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.