Simple living

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Mahatma Gandhi spinning yarn in 1942. Gandhi believed in a life of simplicity and self-sufficiency. Gandhi spinning 1942.jpg
Mahatma Gandhi spinning yarn in 1942. Gandhi believed in a life of simplicity and self-sufficiency.

Simple living encompasses a number of different voluntary practices to simplify one's lifestyle. These may include, for example, reducing one's possessions, generally referred to as minimalism, or increasing self-sufficiency. Simple living may be characterized by individuals being satisfied with what they have rather than want. [1] [2] Although asceticism generally promotes living simply and refraining from luxury and indulgence, not all proponents of simple living are ascetics. [3] Simple living is distinct from those living in forced poverty, as it is a voluntary lifestyle choice.

Contents

Adherents may choose simple living for a variety of personal reasons, such as spirituality, health, increase in quality time for family and friends, work–life balance, personal taste, financial sustainability, frugality, sustainability or reducing stress. Simple living can also be a reaction to materialism and conspicuous consumption. Some cite socio-political goals aligned with the environmentalist, anti-consumerist or anti-war movements, including conservation, degrowth, deep ecology, and tax resistance. [4]

History

Religious and spiritual

Diogenes living in a clay wine jar Gerome - Diogenes.jpg
Diogenes living in a clay wine jar

A number of religious and spiritual traditions encourage simple living. [5] Early examples include the Śramaṇa traditions of Iron Age India, Gautama Buddha, and biblical Nazirites.

The biblical figure Jesus is said to have lived a simple life. He is said to have encouraged his disciples "to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts—but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics." [6]

Similar to Jesus' statement, many notable religious individuals, such as Benedict of Nursia, Francis of Assisi, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Rabindranath Tagore, Albert Schweitzer, and Mahatma Gandhi. [7] [8] , have claimed that spiritual inspiration led them to a simple living lifestyle

Traditions of simple living stretch back to antiquity, finding resonance with leaders such as Laozi, Confucius, Zarathustra, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammed. These traditions were heavily influenced by both Mediterranean culture and Abrahamic ethics. [8] Diogenes, a major figure in the ancient Greek philosophy of Cynicism, claimed that a simple life was necessary for virtue, and was said to have lived in a wine jar. [9]

Plain people typically belonged to Christian groups that have practised lifestyles with excluded forms of wealth or technology for religious or philosophical reasons. Such Christian groups include the Shakers, Mennonites, Amish, Hutterites, Amana Colonies, Bruderhof, [10] [11] Old German Baptist Brethren, Harmony Society, and some Quakers. A Quaker belief called Testimony of simplicity states that a person ought to live her or his life simply. Some tropes about complete exclusion of technology in these groups may not be accurate though. The Amish and other groups do use some modern technology, after assessing its impact on the community. [12] [13]

Jean-Jacques Rousseau strongly praised the simple way of life in many of his writings, especially during in two books: Discourse on the Arts and Sciences (1750) and Discourse on Inequality (1754). [14]

Secular

Epicureanism, based on the teachings of the Athens-based philosopher Epicurus, flourished from about the fourth century BC to the third century AD. Epicureanism upheld the untroubled life as the paradigm of happiness, made possible by carefully considered choices. Specifically, Epicurus pointed out that troubles entailed by maintaining an extravagant lifestyle tend to outweigh the pleasure of partaking in it. He therefore concluded that what is necessary for happiness, bodily comfort, and life itself should be maintained at minimal cost, while all things beyond what is necessary for these should either be tempered by moderation or completely avoided. [15]

Reconstruction of Henry David Thoreau's cabin on the shores of Walden Pond Thoreau's cabin inside.jpg
Reconstruction of Henry David Thoreau's cabin on the shores of Walden Pond

Henry David Thoreau, an American naturalist and author, is often considered to have made the classic secular statement advocating a life of simple and sustainable living in his book Walden (1854). Thoreau conducted a two-year experiment living a plain and simple life on the shores of Walden Pond.

