12 Practical Ways to Simplify Life & Be Happier with Voluntary Simplicity! | by Emma-Louise Elsey

Two Hands With Earth and Tree for Voluntary Simplicity

I'm often asked, "How can I be a better coach?". And there are all the usual answers like presence, experience, awareness, beginner's mind, dancing in the moment. And then there is this answer: "Be a better coach by aligning your life with your values". This means constantly learning about what matters to you - and being more authentic, not just at work and in your relationships - but in how you interact with the world in general. One way to do this is called: Voluntary Simplicity.

Voluntary Simplicity is a philosophy popularised by Henry Walden Thoreau in the late 1800s. It's been around in one form or another since 300BC when a Greek philosopher called Epicurus advocated simple, moderate living.

Now I'm a big believer in enjoying life so, it's important to me that Voluntary Simplicity is not about denial - it's about living respectfully with each other, nature and the planet. Voluntary Simplicity is about making a conscious choice to live a simpler life - deliberate, compassionate and thoughtful choices. It's something I've been doing for quite a few years now. So, if living a simpler life appeals to you (or your clients), read on!

What's interesting is that much of the Voluntary Simplicity concept is directly relevant to the work we do as coaches. It includes things like work-life balance, leading values driven lives, connecting with self and others - and a larger focus on being (who we are), while doing less. Although I must confess that I still have work to do around work-life balance - it's hard when you love what you do...

Everyone's values are different and change over time - but at a fundamental level our human values always reduce to a core few; love, health, security, peace, joy, integrity and respect.

Here are 12 Practical Ways to Simplify Your Life - and Be Happier!

  1. Grow some food (you can start with herbs!) What food do you love? Read articles online to see if and when you can grow it in your area, then carve out a small patch in your yard and give it a go. Light and the appropriate amount of water is needed, then experience how a small dried up hard lump (the seed!) turns into a plant - which gives us food. It's pretty magical. Live in an apartment? Use your balcony or windowsill to grow some lettuce, strawberries or herbs.
  2. Make a list of WHO is most important in your life. Does your life reflect your list? Do you spend quality time with those who matter most? If not, what gets in the way? Find ways to spend time with those who matter.
  3. Watch and learn. Watch some documentaries with your family and get inspired to do things differently in the world. Some ideas include The Corporation, Food Inc., Super Size Me, Century of Self, Miss Representation or The Mask You Live in (the links are all to Wikipedia for more information - and many of these movies are available on Netflix).
  4. Question why you're buying things. When making a purchase ask yourself, is this a "need" or a "want"? Remember the more stuff we have, the more energy you need to maintain it all... And less stuff means more money in the bank too!
  5. Watch TV consciously. Be aware of what a time-suck television can be. With regular TV we're constantly bombarded with ads intended to make us feel fear/inferior so that we buy more stuff (that we often don't need). Try only watching television for a specific program or a set period of time to unwind. The next step? Get rid of regular TV altogether and sign up with an "on-demand" TV service like Netflix (but be aware of "binge-watching" several episodes of TV shows in a row!).
  6. Do Less. Learn to say "No" to things that negatively impact you. AND remember that just because we enjoy (or want to do) something doesn't mean it won't add to our stress or overwhelm! A great question to ask yourself is, "What could I say 'Yes' to, if I said 'No' to this?".
  7. Stop multi-tasking! Do just ONE thing at a time. I guarantee your mind will thank you.
  8. Mindfulness and/or meditation. You can't stop your thoughts and feelings arising, but you can learn not be swept up by them. Mindfulness helps us respond consciously rather than simply reacting. Meditation helps us learn that we are not our thoughts, that we can be more present and experience life differently. There are many ways to learn mindfulness and meditation including guided meditation and walking in nature.
  9. Rediscover the joy of reading - for spiritual and personal growth. Choose personal development, coaching books,  inspirational books or memoirs of people you admire. You may like, "Slow is Beautiful" by Cecile Andrews, "The Hero Within" by Carol S. Pearson or "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou. You could also explore societal issues like "Nickel and Dimed" by Barbara Ehrenreich or "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan.
  10. Switch your smartphone off or place it out of sight unless you have a specific NEED for it to be on. Just 15 years ago, you managed your life entirely without your mobile phone...
  11. When you can, choose your values over price when making purchasing decisions. This means choosing products that match your values even if they cost more. For example, choose the product with biodegradable packaging, use recycled or unbleached paper products (bathroom tissue, printer paper etc), choose organic and/or choose local. It also might be choosing a product that is not factory made, or from a company that pays a living wage to staff, that doesn't destroy rainforest etc. Finances an issue? For discretionary (non-necessary) items, buy less or choose not to buy it altogether...
  12. Decide to be kinder. To yourself, others - and of course the planet. Ask, "What would be the kind thing to do, way to respond or be here?" Kindness is always possible...

Moving towards Voluntary Simplicity

Me with one of our very first vegetable harvests!

Simple isn't necessarily easy - but it feeds your soul AND makes the world a better place...

Moving towards a simpler life and aligning with our values means that, as coaches, we walk our talk. And, in this sped-up world where people are becoming increasingly disconnected, we become a powerful role model for our clients and community.

Despite the many challenges, I can personally say it feels incredibly satisfying to live my values in a broader way. And while making the "simpler" decision can be hard in the moment, it's extremely satisfying - especially just after you've made that tough choice that aligns with your values! And that feeling inspires us to do more...

Know that you don't have to do it all at once. In fact it's easiest (and therefore more likely to stick) if you don't.

How did I do it? I asked myself questions like, "What makes me happy?", "What really matters in the world?", "How can you be kinder to yourself? To the planet?" Then I chose one small change in my life at a time. What could be simpler than that?

ACTION FOR YOU: What ONE thing could you start doing to live more simply - and be happier?

 If you like this article on creating a simpler life, you may also like:

Emma-Louise Elsey Headshot

Contributing Author:

Emma-Louise Elsey has been coaching since 2003 and is the Founder of The Coaching Tools Company and Fierce Kindness.com. She's passionate about coaching and personal development. Originally a project and relationship manager for Fortune 500 companies she combined her love of coaching, creativity and systems to create over 100 brandable coaching tools, forms and exercises including 30+ completely free coaching tools. She now serves coaches and the coaching world through her exclusive newsletter for coaches, Coaches Helping Coaches Facebook Group and many other great tools for coaches, plus resources and ideas for your coaching toolbox. The Coaching Tools Company is an official ICF Business Solutions Partner.

Learn more about Emma-Louise & see all their articles here >>

Image of Person connecting with nature walking in woods by Free-Photos via Pixabay

Image of Two Hands with Earth and Tree with deer on them by geralt via Pixabay


  1. Kitty Koniali

    What a great Value to have as a compass and a guiding light for the New Year: Voluntary Simplicity. The way to a more Sustainable future for our planet and the next generations.

  2. Brenda Scott

    Love your value of voluntary simplicity and the focus on more “Being” with less “doing”. I resonate with growing your own food. I am going to expand my organic food garden this year. Thanks for sharing your inspirational article.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.