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Originally published July 13 2008

Voluntary Simplicity: Good for You, Good for the Environment

by Stephanie Brail

(NaturalNews) Here in America, we live in a consumerist society that depends on people spending money to keep the economy going. And with a recession looming, it's often portrayed as downright anti-American not to spend.

Yet, with concerns over global warming building, many Americans are calling for a new kind of patriotism: voluntary simplicity.

The movement for voluntary simplicity (or simple living) is still somewhat under the radar, but it is growing in strength. The basic philosophy is to "downshift" from a high-pressure, high-cost lifestyle to one that is more spiritual, humble, and less materialistic.

For example, a person who is practicing voluntary simplicity may give up a large, expensive "McMansion" to move into a smaller home that needs less energy to heat in the winter and cool down in the summer. Instead of driving a luxury car to work at a distant office requiring a long commute, a worker might take a cut in pay to work closer to home or telecommute. Then, instead of needing to spend large amounts of money on gas and car payments, public transportation or bicycling could be used for travel.

As you can see, voluntary simplicity is a wonderful way to help the environment while helping yourself. With the volumes of garbage we collectively create, any way that we can cut down on unnecessary "stuff" and energy usage is a positive for the planet.

There are many ways to express the philosophy of simple living. For some adherents, this means growing their own vegetables in their home garden. For others, it means not running out and buying a new cellphone or television set the minute one hits the market.

Critics of voluntary simplicity suggest that it requires too much "sacrifice" and as such, is unappealing and counter to the "American Dream." Others hint that simple living could hurt the American economy, which is dependent on consumer spending to run effectively.

Yet, for those who practice voluntary simplicity, the rewards can be more free time, better family relations, and an enhanced spirituality. Additionally, many in the movement are working to create new models of sustainable business that are human-oriented (instead of bottom-line driven), responsive to the environment, and good for the economy.

"Simple living means different things for different people; for me, it's enjoying a minimalist environment, relishing the littlest pleasures, and appreciating each moment with my family..." writes Megan Peddle in the Simple Living News.

Simple Ways You Can Enjoy Simple Living

You don't need to move or take up gardening to reap the benefits of simple living. Voluntary simplicity covers a wide range of habits and lifestyles, and there is no dogmatic rule set that must be adhered to.

Here are a few tips to get you started on the path of voluntary simplicity:

1. De-clutter. Go through your closets and let go of things you no longer wear or use. Give these items to charity, so that others less fortunate can benefit from what was otherwise taking up space in your home.

2. Stop automatically upgrading everything. Do you really need a new television set? What's wrong with the one you already have? How about your cellphone? Does it still accept phone calls? Do you really need a new luxury car or do you just want one to look good? Consider whether you are getting a new object because you really need it, or because you think you'll feel better about yourself once you have a new toy.

3. Lighten your schedule. What do you "have to do" that you don't really have to do, once you really think about it? Be judicious in parceling out your time. Don't automatically say yes to people who are asking you to join something. Give yourself space in your day.

4. Give the gift of time, not stuff. Instead of purchasing a variety of presents for birthdays and holidays, agree with like-minded friends and family to spend more time together. You might consider even volunteering at a favorite charity together, instead of spending an afternoon at the mall doing Christmas shopping.

5. Cut down on negative media. Advertising is designed to make you want stuff you don't really need, so the less advertising you are exposed to, the less you'll feel compelled to buy new stuff. Of course, the obvious thing to cut back on is television. But what else can you cut down on? Television is often criticized as the number one culprit in terms of promoting a consumerist lifestyle, but is it really? Have you considered how those magazines you buy are taking their toll? Women's magazines, in particular, are designed to create a sense of lack in women in order to sell them new clothes and cosmetics. Canceling advertiser-filled magazine subscriptions will not only help you stop impulse purchases while shopping but clear out clutter in your home.

6. Find new ways to treat yourself. Still feeling a bit guilty that you aren't spending your hard-earned dollars on more stuff because our economy depends on you? Consider contributing to individuals providing quality services instead of buying things. For example, instead of purchasing a $500 purse, go on a weekend wellness retreat or start getting treatments from a massage therapist. Perhaps with the money you save on useless stuff you can go back to school and get a degree. You don't always have to spend your money on things.

Ultimately, how you demonstrate voluntary simplicity will be up to you. But the good news is, you no longer have to keep up with the Joneses to feel good about yourself. By practicing the philosophy of "less is more," you can not only help save the planet but feel good about yourself for all the right reasons.

About the author

Stephanie Brail is a wellness coach, healer and hypnotherapist. She provides information and perspectives on alternative health, well-being, spirituality, and more at

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