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Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Way of Life That is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  1,467 ratings  ·  158 reviews
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 stresses having become more urgent than ever, Duane Elgin has revised and updated his revolutionary book.

Voluntary Simplicity
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Paperback, Revised Edition, 240 pages
Published October 21st 1998 by Harper Paperbacks (first published 1981)
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Average rating 3.61  · 
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 ·  1,467 ratings  ·  158 reviews


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Audrey
Dec 16, 2008 rated it liked it
I give this 3.5 stars actually. Truth be told, I give 5 stars to the concept behind the book, but just a couple of stars to the book itself. This was just full of too much "social scientist" speak -- I really would've preferred something that read less like a paper being presented for a major conference and more like something I could connect to as an individual, as someone wanting to embrace these types of changes and work toward making them an active part of my life. Still, it was very affirmi ...more
Sarai Mitnick
Dec 14, 2012 rated it it was ok
Though this book gives a solid overview of the many probable catastrophes we face and how they relate to materialism and consumption, it had a number of problems. I was a bit surprised by how little I liked it, given that I agree with most of the ideas, and that it's considered a classic.

It was not a well structured book. It seemed to move around from point to point with no real flow, often repeating the same information. This was my biggest issue with the book. Also, the inclusion of so many di
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C. Janelle
Nov 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: simplicity
My husband and I took a "Voluntary Simplicity" discussion course back in 2000/2001. The course was from Northwest Earth Institute and was based on Duane Elgin's book and scads of other terrific writings about simplicity and mindfulness. It was remarkably influential on how we lived our newly-married life together, but for some reason, it took me more than ten years to pick up Elgin's original book (well, the 1993 revision).

When I finally did read the book, I was blown away by the simplicity and
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Renate Eveline
Jun 27, 2013 rated it did not like it
Elgin likes to preach, a lot...
I agree mostly with the underlying message, that's why I picked up the book in the first place. I don't need to be convinced page after page. The tone got a bit too self-rightious and activist for me, so I gave up reading after a few chapters. Skimming the rest convinced me I wasn't missing much.
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Aleksandra
Jun 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
Ironically, this book suffers from redundancy. I like the general idea, but the writing of the book was building a mansion where a small cottage would suffice.
Ella
Feb 16, 2020 added it
I happened to spot this in my building’s laundry room lending library after seeing it mentioned in Jia Tolentino’s recent New Yorker piece about minimalism. It was interesting, and I think the way he describes voluntary simplicity is similar to how I’ve been trying to live my own life in the last few years—more conscious of how much I consume and my overall environmental impact. I’m still working on that and on the side of it that involves meditative practice and being more present in day to day ...more
Betsy Daniels
Jan 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was hugely influential to me in the late '80's. It shaped and reinforced my understanding of the meaning of happiness and more importantly, joy. In a recent book study group, the messages from this book still rang true for us today:


Mindfully living requires a consciousness above autopilot!
Say "yes" to what's next, mindfully.
Change is opportunity for growth. Accountability is key to depth of joy.
Make an impact right where you live.
"How can I help you?" is a conflict resolver and never
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Jessica
Mar 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book really resonated with me at this time. The last section on Civilization Revitalization felt a little off the rails to me, but maybe I’m just used to books that talk about changes on a more individual level.
Jess
Jan 18, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015
Sound, sage exploration of simple living, but a bit heavy-handed on the ecological/civilization aspects. However, it was an astute book and ahead of its time.
Kathryn
Sep 10, 2021 rated it it was ok
Guess I should have believed the other reviews. I felt like this would have made a really strong essay or long magazine article, but as a book was pretty repetitive.
Katy Koivastik
Life affirming and a great guide for further consciousness raising in a climate-challenged time. Duane Elgin offers a roadmap for a new economy, where people work re-building infrastructure and caring for the elderly, as opposed to making and selling junk no one needs.
Ilib4kids
Dec 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
170 ELG 1993
Summary: To live sustainably, we must live efficiently. To live efficiently, we must live peacefully. To live peacefully, we must live with a reasonable degree of equity. Only with greater equity can we expect to live peacefully, and only with greater harmony can we expect to live sustainably.

Golden mean: In ancient Greek philosophy, especially that of Aristotle, the golden mean or golden middle way is the desirable middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other of deficien
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Kathleen
Feb 22, 2012 rated it liked it
I have to admit that this wasn't exactly the book I expected, but then I remind myself that it was written in the 1980s and was at that time quite revolutionary. I don't doubt the need for simplicity and will read more books for specific ideas in how to do so.

Favorite passages: "It is a radical simplicity to affirm that our happiness cannot be purchased, no matter how desperately the advertiser may want us to believe the fiction that we will never be happy or adequate without his or her product
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Tyler
Mar 18, 2012 rated it it was ok
Synopsis: Originally published in 1981 and updated in the 1990's, this book is considered by many to be the simple/sustainable living bible. The book covers the tenets of Voluntary Simplicity, which include frugal consumption, ecological awareness and personal growth. The book concludes with a vision of the global issues that will arise if more people do not choose a path of voluntary simplicity.

My Review: This book wasn't really what I had expected. The first third of the book is just rehashing
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Charmin
HIGHLIGHTS:
1. Your level of accountability determines your level of happiness.

2. Suffering is optional, ditch the drama. Gossip is a morale killer.

3. Rule #4: Say yes to what’s next. Change is an opportunity. Resistance=desire for safety. Future potential=state of readiness. It is your job to get flexible and flow seamlessly into what is next. Say yes to what’s next. Change is an opportunity.