In Victorian Britain, Henry Stephens Salt, an admirer of Thoreau, popularised the idea of "Simplification, the saner method of living". [16] Other British advocates of the simple life included Edward Carpenter, William Morris, and the members of the "Fellowship of the New Life". [17] Carpenter popularised the phrase the "Simple Life" in his essay Simplification of Life in his England's Ideal (1887). [18]

C.R. Ashbee and his followers also practised some of these ideas, thus linking simplicity with the Arts and Crafts movement. [19] British novelist John Cowper Powys advocated the simple life in his 1933 book A Philosophy of Solitude. [20] John Middleton Murry and Max Plowman practised a simple lifestyle at their Adelphi Centre in Essex in the 1930s. [21] Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh championed a "right simplicity" philosophy based on ruralism in some of his work. [22]

George Lorenzo Noyes, a naturalist, mineralogist, development critic, writer, and artist, is known as the Thoreau of Maine. He lived a wilderness lifestyle, advocating through his creative work a simple life and reverence for nature. During the 1920s and 1930s, the Vanderbilt Agrarians of the Southern United States advocated a lifestyle and culture centered upon traditional and sustainable agrarian values as opposed to the progressive urban industrialism which dominated the Western world at that time.

Thorstein Veblen warned against the conspicuous consumption of the materialistic society with The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899); Richard Gregg coined the term "voluntary simplicity" in The Value of Voluntary Simplicity (1936). From the 1920s, a number of modern authors articulated both the theory and practice of living simply, among them Gandhian Richard Gregg, economists Ralph Borsodi and Scott Nearing, anthropologist-poet Gary Snyder, and utopian fiction writer Ernest Callenbach. E. F. Schumacher argued against the notion that "bigger is better" in Small Is Beautiful (1973); and Duane Elgin continued the promotion of the simple life in Voluntary Simplicity (1981). The Australian academic Ted Trainer practices and writes about simplicity, and established The Simplicity Institute [23] at Pigface Point, some 20 km from the University of New South Wales to which it is attached. [24] A secular set of nine values was developed with the Ethify Yourself project in Austria, having a simplified life style in mind and accompanied by an online book (2011). In the United States voluntary simplicity started to garner more public exposure through a movement in the late 1990s around a popular "simplicity" book, The Simple Living Guide [25] by Janet Luhrs. [26] Around the same time, minimalism (a similar movement) started to also show its light into the public eye.

Changing mindset

Living simply involves different lifestyle habits, and trying to achieve a simple living lifestyle is a long and gradual process. The idea of it may sound satisfying, but the essence of this practice is to recognize the essential things, implement changes, and do the changes repeatedly. Danny Dover, author of the book "The Minimalist Mindset", states ideas are simply just thoughts, but implementing and acting on these ideas in our own lives is what will make it habitual, and allowing a change in mindset. [27] Leo Babauta believes finding beauty and joy in less, is what advocates the thought of "more is better" to be untrue. It is quality over quantity that minimalists prefer to follow. It is emphasized that we should value things that make us happy and are essential to us, rather than value the idea of just having things to have. [28]

This mindset has spread among many individuals due to influences of other people living this lifestyle. Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus share their story of what they used to see life for. The constant additions that are never ending in this worlds are what drove their impulses to keep buying and filling this void of acceptance and approval. Realizing there was this emptiness of being able to get anything they want, there was no meaning behind what they had. [29] This called for a change in mindset with what they see as important and truly valuable before they can begin any other practices or lifestyle habits.

Practices

Reducing consumption, work time, and possessions

Living simply in a small dwelling Portland alternative dwellings workshop.jpg
Living simply in a small dwelling
Simplicity boils down to two steps: Identify the essential. Eliminate the rest.

