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Williams College

Publication Date

Spring 2010

Program Name

Australia: Sustainability and Environmental Action


The purpose of this study was to understand the lifestyle of members of the voluntary simplicity movement in an urban setting. I sought to understand how they practiced simplicity in their day to day lives, how simplicity effected their emotional life, how simplicity influenced their values, how simplicity influenced their interaction with the city, and what their general ethos was. This study was conducted to understand how it is possible for individuals to live ecologically and socially responsible lives in settings that, by in large, reject their values. I conducted fifteen face to face in-depth interviews in Melbourne in April 2010. From these interviews I organized my findings into six key areas: reasons for simplifying, simplicity in practice, struggles with simplicity, simplicity in the city, the desire to continue simplifying, and how simplicity enriches life. In general the need to simplify usually comes from a clash between one’s internal values and the values and lifestyle of western/consumer culture. Urban simple livers are able to simplify largely because they feel the need to “walk their talk” and because they have been able to define a clear alternative to consumer culture for themselves. Simple livers are often able to think about the global impacts of their lifestyle, aiding them in how they live their lives. Simplifiers practice simplicity at two levels, on the theoretical and practical level. Urban simplifiers generally find that living in an urban environment aids, rather than detracts, from their attempts to live simply. And, as members of an urban setting, simplifiers are doing social change work as they “live by example,” helping to subtly transform the city into a more sustainable place. Simple livers do struggle with simplicity and problems arise due to their lifestyle – the most significant ones being their relationships with their partners and their friends. Simplifiers believe that simplicity has enriched their lives. Such findings indicate that it is possible to live simply in an urban setting. It also suggest that the voluntary simplicity movement has the potential to grow slowly, both because it is possible where one is situated and because urban simplifiers promote it by living their daily lives and being observed.


Sustainability | Urban Studies and Planning


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