“Simplicity that is voluntary – consciously chosen, deliberate, and intentional – supports a higher quality of life.” (Elgin, 2010)

We make choices everyday: what to wear, what to eat for lunch, what to do over the weekend, and the list goes on. Often times, we make these choices automatically and out of necessity; we are presented with a situation that requires a choice, we make one and move on. Less often, we make big choices – who to marry, where to live, where to work – and these choices require more forethought and deliberation and therefore, we think of them as the choices that really matter.

When making these big choices, after some reflection, we consciously choose between the options we are presented and then deal with the consequences and changes that occur. Though we know that these choices will affect our daily lives, we often think of these large-scale lifestyle changes as separate from the minor details of everyday life. But what if we knowingly chose to integrate these larger choices and their gravity into our daily lives? Essentially, this is what individuals who practice “Voluntary Simplicity” or “Simple Living” have decided to do.

In actuality, the choices, changes, and processes involved in “simple living” are rarely simple and often make life more complex. However, the lifestyles that result from the decision to live simply (there are many variations) tend to be more focused, intentions and desires are made clear and central as a part of everyday life. “Simple living” and “voluntary simplicity” lifestyles require individuals to re-evaluate what is important in their lives and make these facts central to their everyday experiences. Simple living reconnects the most important decisions with the everyday decisions.

When we take the time to reflect on what is important, it often becomes evident that various aspects of our lives are out of sync with what we might consider to be the cornerstones of a happy existence. When attempting to live simply, individuals who re-evaluate their lives often find that material possessions matter less than the experiential aspects of life, such as spending time with family or engaging in meaningful work experiences. In order to honor the most important aspects of their lives, individuals who simplify sometimes make large-scale changes – moving homes, changing jobs, decreasing consumption – in order to align their daily decisions with their bigger, foundational decisions and desires.

Simplification entails pairing down the complexity of life and focusing on what matters; each decision is made intentionally and individuals strive to keep their lives in balance. In order to strike this balance, individuals seek to connect everyday decisions to their deeper desires for a specific kind of lifestyle. Simple living challenges individuals to be aware of how each decision relates to the most important aspects of their life and make all their decisions in a way that will move them in a positive direction towards further fulfillment and growth.

By focusing on lifestyle choices and seeking balance in life, simple living practices often seem to echo certain aspects of mindfulness practices. Mindful and meditative practices to treat depression and anxiety have become more popular in the past few decades and, like simple living lifestyles, these practices advocate for balance, focus, and, attention. Though making lifestyle choices is not necessarily akin to meditation, an individual engaged in simple living often maintains a constant and conscious focus on how their choices will relate to their desired lifestyle. The link between simple living and mindfulness practices illuminates how simple living requires an individual to choose their lifestyle consciously, in the moment, while also remaining aware of their deeper desires for a balanced, focused life.

About the Author

Laurie Hurson

Laurie Hurson is a Ph.D. student in the environmental psychology program at the City University of New York.

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