Major economic crises and even minor personal setbacks have a way of making people consider the benefits of simplifying their lives. Many of them return to their usual habits when the crisis is over, but it doesn’t have to be that way. For Mark Burch and his colleagues at the Simplicity Institute, voluntary simplicity is not just a temporary solution to a crisis but is rather a way of life.
Sustainability is an ongoing challenge for people living in a world of finite resources. Writers and activists have been trying for decades or even centuries to raise awareness of the benefits of simple living, but Burch notes that popular interest in the topic tends to swing back and forth like a pendulum. Helping people choose voluntary simplicity as a long-term goal rather than as a fad is one of the challenges that he faces.
When shopping is the primary leisure activity for 85% of North Americans, overconsumption of resources is the inevitable result. Change will come only when people find a less destructive way of living and start caring for other people and for the planet where they live. Parents have a primary role in giving their children opportunities for making healthy and sustainable choices, but all of society is responsible for helping to make voluntary simplicity a viable option.
Some might see voluntary simplicity as primarily or exclusively a personal choice, but for individual decisions to have any noticeable effect on the current economic system, they must also have a community component. Bartering, trading, and resource sharing can help ease the burden of individual ownership and allow people to turn their households into productive units rather than consumptive ones. One of the key elements of simple living is finding a way to reframe the market economy, as Mark Burch and a network of like-minded people are trying to do. A slow and gentle change rather than an abrupt shift is their goal.
What exactly does voluntary simplicity look like? Burch sees society heading towards a permanent state of wartime living, with shortages of even the most basic goods. Living a slower and more sustainable lifestyle now might not prevent economic disaster, but it can help people cope with their reduced expectations in the future.
For Mark Burch, voluntary simplicity is closely tied to his Quaker faith, with prayer and contemplation as integral parts of making everyday choices that reduce harm and increase mindfulness. However, being religious is not a requirement for simple living. People can find their own motivations for choosing this lifestyle.
Voluntary simplicity is not something that people choose once and then automatically follow for the rest of their lives. It is a journey where each step needs to be rooted in each person’s ideals and philosophies. With its emphasis on deliberation and thought in the context of an often reckless society, voluntary simplicity is a good choice for people who want to make a real difference in the world.