Are you fed up with a life defined by hectic schedules and too much “stuff”? The simple living movement may be the solution to your troubles. But what does living a simple life actually involve?
What is simple living?
So here’s the thing: there is no textbook definition of what it means to live simply. It’s more of a mindset coupled with personal practices, all of which work together to simplify your life.
For some people, simple living involves choosing morning yoga over social media scrolling and turning down a high-stress promotion in favor of family time.
For others, living a simple life looks a lot like minimalism: owning few possessions, taking on few responsibilities, and generally avoiding all things deemed unnecessary.
Ultimately, the goal of simple living is to focus your time and energy on what you value most.
Once you sit down and reflect on what truly matters in your life–and what you hope to achieve over time–you can use that knowledge to guide your choices. It empowers you to say “no” and “yes”, even in difficult situations (like turning down an invite to your narcissistic cousin’s holiday party).
Unfortunately, the lack of a concrete simple living definition creates a bit of confusion for newcomers. It’s not uncommon for people to think living a simple life involves raising chickens in a rural area and shunning all social media!
When you can’t put a concept into clear words, it helps to discuss what it is NOT.
Debunked myths about living a simple life
1. A simple life is not a life of zero responsibilities
Despite the aesthetic portrayed on Instagram, simple living isn’t all about lattes, books, and throw pillows. As much as I’d love to spend my days relaxing in trendy cafes or meditating on a sunny beach, there are bills to be paid, a dog to be walked, and a myriad of other tasks that come with being an adult human.
Unless you’re insanely wealthy and can pay people to take care of your every whim, your simple life will still have unavoidable responsibilities. However, the difference lies in what obligations you keep in your life, and how you perceive them.
For example: I love my dog. His derpy smile and cuddly personality brings me indescribable amounts of joy.
Do I love taking him for walks in the freezing damp London winter? Not really. But I do it because it keeps him healthy and happy. And because I value my dog’s health and happiness, I mentally frame those winter walks as positive, helpful choices.
2. There’s no set of “simple living rules” to follow
I touched on this concept earlier, but it bears repeating. You won’t find a “simple living handbook” with rules about what you need to do and what to care about. It’s not like veganism or zero waste–you can’t really screw it up unless you completely ignore your own thoughts and feelings.
Are there lifestyle tips that can help you along the way? Sure! But you should look at suggestions like “delete Instagram off your phone” and “practice mindfulness for 20 minutes every morning” as a menu of choices rather than must-do’s.
If you use Instagram to share photos and connect with people (like I do @theportablewife), and it brings you joy rather than stress, keep using it! If you sink hours of your day into the app to the detriment of your health and responsibilities, ditch it.
Test out different habits and be honest with yourself along the way. Eventually, you’ll settle into a satisfying routine that works, and THAT will become your playbook.
3. Homesteading is not required for living a simple life
When you conjure up images of a simple life, what do you see? If it includes a cozy farmhouse, the sound of roosters crowing in the morning, and lots of made-from-scratch meals, you aren’t alone.
However, that sort of simplicity isn’t the only path. In fact, if you weren’t inclined to spend most of your time laboring in a garden and cooking homemade meals, you’d be doing the opposite of simple living!
Giving up modern conveniences and going off-grid may sound like the true definition of a simple life. But remember: the goal of this movement is not to live like your great-great-grandparents–it’s to spend your time and energy on what you value most.
I’ve written a whole guide on deciding where to move to live a simple life if you’re serious about relocating.
4. Minimalism is not the same as simple living
There is an undeniable connection between the minimalism and simple living movements.
Both emphasize reclaiming and prioritizing your time and physical space. And both put a high value on function (i.e. keep things because they work for you, and don’t feel guilty getting rid of what no longer does.
That being said, there are some key differences between minimalism and simple living.
The biggest difference is the focus on possessions. Minimalists strive to own as few things as possible and value function above all else. If it doesn’t suit a functional purpose in your life, it doesn’t belong.
