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Simple living

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Mahatma Gandhi spinning yarn in 1942. Gandhi believed in a life of simplicity and self-sufficiency.

Simple living refers to practices that promote simplicity in one's lifestyle. Common practices of simple living include reducing the number of possessions one owns, depending less on technology and services, and spending less money.[1][2] In addition to such external changes, simple living also reflects a person's mindset and values.[3] Simple living practices can be seen in history, religion, art, and economics.

Adherents may choose simple living for a variety of personal reasons, such as spirituality, health, increase in quality time for family and friends, work–life balance, personal taste, financial sustainability, increase in philanthropy, frugality, environmental sustainability,[4] or reducing stress. Simple living can also be a reaction to economic materialism and consumer culture. Some cite sociopolitical goals aligned with environmentalist, anti-consumerist, or anti-war movements, including conservation, degrowth, deep ecology, and tax resistance.[5]


Religious and spiritual[edit]

A number of religious and spiritual traditions encourage simple living.[6] Early examples include the Śramaṇa traditions of Iron Age India and biblical Nazirites. More formal traditions of simple living stretch back to antiquity, originating with religious and philosophical leaders such as Jesus, Lao Tzu, Confucius, Zarathustra, Gautama Buddha, and Muhammad.[citation needed] These traditions were heavily influenced by both national cultures and religious ethics.[7][page needed] Simplicity was one of the primary concepts espoused by Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism. This is most embodied in the principles of Pu and Ziran.[8][full citation needed] Confucius has been quoted numerous times as promoting simple living.[9][10][full citation needed]

Gautama Buddha espoused simple living as a central virtue of Buddhism. The Four Noble Truths advocate detachment from desire as the path to ending suffering and attaining Nirvana.[11][full citation needed][12]

Jesus is said to have lived a simple life. He is said to have encouraged his disciples "to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts—but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics".[13] He also told his disciples that they cannot serve God and money at the same time, and explained that God is capable of providing them with the essentials for life (food and clothing), so long as they "seek his kingdom first".[14] The Apostle Paul taught that people should be content with food and clothing, and that the desire to be rich is the cause of many kinds of evils.[15]

Many other notable religious individuals, such as Benedict of Nursia, Francis of Assisi,[16] Leo Tolstoy, Rabindranath Tagore, Albert Schweitzer, and Mahatma Gandhi, have claimed that spiritual inspiration led them to a simple living lifestyle.[7][page needed]

Ottoman Dervish portrayed by Amedeo Preziosi, 1860s circa, Muzeul Naţional de Artă al României

Sufism in the Muslim world emerged and grew as a mystical, somewhat hidden tradition in the mainstream Sunni and Shia denominations of Islam.[17] Sufism grew particularly in the frontier areas of Islamic states,[17][18] where the asceticism of its fakirs and dervishes appealed to populations already used to the monastic traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity.[19][20] Sufis were influential and successful in spreading Islam between the 10th and 19th centuries.[17] Some scholars have argued that Sufi Muslim ascetics and mystics played a decisive role in converting the Turkic peoples to Islam, mainly because of the similarities between the extreme, ascetic Sufis (fakirs and dervishes) and the Shamans of the traditional Turco-Mongol religion.[18][21]

Plain people typically belonged to Christian groups that practised lifestyles that excluded forms of wealth or technology for religious or philosophical reasons. Such Christian groups include the Shakers, Mennonites, Amish, Hutterites, Amana Colonies, Bruderhof,[22] Old German Baptist Brethren, Harmony Society, and some Quakers. A Quaker belief called Testimony of simplicity states that a person ought to live her or his life simply. Some tropes about complete exclusion of technology in these groups may not be accurate though. The Amish and other groups do use some modern technology, after assessing its impact on the community.[23]

The 18th-century French Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau strongly praised the simple way of life in many of his writings, especially in two books: Discourse on the Arts and Sciences (1750) and Discourse on Inequality (1754).[24]

Secular and political[edit]

