years: the emergence and proliferation of the "human potential movement;" the emergence of "transpersonal psychology" coupled with a rapid increase of interest and involvement in many Eastern meditative traditions; the growth of feminism; a cultural fascination with psychic phenomena; developments in brain research that confirm a biological basis for both the rational and the intuitive side to human nature; a growing interest in sports as both a physical and spiritual process, and more.

Without the compelling goal of exploring inner potentials, it seems unlikely that there will be sufficient motivation to adopt voluntarily a lifestyle of material simplicity. Without greater simplicity, we probably will not be able to cope successfully with scarcity and other problems. Finally, unless inner learning expands, it seems unlikely that we will develop the degree of internal maturation necessary for the human species to act as wise trustees of conscious evolution on Earth.

Our analysis still has not penetrated to the roots of the connection between personal growth and voluntary simplicity. For an adequate explanation of that connection, we must look to a deeper underlying vision. It is an old vision - perhaps as old as humanity - but an enduring one that seems destined to be rediscovered again and again. The nature of this vision is succinctly summed up by historian Arnold Toynbee:

"...Jesus, Buddha, and Lao Tse... agreed in their ethical precepts. They all agreed that the pursuit of material wealth is a wrong aim. We should aim only at the minimum wealth needed to maintain life; and our main aim should be spiritual. They all said with one voice that if we made material wealth our paramount aim, this would lead to disaster. They all spoke in favor of unselfishness and of love for other people as the key to happiness and to success in human affairs."

The foregoing five themes do not exhaust the range of basic values that may emerge as hallmarks of the way of life termed voluntary simplicity. Moreover, these values will surely be held to differing degrees and in differing combinations by different people. Nonetheless, these values possess an underlying coherence which suggests that they have not arisen randomly, but rather as a mutually supporting set or pattern. Just a few moments of reflection reveal how powerfully reinforcing these values are; for example, personal growth may foster an ecological awareness which may prompt greater material simplicity and thereby allow greater opportunity for living and working at a smaller, more human scale which, in turn, may allow greater opportunity for local self-determination. No one value theme alone could create the vitality and coherence that emerges from the synergistic interaction of these values. These values combine to form a practical "world view" - a coherent pattern of perception, belief, and behavior which could provide an important bridge between the traditional industrial world view and an uncertain and difficult social future.


What voluntary simplicity is not

We have been trying to define what voluntary simplicity is. We can also get a sense of voluntary simplicity by suggesting what it is not.


The push toward voluntary simplicity

Despite the strength of the pull to voluntary simplicity, there is little reason to think that this way of life will grow to embrace substantial proportions of the population unless the pull is matched by substantial pushes. The twin elements of push and pull need to be considered if we are to assess the likelihood that voluntary simplicity will gather social momentum in the future. Let us therefore consider whether societal problems will push us in a direction similar to that exerted by the pull toward voluntary simplicity.

The range and diversity of contemporary societal problems is enormous. Space does not allow more than a cursory glance at some of the more prominent problems which may, in their eventual resolution, push us toward a simple way of life. These problems include:

Resolution of the foregoing problems will likely push our society in a direction which is more ecologically conscious, more frugal in its consumption, more globally-oriented, more decentralized, more allowing of local self-determination, and so on.

Solving these increasingly serious problems will probably push us in a direction at least similar to that implied by the pull toward voluntary simplicity.


Two groups

We think there are at least two very distinct kinds of people living a life of voluntary simplicity. The first consists of families and individuals who have voluntarily taken up simple living after years or decades of active involvement in the mainstream. The motivations of such people tend to be highly private and specific - a desire to escape the "rat race," personal disillusionment, boredom with their jobs, a wish to live a more "meaningful," less artificial life, and so on. Such changes in lifestyle make good copy and hence this type of phenomenon gets much publicity. In terms of numbers, this group does not appear very significant, but, as a model for others to emulate, it may be profoundly important.

The other type tends to be younger, more motivated by philosophical concerns, and more activistic.


Criteria for simplicity

A group of Quakers have identified four consumption criteria which evoke the essence of voluntary simplicity:



Fundamental Change in Values

Milo Thornberry

Get to know Milo at Post #181.

The long-term social ramifications of voluntary simplicity - if it develops into a major social movement - are enormous. The eventual result could be the creation of a social order that is as different from the present as the industrial era was different from the Middle Ages.

The reason that the potential social implications are so vast is that voluntary simplicity does not represent merely an internal readjustment of the prevailing values pattern, but rather constitutes a fundamental shift in that pattern. Widespread adoption of this way of life could launch our society on a new developmental trajectory.

