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imagesThis week we are happy to share a guest post from Mary Shaw who works at the Ashland, Oregon Food Co-op, where participants recently completed NWEI’s Voluntary Simplicity discussion course. Participants shared a variety of reflections upon completion of the course, with one participant noting “I am thinking more deeply and intentionally.  It’s helping me be accountable to get rid of things I’m no longer using.” Another course participant mentioned that “the Voluntary Simplicity group has prompted me to consider and eliminate internal and external clutter in my life…When making purchases I now ask myself is this a need or a want?” Thanks to the Ashland Food Co-op for sharing these reflections with us!

Simplicity can be viewed as a practice to create a more purposeful way of life in a complex, consumptive society.  To simplify is to reduce what you have to the essentials; to streamline and to clarify.  

Participants in the Co-op’s first offering of the Voluntary Simplicity discussion course are making life changes one step at a time. Weekly readings and discussions are followed by an action plan which helps participants commit to change. For example, one of the action plans with the theme “Intentional Living” prompted some participants to do the following: cook 5 good meals during the week; check email only three times a day instead of every 30 minutes; and take regular walks.  Part of each session is then spent sharing the successes, challenges, and inspiration experienced while implementing these commitments. Some of the participants will be starting a new group in April.  If you are interested in joining them, contact Mary Shaw at 541-482-2237 ex 261.

“Voluntary Simplicity has made me realize there are too many of us wanting too much from the planet and there are choices we can make to lessen these demands.”- Voluntary Simplicity course participant, Ashland Food Co-op


The Ashland, Oregon Food Co-op‘s Voluntary Simplicity Team is hosting NWEI’s Voluntary Simplicity course in the Co-op Community Classroom. The response from the community was double what was expected!

The course began just last week on January 23rd and will run through March 13th. Last week, group participants explored the Meaning of Simplicity, and will consider Living More with Less during tonight’s meeting. Thanks to the Co-op’s Voluntary Simplicity Team for hosting: Mary Shaw, Education Coordinator, Stuart Green, Sustainability Committee Chair, Pam Lucas and Deborah Theos, who are with the Outreach Board Committee. While this is the first Northwest Earth Institute course offered by the Co-op, the team plans to offer the NWEI discussion courses seasonally going forward.



Maryann Calendrille, photo by Kathryn Szoka

Maryann Calendrille, photo by Kathryn Szoka

Annette Hinkle with the Sag Harbor Express newspaper in New York recently interviewed Northwest Earth Institute course organizer Maryann Calendrille, who will lead a Voluntary Simplicity discussion course at Canio’s Cultural Café in Sag Harbor beginning in late January. Below is an excerpt from the interview.

How would you define Voluntary Simplicity and the goals of the program?

…It calls for an intentional choice about how we’re using resources, how we’re consuming things and how we’re spending our time.

What’s the basis of the program and how does it work?

It’s based on a book by Duane Elgin that came out in 1981 and was re-released in 2010 — that’s where the phrase “Voluntary Simplicity” comes from. It’s moving toward a way of life that is outwardly simple and inwardly rich. It addresses the many aspects of our life — personal, public, work life — and how we’re now really called upon to make conscious choices.

The concept is any community group can come together — say 8 to 12 people — and it’s a shared responsibility to move the course forward. Each participant volunteers to facilitate for one night during the five weeks. It’s a very democratic structure. There’s no hierarchy, no experts. We learn from the readings and they ask high quality questions. There are action plans, suggested ways of putting theory into practice. I found it thoughtful and high quality material.

What are some of the wider issues you expect to address in the workshop?

In terms of helping to develop awareness about choices we make, one of the goals for this movement is to create greater equality all over the planet. We consume more fuel and food than anywhere… If we’re buying strawberries in January in the Northeast, where were they grown and how did they get here? What’s the cost? Is it healthy? Or a $2 pair of socks from China — what were the costs of making them? How does my choice here perpetuate a system that leaves other people at risk?

