Transitioning from a busy schedule to a simple life is harder than it seems. When I’m struggling to slow down or say no, I reflect on my favorite simple living quotes for an extra motivational boost.
As an English major and life-long book lover, I’ve made a habit of recording words of wisdom. It started with cloth-covered notebooks in middle school and has since evolved into a running digital list on my phone. After kicking off my “less is more” journey, my collection of simple life quotes grew like crazy!
However, it seemed a bit hypocritical to have a long jumble of phrases stored in a box on my phone, even if it was a virtual one. So in the spirit of digital decluttering, I thought a better alternative would be to share my simple living quotes here in the hope that they might help more than one person.
I’ve sorted the quotes by rough category and included some pinnable images of my favorite ones. May you find a few gems in this collection that speak to your heart.
Simple Living Quotes by Category
Simple living quotes for morning mantras
“My goal is no longer to get more done, but rather to have less to do.” — Francine Jay
This sentiment conveys the very heart of the simple living movement. Rather than life hack our way to efficiency and squeeze even more into our already busy lives, we should be striving to reduce our to-do lists.
We can’t change how many hours there are in a day. But we can change how we spend them. Using our precious hours and energy on activities that bring us joy–or, in the case of household chores, the maintenance of things that bring joy–is time well spent.
“Life is as simple as these three questions: What do I want? Why do I want it? And, how will I achieve it?” — Shannon L. Alder
I like to start my day with short reflective exercises. These questions seem basic on the surface, but when answered truthfully, they can be powerful motivators.
“Begin with the end in mind” is a highly effective goal-setting technique. By envisioning what you want to happen and understanding why you want it, you can purposefully plan your path to achieving it. This works for daily goal setting as well as big-picture, long-term aspirations like starting your own business or living debt-free.
“People cannot change their habits without first changing their way of thinking.” — Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
When it comes to building new habits (and getting rid of old ones), mindset is everything. Our willpower is finite, and every deviation from our routine chips away at it. When we view new habits as annoying changes or things we’re “supposed” to do, we’re destined to fail.
But by tying our habits to positive outcomes and our core values, it’s far easier to succeed. Whether your goal is to walk for 30 minutes every day or stop buying clothes you don’t need, get to the root of why you’re making those changes and keep that “why” at the front of your mind.
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays
Emerson wrote a lot about self-reliance, and this is one of my favorite simple living quotes from that essay series.
As humans, we have a natural desire to conform, to be part of a group. Being 100% true to ourselves has never been easy. And in today’s era of pervasive social media and advertising, it’s tempting to turn your life into a performance of what you think others want to see.
Parents, friends, partners, co-workers, celebrities… All of these people actively and passively try to shape how you live and behave. After years of conversations, messages, and subtle signals, it takes a ton of self-reflection to figure out who YOU really are.
If you’ve lost your way and your sense of self, all is not lost. Devote a little time each day to honest self-reflection, and you’ll learn to tune out the noise and tune into yourself.
“Have the courage to build your life around what is really most important to you.” — Joshua Becker, The Minimalist Home: A Room-By-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life
This is a great follow-up to Emerson’s quote above. Have the courage to define yourself based on your values rather than the values everyone else says are important.
Have you ever been at a party or a bar and decided NOT to drink? People can get downright aggressive over the contents of your cup! When someone in the social group is not participating in the “normal” behavior, it calls attention to their own behavior.
Going against the grain and living on your own terms is brave, even in this modern age. But the rewards far outweigh the difficult journey to get there.
“No one else knows exactly what the future holds for you, no one else knows what obstacles you’ve overcome to be where you are, so don’t expect others to feel as passionate about your dreams as you do.” — Germany Kent
When it comes to achieving our goals, we must be our own biggest cheerleaders.
Moving to Europe was a life-long dream of mine, and I was beyond elated when the opportunity finally came. But when I shared the news with my friends, colleagues, and a few family members, it wasn’t exactly met with enthusiasm. In fact, many of them (particularly the native Texans) were incredulous as to why I’d want to leave the US.
