The Voluntary Simplicity Movement: Reimagining the Good Life beyond Consumer Culture

By Samuel Alexander.

Published by The Sustainability Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Voluntary simplicity - otherwise known as ‘downshifting’ or just ‘simple living’ – is an anti-consumerist way of life that opposes the high consumption lifestyles prevalent in consumer societies today and voluntarily embraces ‘a simpler life’ of reduced consumption. As a practical matter, this living strategy characteristically involves providing for material needs as simply and directly as possible, minimizing expenditure on consumer goods and services, and generally seeking non-materialistic sources of satisfaction and meaning. Variously defended by its advocates on personal, social, humanitarian, and ecological grounds, voluntary simplicity is predicated on the assumption that human beings can live meaningful, free, happy, and infinitely diverse lives, while consuming no more than an equitable share of nature. That, at least, is the challenging ideal which seems to motive and guide many of its advocates and practitioners. This paper examines the nature of the Voluntary Simplicity Movement, including its various definitions, justifications, and practices.

Keywords: Voluntary Simplicity, Simple Living, Downshifting, Consumption, Anti-Consumerism, Consumer Culture

The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp.133-150. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 866.915KB).

Samuel Alexander

Lecturer, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Samuel Alexander is a lecturer in Consumerism and Sustainability at the Office for Environmental Programs, University of Melbourne, Australia. His doctoral thesis, “Property beyond Growth: Toward a Politics of Voluntary Simplicity,” explores how the laws of property in advanced capitalist societies could be restructured to transition toward what Herman Daly calls a steady-state economy. Developing interdisciplinary perspectives on issues of property law, degrowth economics, consumption, and sustainability, Alexander variously argues that legal, political, and economic structures will not reflect an ethics of simplicity and sufficiency until such an ethics is embraced at the socio-cultural level. He is also the founder of the Life Poets’ Simplicity Collective (www.simplicitycollective), a grass-roots network of imaginations dedicated to advancing the Voluntary Simplicity Movement in Melbourne and beyond. Alexander is also a founder and Co-Director of the Simplicity Institute (www.simplicityinstitute.org), a progressive think-tank dedicated to research and policy analysis on sustainable consumption.

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