What is Simple Living? (And 9 Tips To Get Started)
Simple living is all about cutting back your possessions and living a less hectic lifestyle. Here are my tips to living simply.
The term “simple living” gets thrown around a lot these days from Pinterest boards to lifestyle magazines. It’s become a big trend with books, YouTube channels and podcasts all dedicated to minimalism and simplicity. And ironically it’s also become a huge industry with online courses and retreats all designed to give you a less complicated life.
But simple living as a reaction against materialism is as old as antiquity – even if it’s now wrapped in a new package.
Religious leaders from Buddha to Muhammed have advocated for a simpler life dedicated to self-knowledge and good deeds. And literary thinkers have left behind the excesses of their age to reconnect with life’s essence, from Henry David Thoreau and his two-years sojourn on the shores of Walden Pond to Leo Tolstoy and his admiration for rural life in Tsarist Russia.
The Greek philosopher Diogenes used his simple lifestyle to criticize the corrupt society and institutions of his day. More recently, the Bohemians of Paris lived for adventure and wine, putting art well above the pursuit of material possessions.
These days, Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus brought simple living to the mainstream with their blockbuster Netflix documentary Minimalism. Their millions of readers are testament that our society’s rampant consumerism isn’t making people truly happy.
There are dozens of interpretations on the theme of simplicity throughout its long history.
So what exactly is simple living?
It’s not a strict lifestyle that everyone follows in the same way. While some may life off-grid and grow their own vegetables, others may just aim for a less cluttered garage.
Simple living is all about finding the beauty in less and putting quality over quantity. It’s about valuing things that make us happy instead of chasing status symbols or societal expectations.
It’s a lifestyle that often includes cutting back and streamlining your possession and living a simpler and more intentional life. A life driven by what’s most important to you – not by possessions or status.
The quest for a simple life
Simple living usually encompasses a few basic elements:
Minimalism and reduced possessions
Simple living at its core is about reducing your consumption.
If you spend less money on things you don’t need, you can work less or pursue more meaningful work instead of living to paycheck to paycheck and maxing out your credit cards.
Simple living includes things like the 100 Things Challenge or the small house movement. The emphasis is on gratitude and being happy with what you’ve got. The lifestyle is sometimes about refraining from luxury and indulgence – but certainly not always.
Simple living means a simple home that’s decluttered and not overflowing with the junk that’s often a cause of anxiety and overwhelm. It includes getting rid of whatever takes up space and isn’t useful. A simpler life reduces your costs and your cleaning time.
A simpler diet
Simple living can often mean eating simpler and buying local ingredients to minimize your carbon footprint.
It can mean going back to the land and growing your own food to stop consuming and start being more self-sufficient. And it often means cutting out meat to lessen your exploitation of humans, animals and the planet.
A simpler schedule
Simple living means a simplified calendar that’s not packed with obligations that don’t add value to your life or busywork designed to make you feel productive. Simple living often means focusing on what you love and the hobbies we don’t often enjoy when our lives are packed with “shoulds.”
It’s making time for family and friends instead of the distractions of TV and the Internet.
In a culture that says our success and value is determined by the money we make and how we spend it, simple living is about realising that being happy isn’t synonymous with being rich.
Consumerism creates impossible ideals and aspirations that will never be met because it teaches us that it’s never enough. Our society is designed to always leave us wanting the next new model, upgrade or new season’s fashion.
An advocate of simple living is aware of those tactics and opts for a less materialistic life.
The importance of a simple life – and some benefits
A simpler, less cluttered and hectic life has immeasurable benefits to your health. Living with less stress and eating simply means lower blood pressure, better sleep and less chance of a heart attack or anxiety.
When you eliminate busywork from your calendar, your work-life balance is improved and you get more quality time with valued friends and family. Your relationships improve when you prioritize the important people in your life.
Simple living can also mean increased financial independence. There’s no more pressure to buy the latest gadgets or keep up with the neighbours, and no more retail therapy as a mood booster.
Simple living is also more sustainable and environmentally friendly when you consume less meat, go zero waste or become more mindful of where your clothes are made.
