Reader question… “Can you tell me the difference between ‘simple living’ and ‘voluntary simplicity’? I see these terms used all the time and I can’t seem to find a definitive answer about what each one means. Are they just different words for the same idea or do they mean two different things?” –Isobelle T.

I think of simple living as a lifestyle with a deliberate focus on paring away the unnecessary and eliminating excess. Simple living is about learning to do things for yourself and being as self-sufficient as possible. It’s about being frugal (but not stingy) with your resources and your time, taking steps to reduce and hopefully eliminate your debts, and preparing wisely for the future.

I think of voluntary simplicity as the same simple living lifestyle but with your personal philosophy wrapped around it. I believe that voluntary simplicity goes way beyond HOW you live and is more about the WAY you live… and how you interact with the world around you. I see voluntary simplicity as so much more than downshifting, decluttering, and frugality… it’s also about happiness, contentment… going outside your comfort zone, accepting responsibility for your actions, and getting your priorities “right.”

To me the distinction between simple living and voluntary simplicity is clear.

Simple living results in a better LIFE.

Voluntary simplicity results in a better life… but also a better YOU.

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Thank-you for answering this question. It makes alot of things about simple living and voluntary simplicity much more clear in my mind. This is a great blog. I appreciate your wisdom and your prespective on these matters. Thanks for sharing!


I love this! I often wondered the same thing. I think you covered it beautifully. I find myself always inspired by these posts to live simply and be a better Me.


What a wonderful post! I especially love that last line about Voluntary Simplicity making you a better you. I didn’t know what the difference was before but this post really nails it.

Tim from Idaho

When I first got interested in voluntary simplicity and simple living I thought it was all about the externals. Things like you mentioned about being frugal and doing as much as you could for yourself. That was all very satisfying but I kept thinking there had to be more. And there was. It was just like what you wrote, it was a change in my way of thinking and in my way of dealing with the rest of the world. I’ve never seen it put better.

What I’m trying to say is I have gotten a lot out of the articles here. I want you to know how grateful I am. I wish you were my neighbor.


You can’t begin to know how your post has helped me to make a decision. I am a volunteer and I love what I do. Recently I was asked if I wanted to be put on the payroll and be paid for the same thing I am doing now. Sounds good, right? Not so much. I see the stress on others faces of getting the job done at a break neck speed and all the joy has gone out of the “why” we are supposed to be helping. Your post has helped me say whoa to myself and to continue the positive uplifting feeling I have of volunteering. Thank you. I have been living the simplistic life for almost 6 years now and I wouldn’t change it for anything. It’s not to say that I will not work for an income ever again. It will just be on my terms from now on. I love it! Once again thank you so much:)


Thank you for bringing more awareness to this concept! I spent a year “living simply” in a community with five other people for a year, each of us volunteers at social service agencies. It was a year of liberation and being conscious about how we lived. Although my lifestyle has changed now ten years later, I continue to valuing life and trying to be mindful in the way I live. Simplicity is a freeing way of life.

Duane Elgin

Very insightful and discerning! Thanks Shirley.


Why am I crying reading this? This is surely the life I desire. Voluntary Simplicity sounds beautiful. Guess I’ll be sticking around. Thank you.