Another goal is to connect with others who are making changes and figure out what we can do in our corner of the world. We may not be able to do everything we want, but we can become more aware and see where we can make a shift. This is voluntary. It’s not compulsory. You do within reason what’s possible and seems manageable.

…We really need to be living more mindfully to create a sustainable future…

On a local level, is part of the simplicity focus just finding ways to reconnect personally with others in the community?

…I think a lot of people are feeling stressed out by the constant call to be connected either on line, or available 24/7 via cellphone. I think people are exhausted by it and are missing the one-on-one conversations. There are pockets of people saying this is unhealthy, this is not progressive in any way and we need to create some new ways of being together.

To read the full interview, click here.

indexBen Rumbaugh is a Senior International Studies major at Xavier University, where he recently participated in one of NWEI’s Voluntary Simplicity discussion courses, hosted by Greg Carpinello, the Director of the Dorothy Day Center for Faith and Justice. Below is an excerpt from Ben’s recent blog entry from the Dorothy Day Center Blog:

Affluenza: 1. A painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more. 2. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 3. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by the pursuit of the American Dream. 4. An unstable addiction to economic growth. (from

As the Advent season approaches, more people are suffering from affluenza than influenza from the cold weather. The act of giving during Christmas is often undermined by this illness. Many would suggest that this condition is caused by American consumerism and the expectation of numerous material gifts on Christmas day. How can we avoid this? What is the prescribed vaccine for affluenza? It’s simple.

Originally, I found this definition in a curriculum about Voluntary Simplicity that I experienced with a small group this summer. It was no surprise to me that a correlation was made between living simply and consumption. However, after my group finished the curriculum, I found that limiting my amount of consumption did not easily equate to a simple life. Instead, committing to living simply has created a lifestyle that requires concentration and effort – far from simple. Voluntary simplicity isn’t merely spending less; rather it is a concerted effort in exploring why we consume in the first place.

Approaching voluntary simplicity in this way has been a beautiful and challenging examination of my values. Especially during a time when I’m unsure of my values, reflecting upon the purchases I make throughout the day has started to unwrap the values that society holds and how I fit within that structure. However, having a conscience (or lack of one on some days) while at the store does not encompass the entirety of consumption. By starting with small purchases at a convenience store, I have slowly begun to view all of my actions as if they were transactions in a store. I ask myself, “What is this action costing others? What is it costing me? How does this action reflect the culture surrounding me?” Although attempting to quantify everything is not always a healthy practice, viewing my everyday tasks in this light has led me to further solidify my values…

For the full post, click here.

voluntary-simplicityThis week we are highlighting a blog excerpt from a Voluntary Simplicity course participant in upstate New York. Erika writes about her experience with he Voluntary Simplicity discussion course on her blog: Eat. Make. Do: Our DIY Life. Enjoy!

Almost 4 years ago we moved from one coast to the other and our lives changed in a lot of ways. One was a huge cut to our overall income. This put us on a different path, and I honestly feel like we are much better for it.

It is easy from time to time to get off the path. Sometimes less important things or people creep in and cause a lot of distraction and I forget the end goals.

Recently I joined a discussion group on Voluntary Simplicity organized by Jillian…Week Three’s topic was work. Just in our small group I realized that I am in a minority (I think) when it comes to how I view satisfying work. To me work is very physical. If I’m not manipulating things it doesn’t seem very gratifying.

Most of my “work” now belongs to the things I do at home. It isn’t necessarily the most fun, and I’m certainly not getting evaluated on it or anything, but it’s important and I take pride in it.