Leo Babauta

Some people practice simple living by reducing consumption. By lowering expenditure on goods or services, the time spent earning money can be reduced. The time saved may be used to pursue other interests, or help others through volunteering. Some may use the extra free time to improve their quality of life, for example pursuing creative activities such as art and crafts. Developing a detachment from money has led some individuals, such as Suelo and Mark Boyle, to live with no money at all. [30] [31] Reducing expenses may also lead to increasing savings, which can lead to financial independence and the possibility of early retirement. [32]

You have succeeded in life when all you really want is only what you really need.

Vernon Howard

The 100 Thing Challenge is a grassroots movement to whittle down personal possessions to one hundred items, with the aim of de-cluttering and simplifying life. [33] The small house movement includes individuals who chose to live in small, mortgage-free, low-impact dwellings, such as log cabins or beach huts. [34]

Those who follow simple living may hold a different value over their homes. Joshua Becker suggests simplifying the place that they live for those who desire to live this lifestyle. He addresses the fact that the purpose of a home is a place for safety and belonging. Many get caught up over all of the space they have in their house and feel the need to buy stuff to fill it. This is something that must be reflected upon because it raises the question of if it is just pleasing to the eye, or if it is truly needed. [35]

Increasing self-sufficiency

Robert Hart's forest garden in Shropshire, England, UK Forestgarden2.jpg
Robert Hart's forest garden in Shropshire, England, UK

One way to simplify life is to get back-to-the-land and grow your own food, as increased self-sufficiency reduces dependency on money and the economy. Tom Hodgkinson believes the key to a free and simple life is to stop consuming and start producing. [36] This is a sentiment shared by an increasing number of people, including those belonging to the millennial generation such as writer and eco blogger Jennifer Nini, who left the city to live off-grid, grow food, and "be a part of the solution; not part of the problem." [37]

Forest gardening, developed by simple living adherent Robert Hart, is a low-maintenance plant-based food production system based on woodland ecosystems, incorporating fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables. [38] Hart created a model forest garden from a 0.12 acre orchard on his farm at Wenlock Edge in Shropshire. [39]

The idea of food miles, the number of miles a given item of food or its ingredients has travelled between the farm and the table, is used by simple living advocates to argue for locally grown food. This is now gaining mainstream acceptance, as shown by the popularity of books such as The 100-Mile Diet, and Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. In each of these cases, the authors devoted a year to reducing their carbon footprint by eating locally. [40]

City dwellers can also produce fresh home-grown fruit and vegetables in pot gardens or miniature indoor greenhouses. Tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, peas, strawberries, and several types of herbs can all thrive in pots. Jim Merkel says that a person "could sprout seeds. They are tasty, incredibly nutritious, and easy to grow... We grow them in wide-mouthed mason jars with a square of nylon window screen screwed under a metal ring". [41] Farmer Matt Moore spoke on this issue: "How does it affect the consumer to know that broccoli takes 105 days to grow ahead? [...] The supermarket mode is one of plenty — it's always stocked. And that changes our sense of time. How long it takes to grow food — that's removed in the marketplace. They don't want you to think about how long it takes to grow, because they want you to buy right now". [42] One way to change this viewpoint is also suggested by Mr. Moore. He placed a video installation in the produce section of a grocery store that documented the length of time it took to grow certain vegetables. [42] This aimed to raise awareness in people of the length of time actually needed for gardens.

The do it yourself ethic refers to the principle of undertaking necessary tasks oneself rather than having others, who are more skilled or experienced, complete them for you.

Reconsidering technology

People who practice simple living have diverse views on the role of technology. The American political activist Scott Nearing was skeptical about how humanity would use new technology, citing destructive inventions such as nuclear weapons. [43] Those who eschew modern technology are often referred to as Luddites or neo-Luddites. [44] Although simple living is often a secular pursuit, it may still involve reconsidering personal definitions of appropriate technology, as Anabaptist groups such as the Amish or Mennonites have done.