You might have the most loving and supportive friends and family in the world, but they have never lived inside your head, fought your battles, or shared your detailed imaginations of the future. Therefore, we cannot expect them to share the same level of excitement and passion for our dreams as we do. It’s not a reflection of their love for you–it’s just human nature.
“Intentional living is the art of making our own choices before others’ choices make us.” — Richie Norton
This hearkens back to the above quotes from Emerson and Becker. People are all-too-happy to thrust their expectations on others, particularly when it makes their own lives easier. But ultimately, it’s up to us–not anyone else–to choose how to live and what to care about.
Letting our values drive our choices lies at the very heart of living a simple life.
“Voluntary simplicity means going fewer places in one day rather than more, seeing less so I can see more, doing less so I can do more, acquiring less so I can have more.” — John Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are
I’ve turned this simple life quote into an abbreviated morning mantra:
“See less to see more, do less to do more, have less to have more.”
For most things in life, quality trumps quantity. It’s a basic concept, but one I return to time and time again.
Simple living quotes for motivating change
“Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.” — Frederic Chopin
What makes a piece of music beautiful? Is it the number of notes, or the way they’re combined?
The same can be said for life. Filling our life with objects, commitments, and obligations doesn’t make it beautiful. It’s how we arrange our lives–the careful choosing of notes that form our personal symphony–that matters most.
“When you’re clear about your purpose and your priorities, you can painlessly discard whatever does not support these, whether it’s clutter in your cabinets or commitments on your calendar.” — Victoria Moran
We’re hardwired to avoid pain, both physical and emotional. And for many of us, getting rid of possessions or turning down requests can feel painful, whether it’s the pain of loss or pain of letting someone down.
However, it’s within our power to overcome that pain and even transform our feelings from negative to positive. It goes back to Kondo’s quote about changing our thinking so that we can build new habits. By viewing decluttering or saying no as necessary steps towards the joyful future you envision for yourself, it takes the pain away from those once-dreaded acts.
“I measured who I was by what I got done. If you’ve ever used your to-do list or calendar as a report card to assess your self-worth, you know what I mean.” — Courtney Carver, Soulful Simplicity
When I read this line from Courtney Carver’s Soulful Simplicity, I felt seen. It was a wake-up call that prompted immediate self-reflection.
I thought back to the countless conversations with my husband where we defined the success of our day or week by how much work we finished. Asking “how’s it going?” was often met with a description of how work was going or how the household chores were coming along. It was (and still is) a problem.
Today, I’m actively redefining how I measure my self-worth. I may not have the perfect solution yet, but I am conscious of when I slip back into the “complete to-do list = A+” mentality.
“My choice of a lighter lifestyle has brought me a greater sense of well-being. In a world that often seems stressful and chaotic, that’s a feeling I cherish.” — Lisa J. Shultz, Lighter Living: Declutter, Organize, Simplify
Decreased stress and improved mental health are key benefits of simplifying your life. I like Shultz’s lightness metaphor because it aptly describes the feeling of having fewer priorities and possessions. When you aren’t weighed down by obligations and stuff, you can breathe easier.
“The first step in crafting the life you want is to get rid of everything you don’t.” — Joshua Becker
On the surface, Becker’s quote is a bit extreme. After all, there are unavoidable tasks in life (cleaning up after the dog, for example) that we can’t simply “get rid of” because we don’t want to do them.
However, we do have the power to reframe our thinking about these undesirable yet essential tasks. Instead of lamenting how tedious/annoying/gross they are, consider how they’re helping you achieve something you DO care about.
Returning to the dog example, scooping up his messes and wiping off his paws are acts of love and care for a cherished family member. It seems silly, but it motivates me to take action.