9 Simple living tips: how to live a simple life and be happy
Here are some small tips that can mean incredible changes in simplifying your life:
1. Quieten the digital noise
Our smartphones are both incredible tools and enormous sources of stress.
The dangers of social media are well-documented and include anxiety, stress, depression, loneliness and envy. There are also strong links between online time and teenage bullying and suicide. Hours in front of a screen eventually lead to the erosion of your communication skills, empathy and ability to concentrate.
Here are some simple tactics to quieten the digital noise:
Unsubscribe to any newsletters you don’t read and keep only the ones you’ve got time to peruse. It’s better to savour a few meaningful newsletters than to feel guilty about leaving dozens of them unread.
Dedicate a time of the day to reply to emails instead of checking them every half hour. Don’t reply to anything that doesn’t require your response, organize emails into folders and use email template replies to save time with frequently asked questions.
Remove all social media apps from your phone and only check social media on your laptop. This hack makes it more difficult to access your accounts and harder to spend hours watching cat videos in bed.
Take a regular digital detox and use your weekends to enjoy your offline life. To make a detox work, log out of all social media, delete social media apps from your phone, and put your phone away in another room or in a drawer. Then find something else to occupy your time and don’t wonder about what you’re missing on Facebook. Pick up a magazine, go for a walk or try a watercolor tutorial. Get busy with something else. And if you relapse, be easy on yourself and try again.
Turn off all non-essential notifications and take the weekends and evenings off from your phone. You don’t need your phone to ping every time someone posts a meme in your WhatsApp group.
Don’t sleep with your phone next to you. This makes it easier to enjoy quiet mornings and evenings away from your feeds. You’ll sleep easier and wake up more refreshed.
Erase apps you don’t use and delete any apps that don’t serve a clear purpose in your life. Your phone will feel lighter and less overwhelming without them.
2. Watch less TV
Cutting back on TV means you’ll see fewer ads and less of the not-so-subtle materialism in many films that depict unrealistic lifestyles.
While unwinding with a good series can be a relaxing end to a hectic day, hours of TV will ultimately just leave you unmotivated and tired.
Limiting your TV time leaves you space for other forms of more rewarding ways to unwind like reading, listening to inspiring podcasts or meditating.
And while it sounds counterintuitive, vegging out in front of a TV screen isn’t the best way to really rest and fresh your mind.
Try a yoga session instead if your body’s aching, or pick up a challenging hobby that you can devote a half hour to in the evenings. You’ll be more invigorated and energized afterwards than you would after a binge session of TV series.
And when you do watch TV, make it intentional. Plan your viewing and spend some time picking out a good movie or a documentary you’re actually interested in. Don’t just flip through the channels and watch whatever’s on.
Limit your news intake and watch quality media that offers objective coverage will also make you less anxious about current events and more likely to understand different viewpoints.
3. Live in accordance with your means
Don’t spend what you don’t have on things you don’t want.
Consciously work to change the mindset that’s telling you happiness lays in the next online shopping order.
Simple living isn’t about painful deprivation. It’s about freedom from that unsatisfying cycle of desire.
And if you feel like an oddity among your friends and family, don’t give in to social pressure to spend – especially around the holidays. Seek out friends and communities with similar views on simple living and take inspiration from their lifestyle.
Be grateful for what you already have. You’ll be less likely to obsess about whatever’s lacking in your life and more likely to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. Write in a gratitude journal and go into detail to let yourself really experience gratitude.
Keep your possessions organized and you’ll probably find things you didn’t even know you owned.
Invest in experiences – they’ll enrich your life and make you happier than material possessions ever could. They’ll also put the material things into perspective.
Educate yourself about marketing and advertising strategies. When you’re aware of the various ploys that PR people use to ensnare you into more buying, you’ll be far more likely to spot and dismiss them the next time around.
4. Declutter your home
For thousands of people, simple living is a journey that began with reading Marie Kondo or clearing out their junk drawers.
When you declutter and organize, your physical possessions begin to serve you instead of overpowering you. And this is such a wonderful feeling that you’re likely to continue and fine-tune the rest of your life.
It’s addicting to experience that post-declutter feeling of weightlessness and renewed space. Clearing our your wardrobe can easily lead to a digital declutter or a re-examination of a tight schedule. You’ll be asking yourself: what else can I clean up and streamline?