Technological proponents see cutting-edge technologies as a way to make a simple lifestyle within mainstream culture easier and more sustainable. They argue that the internet can reduce an individual's carbon footprint through telecommuting and lower paper usage. Some have also calculated their energy consumption and have shown that one can live simply and in an emotionally satisfying way by using much less energy than is used in Western countries. [45] Technologies they may embrace include computers, photovoltaic systems, wind and water turbines.

Technological interventions that appear to simplify living may actually induce side effects elsewhere or at a future point in time. Evgeny Morozov warns that tools like the internet can facilitate mass surveillance and political repression. [46] The book Green Illusions identifies how wind and solar energy technologies have hidden side effects and can actually increase energy consumption and entrench environmental harms over time. [47] Authors of the book Techno-Fix criticize technological optimists for overlooking the limitations of technology in solving agricultural problems. [48]

Advertising is criticised for encouraging a consumerist mentality. Many advocates of simple living tend to agree that cutting out, or cutting down on, television viewing is a key ingredient in simple living. Some see the Internet, podcasting, community radio, or pirate radio as viable alternatives.[ citation needed ]

Simplifying diet

Figs, berries, and cheese Figs, berries and cheese.jpg
Figs, berries, and cheese

Another practice is the adoption of a simplified diet or a diet that may simplify domestic food production and consumption, such as the Gandhi diet. In the United Kingdom, the Movement for Compassionate Living was formed by Kathleen and Jack Jannaway in 1984 to spread the message of veganism and promote simple living and self-reliance as a remedy against the exploitation of humans, animals, and the planet.

Politics and activism

Environmentalism

Simple living may be undertaken by environmentalists. For example, Green parties often advocate simple living as a consequence of their "four pillars" or the "Ten Key Values" of the Green Party of the United States. This includes, in policy terms, their rejection of genetic engineering and nuclear power and other technologies they consider to be hazardous. The Greens' support for simplicity is based on the reduction in natural resource usage and environmental impact. This concept is expressed in Ernest Callenbach's "green triangle" of ecology, frugality and health.

The White House Peace Vigil, started by simple living adherent Thomas in 1981. PeacePark.jpg
The White House Peace Vigil, started by simple living adherent Thomas in 1981.

Many with similar views avoid involvement even with green politics as compromising simplicity, however, and advocate forms of green anarchism that attempt to implement these principles at a smaller scale, e.g. the ecovillage. Deep ecology, a belief that the world does not exist as a resource to be freely exploited by humans, proposes wilderness preservation, human population control and simple living. [49]

Anti-war

The alleged relationship between economic growth and war, when fought for control and exploitation of natural and human resources, is considered a good reason for promoting a simple living lifestyle. Avoiding the perpetuation of the resource curse is a similar objective of many simple living adherents.

Opposition to war has led peace activists, such as Ammon Hennacy and Ellen Thomas, to a form of tax resistance in which they reduce their income below the tax threshold by taking up a simple living lifestyle. [4] [50] These individuals believe that their government is engaged in immoral, unethical or destructive activities such as war, and paying taxes inevitably funds these activities. [4]

Art

The term Bohemianism has been used to describe a long tradition of both voluntary and involuntary poverty by artists who devote their time to artistic endeavors rather than paid labor.

In May 2014, a story on NPR suggested that positive attitudes towards living in poverty for the sake of art are becoming less common among young American artists, and quoted one recent graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design as saying "her classmates showed little interest in living in garrets and eating ramen noodles." [51]

Economics

A new economics movement has been building since the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in 1972, [52] and the publication that year of Only One Earth, The Limits to Growth , and Blueprint For Survival , followed in 1973 by Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered. [53]

Recently, David Wann has introduced the idea of “simple prosperity” as it applies to a sustainable lifestyle. From his point of view, and as a point of departure for what he calls real sustainability, “it is important to ask ourselves three fundamental questions: what is the point of all our commuting and consuming? What is the economy for? And, finally, why do we seem to be unhappier now than when we began our initial pursuit for rich abundance?” [54] In this context, simple living is the opposite of our modern quest for affluence and, as a result, it becomes less preoccupied with quantity and more concerned about the preservation of cities, traditions and nature.

