Simple living encompasses a number of different voluntary practices to simplify one’s lifestyle, 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.
Although asceticism generally promotes living simply and refraining from luxury and indulgence, not all proponents of simple living are ascetics. Simple living is distinct from those living in forced poverty, as it is a voluntary lifestyle choice.
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, 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, de-growth, social justice, and tax resistance.
Reducing consumption, work time, and possessions
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. Reducing expenses may also lead to increasing savings, which can lead to financial independence and the possibility of early retirement.
You have succeeded in life when all you really want is only what you really need.
The 100 Thing Challenge is a grassroots movement to whittle down personal possessions to one hundred items, with the aim of decluttering and simplifying life. The small house movement includes individuals who chose to live in small, mortgage-free, low-impact dwellings, such as log cabins or beach huts.
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. 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.”
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. Hart created a model forest garden from a 0.12 acre orchard on his farm at Wenlock Edge in Shropshire.
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.
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”. Farmer Matt Moore spoke on this issue: “How does it affect the consumer to know that broccoli takes 105 days to grow a head? 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”.
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. 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.
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. Those who eschew modern technology are often referred to as Luddites or neo-Luddites. 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. 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. 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. Authors of the book Techno-Fix criticize technological optimists for overlooking the limitations of technology in solving agricultural problems.
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.
Another practice is the adoption of a simplified diet. Diets that may simplify domestic food production and consumption include vegan diets and the Gandhi diet. In the United Kingdom, the Movement for Compassionate Living was formed by Kathleen and Jack Jannaway in 1984 to spread the vegan message and promote simple living and self-reliance as a remedy against the exploitation of humans, animals, and the Earth.