Epicureanism, based on the teachings of the Athens-based philosopher Epicurus, flourished from about the fourth century BCE to the third century CE. Epicureanism held that the paradigm of happiness was the untroubled life, which was made possible by carefully considered choices. Epicurus pointed out that troubles entailed by maintaining an extravagant lifestyle tend to outweigh the pleasures of partaking in it. He therefore concluded that what is necessary for happiness, bodily comfort, and life itself should be maintained at minimal cost, while all things beyond what is necessary for these should either be tempered by moderation or completely avoided.[25]

Reconstruction of Henry David Thoreau's cabin on the shores of Walden Pond

Henry David Thoreau, an American naturalist and author, made the classic secular advocacy of a life of simple and sustainable living in his book Walden (1854). Thoreau conducted a two-year experiment living a plain and simple life on the shores of Walden Pond. He concluded: "Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail."[26]

In Victorian Britain, Henry Stephens Salt, an admirer of Thoreau, popularised the idea of "Simplification, the saner method of living".[27]: 22  Other British advocates of the simple life included Edward Carpenter, William Morris, and the members of the "Fellowship of the New Life".[27]: 27–28  Carpenter popularised the phrase the "Simple Life" in his essay Simplification of Life in his England's Ideal (1887).[28]

C.R. Ashbee and his followers also practised some of these ideas, thus linking simplicity with the Arts and Crafts movement.[29] British novelist John Cowper Powys advocated the simple life in his 1933 book A Philosophy of Solitude.[30] John Middleton Murry and Max Plowman practised a simple lifestyle at their Adelphi Centre in Essex in the 1930s.[31] Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh championed a "right simplicity" philosophy based on ruralism in some of his work.[32]

George Lorenzo Noyes, a naturalist, mineralogist, development critic, writer, and artist, is known as the Thoreau of Maine. He lived a wilderness lifestyle, advocating through his creative work a simple life and reverence for nature. During the 1920s and 1930s, the Vanderbilt Agrarians of the Southern United States advocated a lifestyle and culture centered upon traditional and sustainable agrarian values as opposed to the progressive urban industrialism which dominated the Western world at that time.

The Theory of the Leisure Class, 1924

The Norwegian-American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen warned against the conspicuous consumption of the materialistic society in his The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899); Richard Gregg coined the term "voluntary simplicity" in The Value of Voluntary Simplicity (1936). From the 1920s, a number of modern authors articulated both the theory and practice of living simply, among them Gandhian Richard Gregg, economists Ralph Borsodi and Scott Nearing, anthropologist-poet Gary Snyder, and utopian fiction writer Ernest Callenbach. Economist E. F. Schumacher argued against the notion that "bigger is better" in Small Is Beautiful (1973); and Duane Elgin continued the promotion of the simple life in Voluntary Simplicity (1981).

The Australian academic Ted Trainer practices and writes about simplicity, and established The Simplicity Institute[33] at Pigface Point, some 20 km (12 mi) from the University of New South Wales to which it is attached.[34] A secular set of nine values was developed with the Ethify Yourself project in Austria, having a simplified life style in mind. In the United States voluntary simplicity started to garner more public exposure through a movement in the late 1990s around a popular "simplicity" book, The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs.[35] Around the same time, minimalism (a similar movement) started to feature in the public eye.[citation needed]

Changing mindset[edit]

Danny Dover, author of The Minimalist Mindset, says implementing and acting on ideas makes those ideas habitual, allowing a change in mindset.[36] Leo Babauta believes finding beauty and joy in less is what "more is better" advocates fail to do. Minimalists prefer quality over quantity.[37] They emphasize that we should value things that make us happy and are essential to us, rather than value the idea of just having things to have.[38]

This mindset has spread among many individuals due to the influence of other people living this lifestyle. The benefits of this lifestyle include more freedom, more time, more pleasure, more life value, and a healthier and greener way of life.[38]


Reducing consumption, work time, and possessions[edit]

Living simply in a small dwelling

Some people practice simple living by reducing their consumption. Lowering consumption can reduce individual debt, which allows for greater flexibility and simplicity in one's life. If one spends less on goods or services, one needs to spend less time earning money. The time saved may be used to pursue other interests, to help others through volunteering, or to improve their quality of life, for example by pursuing creative activities. Developing a detachment from the pursuit of money has led some individuals, such as Suelo and Mark Boyle, to live with no money at all.[39] People who reduce their expenses can also increase their savings, which can lead to financial independence and the possibility of early retirement.[40]