A reference point for this new economics can be found in James Robertson's A New Economics of Sustainable Development, [53] and the work of thinkers and activists, who participate in his Working for a Sane Alternative network and program. According to Robertson, the shift to sustainability is likely to require a widespread shift of emphasis from raising incomes to reducing costs.

The principles of the new economics, as set out by Robertson, are the following:

See also

Related Research Articles

Minimalism Movements in various forms of art and design

In visual arts, music, and other mediums, minimalism is an art movement that began in post–World War II Western art, most strongly with American visual arts in the 1960s and early 1970s. Prominent artists associated with minimalism include Donald Judd, Agnes Martin, Dan Flavin, Carl Andre, Robert Morris, Anne Truitt, and Frank Stella. The movement is often interpreted as a reaction against abstract expressionism and modernism; it anticipated contemporary postminimal art practices, which extend or reflect on minimalism's original objectives.

Ecovillage sustainable intentional community

An ecovillage is a traditional or intentional community with the goal of becoming more socially, culturally, economically, and/or ecologically sustainable. An ecovillage strives to produce the least possible negative impact on the natural environment through intentional physical design and resident behavior choices. It is consciously designed through locally owned, participatory processes to regenerate and restore its social and natural environments. Most range from a population of 50 to 250 individuals, although some are smaller, and traditional ecovillages are often much larger. Larger ecovillages often exist as networks of smaller sub-communities. Some ecovillages have grown through like-minded individuals, families, or other small groups—who are not members, at least at the outset—settling on the ecovillage's periphery and participating de facto in the community.

Anarcho-primitivism is an anarchist critique of the origins and progress of the Industrial Revolution and industrial society. According to anarcho-primitivism, the shift from hunter-gatherer to agricultural subsistence during the Neolithic Revolution gave rise to coercion, social alienation and social stratification. Anarcho-primitivists advocate a return to non-"civilized" ways of life through deindustrialization, abolition of the division of labor or specialization and abandonment of large-scale organization technologies.

Simplicity is the state or quality of being simple. Something easy to understand or explain seems simple, in contrast to something complicated. Alternatively, as Herbert A. Simon suggests, something is simple or complex depending on the way we choose to describe it. In some uses, the label "simplicity" can imply beauty, purity, or clarity. In other cases, the term may suggest a lack of nuance or complexity relative to what is required.

<i>Walden</i> Book by Henry David Thoreau

Walden is a book by American transcendentalist writer Henry David Thoreau. The text is a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings. The work is part personal declaration of independence, social experiment, voyage of spiritual discovery, satire, and—to some degree—a manual for self-reliance.

A back-to-the-land movement is any of various agrarian movements across different historical periods. The common thread is a call for people to take up smallholding and to grow food from the land with an emphasis on a greater degree of self-sufficiency, autonomy, and local community than found in a prevailing industrial or postindustrial way of life. There have been a variety of motives behind such movements, such as social reform, land reform, and civilian war efforts. Groups involved have included political reformers, counterculture hippies, and religious separatists.

The term downshifting in the English language refers to the act of reducing the gear ratio while driving a vehicle with manual transmission. This title or term has now been re-purposed and applied to describe a social behavior or trend in which individuals live simpler lives to escape from what critics call the rat race.

<i>Dai-Tōkyō Binbō Seikatsu Manual</i>

Dai-Tōkyō Binbō Seikatsu Manual is a Japanese manga by Maekawa Tsukasa, originally published in the mid-1980s. The title roughly translates to "Greater Tokyo Poverty Living Manual", and is an apt description of the comic's premise.

