Voluntary Simplicity: Your Selfish Behaviour Could save the Planet

Updated: Jun 28, 2021

Our material consumption habits are detrimental to the planet. We know we need to consume less, but it's not always easy. Here are five 'selfish' reasons to try voluntary simplicity.

You’ve likely read some articles telling you about the heavy environmental footprint of your consumption habits and the need to consume less to save the planet. At the moment there is an upsurge in voluntary simplicity and minimalism. The idea is to cut the clutter, buy less material goods, and scale down on stuff to relieve pressure on the earth’s resources. You’ll find articles promoting this on Global Citizen, Minimalism Life, Science Alert, The Guardian, The Telegraph, and Fin24.

Yet for some reason, regardless of how much that article resonates with you, the moment you close the tab, the connection between shopping and ecology is lost. You just can’t seem to channel your inner environmentalist with that beautiful pair of shoes, fancy new gadget, or quick-fix processed dinner begging you to indulge.

Don’t beat yourself up. Research in this journal proves that people have a hard time voluntarily adjusting their behaviour based only on ecological awareness. The articles, campaigns, and calls for a lighter lifestyle aren’t as effective as their writers (me included) would like them to be. This is because we struggle to make the connection between our consumption habits and their environmental impact.

You don't have to do it for the environment

You don’t have to be an ecological activist to reduce your ecological impact. Researchers have done a lot of digging into voluntary simplicity and minimalism, the reasons why people choose to live less consumer-driven lifestyles and eat less resource intensively, and the benefits they experience. Turns out, five out of the six major benefits of voluntary simplicity are personal, even selfish, in nature.

It seems you don’t have to channel your mind-nature connection when you feel like shopping, you simply have to think about how it will make your own life better.


'Selfish' benefits of voluntary simplicity


Material goods and food are getting increasingly expensive and our salaries never seem to match that increase. We don’t really need the overwhelming research results to tell us that shopping less, and eating less processed foods, will save us money.

Shopping less doesn’t have to mean extreme frugality. It simply means deciding whether a purchase is a necessity before swiping the credit card. The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic & Social Sustainability call it ‘thoughtful frugality’. You can still enjoy the finer things in life; just consider whether this enjoyment is fleeting or whether the item will add meaning to your life, first.

Give it a few weeks and you’ll wake up one morning with a notification that your salary has been deposited without the usual week-before-pay-day financial depression.


According to The Journal of Consumer Culture, high levels of consumption cause time deprivation. Less time at work earning money to spend on stuff means more time to spend outside of work doing more relaxing and satisfying things.

Voluntary simplifiers might say no to a promotion that will require more stringent hours in order to have more time to spend at leisure or with family. Their activities typically require little financial input, but result in happy, energised humans. Think hikes, visits to the beach, hours spent reading, games with the children, and shared meals with friends. The freed up time can also be spent pursuing more creative projects, typically the type of projects we continuously neglect because we don’t have time.


It seems people who choose to live simpler lives end up improving their health. A voluntary simplifier eats less processed food and does more exercise. According to the journal, Psychology and Marketing, they also experience less stress. All these things are directly linked to better health. A manageable weight, fewer doctor’s visits and medication, and the promise of a longer life are rather good reasons for simplifying.


While the term, ‘retail therapy’ is still fooling many, research has long ago proven that shopping doesn’t actually make us happier. Here’s a quote by Donella Meadows to prove it:

“People don’t need enormous cars; they need admiration and respect. They don’t need a constant stream of new clothes; they need to feel that others consider them to be attractive, and they need excitement and variety and beauty. People don’t need electronic entertainment; they need something interesting to occupy their minds and emotions. And so forth. Trying to fill real but nonmaterial needs-for identity, community, self-esteem, challenge, love, joy-with material things is to set up an unquenchable appetite for false solutions to never-satisfied longings. A society that allows itself to admit and articulate its nonmaterial human needs, and to find nonmaterial ways to satisfy them, world require much lower material and energy throughputs and would provide much higher levels of human fulfilment.”

It seems material pursuits actually distract us from more fulfilling activities. It keeps us in a constant state of deprivation. Consuming less, on the other hand, leads to an increased and more prolonged feeling of contentment. In a study by The Journal of Consumer Culture, 87% of respondents were happier after simplifying their lives than they were before.

Mindfulness and spirituality

Not only does voluntary simplicity create everyday happiness, but it also creates space for deeper meaning and spirituality. Research done by The Journal of Consumer Affairs shows that, contrary to popular belief, material consumption does not lead to self-realisation. Rather, a simpler life allows a person to practice more mindfulness and find a deeper spiritual connection if that is what they’re after.

So if you want more money, more time, more happiness, better health, and more mindfulness, try simplifying your life by shopping less and eating simpler foods. Without trying to, and perhaps without even wanting to, you’re living more lightly on the planet too.

Originally published on Tread Brightly