You have succeeded in life when all you really want is only what you really need.[2]

Vernon Howard

The "100 Thing Challenge" is a grassroots movement to whittle down personal possessions to one hundred items, with the aim of de-cluttering and simplifying life.[41] People in the tiny house movement chose to live in small, mortgage-free, low-impact dwellings, such as log cabins or beach huts.[42]

Joshua Becker suggests that people who desire to simplify their lives begin by simplifying their homes.[43]

Increasing self-sufficiency[edit]

Robert Hart's forest garden in Shropshire, England, UK

One way to simplify life is to get back-to-the-land and grow your own food. Increased self-sufficiency reduces dependency on money and the broader economy.[44] Tom Hodgkinson believes the key to a free and simple life is to stop consuming and start producing.[45] Writer and eco-blogger Jennifer Nini left the city to live off-grid, grow food, and "be a part of the solution; not part of the problem."[46]

Forest gardening, developed by simple living adherent Robert Hart, is a low-maintenance, plant-based food production system based on woodland ecosystems. It incorporates fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines, and perennial vegetables.[47]: 97  Hart created a model forest garden from a 0.12 acres (490 m2) orchard on his farm at Wenlock Edge in Shropshire.[47]: 45 

"Food miles" is a description of the number of miles a given item of food or its ingredients has travelled between the farm and the table. Simple living advocates use this metric to argue for locally grown food, for example in books like The 100-Mile Diet and Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. In each of those cases, the authors devoted a year to reducing their carbon footprint by eating locally.[48]

City dwellers can produce home-grown fruit and vegetables in pot gardens or miniature indoor greenhouses. Tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, peas, strawberries, and several types of herbs can all thrive in pots. Jim Merkel says "A person could sprout seeds. They are tasty, incredibly nutritious, and easy to grow... We grow them in wide-mouthed mason jars with a square of nylon window screen screwed under a metal ring".[49]

The do it yourself ethic refers to the principle of undertaking necessary tasks oneself rather than having others, who are more skilled or experienced, complete them for you.

Reconsidering technology[edit]

People who practice simple living have diverse views on the role of technology. The American political activist Scott Nearing was skeptical about how humanity would use new technology, citing destructive inventions such as nuclear weapons.[50] Those who eschew modern technology are often referred to as Luddites or neo-Luddites.[51] Although simple living is often a secular pursuit, it may still involve reconsidering appropriate technology as Anabaptist groups such as the Amish or Mennonites have done.

Technology can make a simple lifestyle within mainstream culture easier and more sustainable. The internet can reduce an individual's carbon footprint through remote work and lower paper usage. Some have calculated their energy consumption to show that one can live simply and in a satisfying way by using much less energy than is typically used in Western countries.[52] Technologies they may embrace include computers, photovoltaic systems, wind turbines, and water turbines.

Technological interventions that appear to simplify living may actually induce side effects elsewhere or in the future. Evgeny Morozov warns that tools like the internet can facilitate mass surveillance and political repression.[53] The book Green Illusions identifies how wind and solar energy technologies have hidden side effects and can actually increase energy consumption and entrench environmental harms over time.[54] The authors of the book Techno-Fix criticize technological optimists for overlooking the limitations of technology in solving agricultural problems.[55]

Advertising is criticised for encouraging a consumerist mentality. Many advocates of simple living agree that cutting out, or cutting down on, television viewing is a key ingredient in simple living.[citation needed]

Simplifying diet[edit]

Figs, berries, and cheese

In contrast to diets like vegetarianism, a simplified diet focuses on principles rather than a set of rules. People may use less sophisticated and cheaper ingredients, and eat dishes considered as "comfort food", including home-cooked dishes. Simple diets are usually considered to be "healthy", since they include a significant amount of fruit and vegetables.[56] A simple diet usually avoids highly processed foods and fast-food eating.[57][verification needed] Simplicity may also entail taking time to be present while eating, such as by following rituals, avoiding multitasking when eating, and putting time aside to consume food mindfully and gratefully, potentially in the company of others.[58][verification needed] Moreover, it is common to cook one's own food, by following simple recipes that are not particularly time consuming, in an attempt to reduce the amount of energy necessary for cooking.[59][verification needed]