I enjoy baking bread and making our Christmas gifts and sewing Halloween costumes. In a minute I’ll start working on chicken pot pie for dinner, but I already made the crust this morning with Jack. There will be something more special about dinner, because I made it myself. I put time and energy and thought into it, and to me that’s valuable work…

Voluntary Simplicity, to me, is living with technology and modern life in a way that is fulfilling, not all encompassing. To be thankful and grateful for all that the modern world can do for us but to still be able to put up your own food, whether you choose to or not…

For the full post, click here.

imagesThis holiday season, NWEI invites you to consider Voluntary Simplicity as you navigate the choices and events of the season. If you haven’t yet, consider forming a Voluntary Simplicity discussion group and gather with friends, family or co-workers to consider alternatives to the busy, consumer-focused pressures often accompanying this time of year.

Also, consider giving the gift of learning by sharing NWEI course books with family and friends. NWEI is happy to send the book or books of your choice to the recipient(s) on your gift list. If NWEI has impacted you, we invite you to share the gift of these resources with others.
You might also consider giving the gift of a Gift Membership package, which includes the course book of your choice along with an annual membership to NWEI. This option is available online at (*Please scroll down to the last option in the cart).
However you choose to spend your December, we wish you peace this season!

“To live more simply is to live more purposefully and with a minimum of needless distraction.” – Duane Elgin

The holiday season is upon us again.  On the one hand, there are family traditions, favorite holiday songs and time spent with friends and family. Alternately, there is the pressure to bestow gifts upon friends and family, commercial pressure, busy stores and holiday crowds to contend with (not to mention the myriad food choices, many of which are not sustainable!).

It doesn’t have to be this way though–we can opt out of commercialized, materialistic holidays and commit to a simplified holiday season. There are many ways to instill voluntary simplicity in your celebrations, and in the process take back some of your precious time, money and energy (not to mention lessening your impact on our environment). We recently found this article with a few tips on putting a green spin on your holiday season:

“No time of the year is more emotional than the holiday season, whether you’re bursting with the joy of baking and caroling or overwhelmed with the stress of shopping and wrapping. But even with all those other factors weighing on your mind, it’s possible to put a green spin on your holidays; simple tips and easy substitutions mean you can come through this season of indulgence without leaving a massive carbon footprint.

Start with your gift list, where going green can mean anything from simply buying fewer gifts (the too-cluttered shelves at your giftee’s house will thank you, we promise) to finding Fair Trade alternatives to holiday classics. Look for recycled paper goods, like cards and wrapping, or get creative and make your own versions of both. Green your Christmas dinner with seasonal, local ingredients and organic turkeys, and stock your bar with organic bubbly and other green cocktails. Then look for green greens for your home by choosing fresh wreaths and pesticide-free trees trimmed with energy-slashing LED lights. Put the money you saved on your electric bill toward a donation to environmental charities and let your greenbacks support green projects.

But most importantly, keep in mind that the holidays are not about the gifts, the errands, the trimmings; they’re about celebrating with your family and friends and appreciating the blessings in your life. We happen to think Mother Earth is one of those blessings, so put these tips to work to help keep it that way…”

For more ideas on greening this holiday season, click here.
Also, keep in mind that NWEI offers gift memberships, as you embark on your simplified holidays season.

Recently, a Northwest Earth Institute Voluntary Simplicity discussion group formed in upstate New York. One participant, Jillian, blogged about her experience on her Village Homestead Blog. Here is an excerpt of what she had to say:

Jeff and I are participating in a discussion class about Voluntary Simplicity…We meet every Sunday afternoon for an hour. I love the format of the discussion courses – they are a few weeks long; there are short, meaningful readings each week; and there are relevant questions for us to ponder and discuss.

Voluntary Simplicity is the name of the course. I think of it more as Voluntary Intentional Living. Nothing is simple. Some things are intentional.