“Liking involves enjoying, appreciating, and relishing. By wanting, I mean drivenness, insistence, compulsion, pressure, grasping after, getting attached to, craving, and clinging. In your subcortex and brain stem, connected but separate circuits handle liking and wanting. This means you can like something without wanting it, such as enjoying the taste of ice cream while still turning down a second serving after a big meal. People can also want something without liking it, such as the ones I’ve seen mechanically pulling the slot machine handle over and over in a casino, hardly seeming to care if it pays off.” — Rick Hanson, Hardwiring Happiness: The Practical Science of Reshaping Your Brain–And Your Life
Hanson’s quote is a bit long, but I couldn’t resist including it here. Our consumer driven culture urges us to convert liking to wanting. It’s how the pleasure of wearing a cute outfit turns into an overstuffed closet of clothes we barely touch.
Somewhere along the line, we stop genuinely appreciating the thing we like. Craving it, pursuing it, and obtaining it becomes the new normal. We keep pulling the slot machine handle in the hopes of a payout, until the act of pulling the handle becomes a habit.
It’s only when we remember to appreciate and relish the things we have that we can break the pattern.
“Your home is a living space, not storage space.” — Francine Jay
You’ll find this quip in everyone’s collection of simple living quotes. And for good reason: it’s been a wake-up call for countless people, even those who weren’t drowning in clutter.
Back when we owned a two-story home in Texas, I decided we needed a console table. “But why?”, my husband asked. “Well, the upstairs landing is empty, and we can use the drawers to store stuff,” I responded.
This is what happens when you have a house that’s too big for your life: you look for unnecessary ways to fill the void, and places to hide (i.e. forget about) stuff you barely use!
Fortunately, we operate on the 30 day rule for large purchases and common sense prevailed.
Today, I think about this quote whenever I’m considering buying non-essentials. It’s a quick way to snap myself out of the shopping daze.
“That’s the whole meaning of life, isn’t it? Trying to find a place for your stuff… That’s all your house is–it’s a pile of stuff with a cover on it.” – George Carlin
Carlin’s sarcastic take on housing as storage space always makes me laugh. We strive to earn more, buy more, fill our homes with more, and then upsize to a bigger house so we can put more stuff in it. They don’t call it the “property ladder” for nothing.
Has your house become just a “pile of stuff with a cover on it”? And if so, how did it get that way? Answering these questions is the first step in living more minimally.
“I one evening overtook one of my townsmen, who has accumulated what is called ‘a handsome property’..on the Walden road, driving a pair of cattle to market, who inquired of me how I could bring my mind to give up so many of the comforts of life. I answered that I was very sure I liked it passably well; I was not joking. And so I went home to my bed, and left him to pick his way through the darkness and the mud to Brighton, which place he would reach some time in the morning.” — Henry David Thoreau, Walden
There are two lessons to glean from this short passage: prosperity comes at a price, and non-conformity will be questioned.
In case you’re not familiar, Walden is an account of Thoreau’s two-year, semi-isolated stay at a small cottage on Walden Pond in Connecticut. He endeavors to live simply and be self-reliant, which runs counter to the ideals of the Industrial Revolution.
In this exchange between Thoreau and the townsman, we see the work and sacrifice it takes to own a “handsome property”. The townsman believes Thoreau’s simplistic life must be uncomfortable, and yet he’s the one who trudges home in darkness while the author is resting peacefully in bed.
In the same vein, the townsman cannot conceive of someone voluntarily giving up the “comforts” of modern life that Americans have come to enjoy. After all, he’s worked hard to afford a nice plot of land and a large home, and he views Thoreau’s way of life as a personal affront.
The story may be nearly 200 years old, but human behavior hasn’t changed much!
“I began to realize how simple life could be if one had a regular routine to follow with fixed hours, a fixed salary, and very little original thinking to do.” — Roald Dahl
Dahl’s tongue-in-cheek quote is the perfect example of what I call the “simple living misconception”. If you have a conversation with friends or family about living more simply, it’s very possible that they’ll react with skepticism and even disapproval.
To many people, the choice to focus on one’s own happiness and values rather than career and financial gain is seen as lazy. But balking at this lifestyle is often a coping mechanism. If they admitted that there’s more to life than the next promotion or a big house, it would undermine everything they’ve been working toward. And that’s a bitter pill to swallow.
