Voluntary simplicity

Vicki Robins, author of Your Money Or Your Life, suggests that “how we spend our money is how we vote on what exists in the world”. In other words, every time we buy something we are giving our support not only to that product but also to its ecological impact, its method of manufacture, its social and economic effects, and so on. Ethical consumerism provides the intriguing promise of enabling us to change the world by simply changing our spending habits. There is a danger here, however, since ethical or ‘green’ consumerism is still consumerism, and we are in jeopardy of surrounding ourselves with ‘eco-bling’ (which architect Howard Liddell defines as the conspicuous consumption of environmental technologies).

An alternative to green consumerism is the ‘voluntary simplicity’ movement. Voluntary simplicity rejects high-consumption, materialistic lifestyles and instead seeks to provide our material needs as simply and directly as possible while minimising expenditure on consumer goods. While society uses an economic measure – GDP or gross domestic product – to measure well-being, the amount that we spend is, in fact, a very inaccurate representation of our happiness or fulfilment. The ‘work-and-spend’ cycle of consumer culture can distract us from what is really important in our lives. Adopting lower levels of consumption allows us to spend less time generating income and more time on real pleasures such as family, friends and neighbours, artistic, intellectual or sporting pursuits, and community projects.

A simple but rewarding pleasure that is important to Diss Community Farm is growing our own vegetables. Nathaniel Hawthorne, writing in the nineteenth century about his own vegetable patch, said that “I used to visit and revisit it a dozen times a day, and stand in deep contemplation over my vegetable progeny with a love that nobody could share or conceive of who had never taken part in the process of creation. It was one of the most bewitching sights in the world to observe a hill of beans thrusting aside the soil, or a row of early peas just peeping forth sufficiently to trace a line of delicate green.”

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