In a lot of ways, we are living a simple/intentional life…We live a simpler life because I make much of our own food, we create much of our own entertainment, and we make a deliberate effort to infuse meaning into our every day lives. The chickens are admired and thanked every day for the eggs they give us; cleaning their coop is never a chore for me – I do it because I love being outside with them in the morning and I respect the “work” they do…

All things considered, we do live a simple life. But there is always more to be done, isn’t there? I have a few things to do in the kitchen to simplify a bit more. I need to do a better job of re-purposing containers, re-purposing left overs, and choosing ingredients that have a smaller footprint, both carbon and egotistical. I got out of practice during our move, and I haven’t gotten back into the habit since. Less plastic hitting the recycling bin, more reusable cloth bags for the bulk bins. Less tea from the store, more tea from our garden. Less wine with dinner, more water from our well. Less coffee and oil from places far away. More vegetables from close to home.

…But, by and large, we are happy and satisfied. We are living life the way we want. We make our own rules. Our own schedule. Our own To Do List. Our own priorities. We are truly living.

For the full post, click here.

Grace Wilson-Woods of Sun Lakes, Arizona recently convened Arizona’s first Voluntary Simplicity course. She took the time to write some reflections about the experience, shared below. Thank you, Grace!

“The NWEI North American Gathering Conference was coming up September 15-18th in Port Townsend, Washington and I was excited to go. The Hans Hoffman statement on the cover of the Voluntary Simplicity course book touched me deeply: “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”  I knew I needed to simplify my life.  Once back in Sun Lakes, Arizona, I along with 8 other family members participated in the NWEI Eco-Challenge from October 1-15th.  This increased my motivation to immediately form a discussion group.

I decided to invite ladies from my church (Seventh-Day Adventist), ladies from Church of God in Christ(COGIC) and ladies from Community Church of New Thought.  I purposely selected 10 ladies from different religious denominations to make sure we had a variety of views in our discussion.  Also to prove that voluntary simplicity has no boundaries.

The first article “Living Deeply” resonated with me immediately and I was convinced to begin living a simpler life.  Some of the things I plan to focus on as a result of the course include: Have a zero balance on my credit cards; Shed excess clutter and clothing (donate to homeless shelter, etc.); Select organic produce as often as possible and buy smaller amounts to prevent waste; Become self-sufficient in the basics of life such as growing more food in my garden- move from gardening as a hobby to a sustainable food source; Buy local by ordering a “farm box” twice a month; I also plan to decrease spending – buy only what I need, not everything I think I want.

I have already stopped the newspaper delivery so I don’t see the numerous ads with percentage off offers that convince me to buy something.  I have also decreased my TV watching and will downsize my cable capacity in an effort to cut my cable use and cost, which will save on electricity use and costs as well.   I am retired but I plan to join a sewing group where I live to increase my skills and perhaps find a niche for a home business or craft shows.   But with all the changes to reduce my impact on this earth, my underlying goal is to save money and use it to cover my expenses when I volunteer (at some future date) with Marantha Volunteers International.  This group uses volunteers to build One Day Schools and Churches in remote areas for people who would otherwise not be able to have a school or church.  There is no age or skill limit for volunteers just as with Voluntary Simplicity.  Each person can do something!  I believe that this course had an immediate impact on me, but will impact me well into the future…”

Thanks to Grace for organizing her group – and to the 10 ladies to joined her weekly for discussion and tea around the theme of simplicity!


Northwest Earth Institute courses have been used in the business community and at workplaces of all kinds since our founding in 1993. In fact, the first discussion course to take place was in a law office, setting the template for thousands of organizations to follow in gathering employees to discuss pressing environmental and social responsibility concerns. As the former Director of Business Partnerships for NWEI, I was particularly excited to find a communications blog, Change Conversations, where blogger Sally Kieny wrote about how NWEI’s discussion course on Voluntary Simplicity prompted a business group to reflect on how our written and verbal communications can be simplified through getting back to basics.  Read below for Sally’s reflections and find the full post here.

Recently I signed up for a discussion course entitled Voluntary Simplicity, offered by the Northwest Earth Institute. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but was intrigued at the thought of bringing more simplicity into my life. Immediately I was conjuring up ideas of clean and organized closets, a streamlined home office and less stuff in my life. And while I hope to reach that level of uber-organization in my personal life, I’ve also come to realize that this concept offers much for the marketing-communications world.