But living a simple life doesn’t require you to pare down everything you own and live in a mostly empty house. If you find joy in your shelves lined with books you’ll never read again, that’s okay!
Simple living also has deep roots in self-care and connecting with nature. These additional lifestyle layers make it more complex and nuanced than minimalism, which is more concerned with the quantity of things (and “clean” aesthetics).
It’s entirely possible to be a minimalist who doesn’t live a simple life, and vice versa. And there are plenty of minimalist lifestyle tips that non-minimalists can use.
However, people who live simply tend to have less “stuff” and therefore more closely resemble minimalists than the general public.
5. Frugality and simplicity are two different concepts
While spending less money is one of the side benefits of simplifying your life, it’s not a requirement. Thriftiness often goes hand in hand with simple living because of how you allocate your time and resources.
If you’re only buying things that correspond to your values, chances are you’re not spending tons of money on clothes you don’t need or streaming services you barely watch. And if you have fewer demands on your schedule, you’ll have more time to do things like batch cook homemade meals rather than relying on pricey prepared foods or restaurants.
Reducing stress is also a key component of living simply. As you can imagine (or know first-hand), being in debt is often stressful and anxiety-inducing, which is why many newcomers to this movement try to wipe out high-interest debt ASAP. Being frugal is one tool to achieve that goal.
Save me for later!
6. Deciding to live a simple life isn’t selfish
Have the courage to build your life around what is really most important to you.— Joshua Becker
This is one of my favorite simple living quotes because it speaks to the struggle we inevitably face when going against the norm.
There’s a significant chance that someone you know will accuse you of being selfish for choosing yourself over work, family, or something else they’ve deemed important.
They’ll judge you for taking a lower-paid 9-5 job instead of the 60+ hour/week position with the prestigious title. Or they’ll be offended when you skip the Sunday girls’ brunch to go on a hiking trip.
Whatever the case may be, remember this: you are in control of your life and your choices. When friends, family, and co-workers pressure you to conform to their way of life or push their values onto you, have the courage to say “no” graciously and stick to your convictions proudly.
7. Living simply doesn’t have to be boring
At first glance, a simple life sounds like a boring one. Do these people just sit around all weekend drinking lattes and reading novels under a tree in the park?
Thankfully, a simple life is anything from a monotonous one. You can devote the time and energy to things you truly love. And that’s infinitely better than rushing from obligation to obligation, or hustling away at an unfilling job.
I spend my days running two online businesses, exercising, cooking delicious meals, and playing with my dog. My evenings and weekends are filled with long sessions of reading, video gaming, brunching with friends, and chatting with my partner.
Throughout the year, I travel internationally (for work and pleasure). I explore unique places in London. I pick up random hobbies like kickboxing or learning the Japanese syllabary.
Ever since I started living more simply, I’ve felt incredibly fulfilled and intellectually stimulated. As an overachieving perfectionist who put herself through college and worked a series of demanding jobs, I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to live life on my own terms.
Other tips for living a simple life
If you’re just getting started with simple living, here are a few ideas to try. As I said before, look at these tips for living a simple life as a menu of choices. You don’t need to do all or any of them to be successful!
- Incorporate new habits slowly–it’s not a race, and your willpower is limited. This habit stacking technique works wonders.
- Identify stressors in your life and remove them one by one. This could be anything from avoiding the news in the morning to repairing/replacing your laptop that crashes every week.
- When in doubt, go for a walk. I head outside when I’m feeling anxious or need to work through a problem, and it works wonders.
- Look for ways to regain free time in your daily routine. Could you move closer to work to cut down your commute? What about meal-prepping on Sundays to free up your weekday evenings?
- Practice mindfulness and gratitude daily. It can be as simple as listing five things you’re thankful for every night before bed, or spending 10 minutes journaling your thoughts and goals for the day during your morning coffee.
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