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Road with trees on both sides
simple living for a sustainable future  
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discussion circles | what they discuss

voluntary simplicity (vs)

If you feel too busy, that your space is too cluttered, or financially strapped because you've purchased too much stuff that you didn't really need... Being in a Voluntary Simplicity circle might help you become aware of patterns you'd like to change. The circle might then become a safe place where you'll be supported by others to make concrete changes.

Voluntary Simplicity is NOT about living in the woods without any material comforts. It's about living mindfully and consciously. It's about living your best and deepest life, which very often translates into caring for Earth.

This discussion guide was created and last revised by the Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI) in 2011. Topics covered in 6 sessions:

1. The Meaning of Simplicity:  The concept of simplicity, as a religious practice or philosophy of life, has a long history. Inner simplicity and outer simplicity are two aspects. What are some common misconceptions about a simple life? Excerpts and Readings: Action Plan ~ “Living Deeply” by Janet Luhrs ~ The Simple Living Wheel by Simplicity Matters Earth Institute ~ "The Gospel of Consumption" by Jeffrey Kaplan ~ “Take Your Time” by Heather Menzies ~ "Do High-Consumption Levels Improve Human Well-Being? by the Worldwatch Institute

2. Living More with Less:  Accumulating material possessions is part of the American Dream. For some, the dream has become a nightmare. When do material possessions add meaning to our lives and when do they detract? Excerpts and Readings: Action Plan ~ “When It’s All Too Much” by Barry Schwartz ~ Excerpt from Stepping Lightly by Mark Burch ~ "Homemade Prosperity" by Shannon Hayes ~ "Do It Yourself! The DIY Movement" by Carolyn White ~ Attached to Technology and Paying a Price" by Matt Richtel ~ “When Enough is Enough” by F. Marina Schauffler ~ “Teachings of World Religions on Consumerism” by Alan Durning

3. Making a Living:   A growing number of people wish to resolve the conflict between the desire to make and spend money and the desire for a more enjoyable lifestyle. Why is that so difficult in our culture? Excerpts and Readings: Action Plan ~ "Work: The Benefits of Working Less" by Carl Honoré ~ "Crafting a New World: An Interview with Richard Sennett" by Suzanne Ramljak ~ “Economy and Pleasure” by Wendell Berry ~ TED Talk on "How to Make Work-Balance Work" by Nigel Marsh ~ "What is the Purpose of Work?" by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez ~ Slow Down and Explore Simplicity

4. Do You Have the Time?:  In modern society, our minds are focused on the "busyness" of the day, our current problems, and our future challenges. Are there alternatives to the fast pace of mainstream culture? Excerpts and Readings: Action Plan ~ “Simplicity, Time, and Money” by Mark Burch ~ “Caught in the Current” by Jay Bookman ~ "A Slow Media Movement" by Sarry Herships ~ "My Antidote to Overwhelm" by Shannon Hayes ~ “I Need a Virtual Break...No Really” by Mark Bittman ~ “Washing the Dishes” by Thich Nhat Hanh 

5. Living Simply and Sustainably:  As a society, we engage in patters on material consumption that are damaging the environment. How much do we really need? Excerpts and Readings: Action Plan ~ Excerpt from “Small Wonder” by Barbara Kingsolver ~ "One Garbage Wonder" by Shellie Bailey-Shah ~ “Conservation is Good Work” by Wendell Berry ~ “Living Simply and Strengthening Community” by Richard Czaplinski ~ "Cool Lifestyle for a Hot Planet" by Duane Elgin

6. Call to Action— Wrap-Up. This last meeting may happen at a different place and time, and is often a potluck meal. Your group will start by evaluating the circle experience. Then, you'll decide what you wish to do next (together or separately). You will also learn of many ways to stay involved in our wider community of like-minded people. If your group is so inclined, the wrap-up is also a great time to plan a community project together.


see our monthly announcement or get in touch with your neighborhood's volunteer point of contact to find out about circles who are about to discuss this guide. Or, order a guide and start your own.

Cover of Voluntary Simplicity guide

local opinions about this guide

vs 2-sided description with reading list (forthcoming)

vs flyer to advertise an intro meeting: Editable (in Word) or fill out by hand, in B/W (PDF 208 KB) or in color (PDF 282 KB)

vs 2011 evaluation form (PDF, 46 KB) and vs 2011 blank charts (PDF, 103 KB) - If you're sharing or re-using a guide

vs circle schedule PDF, 57 KB | MS Word, 72 KB

discuss these issues online in one of our four yahoogroups

videos about issues related to those discussed in this guide

Introducer / mentor sampler VS 2011 (PDF, 579 MB), includes all action plan charts from several sessions