I think this particular quote on the course booklet says it all:

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”—Hans Hoffman

Think about it. Removing the clutter from your marketing, your written and verbal communications, is so important. It ensures that your message is clearly defined and to the point—and that’s essential if you want to be effective. It’s all about being focused and deliberate with your marketing...

Simplifying and Getting Back to Basics: We use a tool called a positioning worksheet to help our clients bring focus to their marketing activities and determine how they want to be perceived in the marketplace. Through a series of work sessions, we work with our clients to develop a statement that identifies the business they are in, the specific needs of their customers, who their competitors are and the unique benefits of our clients’ products or services. Using this statement, we are then able to evaluate all potential marketing activities (advertising, sponsorships, PR activities, etc.) to determine if a particular activity would support—or detract from—the client’s positioning. This tool simplifies and brings a clear focus to their marketing activities.

So the next time you find yourself weighing various advertising options or determining which trade shows to attend, ask yourself, with your positioning statement in hand: Is this activity taking my business where I want it to go? Will it meet the needs of my customers? Is this activity “on position” for us?

If you can’t answer “yes,” then ditch the activity and move on.

The bottom line: Simplicity can be a wonderful thing in your life and your work. Don’t make things more complicated than they need to be. Don’t try to do too much. Simplify to bring clarity, to discover what’s important and to be deliberate in your marketing activities.
A good reminder that simplicity can work in all areas of our lives…

This month, Ellen Dawson-Witt is hosting Choices for Sustainable Living in her 192 square food home in Yellow Springs, Ohio. The group is discussing voluntary simplicity, ecology, food and money…and all things pertaining to living more lightly on the Earth. For more photos of Ellen’s ‘tiny house’ and for the full article entitled “Tour of a Tiny House” in the Yellow Springs News, click here.

When Ellen Dawson-Witt wanted to live a more sustainable life, she didn’t take half-measures. She moved to a farm, went off the grid, and downsized to a house the size of a shed.

Fitting her life into 192 square feet was easy for the 56-year-old — she long ago eschewed television and fashion, and got rid of the stuff she didn’t use — and so was living on a farm in exchange for taking care of goats. And she didn’t mind carrying water, using a composting toilet, keeping a wood stove going and lighting oil lamps in the off-the-grid structure that lacked indoor plumbing and a furnace.

She raised some of her food, carried the water she used for bathing and cooking from a nearby well, collected rainwater from her roof for washing, composted her waste and split wood for her wood stove. There were some modern amenities too — three solar panels, which provided some electricity for a lamp, CD player and laptop, and a 1934 gas range for cooking.

“It was fully living in line with my values,” Dawson-Witt said. “I like to know where my food comes from; I like to be in literal touch with the elements and to work with other people.” …

Thanks to Ellen for setting the example that living this lightly can be done – and for sharing it with others through a Choices group!

Today we have a guest post for you from Bill Gerlach who blogs at The New Pursuit.  Many thanks to Bill for sharing his writings on living deeply with us. 

“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world…as in being able to remake ourselves.” – Gandhi

The more you look around the more you see a movement underway. The status quo is being challenged from every angle.

People are feeling a subtle yet constant tug – like an eager toddler at your legs – that something is awry in their life and the life of the world. Many have put their hopes in material happiness. Yet now, those same people are seeking a new balance in their lives; abandoning the pursuit of ‘more’ that consumerism has pushed upon us and the resulting disconnect with the natural world it has fostered.

For me, deep living represents the convergence of three major pillars of our existence:

  • LIFE // From the literal breathing, eating, moving kind to the qualitative how-we-spend-our-time kind, Life is the basis on which we all connect, experience and hopefully thrive.
  • NATURE // This is the living world around us. The eco-sphere. The amazing manifestation of creation without which we would be unable to survive.
  • BEING // The sentient-self. The essence of who we are, expressed both internally and externally. The ability to recognize such qualities in other life forms.

