Oct 12, 2011

Voluntary Simplicity: Thoreau and the Simple Life

I was actually reading some of my articles for one of my courses the other day (I know, applause, right?) and one of the articles struck a bit of a chord with things that I'm struggling with lately, with feeling swamped, that need to get down to business and just having time get away from me for things that I really love to do.

Henry David Thoreau was a big proponent of the whole living more simply idea, and while I don't quite see myself heading down to a hut to grow beans and protest paying taxes, I think a lot of what he had to say on the subject is pretty good. His most famous quote on the subject being :

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

This statement has always resonated with me --the thought that I may spend a lifetime trying to figure things out and to fall short because I didn't properly confront the things that were excess and unneeded in my life and focus on what is right and important. I've read a lot on simple living as well, but as this site notes, the difference between simple living and voluntary simplicity often is related to the focus that simple living has  on declutttering and removing excess from one's life, whereas voluntary simplicity has a focus on  "happiness, contentment… going outside your comfort zone, accepting responsibility for your actions, and getting your priorities “right.” as well as focusing on the way you live and the philosophy you enact in your day to day living. 

The context I was actually reading about some of this stuff in of late was an article on social systems theory in a course on families. The concept of families as a system of energy exchange is an interesting one, and I'd never really thought of the family unit as a system of energy flowing in and out of it, based on interactions between its members and with other systems, such as friends, family, workmates, the community, etc. This concept also has a lot to do with organization and disorganization, as well as how a family chooses to live, be it simply or chaotically, based on the quality of the interactions between the family members and how well the goals of each member are being met.

Overall, I think this all amounts to the fact that I need to figure out what it is I really want out of my interactions, what is important to me in the moment, in the near future and overall, and figure out some ways to live in a way that is more based in the spirit of voluntary simplicity than it has been up to this point, and more importantly, how I want my little family unit to live and the quality of life we can give to each other.

What do you do to live a simple life or a life of voluntary simplicity? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

♥ Craftzilla

Resources on Voluntary Simplicity:
What Thoreau Knew
Choosing Voluntary Simplicity
Henry David Thoreau and the Practice of Voluntary Simplicity


  1. I appreciate your thoughts on Voluntary Simplicity. I learned the most about it in the late 70's when my boyfriend and I moved up to northern Minnesota and built a tiny log cabin (10 x 16 feet!). The clearing and building was such incredibly hard work. We had no modern amenities, were really geared toward 'living off the land' like the budding hippies we were. The main lessons of that time in my life were about the difference between 'need' and 'want'. And now as a professional organizer in Minneapolis/St. Paul, I work with people who have so much unnecessary excess... they're being swallowed up in it all. I wish you all the best in finding your 'true north' between consumption and conservation. You're well on your way!

  2. @Send In Maureen

    Thanks Maureen, for this awesome comment and the shout out on FB! (though a lot of those words were quoted from the linked article, because they said it better than me!)

    Sounds like building a cabin yourself and living there was an amazing experience! And I can see how you wouldn't want too much stuff in such a small space! Interesting that you're an organizer now too--yay for using skills to make your job! I find most people's solution to excess seems to be to get a bigger place!


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