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Voluntary simplicity takes hold

“STRESS and pressure: two of the most commonly used words in the contemporary vocabulary.

“More and more, Australians are expressing resentment over the extent to which they are falling short of their ideals.

“We want to slow things down, they say, but life gets faster and faster. We want to simplify our lives, but things keep getting more complicated.

“We wish we –and especially our kids – were not so materialistic, but we keep buying more and more things. We want to devote more time to nurturing our relationships, but we increasingly resort to rushed telephone conversations.”

Sound familiar? These comments by Hugh Mackay (The Weekend Australian July, 1997) are indicative of the growing trend of voluntary simplicity.

Having emerged in the United States as a response to “affluenza”–- the viscous overconsume-debt-overwork cycle – voluntary simplicity is starting to take root in Australia.

People are attracted towards simplicity for diverse reasons – to acknowledge what they have neglected in their lives, to spend more time with family and friends, to break expensive consumption patterns, to live more ecologically sustainably and to discover more about themselves.

Voluntary simplicity often involves a series of small but important steps that gather momentum through time, until the confidence and support develops to make more substantial changes. Some people find that a major event, such as “burn-out” from an over-stressful job, leads them to a re-evaluation away from material goals and towards a more balanced life.

Voluntary simplicity addresses several interrelated issues. Personal development exercises are used to assist people to reconnect with their yearnings, passions and priorities. Mindfulness practices assist in being truly present in the current moment, where the greatest happiness in life can often be found.

With the help of processes for budgeting and saving, opportunities then arise for people to obtain a balance between paid work and the rest of their lives.

Some decide to job share, some to not climb up the corporate ladder, some to turn their hobby-passion into a business. Additional time becomes available to spend on one’s priorities that cannot be largely met through paid work.

l Rodney Vlais is a social analyst who is involved with several non-profit organisations.

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