In the last decades, material welfare has reached exceptional levels. As Clive Hamilton claims: “Most Westerners today are prosperous beyond the dreams of their grandparents.’ The houses of typical families are bigger than ever, and they are each filled with untold numbers of consumer products, such as multiple TVs, stereos, computers, mobile phones, racks of unused clothes, washing machines, fridges, dishwashers, dryers, vacuum cleaners, kitchen gadgets, etc. – products that often overflow into garages or hired storage rooms to create spaces full of accumulated ‘stuff”.
However, this prosperity has established to be taken for granted, leaving many in the worldwide middle-class feeling yet deprived notwithstanding their plenty (Hamilton and Dennis, 2005). In fact, many scholars have demonstrated how this wealth has not been related to an increase in life satisfaction compared to the 1950s or 60s.
It seems, therefore, that well-being, in societies, is not strictly linked to a surge in material possessions. It does perturb, however, that the majority of nations yet focus principally on maximising economic growth and therefore its GDP per capita; in contrast to augmenting the wellbeing of their citizens. A lifestyle that proposes an oppositional living strategy to materialism and high consumption is voluntary simplicity; a way of living which aims at a simpler life or the so called “downshifting”.
This approach, implicates a different consideration to material needs, as mere functional instead of an “extended self” to which we feel an attachment and which brings consolation. Differently to the retail therapy seen in developed nations and to the constant seek of novelty that allows people to reinvent their role and credibility in society, voluntary simplicity detaches the symbolic value of wealth and identity of material artefacts. Furthermore, as a replacement for the anxiety of fitting in, voluntary simplicists find their meaningful relationships, satisfaction and participation in society through social engagement and community lifestyle.
The growing level of awareness that rose in consumers concerning environmental and social impacts caused by their consumption has led to a revaluation of consumer choices and habits. The emergence of ethical consumers can be, in fact, linked to ethical reasons related to environmental degeneration and fairness in world trade. On one hand, ethical consumers are concerned about levels of consumption, while on the other hand more radical anti-consumerist question the necessity of demand and consumerism as an option. Important decisions through the selection of ethical alternatives and a reduction in consumption is what voluntary simplicity advocates for.
This simpler lifestyle generally means accommodating a lower salary and a lower level of consumption, this as an exchange for more time to pursue other life aims, such as social engagements, intellectual projects, creative tasks, political participation, spirituality, contemplation and love. Activities that require low or minimal consumption and fulfil wellbeing. Individuals that undertake this strategy, advocate for humanitarian and ecological values and projects, in the assumption that human beings can live a meaningful and diverse life while being equitable on the planet.