We are by no means suggesting that voluntary simplicity offers the only approach to a viable culture and economic future. However, the Western world seems to be in a period of social drift. We appear to be losing both momentum and a sense of direction. People seem to be waiting for some leader or chain of events to make clear the nature of an alternative social vision. The uncertainty, indecision, and growing anxiety over appropriate social direction has prompted a new willingness to "think the unthinkable," to deeply consider what life means and where we wish to go. Voluntary simplicity as a coherent, broadly relevant, practical, and purposeful world view could provide an important point of reference or anchoring point as we search for and experiment with new social forms.


Alternative futures

Although voluntary simplicity as a way of life may have great and obvious long-term significance, it seems at present to be struggling to achieve a critical mass of social awareness and acceptance. If we are to understand the prospects of voluntary simplicity, we must attempt to understand the nature and dynamics of the large social context out of which this way of life could emerge.

There is a great uncertainty regarding the future course of social evolution in North America, but we have identified four alternative futures which suggest the range of social possibility over the next several decades:

These thumbnail sketches of alternative futures present an enormous range of social possibility. Yet, to the extent that each of these is a plausible future, its seeds must exist in the present. Therefore, they need not be mutually exclusive social futures. For example, we can imagine a plausible future marked by both a humanistic transformation and by technological success.

One way to test the viability of voluntary simplicity as an emergent way of life is to assess the extent to which it could assume a significant role in all four of these futures. In other words, is voluntary simplicity a social movement that has relevance only in the context of a future humanistic transformation, or could it plausibly play a major role in the other three futures as well?

A future marked by "technological success" would probably still require people to attack the problems of resource scarcity, environmental pollution, and global economic inequities by consuming less. To the extent that there is a continuing need to approach these and related problems from the demand side, there will be a corresponding role for voluntary simplicity even in this materially successful scenario.

In a society of growing internal strife and tension, voluntary simplicity could, in the short run, exacerbate that conflict. In the longer run, however, voluntary simplicity might help to alleviate social tensions. To the extent that voluntary simplicity provides a way of life that transcends traditional interest group conflicts and provides a meaningful and workable response to a worsening social condition, it might alleviate tensions by directing social energy in a more coherent and harmonious direction.

In a society marked by changing bureaucratic regulation and democratic processes, voluntary simplicity (with its emphasis on local self-determination, human scale, and self-sufficiency) could provide a healthy corrective and counterbalancing force. Voluntary simplicity could provide an important source of grassroots innovation and vitality to what otherwise could be an increasingly rigid and somber society.

The important point is that voluntary simplicity fits into many alternative futures and therefore it is unlikely to disappear soon from the social landscape.


Social impacts

What kind of society would emerge if voluntary simplicity were to become the predominant way of life? A partial answer to this question can be found by examining stereotypical contrasts between the value premises and social characteristics of the industrial "world view" and the voluntary simplicity "world view."

If this way of life were adopted by a majority of the population, we could anticipate certain long-term directions of social change that seem congruent with voluntary simplicity, including:


National tenor: A society in which a large proportion of the population adopts voluntary simplicity would probably have a uniquely different "feel" to it. Such a society might posses a greater sense of frontier spirit, a feeling of continuing challenge at the prospects of forging new, evolving relationships among individuals, societies, nature, and the cosmos. It could have a higher degree of cultural cohesion, social maturity, and social consensus. People would likely have a greater sense of future destiny and the conviction they were working on behalf of future generations as well as for themselves.


Material Growth: Society would tend to move from a goal of material abundance to a goal of material sufficiency. What level of material sufficiency is appropriate would largely be decided by individual choice constrained by resource availability and prevailing cultural norms. Clearly, this presumes a strongly cultural context with widely shared beliefs as to what constitutes appropriate levels of material sufficiency. Although material growth may tend toward a steady-state condition, this need not imply a materially static society. With selective growth, some sectors of the economy would grow rapidly while others would contract. For example, growth in appropriate technology might be rapid while production of items of conspicuous consumption declines.


Human growth: The society would tend to transfer its growth potential and aspirations from a material dimension to an increasingly nonmaterial dimension. This shift would be of the highest import if, as many suggest, our present problems arise in part from a gross disparity between the relatively underdeveloped internal faculties of humans and the extremely powerful external technologies at their disposal. Society would attempt to achieve greater balance by fostering a degree of interior human growth that is at least commensurate with the enormous exterior growth that has occurred over the last several hundred years.