Keep this simple living quote in mind if and when you encounter these naysayers.
“To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter… to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring — these are some of the rewards of the simple life.” — John Burroughs
Slowing down enough to appreciate life’s little pleasures is a key component of simple living. This lifestyle grants us the time AND mental headspace to savor the world around us, from the aroma of morning coffee to the beauty of wildflowers.
Quotes about simple life and minimalism
“The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.” — Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
To me, Kondo’s quote sums up the entire point of minimalism. It shifts the focus away from reducing our possessions to surrounding ourselves with items that enable us to live our best lives.
If you aren’t a wine drinker, why own a set of wine glasses? Did you buy them because you wanted to be the kind of person who drinks wine, or who entertains guests frequently enough to need them?
There’s a difference between wishful thinking and practical purchases. If you think buying a set of dumbbells will make you into the person who works out every morning, it probably won’t. But if you’ve committed to improve your physical strength so that you can travel comfortably long after you retire, dumbbells are a sensible purchase (assuming you plan to work out at home).
“Lead a simple life. First reduce your greeds. Then reduce your needs.” — Ritu Ghatourey
This is a concise description of how to transition to minimalism. When you want less, you own less. And in turn, owning less will reduce your needs.
Think about it: if you didn’t covet a huge dining table, you wouldn’t need a formal dining room to hold it. You could live in a smaller home with a smaller mortgage, which you could afford more comfortably (maybe with a less stressful job) and maintain at a lower expense.
The domino effect of wanting less, owning less, and needing less is powerful.
“Not wanting something is as good as possessing it.” — Donald Horban
Horban’s quote further proves Ghatourey’s point above.
The ability to not want isn’t some magical gift that people either have or don’t have. Rather, it’s the ability to let the wanting wash over you, analyze it, and decide if it’s necessary to your way of life. If not, you can pass it up with the same feeling of satisfaction as if you bought something you truly needed.
“The intention of voluntary simplicity is not to dogmatically live with less. It’s a more demanding intention of living with balance. This is a middle way that moves between the extremes of poverty and indulgence.” — Duane Elgin
I love how Elgin’s simple living quote discusses balance. It dismisses the misconception that a simple life is inherently uncomfortable, where people scrape by with the bare minimum. In reality, it’s a life that exists between not enough and too much.
There is no dogma, no rulebook, no rubric for how to live simply. Each person’s “balance” will look differently because we all have different needs, values, and goals.
“Instead of thinking I am losing something when I clear clutter, I dwell on what I might gain.” — Lisa J. Shultz, Lighter Living: Declutter, Organize, Simplify
This is an excellent mindset to have when decluttering. We can put a lot of emotional value into objects, and that makes it difficult to let go, even if we haven’t used the item in years.
But if we shift our thinking from loss to gain, we can lessen the pain. During your next decluttering session, consider the joy of a closet filled with only your favorite items, or the time you’ll save on cleaning.
“I’ve found that the less stuff I own, the less my stuff owns me.” — Nathan W. Morris
Inanimate objects can be demanding. Electronics need to be updated and repaired, suits need to be dry cleaned, lawns need to be watered and mowed. All of these things take up our precious time, money, and energy.
And then there’s the space needed to store everything. Imagine how much easier and cheaper it would be to move if you didn’t have so many possessions to pack and furniture to be hauled. Not to mention the money you’d save on a smaller living space.
Having a lot of stuff traps you in a lifestyle of maintenance and storage. By owning less, you can have more freedom.
“Who could justify trading a lifetime of stress and backbreaking labor for better blinds? Is a nicer-looking window treatment really worth so much of your life?” — Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World
Newport’s quote flows perfectly after the Morris line above. It also reminded me of this article from The Simple Dollar that talks about how to calculate your true hourly wage.
