Simple Living: A Cool Lifestyle for a Hot Planet

Duane Elgin, who introduced Americans to Voluntary Simplicity in the 1970s, believes conscious living can save the world. And the time is now.


| November/December 2009



Lily Pad

Simplicity is not an alternative lifestyle for a marginal few; it is a choice for the mainstream majority, particularly developed nations.


Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison

Global trends indicate that a rapidly developing “world storm”—a planetary systems crisis—will push the human family to make deep and lasting changes in our approach to living. We confront many simultaneous challenges: climate disruption; an enormous increase in human populations living in gigantic cities; the depletion of vital resources such as fresh water and cheap oil; the massive and rapid extinction of animal and plant species around the world; growing disparities between the rich and the poor; and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. We are being pushed to wake up and learn to live far more sustainably by making profound changes in our manner of living, consuming, working and relating.

Simplicity is not an alternative lifestyle for a marginal few; it is a choice for the mainstream majority, particularly in developed nations. Even with major technological innovations in energy and transportation, it will be crucial that people embrace simplicity as a foundation for sustainability and change our overall levels and patterns of living and consuming. Fortunately, we can introduce simplicity into our lives in several ways.

A garden of simplicity

For more than 30 years, I’ve explored the simple life, and I’ve found that the most useful and accurate way of describing this approach to living is with the metaphor of a garden. I see seven ways to grow in the “garden of simplicity.” 

As with other ecosystems, the diversity of expressions fosters flexibility, adaptability and resilience. Because there are so many pathways into the garden of simplicity, this cultural movement has enormous potential to grow. Consider the seven steps below and how they could help you simplify various aspects of your life.

The multiple meanings of simplicity

Compassionate Simplicity (Humanity)

Simplicity means to feel such a strong sense of kinship with others that we “choose to live simply so that others may simply live.” Compassionate simplicity is a path of cooperation and fairness that seeks a future of mutually assured development for all.

Uncluttered Simplicity (Physical Space and Time)

Simplicity means taking charge of lives that are too busy, too stressed and too fragmented. Cut back on clutter, complexity and trivial distractions, both material and nonmaterial, and focus on the essentials—whatever those may be for your unique life. As Thoreau said, “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.”

Civic Simplicity (Community)

Simplicity means a new approach to governing ourselves, recognizing that to live more lightly and sustainably will require changes in every area of public life—from transportation and education to the design of our cities, public buildings and workplaces.





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