Life environment: Society could tend to shift from living and working in large, complex environments to living and working in smaller, less complex environments. Accompanying this could be migration from large cities to small cities, towns, and the country.


Identity: The voluntary simplicity society would tend to define personal identity less in terms of consumption than in terms of one's awareness - psychological, social, spiritual. For many North Americans, consumption is not only an expression of identity but is basic to their sense of identity. The growth of voluntary simplicity would tend to produce a cultural perspective in which identity could be expressed in many other ways, such as experimenting with various forms of voluntary simplicity; developing vital communities through new forms of groups and extended family relationships; exploring human consciousness through the hundreds of consciousness-expanding disciplines, ranging from meditation, biofeedback, hypnosis, encounter, bioenergetics, and so on.


Technology: Society would tend to move from "high" or "space age" technology to the careful application of "intermediate" or "appropriate" technology. Just as the industrial era was built on high technology, the voluntary simplicity era would likely rely on technology that is explicitly designed to be ecologically sound, energy-conserving, comprehensible by humans, integrated with nature, and efficient when used on a small scale.


Politics: If voluntary simplicity were to emerge as a dominate way of life, much of its growth could be driven by political activism at a grassroots level. Extensive decentralization of institutions would require that local communities take much greater responsibility for the well-being of their population. Politics would probably assume a more humanistic orientation as people came to see the intimate connection that exists between the processes of personal growth and social change. It could be a society in which political processes were more experimental, error-embracing, and intentional in seeking diversity.


Impact on consumption

Voluntary simplicity consumption criteria are significantly different from traditional patterns. The person living the simple life tends to prefer products that are functional, healthful, nonpolluting, durable, repairable, recyclable or made from renewable raw materials, energy-cheap, authentic, aesthetically pleasing, and made through simple technology. Such criteria will adversely affect many products of conspicuous consumption. On the other hand, the voluntary simplicity lifestyle should create excellent markets for some items:

A growing and appreciable portion of market activity will move to the "alternative marketplace": flea markets, garage and yard sales, classified advertising, community bulletin boards. Consumer co-operatives and mail-order operations will increase as voluntary simplicity consumers become less willing to support superfluous merchandising costs. Purchases will be increasingly localized to diminish the costs of transportation and to encourage the utilization of intermediate technology. Specialty stores will likely increase, especially for food, shelter, and clothing.


Impact on work

In a simple-living society, the role of work would be downplayed as a status and power symbol and upgraded as a means of contributing to the collective good. Cooperation rather than competition would be the hallmark of work. Complaints would be directed more toward matters of ethics, social responsibility, and esthetics rather than issues of pay, office size, and promotion. More part-time jobs, enabling people to earn enough to fulfill their essential needs and yet have much more free time to pursue personal development and perhaps aid others, would be desirable.

Significantly, management would tend to be highly participative, to be organized around tasks, and to be less hierarchical than present. Ultimately, the traditional proprietary attitudes of business might yield to greater openness and inter- and intra-industry cooperation. The aggressive expression of the profit motive (exemplified by "making a killing" rather than "making a living") - although it is not likely to vanish in the near future - would likely be a diminishing force in business.

It seems likely the advocates of voluntary simplicity will, as a consumer group, continue to exert political and economic pressure to change business and industrial practices. As individuals, people may very well try to influence business by buying in accord with rating criteria applied to long lists of specific products and specific manufacturers, retailers, banks, and the like. Such activities, accompanied by word-of-mouth publicity, might be one way in which adherents of voluntary simplicity will try to enforce their sense of social responsibility.

A business founded in the San Francisco Bay area may be one template for new small businesses. Their network includes businesses from food and clothing stores to auto repair. The operating principles of Briarpatch businesses are significant. They include:


Long-term significance

Voluntary simplicity specifically addresses the critical issues of our times - the problems of ecosystem overload, alienation, the unmanageable scale and complexity of institutions, and so on. Voluntary simplicity is a creative, comprehensive, and holistic approach to a host of problems customarily considered to be separate. By coping simultaneously with scores of interrelated specifics, voluntary simplicity seems to provide a solution that could not be achieved via the one-by-one route.

It meshes with the eternal needs of individuals to continue to grow. The emphasis on the inner life permits people to grow psychologically. There is reason to think that the kind of growth fostered by voluntary simplicity is especially appropriate to our times and circumstances. In brief, the need of the individual uniquely matches the need of the society.