This is just my definition though. What I call “deep living” you may call something else. It’s not about the label, rather how we each approach the call to get more out of this one and only life. Some aspects or elements may be more important to you than they are to me. That’s OK. It’s more about the end, not so much the differences between the means.

What IS critical though is how we approach this deep living as we go about our day-to-day. It is a way of being more than a to-do list. In my mind, when you live deeply, deliberately and with intent you:

  • Strive towards a minimalist lifestyle, shedding the unnecessary and embracing what remains
  • Are one with Nature, not apart or above it
  • Allow mindfulness to bring the present moment into focus
  • Live by example and share this insight with others, especially children

Let’s be clear: This is a journey that takes time and patience. It is not an overnight wonder pill that we pop to clear the ailments of our personal and collective situation. For me, I am still a beginner navigating the ups and downs of this path. Each day brings new opportunity and new perspectives; new awareness of short-comings and new lessons learned. I don’t know all the answers and probably never will.

The effort is well worth it though! For all of us there are immediate tangible benefits to living deeply:

  • You are not bogged down by unnecessary possessions and thoughts
  • You are outside more, appreciating the awesomeness of nature
  • You enjoy all that the present moment has to offer
  • You find common ground with others
  • You enrich the lives of children around you

But think of what could happen if such a shift in how we live happened on an even grander scale:

  • A re-balancing of humanity with the natural world around us
  • A re-awakening to the sacredness of all life
  • A passion for the pursuit of that which brings each of us true happiness
  • An embracing of harmony rather than the sewing of discord

Perhaps I’m being overly optimistic. You know what? I’m OK with that. When more and more people think big like this the exponential power of focused intention starts to take over. Momentum builds—albeit slowly at first—and before long, we start to see the fruits of our happy ‘labor’.

Bill Gerlach is freelance writer, blogger and public speaker exploring the intersections of Life, Nature, Being and Community. He lives in Rhode Island with his family, gardens and other simple joys. You can read more of Bill’s writing at:

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” ~Hans Hofmann

We are happy to announce that our newly revised edition of Voluntary Simplicity, one of NWEI’s hallmark discussion guides, is now available.  As many of you know, Voluntary Simplicity has been one of our most popular courses for many years. The new Voluntary Simplicity guide brings you the most current simplicity readings, and contains:
  • New action plans:  put your learning into practice immediately using our suggested action planning process
  • Additional content addressing a very real phenomenon in our culture:  technology and its effects on our lives
  • Additional links and resources including podcasts and TED talk videos (for example, we’ll link you to a podcast on the Slow Media Movement)

Organize a Voluntary Simplicity course together with friends, family, and members of your community in honor of living lightly – so that what is truly important can shine through.

We invite you to slow down, unplug and live deeply  – and we hope this updated Voluntary Simplicity guide will be an inspiration along the way.

Continuing along the path of sustainable eating, we turn our attention to the processing and packaging of food.  Over the course of the last century, the food we eat has taken on many new forms. Food has shown up in the stores in increasing layers of packaging with more and more energy used to both process and package what we eat.

Today’s proposed action is: Consume only unprocessed foods today in order to cut down on the energy used to process and package;  and, similar to what you focused on a few weeks ago when we addressed plastics: avoid items that are heavily packaged.

The issues surrounding processed foods are two-fold: processed foods are more resource-intensive to manufacture, and they are sold to us in more layers of packaging. Think about a typical frozen dinner, even an organic relatively healthy meal will generally be packaged in plastic and then inside a plastic-coated paper box.  In addition to being healthier for you, unprocessed foods are more often available in bulk, which means less packaging (or none if you bring your own containers).

Currently, Americans spend 90% of their food budget on processed foods! Today, we propose getting back to basics with the foods we eat–and eating simply, for the health benefits and for the planet!

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