Sunday, January 18, 2009

Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin

When Voluntary Simplicity was first published in 1981, it quickly became recognized as a powerful and visionary work in the emerging dialogue over sustainable ways of living. Now, more than ten years later and with many of the planet's environmental issues having become more urgent than ever, Duane Elgin has revised and updated his revolutionary book.

Voluntary Simplicity is not a book about living in poverty; it is a book about living with balance. It illuminates the pattern of changes that an increasing number of Americans are making in their everyday lives - adjustments in day-to-day living that are an active, positive response to the complex dilemmas of our time. By embracing, either partially or totally, the tenets of voluntary simplicity - frugal consumption, ecological awareness, and personal growth - people can change their lives. And in the process, they have the power to change the world.


Living simply is a deeply personal decision and lifestyle. It seems like most people do live simply to eliminate extraneous, draining things in their lives (caring for their "stuff", etc.) but others consider their sheer laziness a more simple lifestyle - such as the 33 year old woman who stopped shaving her legs. I'm really, really hoping that her "simplicity" here meant switching to waxing and not simply running around with hairy legs. It seems like women in particular seem to reject personal grooming (shaving, eyebrow grooming, etc.) when they pare down their lives. The women in the book don't seem to understand that you can live a simpler life without becoming a hag with hairy legs, no makeup, and a unibrow! There's a difference between simple living and sheer laziness!

While reading this book I realized that some of the things that I do naturally of recent years have been part of an organic progression within myself to lead a simpler life. For instance, I get the vast majority of my bocks, audiobooks, and DVDs from the library. This allows me maximum access to information with minimal long-term clutter in my environment.

I found this quote especially insightful: "I know pretty clearly what the 'top' is as defined by my colleagues. What I'm searching for is the 'top' as defined by me."

The author doesn't really offer any suggestions on what one can do to achieve voluntary simplicity in one's own life. He seems content to simply expound upon how if we don't change immediately the world as we know it will end. It's rather disconcerting, and his haranguing is really not helpful!

The author also loves to use the phrase "human family" constantly. It feels like it appears on every page!

The book becomes more and more political by the page. It's rather disconcerting to discover that a book about simplicity of one's life swiftly becomes a sort of political manifesto. He actually seriously suggests at one point "A year or more of national service could become mandatory for young people..." Um, hello! We live in the United States (the author lives in California apparently) for a reason - mainly freedom! Forced servitude is not freedom in any form, nor does it represent anything this country was founded upon!

This one gets six stars. On the positive side is the slim section on others living in voluntary simplicity. While it was grating at points, it was still informative. On the negative side it was infuriating to have to read about the author's doomsday predictions and political views throughout the remainder of the book.

Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆



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