Of what other emergent life patterns can these things be said?


The Psychology of Consumption

Kirk Farnsworth

Neighborhood revolution!

The neighborhood kids had stumbled onto an ominous situation. Through electronic surveillance, they had overheard revolutionary talk. A small group of people in their own neighborhood was actually fomenting a revolution!

On the surface, the "revolutionaries" looked innocent enough; in fact, they were nothing more than a single family group. But the words picked up by the kids indicated that something far bigger than a little family discussion was going on. They used words like "refusal to be conned," "quiet resistance," and "lifestyle of protest."


Refusal to be conned

The kids heard this part of a conversation: "You know why I wouldn't buy that magazine? It would have been a vote for it. That's 'cuz our economy assumes that buying reflects taste which reflects rational judgment. See, I didn't want the publishers assuming their magazine itself was getting a vote for being tasteful. But was that thing ever advertised! That's how we get conned all the time into buying stuff we don't need. My refusal to buy was a refusal to be conned."

Conning requires two things: gullibility and deception. An idle or lazy mind allows advertising, through continuous bombardment, to deaden us to any issue other than possession and accumulation.

Deception is the trick of saying happiness is possessing and accumulating, and then redefining everything as marketable to make possible more and more buying and, therefore, "greater happiness."

But much of human satisfaction is of a noncommercial nature. Consider such unsalable satisfaction as competently managing a home, gardening organically, walking in the woods, thinking creatively, giving sensitive and sensible advice, conversing with others, and praying. Everyone knows that such satisfactions are not included in the Gross National Product (GNP). But not everyone knows that certain miseries are.

The GNP actually reflects detractions from human satisfaction, by including expenditures such as those for police protection, pollution control, emergency accident treatment, and methadone maintenance programs. The GNP is not the great quality of life indicator it is cracked up to be!

The goal of deception is to convert all noneconomic satisfactions to economic ones, to sell everything including natural highs. So being a competent home manager is no longer good enough: replacement value must be computed, to prove worth in terms of dollars. Gardening becomes a small business for the accumulation of more money for the purchase of more possessions. Even self-love is being marketed these days, through a wild variety of programs for self-improvement. It's called the growth industry, and it really brings in the money. And then there is the leisure industry...

The kids listened on, storing information to be released at their dinner tables later that night.

A woman quoted Thomas Merton: "Let me say this before rain becomes a utility that they can plan and distribute for money. By 'they' I mean the people who cannot understand that rain is a festival, who do not appreciate its gratuity, who think that what has no price has no value, that what cannot be sold is not real, so that the only way to make something actual is to place it on the market. The time will come when they will sell you even the rain. At the moment it is still free, and I am in it."


Quiet resistance

The man quoted his father. "Dad used to say, 'Enough is enough, and too much is plenty.' We decided the same thing this Christmas. All that commercialism was really getting to me, so our quiet resistance to it was right on. Those gifts of time and effort meant a lot more than purchased stuff would have."

Eighteen garbage pickups could be four and one-half months' worth of garbage, or one and a half years' worth! That startles a person who has been deceived into believing that more is better. But consumerism and garbage go together: the more we buy, the more we inevitably throw away. We must resist this excess.

Consumerism involves both necessities and "excessities." Necessities are those things that can be equitably shared and that are everyone's right to possess. The way they are produced and sold - production materials and side effects, and marketing techniques and the price - do not deplete resources, cause pollution, exploit people, or cause starvation.

Excessities are those things that cannot be equitably shared and that are not everyone's right to possess. They are luxuries. They are the pernicious cause and the cancerous products of misuse of resources, pollution of the environment, manipulation of people, and nondistribution of wealth.


Lifestyle of protest

"Remember that old New England maxim, 'Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without'? Why is that so hard? Why are consumer lifestyles so hard to change? I was reading in a book the other day that it is very common for people to impulsively buy new things for short-term certainty (the new shoes fit, even through they may soon be outgrown, be 'out of style,' or actually be worn out). It's that need for certainty, the stability of knowing something for sure - security at any cost. The hook is that people may even have a fear of being supplanted by things - overrun by objects - but their primary meaning in life is in buying even more. Only a lifestyle of protest is going to beat that system."