Unless you’re living off of investment income, every purchase you make is paid for with labor. By knowing your true hourly wage, you can calculate how many hours of work it would take to buy that new set of blinds or make a big mortgage payment. It’s a useful strategy to curb impulse spending and evaluate expensive commitments like loans.
“When you’re invested in the supply chain, and you’re truly thinking about your belongings, the small stuff brings you joy. Imagine what it would be like if every item in your space surrounded you with this much happiness. I can tell you from personal experience that it’s life-changing.” — Kathryn Kellogg, 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste
I embraced simplicity as part of my journey to low impact living. There’s a fair bit of overlap between the zero waste movement and simple living, especially when it comes to the “reduce” part of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”.
Caring about where your stuff comes from and how it’s made plays a huge part in loving your possessions. It also stops you from giving into “wants” and impulse buys
Simplicity quotes about family and relationships
“A simple life gives birth to more clarity, inner peace and meaningful relationships.” — Margo Vader
We tend to think of simple living as something we do for ourselves. While the clarity and calm of simplicity does benefit us personally, it does wonders for our relationships.
When you’re in tune with your own emotions, you have a greater capacity to listen to and support friends and family. Simple living paves the way for meaningful conversations and deeper connections.
“In the past, we all wanted to be liked; now we just want to be ‘Liked.’” — Joshua Fields Millburn, Everything That Remains: A Memoir by the Minimalists
Social media has had a profound effect on how we relate to one another. The average person spends over two hours a day on social media platforms. Friendships have ended over the number of likes on an Instagram post.
How many of your decisions are driven by the Like button? Do you eat at trendy restaurants, wear the latest fashions, or take beach vacations because YOU love to do it, or because you want to impress your social circle?
Part of living simply is letting go of the performance. Your true friends will stick around because they care about YOU, not the places where you shop or the vacations you take.
“In a world where everything revolves around money, I choose love.” — Giovannie de Sadeleer
De Sadeleer’s quote is utterly moving. How often do we forego acts of love in the pursuit of money? This applies to loving others as much as it applies to loving ourselves.
Are you eating microwave meals to save time and money? Have you skipped your child’s art show to finish a last-minute work project?
Keep this in mind as you read the next quote…
“To be unavailable for our friends and family, to be unable to find time for the sunset (or even know that the sun has set at all), to whiz through our obligations without time for a single, mindful breath, this has become the model of a successful life.” — Wayne Muller, Sabbath
This “model of a successful life” is precisely what led my husband and I to leave the US for Europe. So many of our peers were living to work rather than working to live. They would brag about how long it’s been since they took a vacation day and not-so-subtly compete for the title of Most Hours Worked in a Week.
What kind of successful life doesn’t make quality time for cherished friends, family, and partners? Packed calendars and completed to-do lists are poor substitutes for companionship.
“Deposit your best in people, not your bank account, to leave a legacy that counts.” – Terrie Davoll Hudson, Leave a Legacy That Counts
Hudson’s theory about legacies is spot on. Every interaction we have with another person leaves an impression. And many of those impressions will outlast the money in our bank accounts.
When you’re the best version of yourself, you have far more currency to deposit in others.
“My mom wasn’t thinking logically because she wanted to hold on to her brother, and she probably thought my argument to let the albums go meant that I didn’t care about her or my uncle. Since she believed that holding on to the stuff allowed her to hold on to the person, my eagerness to let go came across as not caring about him.” — Courtney Carver, Soulful Simplicity
I love this passage from Soulful Simplicity because of the insight it provides into how others think.
Before I read Carver’s book, I didn’t know how to respond to questions about how I sold all my stuff so easily. The truth is that I don’t form emotional attachments to objects. And I didn’t realize other people formed such strong associations between loved ones and the things they once owned.
If you’re like me, it’s critical that you keep Carver’s story in mind as you declutter. Friends and family may be hurt if they discover you let go of a hand-me-down or a gift. In their eyes, you may be casting them away like you did the objects associated with them.
Clear, honest, and open communication is a critical part of the simple living journey.