As I was reading thing book I was complaining to pretty much anyone that would let me about how boring it was. They would ask why I’m bothering with it? I said I wanted to finish it so I had content for the blog. Now that I’m done, I can confidently say that the approximately 8 hours that I invested reading this book wasn’t worth it!
Voluntary Simplicity is a fantastic combination of being both boring and extremely pretentious. I went into this book with the intention of liking it. It was mentioned in The Story of Stuff, that I read over Christmas. I loved that book so I was hoping that this book would live up to the hype.
It did not…
The thesis of the book is that everyone should reduce their level of consumerism and live more simply as a way to reduce their environmental impact. Sorta like everyone should be working to reaching ‘One Planet’ levels of consumption/way of living (If you’ve never taken the test, you should, the data is interesting and it explains the concept more).
In the introduction, he explained that living simple isn’t the same thing as poverty. I don’t love the way that he worded that portion, but it’s about how voluntary you are to the simplicity that impacts how much joy and longevity you will get out of it.
After that, there is over 75 pages of testimony’s about how great the voluntary simplicity lifestyle is, and it was so pretentious. It was like when you’re on a first date and you both just ordered appetizers. And that’s when you find out the person sitting across from you is the worst stereotypical of a vegan investment banker. That level of pretentious, self indulgent righteousness.
I can’t even say it gets better after that potion. The whole book is very repetitive. Chapter 5 got a tad better, there was a list of the negative impacts associated with over consumption. I enjoyed reading it the first time I saw it, then I saw a variation two more times. Same with the list of quotes for the major religions/philosophies that would support the idea of simple, sustainable living that I read in three chapters.
This book would have been better as mediocre content for a blog. There are so many lists and quotes, that would have not been so boring or noticeable if they were spread out over numerous posts.
Here is one example that I screenshot:
The only part of the book I remember/thought about after finishing, is that one of the challenges of achieving a sustainable sociality is a lack of a “collective promise of the future”. Pretty much everyone is working on a different vision of how they want the future to look. Which makes it harder to work on the big societal/intuitional changes that the world (let be honest, first world countries) need to do to ensure we don’t destroy the planet as we know it. Unfortunately the idea it not developed much beyond what I just mentioned.
The author listed some interesting concepts of what they believe the way of the future should be. Smaller, cohabitation communities close to farm land/food sources. I agree with the high level idea of a sense of community as a pillar of sustainability. However, I believe that their vision for sustainable communities don’t hold up if you think about it too hard. I don’t want to get into much detail about it since they didn’t really either.
The book doesn’t give you much information on how to actually go through the process of simplifying. It’s just a lot of Philosophy 101 mumbo jumbo with the words like environment or sustainability thrown in to make it ~spicy~. Ultimately, I believe that addressing overconsumption is a great way an individual can reduce their environmental impacts. I don’t think this book was the way to deliver that message. Also, that just a small piece of the puzzle of how we can try to solve the climate crisis.
PS. I read some reviews and they mention that the first edition is much better and the rewrites ruined the book. I will take their word for it, and I will not be reading the first edition to compare.