Marc Halévy’s book, Simplicité Et Minimalisme, looks at this trend in detail.
He says early adopters tend to be between 30 and 50, middle-class and well-educated and living in rural areas, but the lifestyle has been adopted by people of all ages, from teenagers to the retired.
They avoid processed foods, preferring to buy seasonal goods from local producers, are keen recyclers who make and mend rather than replace, and they make their own cleaning and personal hygiene products. They also tend to prefer public transport.
“I would estimate that in Europe around 20-25% of households are changing in some way their approach to life, aiming to live more simply, more peacefully, and definitely aiming to reduce their consumer purchasing,” he said.
“We have no choice but to change our way of living, because if we continue as we are, endlessly consuming more and more, we will kill the planet.
“It’s ironic that the more people earn, the less they buy, and the less they earn, the more they spend on consumer goodies – electronics and white goods.”
He notes three main approaches to living a simpler life. “There are people who reject mindless consumerism in favour of making and mending; others who reject wasting their energy on earning ever more money; and a third group who reject an overdose of technology and are choosing to live without social media, mobile phones or television etc.
“The three populations can overlap. We see more and more well-educated, professionally successful people leaving big cities to live more simply in the countryside.”
He lives a simple life in Bourgogne. “With my adored wife, we live like two bears. We don’t go out a lot and we don’t take exotic holidays.
“We have a vegetable garden; we keep chickens and rabbits; cut our own wood to heat the house. We don’t watch TV and I don’t have a mobile phone.
“There are lots of similar minds around here. French people, obviously, but also Dutch and British.
“We use computers for work but not for our social life or amusement. We have some links with neighbours but we tend to stay at home.”
The people who give up materialism find life less stressful, he says, but he admits that it would not be possible to force people to change.
Though, he argues, in the end there will be no choice. “As yet, people aren’t really suffering from the looming energy and climate change crises but, once it does start to hit, we will see gradual changes.”
To prove his point he cites the cost of crude oil 10 years ago, when it rose to around $200 per barrel. “That was when people first started changing.”
Minimalist lifestyles are not uncomfortable or lacking in anything, he says. “It’s a change of attitude and behaviour which will become widespread. It’s not worse, it’s just different.”
“Frugalisme” is a growing trend in France among fortysomethings who have given up successful careers in favour of less clutter and reduced stress, according to Le Figaro.
It reflects a move away from materialism and the drive to own more things - as evidenced in the trend towards long-term leasing, rather than buying, of consumer goods.
Nantes, for example, has seen the recent launch of Mon Bicloo, France’s first long-term bike hire scheme. Hirers can keep the bikes for as long as they are needed - and then return them.
Anthropologist Fanny Parisse told Le Figaro that frugalisme is essentially a middle-class trend, and symptomatic of the evolution of a society in which social success is no longer defined just in terms of professional achievement.
The idea of frugalisme is to live as self-sufficiently as possible.
Advocates live permanently below their means until they reach a point at which they are financially independent and able to stop work in favour of a less stressful life.
Many of those who choose the lifestyle take up volunteer work to keep busy. Le Figaro spoke to one couple taking up frugalisme, which has its roots in America. Both took early retirement aged 40 following the birth of their son to live off the savings they put away while in well-paid jobs.
“We had a son, new priorities and different desires,” they said.
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