What needs to be protested is building our lives around comfort. Tibor Scitovsky, in The Joyless Economy, makes the distinction between comfort and stimulation. "Comforts not only fail, typically, to carry external benefits; many of them generate external nuisances as well. This is certainly true of many of those that substitute mechanical power for human effort, because they often generate noise, chemical air pollution, or both. It is also true of many of the comforts that consist in being free from insects, from garden and house pests, since they, too, worsen the environment, and it is true, too, of those comforts provided by appliances, packaged products, and throwaway but durable (i.e., non-biodegradable) objects whose containers and carcasses cover our beaches and countryside in ever-increasing density."

Further, in our relentless pursuit of comfort, we save effort only to run the risk of dying of a heart attack, we save time and then waste it, and we save being bothered. In the process, we waste resources. "Inactivity promotes obesity and directly increases the incidence of heart disease, partly by allowing the heart muscle and arteries to lose their elasticity too soon with age, partly by raising, for any given diet, the serum cholesterol and serum triglyceride levels in the blood - all of which contribute to the hardening and narrowing of blood vessels and increase the chances of heart disease and coronary attacks. There is something absurd about spending one's day surrounded by power-driven equipment and escalators, riding mowers, and golf carts to help save effort as well as time on every move at work, at home, and at play, and then proceeding on doctor's orders to squander the energy and time saved, on jogging around the block or riding an "exercycle" in the bedroom!"

"The good life," as we all know, is care-free. Most of us cannot be bothered to turn the lights out and the radio or television off when we leave a room... we use food lavishly and throw away remnants rather than save them for later use in another dish or to feed to pets [or to compost]...we would sooner replace than repair our durable belongings, and we generate garbage rather than bother with recycling.

Stimulation is economic or noneconomic satisfaction that is not based on the economy of effort, of time, nor of care and bother. It is not the comfort of the temporary security provided by accumulation of possessions, but the aliveness and fulfillment provided by the enjoyment of living freely, unencumbered by materialism.

Comfort displaces stimulation when we try everything once or twice, or in three easy lessons if necessary, just so we can avoid the embarrassment of not knowing what is happening. We are comfortable, but we lose the sweetness of the fruits of commitment. We also lose out on real stimulation many times when we are actually seeking stimulation: the three main sources of excitement in North America seem to be watching television, driving for pleasure, and shopping! [And recently, surfing the Internet.] By relentlessly pursuing the hollow novelty of television, spectator sports, and junk foods, we are not even aware of the stimulation we are missing from crafts, participant sports, and sensitively prepared food. We end up care-free and bored from gullibly chasing those fleeting satisfactions of the marketplace, and fatter but not happier despite the bloated gross national product.

A lifestyle of protest is a refusal to be hoodwinked by advertising, resistance of excessities in favor of necessities, and protest against comfort in favor of stimulation. Specifically, such a lifestyle has a multitude of possibilities. Some have already been suggested:

  1. Use the vote of your purchase wisely.
  2. Develop diverse noneconomic satisfactions.
  3. Give noncommercial gifts.
  4. Buy less.
  5. Buy only from producers who meet high ecological and psychological standards of production, marketing, and fair employment practices.
  6. Refrain from impulse buying.
  7. Substitute human effort for mechanical power whenever possible.
  8. Replace the bored life of comfort - the carefree "good life," the surface sampling of everything, and the passive pursuit of hollow novelty - with the fulfilled life of stimulation, responsibility, commitment, and participation.

Discontent with that list, one of the "revolutionaries" asked for specific examples - and got them:

As a final suggestion for a lifestyle of protest, the following buying guide might by useful:

I first ask myself what my smallest need is; what is a necessity? I then ask if the satisfaction of that need is dependent upon buying something. If it is not, I satisfy without buying. If it is, I find out the names of several producers of what I need. Then I look into each company's production and marketing methods for comparison with what I consider to be appropriate standards. (There are consumer guides of this sort in libraries.) If I thereby eliminate all but one producer, I buy from the remaining one. If none of the producers meet my standards, I can either make the thing myself (preferably utilizing "intermediate technology" or restoring or modifying a "throw-away") or do without.

Want to join that little family's resolution?

If the kids were listening to you and your friends, what would they learn about the psychology of consumption?


How to Live Better with Less - If you Can Stand the People

Milo Shannon-Thornberry

Get to know Milo at Post #181.

During the 1970s, British science writer Robin Clarke abandoned London to join a rural commune in Wales. What he learned during the experience became the subject of his book, Building for Self-Sufficiency.

Clarke and his associates bought a 43-acre farm, and their first job was to convert the small and near-derelict stone cottage into a house that could shelter a community of 16 people. Setting themselves up as BRAD (Biotechnic Research and Development), Clarke and his friends planned to turn the site into a research center to investigate such things as wind power, heat pumps, and methane generation.

