Voluntary simplicity is a way to work towards debt-free living. When I first heard of this concept back in the early 90s I was impressed at how this is such a positive earth-friendly way of living and have tried to live this way ever since. I'm so glad I found this approach before I launched into a career and mortgage package. Instead we have created our own work and built our own house - simply and based on the environmental and social justice ethics I value.
It's not for me about dropping out - I definitely want to be be a connected, active and contributing member of society.
Voluntary simplicity to me is about reducing consumption, streamlining possessions, increasing community self-reliance, simplifying needs, simplifying diet and finding more space to breath, being happy and connecting with my community, my environment, my family and myself.
Getting involved in a community tree planting project.
I feel a great sense of freedom and flexibility by living simply, being conscious of my consumption and avoiding debt. I also feel a richness that cannot be defined in dollar terms.
I choose to without debt and keep our needs simple. We've don't have a mortgage or don't use credit cards. Here are some of the things I do to live simply and keep our cost of living down...
Pass on good clothes that your children have grown out of and accept bags of from friends. Children usually grow out of clothes before they wear them out. I love getting bags of surprises from friends. The kids like the fact that it's come, for example, from their older friends - it gives it extra meaning. With three children, trading clothes provides a big saving. We also have found some excellent things in the local second-hand stores, and like to sew up our own things too.
There is a lovely little second hand shop in our ecovillage run by volunteers. Maia always finds lovely clothes and shoes there - she is wearing them here. The kids also find gifts there. For my birthday today, they found knitting needles and yarn, a new coffee mug...
Becoming an active member of your local libraries is a fabulous way to access great books and toys - and then pass them back when the kids have had a good look and play, and ready to move onto the next thing.
AVOID BIG SHOPPING CENTRES
Mostly I find that I can get just about everything I need in my local town. The popular thinking is that you need to go to big box stores for discount buying, but typically I find the prices are comparable. Also I save buy not buying spontaneous purchases I don't actually need. Every now and then I do find myself in a large shopping mall (sometimes I do community seminars in libraries embedded in these places). I watch myself as I wander around - things catch my eye and I start feeling drawn into needing this and that. Our place is already filled with enough 'stuff' - I really do not need any more. I think I save thousands this way.
One of my favourite shops - the organic food coop in Maleny, my nearest town.
FOOD SHOP WHEN YOU ARE FULL
Have you ever gone shopping late in the afternoon when you are really hungry and come home with a whole lot of things you wish you hadn't bought. I try now to always shop when I am full and have a clear list of the things I need. By avoiding plastic packaging as much as I can, I find this also limits the purchasing of unnecessary items.
Simply by having a small herb and vegetable garden you can save lots of money - even if it's just to grow the greens. Buying fresh bunches of herbs, dark leafy greens and salad greens can add up over a year. With a bit more space and growing perennials, a small garden can have more food than you can possibly eat.
Community gardens are great places to learn how to grow food, or to get a plot of land if you don't have space at home.
This is my chicken house enclosed by wonderful self-seeding pumpkins - so much food. I eat the leaves, the flowers, the shoots, and the pumpkin seeds and all. Self-seeding annuals are such abundant plants that keep giving.
MAKE OR GROW GIFTS
Homemade items, hand-made cards and homegrown plants are great gift ideas that are lovely to both give and receive.
EAT SIMPLE HEALTHY FOOD
Our diet is simple, healthy and tasty - a lot of fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes, eggs and home-baked foods. We are a meat free household, except for a little from our neighbouring organic farm and I make a most things from scratch. It's actually quite quick and easy, really yummy and much cheaper.
Foraged from my garden for lunch.
EAT IN AND SHARED MEALS
We love sharing a great meal, and we love cooking up our fresh produce at home - creating interesting meals from whatever is seasonal and looking great that day. When friends come over with a plate to share we have a great feast. Family parties are always a simple shared meal at home or a picnic in the park too.
SIMPLIFY YOUR WARDROBE
I have worked out that the clothes I wear would fit into a smallish suitcase. Anything else in my wardrobe is superfluous and I am gradually shedding it. Having a couple of basic items and that can be dressed up or down makes life much simpler. Same with shoes - I have 2 going-out pairs, a garden pair, a pair of thongs for the beach and a pair for riding my bike. That's all I need.
EXERCISE IN NATURE
Going for a striding walk or swift ride around my neighbourhood is part the way I try to keep fit, but so is gardening, chasing the kids... Also, seems a silly thing to say, but it is possible to walk and ride without having specialised fitness clothing for each activity. A simple but good bike, with simple clothing and a reasonable pair of shoes is really all that is necessary.
LOVE PRE-LOVED ITEMS
If we need something, we save up and buy it rather than borrowing money, using credit. Often this means we choose preloved items rather than new - which saves both resources and money. We have some lovely dining chairs that we found at the tip shop - a set of nice bent wood chairs that just needed a good clean. Our car was 10 years old when we bought it. We picked one with low mileage, good service records, excellent safety features and great fuel economy - and saved ourselves over $30,000.
AVOID CREDIT CARDS
We purposefully have debit cards rather than credit cards. It's an easy limit on consumption. We need to have the money in our account before we can buy things. With all the other voluntary simplicity measures and conscious consumerism, we are able to make this work.
BE OPEN TO EXCHANGES
Everything doesn't need to be a monetary exchange - we can give and share our products, services and skills in other ways. For example, when people come to my house, they often go away with some produce or cuttings from my garden - and same happens when I visit friends. I often give talks and workshops in exchange for entry to festivals and events. In a year, this alone saves me well over $1500.
Community meet-up and produce swap at the local bakery on a Saturday morning.
HAVE A 'DAY OUT' IN YOUR GARDEN
Going out with the family can get so expensive, and it's amazing how much we use and waste to do this - take-away food packaging, fuel etc. Particularly with little ones, it can also be quite stressful and exhausting. Having a simple unplugged 'day out' at home is so much fun - organise a picnic in the garden, a treasure hunt, games, maybe invite some friends over, make your own music, put on a show...
An afternoon of unplugged garden play with children from the neighbourhood (grandad made the swingset, the sandpit is surrounded by logs from the local woodlot and the cubby is at least 4th hand).
SHARE AND JOIN CLUBS
We recently joined a local sailing club for a very modest fee. Rather than buying our own boat, we decided to share the club's boats and windsurfers. Each of these little boats gets used so much - again, it saves resources and lots of money. It's quite liberating. On a Sunday morning we just turn up and help set up - we don't need to take all our own gear - they even provide life jackets and a rescue service.