A New Years Resolution: “Living Simply, So that Others May Simply Live.” - Mahatma Gandhi

ImageWith a New Year on the approach, for many, we begin our annual discussions of New Year Resolutions. Those pesky things that often are vowed to get done, with very little follow through. Instead of losing that five or ten pounds, getting organized, eating healthier or becoming a vegetarian, getting back to the gym, or the “I will stop smoking” resolution, let’s get simple. Voluntarily simplistic.

Voluntary simplicity, also known as simple living, is a lifestyle in which, unlike poverty, individuals deliberately choose to decrease material needs in order to achieve a life full of simple pleasures. By becoming resolute in voluntary simplicity during 2013, you will join the ranks of individuals who have practiced this way of living since the beginning of time; of all the world’s spiritual traditions. But voluntary simplicity is not only about spirituality, rather it has been practiced by David Thoreau, Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato, to name a few. Of course, as we are in the midst of holiday cheer, I can’t help but mention Jesus and St. Francis Assissi as devout followers of voluntary simplicity; a life of moderation and balance.

Ah, that seems easy, you’re probably thinking? Moderation and balance. You’ve perfected both, right? If not, here is a five month plan to have you moving towards a life of voluntary simplicity - by June. But the work is up to you.

1. January: Sustainability

ImageMove over January, it’s time to hit the ground running by consuming less. Consumption relates directly to your ecological footprint; and sustainability. There are varying degrees at which you can practice voluntary simplicity, including: full, partial, and sympathizer. Based on which route you choose, will determine the degree of sustainability that, in turn, you will practice. Pick a level that is comfortable for you and begin choosing what you buy more carefully. Feeling ambitious? Attack all six items on the list; feeling like partial follower, choose four items from the list. Feeling like a sympathizer, but not sure yet? Choose two and give it a go. Choose 6, 4, or 2, start setting goals for the month, and keeping track.

  • Lower your overall personal consumption;
  • Alter your consumption pattern in favor of products that are durable, easy to repair, non polluting, energy efficient, functional, and aesthetic;
  • Use your consumption politically;
  • Recycle;
  • Prefer small-scale living and working environments;
  • Choose alternative transportation modes; get out of your car.

2. February: Quantity and Quality Time

Time is of the upmost importance in voluntary simplicity; especially how one utilizes and values the use of it. Last month you should have conquered your consumption patterns, which inevitably left you with more time (hopefully) and more of your monthly income in your pocket. Once you are released from your desire to consume, you will find that you will be able to reclaim time and set healthy boundaries for your personal and professional life. In February, it is your task to set boundaries for how you spend your time. Discriminate regarding the activities you are able and willing to make time for and prioritize them in order of oneself, family, friends, and passions.

  • Invest time and energy in activities with your partner, children, and friends;
  • Work on developing a full spectrum of your potentials: physical, emotional, spiritual.

3. March: Work and Money

In a very American-centric point-of-view, those who are in the not-so-simple pursuit of the American Dream are, for the majority’s sake, living at the mercy of their job - and their paycheck. For simple living, there are two important rules to work and money. First, find something that you love to do and get paid for it, then live under your means. Simple living encourages working fewer hours and living under your means so that there is time for interests outside of work, such as taking and enjoying vacations, developing deep friendships outside of work, and feeling like life is a celebration. Simple living is measured by one’s successful life balance and the method of achieving fundamental needs of food, clothing, and shelter. Voluntary simplicity is the pursuit of the “alternative” American Dream; where simple pleasures are of greater value than material possession.

  • Pursue a livelihood that contributes to the wellbeing of the world;
  • Develop personal skills that create greater self reliance.

4. April: Family and Community

ImageSimple living families steer away from the scenario of two full-time employed parents, the kids being shuffled from day-care to lessons to sports. Instead, simple living families work together against marketing, media, peer pressure, overscheduling, and excess. This month, it is your opportunity, if you have a family of your own, to work shorter hours (maybe your boss will let you work from home a bit or take that pay-cut), turn off electronics, evaluate activities based on familial priorities, cultivate interests the entire family can enjoy, and establish family rituals. In other-words, prioritize your family, rather than finding time for it. While your family is extremely important, so is your community; essential in creating successful simple living families. While consumer culture invariably knocks, community resists the pressures. Build community and your belonging.

  • Make family a priority instead of finding time;
  • Favor non-sexist patterns of relationships;
  • Involve yourself in compassionate causes within your community;
  • Participate in holistic health care.

5. May: Caring for the Earth

Those who practice voluntary simplicity understand that they are accountable for the fate of the planet, just like everyone else is. However, they choose to make a small ecological footprint through energy conservation, steering away from the use of energy reliant on oil, coal, and nuclear power while utilizing renewable energy sources. They also boycott products that jeopardize ecological integrity, while favoring sustainable products and green businesses. In the final month, decide how you can reduce your ecological footprint. Take your own ecological footprint inventory, below, and discover ways to trim it.

Ready to take on the challenge and begin a life of voluntary simplicity? This article doesn’t have all the answers, but its tips will lead you closer to a life of moderation and balance, as Thoreau, Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato once practiced.

Plan on following the five-month plan or a variation? I would love to hear your resolutions!

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.