A simple diet looks different from person to person and can be adapted to suit individual needs and desires. For instance, in the United Kingdom, the Movement for Compassionate Living was formed by Kathleen and Jack Jannaway in 1984 to spread the message of veganism and promote simple living and self-reliance as a remedy against the exploitation of humans, animals, and the planet.

Politics and activism[edit]


Environmentalism is inspired by simple living, as harmony with nature is intrinsically dependent on a simple lifestyle.[according to whom?] For example, Green parties often advocate simple living as a consequence of their "four pillars" or the "Ten Key Values" of the Green Party of the United States. This includes, in policy terms, their rejection of genetic engineering and nuclear power and other technologies they consider to be hazardous. The Greens' support for simplicity is based on the reduction in natural resource usage and environmental impact.[4] This concept is expressed in Ernest Callenbach's "green triangle" of ecology, frugality, and health.

Some avoid involvement even with green politics as compromising simplicity, however, and instead advocate forms of green anarchism that attempt to implement these principles at a smaller scale, e.g. the ecovillage. Deep ecology, a belief that the world does not exist as a resource to be freely exploited by humans, proposes wilderness preservation, human population control, and simple living.[60]


The White House Peace Vigil, started by simple living adherent Ellen Thomas in 1981

If economic growth leads to war in the pursuit of control and exploitation of natural and human resources, those who oppose war have an additional reason to consider a simple living lifestyle.

Opposition to war has led peace activists, such as Ammon Hennacy and Ellen Thomas, to a form of tax resistance in which they reduce their income below the tax threshold by taking up a simple living lifestyle.[5][61] These individuals believe that their government is engaged in immoral, unethical, or destructive activities such as war, and that if they were to pay taxes they would fund such activities.[5]


The term "bohemianism" describes a tradition of both voluntary and involuntary poverty by artists who devote their time to artistic endeavors rather than paid labor. The term was coined by the French bourgeoisie as a way to describe social non-conformists.[62] Bohemians sometimes also expressed their unorthodoxy through simplistic art, for instance in the case of Amedeo Modigliani.[63] Minimalistic art inspired "rebel" artistic movements into the 20th century.[62]

Positive attitudes towards living in poverty for the sake of art are becoming less common among young American artists. One recent graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design said "her classmates showed little interest in living in garrets and eating ramen noodles."[64]


A new economics movement has been building since the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in 1972,[65] and the publications that year of Only One Earth, The Limits to Growth, and Blueprint for Survival, followed by Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered in 1973.[66][page needed]

David Wann introduced the idea of "simple prosperity" as it applies to a sustainable lifestyle. From his point of view, "it is important to ask ourselves three fundamental questions: what is the point of all our commuting and consuming? What is the economy for? And, finally, why do we seem to be unhappier now than when we began our initial pursuit for rich abundance?"[67][page needed]

James Robertson's A New Economics of Sustainable Development[66] inspired work of thinkers and activists who participate in his Working for a Sane Alternative network and program. According to Robertson, the shift to sustainability is likely to require a widespread shift of emphasis from raising incomes to reducing costs.

The principles of the new economics, as set out by Robertson, are the following:[68]

  • systematic empowerment of people (as opposed to making and keeping them dependent), as the basis for people-centred development
  • systematic conservation of resources and the environment, as the basis for environmentally sustainable development
  • evolution from a "wealth of nations" model of economic life to a one-world model, and from today's inter-national economy to an ecologically sustainable, decentralising, multi-level one-world economic system
  • restoration of political and ethical factors to a central place in economic life and thought
  • respect for qualitative values, not just quantitative values