Affluenza is a psychological malaise supposedly affecting wealthy young people. It is a portmanteau of affluence and influenza, and is used most commonly by critics of consumerism. It is not a medically recognized disease. It is thought to have been first used in 1954, but was popularised in 1997 with a PBS documentary of the same name and the subsequent book Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic. These works define affluenza as "a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more". A more informal definition of the term would describe it as "a quasi-illness caused by guilt for one's own socio-economic superiority". The term "affluenza" has also been used to refer to an inability to understand the consequences of one's actions because of financial privilege.

Slow movement (culture) social movement advocates a cultural shift toward slowing down lifes pace

The slow movement advocates a cultural shift toward slowing down life's pace. It began with Carlo Petrini's protest against the opening of a McDonald's restaurant in Piazza di Spagna, Rome in 1986 that sparked the creation of the slow food movement. Over time, this developed into a subculture in other areas, like the Cittaslow organisation for "slow cities." The "slow" epithet has subsequently been applied to a variety of activities and aspects of culture.

Frugality personality trait; avoidance of unnecessary expenditure

Frugality is the quality of being frugal, sparing, thrifty, prudent or economical in the consumption of consumable resources such as food, time or money, and avoiding waste, lavishness or extravagance.

<i>Life Without Principle</i> book by Henry David Thoreau

Life Without Principle is an essay by Henry David Thoreau that offers his program for a righteous livelihood. It was published in 1863.

Intentional living is any lifestyle based on an individual or group's conscious attempts to live according to their values and beliefs. These can include lifestyles based on religious, political or ethical values, as well as for self-improvement.

Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) is a demographic defining a particular market segment related to sustainable living, "green" ecological initiatives, and generally composed of a relatively upscale and well-educated population segment. The author Paul H. Ray, who coined the term Cultural Creatives in his book by the same name, explains that "What you're seeing is a demand for products of equal quality that are also virtuous." Included in the cultural creative demographic are consumers of New Age goods and services.

Degrowth economic thinking questioning the benefits and sustainability of economic growth

Degrowth is a term used for both a political, economic, and social movement as well as a set of theories that critiques the paradigm of economic growth. It is based on ideas from a diverse range of lines of thought such as political ecology, ecological economics, feminist political ecology, and environmental justice. Degrowth emphasizes the need to reduce global consumption and production and advocates a socially just and ecologically sustainable society with well-being replacing GDP as the indicator of prosperity. Degrowth highlights the importance of autonomy, care work, self-organization, commons, community, localism, work sharing, happiness and conviviality.

Slow living is a lifestyle emphasizing slower approaches to aspects of everyday life. It has been defined as movement or action at a relaxed or leisurely pace. It started in Italy with the slow food movement, which emphasizes traditional food production techniques in response to the emergence of fast food during the 1980s and 1990s. Slow living also incorporates slow money and slow cities. Slow food and slow living are sometimes proposed as solutions to what the green movement sees as the consequences of materialistic and industrial lifestyles.

Sustainable consumer behavior is the sub-discipline of consumer behavior that studies why and how consumers do or do not incorporate sustainability issues into their consumption behavior. Further, it studies the products that consumers select, how those products are used, and how they are disposed of in pursuit of their individual sustainability goals.

The Minimalists American duo promoting minimalist lifestyle

The Minimalists are American authors, podcasters, filmmakers, and public speakers Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, who promote a minimalist lifestyle. They are known for their Netflix documentary, Minimalism (2016); their memoir, Everything That Remains (2014); their podcast; and their minimalism blog, which has as many as five million readers according to the Washington Post. GQ estimated The Minimalists have a following of around 20 million people.

Post-growth

Post-growth is a global futures approach to the limits-to-growth dilemma — the perception that, on a planet of finite resources, economies and populations cannot grow infinitely. The term "post-growth" acknowledges that economic growth can generate beneficial effects up to a point, but beyond that point it is necessary to look for other indicators and techniques to increase human wellbeing.

Ted (F.E.) Trainer is an Australian academic, author, and an advocate of economic degrowth, simple living, and 'conserver' lifestyles.

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