Simple living is a way of life that focuses on simplicity, intentionality and living life with regard to simplifying your activities, eating habits, home, emotions and thinking. Living simply looks different for each individual, depending on your own personal values and views on life and what is important to you. However, there are basic similarities among those who have chosen to integrate simple living into their everyday lives. I am continually trying to find new ways of simplifying my life and the lives of my family members to ‘make each moment count’. While I am not doing all of the following, below are examples of some of the ways I live simply, as well as ways others in the simple living movement have chosen to simplify their lives.
-Living in a simple home. Many people start their quest to simplify by removing extra possessions they do not absolute need, or aren’t even using. This overlaps into minimalism, but the idea remains the same, to remove everything that is not of value or not a necessity that is just taking up space. There are also some who decide to ‘live off the grid’ in tiny houses, which I find very appealing, but not realistic for my own family of five. Simplifying your home provides many benefits, some of which include the ability to move into a smaller home, thus reducing your costs, fewer items to clean and care for and focus on those possessions that really add meaning to your life. Our own home is less than 2,000 square feet, and was unbelievably difficult to find where we are living. Most homes in the area are well over 3,000 square feet, but I knew that I didn’t want excess space to fill with ‘stuff’, nor did I want to spend a lot of my time cleaning. However, with five people and children who need a yard for outdoor time, we found the home we are in currently that I am very happy with. It may not be a ‘tiny home’, but for now, it is just right.
-Eating organic and simple meals. I love simple meals and fresh, organic food. I have found that simple living and eating fresh foods go hand in hand. Cooking with fresh, whole foods are usually not only faster, but also healthier and usually very simple and timesaving in the kitchen. My family frequents our local farmer’s market every couple of weeks to stock up on food grown in our area, which is much fresher and the taste richer than produce and meat we normally find in the grocery stores. Our meals are usually three part meals, I include a protein, which normally consists of fish, chicken, beans and grain, turkey or lean red meat, a carbohydrate which could be a bread, brown rice, quinoa or couscous, and enough veggies or salad to fill half of our plates. For lunches we stick with very simple, grazing type meals like smoothies and veggie chips or trail mix, sandwiches and a piece of fruit or wraps. Breakfast is usually yogurt, toast and fruit, oatmeal, eggs and a muffin, whole grain pancakes or waffles. Most of our meals are very simple so I don’t spend more than 30 minutes tops making the meal from start to finish. Cooking is not my favorite activity, but providing healthy meals is a priority, so simplifying the process and ingredients has worked very well for us.
-Simplify activities and obligations. One of the parts of simple living that has helped me a lot is rejecting the idea and common culture that we have to be involved and have our children enrolled in activities all the time. Whether it is swim team, music lessons, baseball, soccer, dance, gymnastics, art, 4h, Girl and Boy Scouts there are so many extra-curricular activities available for children, it seems like the simple childhood experience of using their imagination to play and explore has been lost. Not only children are bombarded with extra activities on a continual basis, adults as well have opportunities that sometimes seem more like obligations. Parent Teacher Associations, church and community volunteer activities, local sports teams, social outings with co-workers and more all take up our precious time. While none of these activities are inherently bad, we need to examine closely whether or not they are adding value to our lives and the lives of our children, or whether we are spending too much time on them at the expense of our other, more important commitments. For me personally, cutting out some of these activities contributed positively to our family by simplifying our lives, giving us more time to spend with each other and allowing more energy and focus for the activities we truly cared about.
-Simplifying daily rhythms and routines. I used to be a schedule person, with each day literally scheduled out in half hour to hour increments of time. I thought it helped me be a much more productive mother and individual. Maybe it had it’s purpose at the time, but, I have found that a simpler routine, or daily rhythm has been much more beneficial to my family in the long run. Adhering to a very strict schedule was difficult because there are so many unexpected things that come up, appointments, friend and family get-togethers, a quick trip needed to the grocery store. Any of those can throw a tight schedule off its tracks immediately. Living with a more flexible, flowing daily routine is much less stressful, but still allows me to feel like my day has set accomplishments and has been productive. I now have general things to done during the mornings, afternoons and evenings. They don’t have specific times to be completed, just during those areas of the day. For instance, I like to have breakfast over by 9am, so depending on when we wake up, if I am exercising or not, we eat between 7:30am and 9am. We also have some morning chores we do during that time frame as well. Between 11am and 2pm is what I consider the afternoon. We like to ‘graze’ for lunch, so we all eat as we are hungry, the kids usually do some readying, or we might run errands or even go swimming. The later afternoon and evening seems to have the bulk of our daily routine, as we prepare dinner, complete a few other chores, have our family meeting and get ready for bed. Our rhythm and routines also change depending on the seasons, whether school is in and work schedules. But overall, we make it flexible enough to accommodate most times so adjustments are not drastic.
-Simple emotions and feelings. This area is by far the most difficult for me personally. By simplifying emotions and feelings, I don’t mean not feeling them, what I mean is not holding on to those emotions and feelings that are negative. Feelings are a natural part of the human existence. Happiness, anger, regret, joy, peace, love, sadness, envy and fear; all are essential to feel and understand to progress through life and learn. Part of simplifying is to learn when to let go of those feelings and emotions that are hindering your progression through life. Feelings of regret are only useful as long as they help you make changes so you don’t repeat the past. Sadness is essential to feel so we can understand the value of people and things in life, versus what makes us happy. Each emotion has a place in our lives and a reason to be felt, it is knowing when to let go of those feelings that are no longer useful that is important to the process of simplifying.
-Simplifying spending habits. Creating simpler spending habits depends largely on our thought process when it comes to consuming. Our culture is taught that the ability to consume, or make purchases is an outward indicator of success in life. In order to curb our spending, we must first change our ideas of what makes a person successful, and decide if it should it be attached to items owned at all. For most people who embrace simple living, they have already begun the decluttering process and no longer agree with our society’s consumerism based lifestyle. However, once you have decluttered your home, it can be a constant battle to keep it that way and not refill it with new ‘stuff’. That’s where changing and simplifying your spending habits comes into play. I like to create a bare bones budget, where I can see the absolute minimum amount of money I need to survive and meet any contractual obligations I may have (cell phone, gym membership, etc.). Once I have that established, the first items I look at are those that are discretionary, food, household items, clothing, etc. Basically things I must pay for, but areas where I can decrease or increase the amounts rather easily depending on how much I buy. Some of the areas that have been easiest for me to pare down are clothing and food. Once I have simplified my budget down to what I truly feel is necessary, I then add back in the ‘extras’, those things I know I don’t need, but do make life simpler for me. For instance, eating out at a restaurant once a week, getting my haircut, going for coffee, etc. I feel those things are still a good use of money, as they do simplify my life, but are also more experienced base, and I don’t bring home items with me that will declutter my home after having experienced them. I also take the time when I am out shopping to ask myself the following questions, “How much time will this item cost me?”, “Will this item enhance my life, bringing added joy, peace and contentment?” and “Am I okay with donating this item when I am done using it?”. All three of these questions help me to be more mindful in my spending habits.
The Simple Living movement is becoming recognized more and more as a fulfilling, peaceful lifestyle that brings meaning and purpose into people’s lives. Without the focus on a hurried, consumer driven lifestyle, full of activities and scheduled from dawn ‘til dusk, people are able to become more attuned to the needs of themselves, their families and those around them, as well as receiving benefits in their finances, health, relationships and really in every area of life.