Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Open Access Thesis


Voluntary simplicity movement; Simplicity; Identity (Psychology);


With the seemingly endless advance of technology and the resulting cheaper material goods, consumption levels have risen to record highs. Over-consumption is having devastating effects on the environment, as well as on families and societies. We are encouraged by the advertising industry to consume at every turn, and buying things has become a substitute source of self-worth for many people. But an abundance of material items has not brought personal fulfillment for most Americans. A growing number of people have begun to question the hollow promises of consumerism, searching instead for alternative ways to find contentment, meaning, and purpose in their lives. One current incarnation of this search comes in the form of Voluntary Simplicity (VS).

VS is a lifestyle choice, and is a relative term, depending on the climate, customs, and culture in which an individual lives. VS does not refer to a concrete set of rules that one must obey in order to practice simple living. Instead, the individual, within the context of his or her own life, culture, and desires, must decide upon particular VS strategies.

VS involves both an inner and an outer condition. Internally, VS includes sincerity and honesty within and a deliberate organization of one's life for a purpose. It also includes guiding one's energy and desires, with partial restraint in some directions in order to secure greater abundance of life in other directions. Outwardly, VS often includes an avoidance of material clutter, and a freeing of one's self from the complexities of modern life, in order to focus on one's own purpose. VS is an understanding that our lives are enriched by the simple and elementary things in life, and not the complexities.

Currently, people who practice voluntary simplicity are often called VSers. These people are frequently going against the pressure from the advertising industry and mainstream society, and are creating a life that is meaningful to them, and environmentally friendly.

Guided by symbolic interactionism (SI), I administered questionnaires to 22 VSers and then conducted 13 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with respondents to explore the effects this lifestyle has on family life and relationships. Does it affect the relationship between married couples, especially when one partner chooses VS and the other does not? Does a VS lifestyle of one partner influence the other partner to make the same choices? Does simple living affect the way VS parents raise their children? Does a VS lifestyle affect the type and depth of relationships between family members? These are some of the questions I sought to answer with this research.

I also sought to understand how participating in VS affects how one's personal identity is continually shaped and reshaped by this lifestyle choice. Using symbolic interactionism, a perspective where people are seen as actors who are constantly defining and redefining themselves, does a VS lifestyle contribute to the way one sees one's self? Does it affect the way one presents one's self to society? This research was conducted, in part, to understand how simple living affects personal identity.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminology

First Advisor

Kent Sandstrom, Chair, Thesis Committee

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (vii, 114 pages)



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