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Voluntary Simplicity

Living Simply So Others May Simply Live

In 2003 I saw a painting at the Ringling Museum of Art that changed the direction of my life. Peter Paul Ruben named his canvas, "The Departure of Lot and His Family from Sodom", but to me it depicted an old man being led by an angel into whatever awaits us at death. Beside him an old woman cries while he looks back over his shoulder at three young women, one pregnant, one carrying a basket of golden items and one who looks at him with adoration. His expression says it all - he realizes that he cannot take anything with him - not family nor riches nor fame. We leave with even less than we came with - not even our own bodies can cross that final threshold.

Suddenly I understood the futility of spending my life working for material things and the approval of others. I decided to make some major changes in my life so that I could spend less time acquiring things and more time acquiring experiences, insights, and relationships. Simple living, also know as Voluntary Simplicity, has given me the freedom to pursue my dreams, work for change in my world and have control of my life.

If you're addicted to conspicuous consumption, as I was, simple living will take some getting used to. But it IS possible to own your own life if you are determined to do it. Here are a few ways anyone can start being a conscious consumer insead of a conspicuous consumer:

  • Get rid of all the stuff that clutters your life. You are paying a premium in utilities, rent and mortgage and insurance just to keep a roof over everything you own.
  • Downsize to the smallest living space possible. Value only the basic essentials you need to be comfortable. Minimize the number of rooms. Think of all the time you'll save in housekeeping! It's so much easier to keep just one bathroom clean!
  • Stay out of shopping malls, big-box stores and super markets. These environments are designed to tempt you to buy more than you need. Buy as much of your food as possible unpackaged from the bulk bin or your local farmer's market or produce stand. Learn to cook simple meals from scratch so you're not paying for packaging and "branding" and you know what you are actually eating. If you are not a vegetarian, consider limiting the amount of meat you eat.
  • Don't buy anything new - if you must buy something, go to thrift stores, swap meets, garage sales or classified ads. Find out if there is a local Freecycle group in your area. Read about the Compactor movement below.
    Consider getting rid of your car (or if you have more than one car in your family, try to get down to just one car. Walk, use public transportation and car pool. You'll be doing our planet a favor and tying up a lot less money in a vehicle.
  • Turn off the TV and cancel your magazine subscriptions. Reduce your exposure to advertising so you won't be tempted to want things you don't need.
  • Think about why you are making a purchase. Is it because you absolutely need something or is it to impress someone else. What a waste to have to spend your precious life working to pay for something that is going to make someone else feel impressed or jealous! If something will actually add to the quality of your life, weigh the hours you will have to work to make the purchase against the improvement to your life the purchase will make.
  • Take responsibility for your own health. By eating a healthy vegetarian diet and getting plenty of exercise due to walking, I seldom get sick. It comes down to this: either we spend our money on supporting a healthy lifestyle and buying organic food or we'll spend it on health care and medical treatment.
  • Reduce need for insurance, except what you are forced to pay such as mortgage and car insurance.
  • Learn to live on a very small income. First of all this means getting clear about your relationship with money and recognizing all the poor spending habits that are eroding away your wealth. You must learn to live with less and stop wasting money. Track your income and expenses and stop buying things just to relieve boredom.
  • Get out of debt. If you have a debit card, you really don't need a credit card unless you are living beyond your means. With the exception of your home, if you can't afford to pay cash for it, you can't afford it.
  • Don't eat out every day, pack a lunch instead.
  • Minimize your use of electricity. Do all the practical things wherever you are: live in a small house, put a timer on your electric hot water heater, change all the incandescent bulbs to low watt fluorescents, turn lights off when you leave the room, reduce the amount of phantom load appliances in your home (all those convenient electronic devices that rely on remote controls to operate. These devices constantly consume energy 24 hours a day!).
  • Compost your kitchen scraps, weeds, etc. and if possible grow a garden.

The Karma Compact

A small group of Bay Area residents made an informal vow to not buy anything new in 2006. The Compact, named after the Mayflower pilgrims' revolutionary credo, started at a dinner party as a way to fight a rampant consumer culture that’s wreaking global ecological havoc. About 50 extended friends decided to go an entire year without buying anything new besides food, health and safety items and underwear. Suddenly it became a movement with chapters in most US cities and around the world.

The Karma Compact Agreement
The Compact has several aims:

  1. (As in the Mayflower Compact) to go beyond recycling in trying to counteract the negative global environmental and socioeconomic impacts of U.S. consumer culture, to resist global corporatism, and to support local businesses, farms, etc. -- a step we hope inherits the revolutionary impulse of the Mayflower Compact
  2. (As in trash Compact-er) to reduce clutter and waste in our homes
  3. (As in Calm-pact) to simplify our lives

The Compact Rules

First principle: Don't buy new products of any kind (from stores, websites, etc.)
Second principle: Borrow or buy used.

A few exceptions:

(Using the "fair and reasonable person" standard, you'll know in your heart when you're rationalizing a violation)

  • Food, drink, and necessary medicine (no elective treatments like Viagra or Botox)
  • Necessary cleaning products, but not equipment (don't go out and buy the Dyson Animal, for example).
  • Socks and underwear (utilitarian--non-couture or ornamental)
  • Pajamas for the children
  • Utilitarian services (plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics, veterinarians, dog/house-sitters, fire/paramedics, dry cleaners, house cleaners, etc.) -- Support local and encourage used parts (rebuilt transmission, salvaged headlight unit, etc.)
  • Recreational services (massage, etc.) & local artisan items (good sources for gifts, but should not be over-indulged in for personal gratification)
  • Charitable contributions -- Seva, Heifer, and the like (an even better source for gifts)
  • Plants and cut flowers (whenever possible, cultivate from free cuttings or seeds)

OK in extreme moderation when purchased from local businesses (i.e., not the Target Garden Shop)--and again, within reason

  • Art supplies - First line of attack: SCRAP. When absolutely necessary (for the professionals and talented amateurs in the group), from local businesses
  • Magazines, newspapers, Netflix - renewals only, no new subscriptions. Even better to consume online video rentals and downloadable music files -- freely shared and legal, please.


The Compact Yahoo Group (8,000 members)
This group is too large to manage getting emails. Instead I suggest you choose one of the local groups they list, such as the San Diego group listed below. There is an excellent list of links and resources for simple living.

San Diego Compact (27 members)
A San Diego county group of Compacters, a sub-group from the nation-wide Karma Compact Yahoo group. This group is for those living in or near San Diego county who are interested in and living according to the aims of The Karma Compact.

The Simple Living Network

Craigs List
Classifieds, free section, forums for local business leads, etc.

San Diego Earth Times (Carolyn Chase)

Oceanside Freecycle (1343 members):
In Oceanside the concept of Freecycling is simple. You have something you no longer need (a couch, crib) and you wish to recycle it rather than dump it in the land fill. Or you're looking for a specific item (a couch, crib) and you'd love to get it for free from someone who no longer wants theirs.

Here are some other good sites to check out:


Jeeni Criscenzo: 4819 Pescadero Ave. San Diego, CA. 92107 ~ 760-525-1915 ~