Wednesday, 4 March 2009

What is the best American memoir about urban downshifting/downsizing/voluntary simplicity/modern homesteading/ moving to the USA countryisde?

Since the publication of my book in the U.S.A. about moving from city life to the countryside (A Place in My Country: In Search of a Rural Dream), I've been involved in an interesting dialogue over at about what is the best memoir written by an American, leaving city life for one of 'voluntary simplicity'. I specifically asked for some recommendations and was pleased to get quite a few which I'll share here.

One person involved said that to find a contemporary memoir, one is better off looking to the blogosphere than to main stream publishers, and that may be why I am finding it difficult finding a good contemporary memoir on this subject.

Anyway, you can take part in the discussion either here, or at but for now the books that have been recommended to me:

MsBecky says:
"There are books out there. The concept of downshifting is not yet in mainstream American vocabulary. "Voluntary Simplicity" is the more common phrase people here identify with. The NYTimes published an article about a family who sold all their possessions, the house and expensive cars for an RV. (Chasing Utopia, Family Imagines No Possessions: By RALPH BLUMENTHAL and RACHEL MOSTELLER Published: May 17, 2008.)

The article author and headline writer eluded to "Utopia" and that is the biggest hindrance the Voluntary Simplicity movement has these-days: The hippie allusion.

So most people chalk it up as crazy talk, or impractical, or "a bit extreme" is what I most often hear when talking to people. They couldn't be more wrong.

There is a strong blog world out there documenting life and times of families choosing voluntary simplicity.

The family in the NYTimes article can be found at I'm sure they can put you in contact with other families keeping blogs who have downshifted.

Runners World this month has a short article about Jim Simpson who downshifted to single living in his overcab camper and travels the nation running marathons with his 50 state marathon friends. He does not have a book out, but its proof that there are folks out there choosing voluntary simplicity downshifting!

If the concept is "a bit extreme" for mainstream Americans, then finding a published book on the subject is also a challenge. But, yes there are a few out there.

(1) Simple Gifts by June Sprigg about her time in the 1970s when she lived a summer with the elder women of the last remaining Shaker community;

(2) Simple Days : A Journal on What Really Matters (Paperback) by Marlene Schiwy, and while she doesn't embrace the ditch everything and start over concept she does tackle the same questions you ask about;

(3) A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins is a "classic" in the eyes of some. In a school I taught at it was used as the novel in a HS Geography class, and is the story of a disillusioned man who walked from New York to New Orleans 1973-1975, mostly along the Appalachian trail. A good read, but probably not as contemporary as you seek;

(4) Choosing Simplicity: Real People Finding Peace and Fulfillment in a Complex World (Paperback) by Vicki Robin and Linda Breen Pierce is a collection of stories from people today who have chosen voluntary simplicity. Vicki Robin co-authored Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century (Paperback) and Linda B. Pierce has written books on living deliberately. This book may be the closest "book memoir" out there.

Other books that I've read that have helped solidify the option of downsizing, is A Walk Across France about a British Couple, and Sagittarians Always Want to be Somewhere Else: A Memoir by Karen McCusker (Paperback - Nov 21, 2006) about being an Ex-Pat all over the world.

But again, those are about overseas experiences, not a contemporary American memoir.

My vote?

The Voluntary Simplicity families in the blog world are your best bet.

Check in with the Cage Free Family!

Happy Reading!

Oh! I almost forgot! If you are looking for books about relocating to the countryside, then you may want to use a search term like "Modern Homesteading." This is the US term people most use when describing families who choose farm life, chores, using a well, organic farming, rain water collecting.

"Eco Farming" is a less used term. I know some of the smaller, family based organic farms have blogs, but may not have memoirs out yet. is a site you may find helpful. They have many of the how-to books you note that you don't want to read, but perhaps writing them an email may put you in touch with self published memoirs or other memoirs that won't be at a larger bookstore chain.

These folks are overwhelmingly helpful to those who are leaping into voluntary simplicity / downshifting / homesteading.

Hope this helps Ian! The reason you may not be finding the book you seek is because the people living those lives are blogging instead of contacting publishers about their memoir!

Happy hunting!

Nancy Diggins says:
Hi Ian,You may like Elizabeth Gilbert's The Last American Man. I found it very interesting, and although not as contemporary as you may like, a very good read about a man who leaves the modern "American lifestyle" to seek living within the wilderness, and being as self sufficient as the pioneers of days long past.

Karen R. Lindquist says:
I don't know if it helps, but Helen and Scott Nearing wrote Living the Good Life (1954). They became the leading gurus of dropping out and opting for a sustainable existence in the USA before it was fashionable. Seems perfect for you.

A big ask I know, but if you can, please help me support my time on 'Farm Blogs from Around the World' by buying, reading and blogging/reviewing my book:

A Place in My Country: In Search of a Rural Dream

It's about urban downshifting and voluntary simplicity in rural England (and a bit more).

I don't take any advertising on this site but your support would help me show my wife that this blog project is more than me just pursuing my obsessive interest in all things farming/gardening/smallholding!

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