We had been living a simple life for many years before I discovered there was a name… voluntary simplicity… for the way we have chosen to live. Obviously, our version of voluntary simplicity… living debt-free, living close to nature, working from home, living green and without chemicals, cooking from scratch… is based on OUR personal choices, so I wouldn’t expect it to be exactly like anyone else’s version of the lifestyle.

However… earlier this week I was disappointed to see the voluntary simplicity movement described by one author as “learning to live poor.” Equally disappointing was another author’s insistence that anyone wanting to live simply must completely stop spending on wants and limit spending only to needs. Combine this with the focus on extreme purging and eliminating everything except necessities, and simple living sounds pretty grim, doesn’t it?

I know I wouldn’t want to live that restrictive a lifestyle!

What we have here, I think, is a perfect example of putting too much emphasis on the wrong things. Voluntary simplicity is NOT about depriving yourself, and it is NOT about learning to live poor… and unless you make it that way, voluntary simplicity is not a limiting lifestyle. Perhaps it is my New England background speaking, but I have never understood why consumerism, debt, and the rat-race mentality are considered the norm when a simpler, more deliberate life offers so much more.

Putting so much emphasis on “stuff”… and it doesn’t matter if you’re buying it or purging it… makes “stuff” more important than it should be. The same is true of extreme frugality… an obsession with saving money that infringes on the rest of your life can be just as detrimental as reckless spending. A sensible, more relaxed approach to both is much easier to implement and live with long-term without burn-out.

Voluntary simplicity “works” when you choose a lifestyle that fits you and your values and is based on the things that are the most important to YOU. I believe the “secret” is a balance of consistency, moderation, and flexibility, and the goal should be a lifestyle that is joyous… exciting… and fulfilling. There is nothing restrictive or negative about really LIVING your life instead of just existing day to day.

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The stuff doesn’t matter. It never really does. What does matter is how you live and who you surround yourself with like your family and friends. I would rather spend an evening at a campfire in a backyard then out spending or wasting money. Like you said though, it’s a personal preference. It’s not living poor, it’s the opposite!


Amen, Brother (sister.) Not having cable, or leather heated seats in my car, older out-of-fashion appliances, letting nature dry my clothes – all these things I can do living in an urban high rise and walking to work or reading a book on the bus. Living simply doesn’t have to be Mother Earth News – not that I wouldn’t love to be chopping wood and feeding chickens. But for now, this is my life and I don’t have to buy in to the electronic plugged in lifestyle.
Thanks for the post. We need reinforcement sometimes to resist a consumerist society.


I totally agree with you. I have also seen this negative slant. People who think voluntary simplicity is about “living poor” don’t understand the richness that is gained after eliminating consumer clutter and debt.


‘learning to live poor’? If people think simple living is all about deprivation they are missing out aren’t they? Walks in the woods, playing board games with the family, going to free concerts in the park, enjoying a sunset are all things that don’t cost a thing, but make your life richer. Definitely – it’s all about using your money for what you value. I don’t buy a lot of clothes or stuff because we choose to go to plays, museums and travel. We would choose experience over stuff any day.


Thank you for creating a website that speaks to a topic that seems to scare so many in our society-simplicity. I grew up in a middle-class community but always wondered why people chased after money and things, both of which are not lasting. When I got my first job I started down the same road; make money so I can buy stuff to make me feel secure only to feel insecure so I would try to get more money to buy more stuff, and on and on. My goals today are to slip the ties to this losing cycle and live, purposely. Thoreau and Emerson taught this so many years ago, and countless others figured this out thousands of years before them (Patanjali, Lao-Tzu, Jesus), yet we still question the wisdom.


Well said! I think it’s unfortunate when people who live consciously are lumped together with those who live desperately. My lifestyle choices make me feel so rich, it would just be weird if someone tried to label me as ‘poor’ because I am so much less of a consumer than I ‘should’ be.


I didn’t know that there was a name for this philosophy on living. I just know that after presuing a life of “sucess” as I had been taught through society, I found my life to be as much of an illusion as “the emperior’s new robe”. I am excited and a little scared to be making the lifestyle change as I know little to nothing about sustainable living.

Jon in France

There are some very strange people out there who genuinely and sincerely believe that happiness can be attained only through material wealth. They find lifestyles such as ours and yours incomprehensible.

If I was given to smugness, I’d feel sorry for them.


I just found your blog today and thoroughly enjoyed this post!

Thanks for a great post! I completely agree with your prospective of living simply. One doesn’t have to live “without” just to live a simple life.


Thank you so much for being a voice for this lifestyle. As a college senior already overwhelmed by consumerist society, the “rat race,” etc, and already in credit card debt and worried about my future, this is a voice of hope. The past few months have been very difficult for me and blogs such as yours provide me with an alternative view of my future- a simpler, more wholesome, more rewarding future.