4. Stay in your lane and make an impact, be the most valuable and resilient person there.

5. You will a
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Katrina Dreamer
This book is a quick and simple read but it contains a vitally important message: that if we don't seriously curtail our addiction to consumerism, we face a catastrophe unseen in human history (read mass famine, water wars, mass extinction, continued and increased global warming, mass displacement). Many of these things are on the fast track to manifestation if we don't change our ways immediately.

It is a call for us to simplify our lives where we can. To stop mindless consumption...of water, o
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Yassy
Oct 17, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really a 3 1/2 stars.

There is some really interesting information and parts of it were inspiring, but it took me a long time to read it.

The book is already 8 years old & perhaps it's due for another update? Whilst I agree with the author that humanity has a chance of creating a positive future as we navigate the necessary changes needed to survive climate change, I feel that not enough is being done and not quickly enough.

That's the premise of this book really, that individual effort isn't eno
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Marjorie Elwood
May 29, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: environment, classic
Written in 1981, I found this alternately naïve and depressing, in that there was such hope - in what he wrote - that we would return to a simpler lifestyle and avert some of the environmental disasters that we have already caused. Instead, here we are....

Elgin shows us three possible scenarios, starting in the mid-2020s: the collapse of civilization and a return to the dark ages for the foreseeable future; dynamic stagnation (strong authoritarian tendencies), which sounds like where we are head
...more
Sheldon Caruana
Nov 29, 2018 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book, and was hoping to find practical steps to implement in my daily life. I found the first chapters, attempting to pursude the reader of the benifits of voluntary simplicity, which is great but I didn't not pick up the book, to learn about the benifits be how it can be applied practically to my life. I also found it hard to follow and disorganized, I love the concept but I am slightly disappointed. ...more
Liquidlasagna
i find the reviews highly interesting for this one for being all over the place...

He was a wacky guy at the Stanford Research Institute

wiki says it all

Arnold Mitchell (1918-1985) was a social scientist and consumer futurist who worked for SRI International and created a noted psychographic methodology, Values, Attitudes and Lifestyles (VALS).

Career
Mitchell coauthored a report on Voluntary Simplicity with Duane Elgin that was published by SRI in June 1976. The report was expanded and republished
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Nell
This book left me even more disheartened than I normally am. Elgin is right, of course, but here we are forty years since the first edition and our country, among others, is farther than ever from the cooperation that might save humanity from the drastic changes affecting our planet. Our society undergoes spurts or pockets of introspection, but they don't seem to last long or amount to much. Today the inequality of wealth and thoughtless consumption are greater than ever, plastics recycling is r ...more
Sierra Menzies
#19 in 2020. This book was given to me in a stack of other books by my dad. He gave them to me when I was struggling a lot with identity and mental health, and yet I didn't pick this book up until now. I think that is a good thing, because I have started to feel much better and I think I was in a good place when I started to dissect how the ideas in this book can change my life. A lot of what is mentioned are ideas I had already started toying with in my mind, or concepts that had been introduce ...more
Jim Breslin
Sep 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
I originally read this in the nineties and decided to re-read during the pandemic. The title of the book is inspirational in itself. In many ways, the current minimalist movement would be better described as "Voluntary Simplicity." The title is a philosophy that would do the world good. Elgin uses quotes from participants of a questionnaire who have disavowed themselves of the consumerist lifestyle to seek more time contemplating life through activities which provide personal fulfillment. If you ...more
Mark
I've been re-reading this every couple of years for decades. This book comes close to being my Polaris. While Elgin falls into what I consider an area of incoherence when he refers to 'spirit' or 'spiritual', many of those references are to surveys performed by others. Overall the synthesis rings true. He delves into one of my core interests--the effects of our evolved drives, appetites, and biases--and recommends implementable perspectives and practices to bootstrap ourselves to a more resource ...more
Jennifer
I lost interest about 1/3 of the way through, but I did find a few passages that really resonated with me.

"'As long as you derive inner help and comfort from anything, you should keep it. If you were to give it up in a mood of self-sacrifice or out of a stern sense of duty, you would continue to want it back, and that unsatisfied want would make trouble for you. Only give up a thing when you want some other condition so much that the thing no longer has any attraction to you.'" pg. 32 (Mahatma G
...more
Gabriel Eggers
Apr 20, 2022 rated it it was amazing
I read this book outloud with my wife, so it took us a while to finish reading it. But I'd say it was well worth the time and reading it with someone at a slower pace really added to the experience with plenty of time to question, reflect, and discuss. This book is a little dated, so there are certain areas where our understanding of the issues discussed has deepened or we know more about where we are headed, but it is amazingly still very relevant and informative. Additionally the way this is w ...more
Jenna
Sep 27, 2021 rated it liked it
I was really excited to read this book but was ultimately disappointed. I thought it would be the standard “here’s the problem, here’s the solution, here’s ways that you can implement them in your life” kind of book. Instead, it was a weird mixture of quotes from survey participants from decades ago and a call to spirituality. Every once in a while, there was information that was helpful and I liked. But I almost stopped reading the book several times because it wasn’t applicable to my life
Cris B
Sep 10, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bom
Chris Dumont
Nov 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I have the 2nd edition of this book. I love it! When you consider the impact of our lifestyles in the "developed" nations, voluntary simplicity becomes the only real ethical choice. ...more
Carly
Jan 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great read, I want to simplify my life!
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