Simple Living: Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich

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While shunning consumerism, simple living isn't about being an ascetic.

Acclaimed author and speaker Duane Elgin helps people discover “a way of life that is outwardly simple, inwardly rich.” That’s right — Elgin thinks we can enjoy life more if we have less, want less, and consume less.

Elgin distinguishes between “ascetic simplicity” — ritualistic deprivation — and “aesthetic simplicity” — a celebration of simple living and simple pleasures. He advocates a new aesthetic that exalts the humble: smaller houses, simple fashions and self-reliance. If we live in fewer rooms, each room can be better organized and more comfortable. If we cook for ourselves, we can train our focus on the wholesome goodness of home-prepared meals and the enduring pleasure of preparing food.

In his book Voluntary Simplicity, Elgin explores in detail the benefits of controlling our desires. Jesus of Nazareth, Gautama Buddha, the Prophet Muhammad, Aristotle, Plato, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer, Simone de Beauvoir, Martin Buber, Joseph Campbell, Meister Eckhart, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Elise Boulding, Buckminster Fuller, Soren Kierkegaard, Lao Tzu, Linda Breen Pierce, Charles Mingus, Pablo Picasso, Thomas Aquinas, Henry David Thoreau, and Frank Lloyd Wright are all referenced in support of his argument: By managing our desires, we can conserve natural resources, improve the human condition, and enhance our enjoyment of life. We live in a deafening maelstrom of sales pitches. In this world, it’s difficult to pass a day without hearing or seeing a persuasive suggestion that we need to own more and consume more.

Of course, our life experience is based more on our individual level of awareness than on any particular external experience. It’s not necessary to drive a luxury car in order to enjoy life. In fact, as Elgin points out, our enjoyment of life is profoundly enhanced by the knowledge that we don’t need much in order to be happy.

By consciously adopting a simple lifestyle, we give ourselves the opportunity to be satisfied and happy, whether we strike it rich or not.

In our August/September 2010 issue, we feature a roundup of advice on ways to help you live on less cash and find more satisfaction (see Live on Less!). Plus, in Save Money on Groceries, we quantify just how much money you can save if you buy staples in bulk and can or freeze seasonal produce.

We invite you to share your thoughts about living on less by posting a comment to Live on Less!. Is there conflict in your family over what you should or should not buy? How have you resolved differences? What kind of compromises or guidelines have you come up with? Have you made drastic changes for the better? For worse? If you have additional tips on how to save money, please share them with the MOTHER EARTH NEWS community.