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Linda Breen Pierce (2000). Choosing Simplicity. Gallagher Press. p. 304. ISBN 978-0967206714. Rather than being consumed by materialism, we choose to surround ourselves with only those material possessions we truly need or genuinely cherish
  2. ^ a b Vernon Howard. Quotes about Happiness. You have succeeded in life when all you really want is only what you really need
  3. ^ "Minimalism: 7 Reasons that Keep People from Getting Started". 29 June 2011.
  4. ^ a b Taylor, Matthew (2019-05-22). "Much shorter working weeks needed to tackle climate crisis – study". The Guardian. Retrieved 2021-11-02.
  5. ^ a b c "Low Income/Simple Living as War Tax Resistance". NWTRCC. January 2020.
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  7. ^ a b Shi, David (2001). The Simple Life. University of Georgia Press.
  8. ^ Tao Te Ching  – via Wikisource.
  9. ^ "Gain Insight and Awareness With These 47 Confucius Quotes". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 7 November 2023.
  10. ^ Analects  – via Wikisource.
  11. ^ Dhammapada  – via Wikisource.
  12. ^ Mark, Joshua J. "Four Noble Truths". World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 7 November 2023.
  13. ^ Mark 6:8–9: English Standard Version
  14. ^ Matthew 6:24–33
  15. ^ 1 Timothy 6:6–10
  16. ^ Slocock, N. (May 2004). "'Living a Life of Simplicity?' A Response to Francis of Assisi by Adrian House" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-27.
  17. ^ a b c Cook, David (May 2015). "Mysticism in Sufi Islam". Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.013.51. ISBN 9780199340378. Archived from the original on 28 November 2018. Retrieved 4 January 2022.
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  33. ^ "Ted Trainer". Simplicity Institute.
  34. ^ "Arts, Design & Architecture - UNSW Sydney". UNSW Sites.
  35. ^ Luhrs, Janet (1997). The Simple Living Guide. Harmony. ISBN 978-0553067965.
  36. ^ Fox, Danny (2003), "On Logical Form", Minimalist Syntax, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, pp. 82–123, doi:10.1002/9780470758342.ch2, ISBN 978-0470758342
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  40. ^ Robinson, Nancy (2 August 2012). "Retiring At Age 50 Is Realistic Using These Unorthodox Strategies". Forbes. U.S. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
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  52. ^ Rajvanshi, Anil K. (2012-05-27). "How to Live Simply and in a Sustainable Way". Archived from the original on 2013-12-19.
  53. ^ Morozov, Evgeny (2011). The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom.
  54. ^ Zehner, Ozzie (2012). Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0803237759.
  55. ^ Huesemann, Michael H.; Huesemann, Joyce A. (2011). Technofix: Why Technology Won't Save Us or the Environment. Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada: New Society Publishers. ISBN 978-0865717046.
  56. ^ Smith, Katie (February 25, 2009). "Slow economy calls for simple living". Free Lance-Star.
  57. ^ "Women urged for changing culture of extra protein rich, spicy food". Daily Messenger. Pakistan. October 18, 2020.
  58. ^ McDonald, Glenn. "For us, simple living isn't easy—Author advocates the joy of less stuff". News & Observer.[when?]
  59. ^ Weidner, Johanna (January 8, 2005). "Food helps define life, editor says". Record, The. Kitchner, Ontario, Canada.
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  61. ^ Gross, David M. (19 March 2004). "2005 Annual Report on My Tax Resistance • TPL". The Picket Line.
  62. ^ a b Martinique, Elena (2023-04-24). "Famous Artists of the 20th Century Who Knew How to Live". Widewalls. Retrieved 2022-04-03.
  63. ^ "Amedeo Modigliani". The Art Story. Retrieved 2022-04-03.
  64. ^ Neda Ulaby (Director) (2014-05-15). "In Pricey Cities, Being A Bohemian Starving Artist Gets Old Fast". War On Poverty, 50 Years Later. NPR. Retrieved 2014-05-31.
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  67. ^ Wann, David (2007). Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle. New York: St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 978-0312361419.
  68. ^ Ellis, Howard S. (1949). "The State of the "New Economics"". The American Economic Review. 39 (2): 465–477. JSTOR 1812743. Retrieved 7 November 2023.

Additional reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Media related to Simple living at Wikimedia Commons