"We wanted to devise a life-style that would be valid, not for just this generation living off a depleting stock of natural resources, but for generations far into the future. So we planned to be self-sufficient not only in food, but also in energy, water, and, eventually, perhaps even materials...

"I and my family left 18 months later, and another five people left a few months after that. Nearly all of us left for the same reason: the struggle to do the things we wanted to do against a background of mounting inertia and community dissent proved too great. Just over three years later, the community was officially disbanded, and the farm sold."

But Clarke doubts that anyone involved feels that the experiment could justly be called a failure. "Certainly, I spent some of the most depressing moments of my life at Eithin. But equally, certainly, I experienced some of the highest points I have ever known, and, for at least a year, reveled in a freedom of spirit which I had never dreamt was possible. But, above all, I learned more, I think, in 18 months there than in 15 years of being an editor, journalist, and freelance writer."

Clarke and his friends lived, technically, far below the poverty line, "but we were certainly never deprived." The most important discovery for Clarke was his ability to do all kinds of jobs he previously had no idea he could do.

"Concrete-mixing, drain-laying, carpentry, joinery, roofing, plumbing, writing, guttering, rendering, farming, and even vehicle maintenance soon became part of the daily life," he says. "And we did them well. So, I suspect, can everyone else. Yet in our society there is a mystique attached to such crafts which leads 95 percent of us to declare ourselves incapable of them."

The divorce which modern society has effected between the heads and the hands is, for Clarke, its greatest evil. "It turns us all, in the end, into less than half a person. And anyone who learns again to use them together will, I guarantee, experience a rejuvenation not normally associated with the mundane tasks of laying drains and learning to make a ridge ladder. It is all something to do with bringing your life back under your own control. And of spending your time at a number of highly different jobs. The human being, surely, was never intended to do the same thing for hours on end for most of his waking life. There is more to living."

Anyone who really wants to save money should join or found a community, Clarke says. The many obstacles that Clarke had feared would occur - such as failure to get planning permission, or the difficulty of finding community members - did not materialize. But the one obstacle he felt confident of overcoming proved their undoing.

"We failed to make it as a community. Not all the time, in that I and many others there almost certainly spent some of the best moments of our lives at Eithin. But, in the end, after the first year, those at first intangible differences between us rose up and smote us most mightily.

"With such a history, it may seem strange to urge anyone to join a community. Yet I believe it is a sensible way to live... if you can do it...

"Most communities, of course, fail in the end through lack of competence, lack of money, or both. That we seemed to have both these problems licked makes our own failures if anything more significant. We didn't have those hard economic facts forever draining away our morale. We were just unable to live with one another as human beings with any enjoyment. It was as simple as that.

"So, if you are planning to do it, what advice could I offer? First, perhaps, never join a community because you want to live in a community, or because you think you do. Do so only if you discover a group of people, or even one or two, with whom you positively think a shared life would be a turn for the better."


What Can One Person Do? Spread the Word!

Carolyn Pogue

Native elders use sweetgrass to teach us. They say that one blade of sweetgrass is easily bent and broken. But a bundle, woven into a braid, is strong.

Sometimes we feel much like a single blade trying to withstand the pressures of modern living. In community, we become like the braid - always distinct, but with the strength of others to support us.

All of us network in some sort of community, whether it is our community of faith, our friends at the coffee shop, our local PTA, our hiking group, our political association, or our work mates. All of us have information and experience in living. Usually, we share this experience and knowledge one to one, and one person at a time. We recommend books, shops, magazines, teachers for our children. But the sharing is often sporadic.

With new technology working for us, we now have access to publishing to one degree or another of sophistication. Why not gather your information and experience and publish it? Why not start a newsletter for your community, or contribute to one that is already published by your community? (Hopefully, the newsletter is published on recycled paper, with canola-based ink.)

A good time to publish is in the Fall, as people begin to think about the holiday season. Your newsletter could easily be distributed at such events as community suppers, Fall fairs, or garage sales. Help people break out of the routine of seeing Christmas as mainstream society sees it. Hopefully, this breakthrough will carry over into people's lives throughout the rest of year.

Your publication may be a collection of lists, or may include articles on ways to simplify life in your neighborhood. Suggestions for topics include:

Browse through the remainder of this book, and let it assist you in creating new, local ideas. Once the community begins generating ideas, the sky's the limit. And remember the lesson of the sweetgrass.



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Page updated 22 Feb. 2014

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