Thursday, February 18, 2010

Varieties of simple living, ethical consumption and related ideals and practices

We are one month into this experience, and the requests from the class to define "simplicity" have reached critical mass, so I am going to take a stab at definitions. Yes, "definitions". There are ways to simplify life, and not all of the movements we are discussing were motivated by a desire to live simply or ethically. In many cases, opting for less consumption is a means to an end, not the primary objective. Since the ends vary, this makes the idea of "simple living" even more complicated. (Translation: this is an incomplete list. Very incomplete.)

living within your means (modern example: Frugal Living)
avoiding ostentatious or wasteful spending
avoiding unnecessary spending (not the same as ostentatious/wasteful spending)
an uncluttered life (material goods) (modern example: Unclutter.com)
an uncluttered life (activities, workflow, demands on one's time) (modern example: Getting Things Done)
not harming or exploiting others through actions or purchases (see "fair trade" - Wikipedia)
not harming the environment through actions or purchases (modern example: TreeHugger.com>How to Go Green)
intentional, attentive living (elevating the spiritual or intellectual life over material life) (see Walden)
achieving social justice or political change (see 1965 grape boycott)

Well, that's a start.

For any  one of these ways of living/consuming, it is possible to find people doing the same thing for many different reasons. Some people may live frugally so that one parent can stay home with small children; someone else could be down-scaling consumption to prepare for retirement. There are people who live frugally so they can contribute more money to causes and charities.

For more on this topic, visit or join our class network, Thoreau's America