All the comments on this post were good and made so much sense! My husband and I have always tried to live within our means – when my daughter was born I stayed home to raise her and we planned our finances with that in mind. I wouldn’t have missed raising her for all consumer goods in the world! Our house is now paid off, we have no credit card debt and this makes for a more serene existence. (while I see other people I know struggling because they lived in homes they couldn’t afford) and we can send our daughter to the college she always wanted to attend, and we can buy things if we choose to, but the older we get, the less we seem to need.


Wow. It’s nice to see we’re not alone in our deliberate choice to sidestep “consumerism, debt, and the rat-race!” Cheers! DK


Thanks for raising this topic for comments. Voluntary simplicity is making choices to have ‘this’ and not ‘that’. Sometimes we don’t have the material possession, sometimes we do. What simplicity allows for my family is the freedom to travel when we wish, to purchase one better quality item that will be used and cared for, to not be bound by debt or others’ expectations. What a rich and full life!

Jannie F.

That’s pretty sad because what you are actually doing is living RICH, more richly than most can ever imagine. True rich, in harmony with nature. Can it get any sweeter or richer than that??


I think unless you are living the life you really don’t have a true understanding. A lot of comments are made out of ignorance and lack of true knowledge and understanding. Those of us here already know the difference and I think that is really the only thing that matters. Let the others continue to live in ignorance….

Linda W.

I’m not at all sure that voluntary simplicity is a good label. There’s nothing very simple about it! I love living a complex, resilient lifestyle that is true to values that seem to me much more self-evidently valuable. I often say that if I didn’t garden,I would feel both deprived and irresponsible, and I think that applies to most aspects of the life of “voluntary simplicity”.


Such an interesting post! I find the whole concept fascinating. I gave up a full time, well paid job to stay home with my severely disabled son nine years ago since there wasn’t any daycare for him and I could never, ever think of putting him in a home (I was recently divorced.). As a result, I had to live a lot more frugally. What I gained (in addition to the joys of taking care of my son and giving him a good life) was so much…I learned to cook (make most from scratch and still learning), live close to nature, learning to live green and without chemicals, etc. When I do buy something, I’ve researched it more and thoroughly enjoy it my purchases. When I have a nice event to go to, I spend money and purchase a pretty new dress and prepare for it. I take nothing for granted and life feels richer. I also like to think having no debt is akin to freedom. It’s funny because typically when people simplify or give up the fast paced lives, more often than not, most people enjoy it. Do I miss the money? Yes, at times, but if push came to shove, I’d never want to give up most of the things I have now. When my son passes, I’ll have all the time in the world to go back to full time employment but I doubt I’ll give up simple living.


Many years ago, my father taught me about simplicity, unintentionally….I think. I asked if he could buy me a car. Instead, he took me to buy the newspaper so I could look for work and save to buy my own car. “Not having” taught me two things. First, working for what we DO have feels so much better. And second, it taught me the most important thing about simplicity……to value and feel good about the things we do have. Dad’s simplicity might not have been “voluntary” at the time but it taught me to be aware. And that’s what I strive for now. It has been my greatest lesson.


I just found this site and I love it. I have been living what is now called either voluntary simplicity or sustainable living for a long, long time. I didn’t know there were “names” for such living until the past few years. I am only living as my parents and their parents. When my children (now grown and living the same) were babies I was told I was “spoiling” them by making my own baby food, etc. I was only doing what I believed in, only wanting the best for them. The best food, the best morals, values, beliefs. No, it isn’t simple or easy, but anything worth doing isn’t.

Judith D.

I just found this site and love it. I have always lived this way. I am probable older than most of you. My parents lived through the Depression, so we were raised to buy used, reuse, and make do. I never felt deprived. If there was something we really wanted we learned to earn the money and save for it. Not only did we get the personal satisfaction of earning it, but so much more. Children learn what is really important to them. Do they want that latest fad thing or save for a car. We took care of what we got, because we worked for it. We learn to be fiscally responsible, and to live ‘well’ within our means.

I don’t care what you call it. I believe it is not just a change in lifestyle, but a change in attitude. You learn what is really important to you. Instead of believing what someone else tells you, you should want.


I just realized this week that there was a “name” for what we are doing! The closer we get to this life, the more it just feels right…but it was nice to see that others were out there doing the same. The more we see and feel the right way to live, the more foreign the rat-race world seems to us now. I’m happy to stumble upon others with the same ideas! We’re living on a boat in Southeast Alaska with our two kids, and we’ve learned that the simpler our life, the happier we all are.

Don D.

Just a note to say I believe in simple living. From 1972 to 1982 I lived on a ranch in the southern panhandle of West Texas. I was just a young man then. We lived ten miles from a town with a population of about 500 people. Six of the ten miles was dirt road. We grew a garden and had plenty of beef to eat. How I long for those days again.