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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Voluntary Simplicity - What is it?

First the definition of simplicity from my Oxford American Dictionary - simplicity - being simple, to be very easy - this hardly seems a correct definition of a Simple Life Style does it? When we say that we want to live simply what do we really want?? Freedom from a demanding job, a long commute, telephones, TV, people, clutter, debt??? Well the list could go on and on because a simple life means different things to different people, and defining it is not that simple! Often times our quest for a life of simplicity is more a quest for contentment.

If you google Voluntary Simplicity 244,000 web pages are found for you to peruse - and I am sure that each page has it's own idea about how to live a simple life, and why you should live a simple life, some would be based on religious reasons, to be apart from the world, frugality, environmental concerns, anti-consumerism, anti-capitalist, self sufficiency,vegetarianism, just to name a few.

Searching for a simple life is nothing new, people have been doing it for centuries, in this country we can start with the Pilgrims, they fled religous persecution, and wanted to start anew, many religous groups, the Quakers, the Shakers, the Anabaptists all came to America in part to start fresh, to be away from the influences of the world, and to live simply. Move on down, a few centuries, Henry Thoreau, writer of, Walden, or Life in the Woods, was seeking the simple life, and his writing have inspired many to want to live in a "cabin in the woods". Move forward to the 1930's, Scott and Helen Nearing, famous for their self sufficiency and ascetism, lived in rural Vermont, grew almost all their own food, built all of their buildings, and lectured around the world. The Nearings co-authored Living the Good Life: How to live simply and sanely in a troubled world - the Nearings were members of the communist party. Move forward to the late 1960's and the "back to the land movement" started, hippie communes started, (most failed because communal living is not so simple), and the need to be in rythm with mother earth. Today two reasons seem to send people on a quest for the simple life - religion, and enviromentalism(a religion of it's own??).

If you would like to see a community of people who are living a "simple life" because they want to minimize their carbon footprint, you can visit, a diverse community of people who want to live sustainable and socially rewarding lives - this is definitely not a community based on Christian values.

Scott Savage, author of The Plain Reader, Essays on making life simple, is a Quaker, living in SE OH. Scott has completely turned his back on life on the modern World - he and his wife no longer drive, preferring to use a horse and buggy, no longer use electricity, and home school their children, just to name a few things that they do. Scott has quite a following - after all he has made a radical change to living the American Life. You can subscribe to the monthly(?) publication of The Plain Reader newspaper, but there is a limit of 5000 subscriptions, as Scott and his helpers hand set all of the print, and use no electricity at their printing press. You will not find Scott on the internet - he is true to his goal of turning his back on technology and calls himself a Neo-Luddite.

Others feel called to simplify because of their faith, in removing all of the clutter of the world they can be closer to God and free to serve Him. St. Francis of Assisi gave up everything to live the Gospel life, and although he lived in great poverty, he was a spritually rich man. Franciscans to this day strive to live simply, it is hard to do when we live in a country of plenty.

Ultimately I think living a simple life is all about finding contentment - we have a need to create, to produce, to feel useful, and getting back to the basics often fills this need, how satisfying to bake bread, to grow food, to paint a picture, to write a poem, to build a house, to be a little bit self sufficient. When we remove the clutter of daily living, and focus on God, we truly see and appreciate all that our Lord has given us in creation, and know that we are truly Blessed.


Anonymous said...

Good post on the reasons for voluntary simplicity. For all of them, I think the underlying reason is to get rid of what's unimportant so you can focus on what's most important to you; be that religion, environment, family or something else. And as someone who has striven after this, you're right. It isn't easy to do, but well worth the effort for us.

The Lords beauty said...

I am trying to simplify my life but it can be so hard!

Bean said...

It sure is. But even when you simplify is it really simpler? We don't buy bread, we make our own, it is easier to buy it, but it is so much more satisfying to make it!

The Road in Patience said...

It is not much simpler in the "simple life" way. There is more contentment though. People go for the simple life because in their hearts they know the "world" has left them short of an intimate relationship with God. (some just don't know it yet). Wonderful Post.

Have a Blessed Day,


Anonymous said...

We can make things more complicated when we try to simplify. I like the definition to include the idea of boundaries. It can be different things to different people. :)
I think it is wise when we ask YHWH(God) where those boundaries should be in our own lives to keep things as simple.

Often we ask him to bless our plan rather than asking him for a blessed plan. :)

A Woman that Fears the Lord said...

I continue to work towards simplifying so that I can 'seek' His kingdom first... it's a slow process! Enjoyed your post.