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Money makes the world go round? Geographical perspectives on downshifting and voluntary simplicity as sustainable ways of life.

Research project Individuals are increasingly negotiating the balance between work and leisure time by regulating the level of consumption to a lower income. This relatively new lifestyle, often called voluntary simplicity or downshifting, might lead to changing patterns of regional migration and to the creation of small-scale firms. In this research project, we analyse the processes of how individuals are performing these lifestyles through the investigation of their biographical migration patterns.

Against the theoretical view of society as reflexive, we relate our research to theories on lifestyle and life course migration, taking into account the dimensions of gender and social group. The aim of the project is to study the spatial and social dimensions of downshifting and voluntary simplicity from the individual and municipal perspective, and to investigate whether these perspectives are compatible. These changes in people’s lives have been analysed as part of the transformations from modern societies to reflexive or post-modern societies, and they relate to the UN’s (2015) sustainable development goals. We specifically focus on the roles of geography and migration in downshifting and simplicity processes and how they relate to regional planning.

Head of project

Marco Eimermann
Associate professor

Project overview

Project period:

2019-09-01 2021-12-31


1 million SEK per year, FORMAS Swedish research council for sustainable development, Marco Eimermann.

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences

Research area

Human geography

Project description

We understand downshifting and simplicity as bottom-up processes in which people voluntarily refuse high consumption lifestyles. To reach “subjective temporal wellbeing” (Larsson et al 2017) individuals seek a work-life balance, in which low consumerism is the guiding star. In contrast to the voluntary simplicity lifestyle, where an individual can have a low income from the start, downshifting also involves the voluntary reduction of income from work. This could be either someone who quits working to live on rents, or someone who starts working part-time, or changes workplace. For instance, a downshifter could be quitting a high-career job to start up a small-scale firm in tourism or other sectors.


This lifestyle transition often involves improvement of social relations and sustainable household practices. Preliminary data gathered for this proposal suggest that mental burnout and stress-related illness provide life events preceding downshifting and simplicity.  The aim of the project is to study the spatial and social dimensions of downshifting and simple living from the individual and municipal perspective, and to investigate whether these perspectives are compatible.

Class and gender

The decision process to live simple or to downshift is situated in time and mediated by contextual relations. Both social group, or class, and gender are crucial structures in the study of downshifting and simplicity lifestyles. This means considering which socio-demographic groups may possess the forms of capital that facilitate downshifting and simplicity lifestyles and what this means for e.g. the division of labour within a household in relation to work. The concept of downshifting itself implies social mobility, since it deals with the voluntary reduction of income.


Links to more reading

In Swedish:

Hedberg, Charlotta & Marco Eimermann (2019), Två forskare om downshifting. Aftonbladet, 18 Februari. 

Hedlund, Julia (2019), Hon ska forska om att välja bort ekorrhjulet. SVT Nyheter Västerbotten, 31 Januari. 

Karlsson, Ida (2019), Livsstilsbyte kan få fler att lämna stan. Extrakt, 31 Januari 2019


Malou efter tio (TV program)

Olofsson, Lina (2019), ’Lugn och ro’ en viktig anledning till flytt. Västerbottens Folkblad, 8 Juni 2019





Latest update: 2019-09-03