Here are some tips to get decluttering:
Start small and keep your expectations realistic. Instead of a complete house overhaul, start with cleaning up one drawer or tackling a section of your wardrobe.
Sort your clothes first. Your wardrobe can be an easy place to start, and this will motivate you to tackle bigger challenges. Donate unwanted items and identify what you never wear by hanging worn clothes with the hanger in the reverse direction.
Get rid of one item a day. If you don’t have time for a big decluttering session, then keep it simple and find one unused or unwanted item a day to get rid of or donate.
Multi-tasking means more stress – and it’s actually a far less productive way to get things done.
Despite what many people write on their CVs, nobody is actually good at multi-tasking.
Work goes much slower when you’re constantly switching your attention between a big project, an inbox full of emails and a chatty co-worker. And while some interruptions can’t be avoided (like a phone call from your boss), you can help yourself by batching similar tasks together.
This means spending a half hour to reply to emails followed by an hour of focused time on a more challenging project. Focused time means no checking emails or Facebook and concentrating on the task.
Your ability to focus is a skill that’s improved with time. So if you find your attention drifting easily, then start with short increments of focused time and increase them gradually.
Time blocking is a powerful tool to identify your top priorities and make sure you’re making time for them daily. Keeping a notebook with a to-do list for your work and your personal life does wonders to save your brain the worry of having to remember everything.
6. Set realistic goals and reward yourself
We often underestimate how long a task will take and then we beat ourselves up over not making enough progress. Or we expect too much of ourselves when trying to embrace a new lifestyle. Then we tell ourselves we’re just too busy or not motivated enough to make a change. And the self-fulfilling prophecy comes true.
Impossible to-do lists and sky-high expectations only lead to overwhelm and burn-out. And while a weekend spent getting rid of all your possessions makes for a great Instagram Story, it doesn’t work that way in real life for everybody.
To start a slow living lifestyle, it’s better to re-evaluate your work and slowly cut back to the essentials to focus on what really makes an impact. Busywork and overtime at the office are often glamorized but they rarely move the needle forward.
If you want a more minimal lifestyle, then start with small goals. And if you fail, then scale back your expectations even further. Start your journey with getting rid of one item a day, or replace one holiday gift with a ticket to an experience instead.
Those small acts will make you feel so good that you’ll want to continue. And that’s far more motivating than trying to overhaul your life and failing.
7. Appreciate the little things and practice gratitude
Writing down everything you’re grateful for is a powerful practice that increases your happiness and wards off those nagging feelings that your life just isn’t enough.
When you’re constantly bombarded with ads and other people’s aspirational social media posts, it’s easy to feel that your life is lackluster in comparison. Then comes the low self-esteem, comparison and shopping splurges to fill that void.
But when you practice gratitude, you’ll appreciate life’s small pleasures. And you’ll be more aware of everything you have – and far less likely to envy others. You’ll learn to see the best in any situation and become calmer and more patient.
If you want to practice gratitude consistently, then start a journal and write at least a few times a week.
Try these prompts to experience gratitude:
Write in the evening in detail about 3 things you’re grateful for that day.
List 3 things that you value and appreciate about your partner or your family.
Describe a challenge you’ve dealt with recently and what you learned from the experience.
Write about the 3 people who’ve made the biggest positive impact in your life.
8. Embrace the white space
The importance of doing nothing is widely underrated.
We’re pushed at work and rewarded for high productivity. And this attitude often trickles down into our personal life too. On weekends, we’re uncomfortable sitting still and we fill every minute with activity or entertainment. TV series and social media feeds are only too ready to ward off our boredom.
And when we do get bored, we get that nagging feeling that we should do something about it.
But letting yourself experience boredom has many surprising benefits.
It lets your mind wander and gives you space to ponder new ideas. If you’ve ever had a great idea in the shower, you know the value of a few minutes away from your screens and obligations.
White space also gives you time to process experiences and learn from them.
When you don’t frantically try to fill your white space with entertainment, your mind slowly builds back its attention span. Your brain begins to ween itself off the endorphins that social media and easy entertainment provides.
Take a day on the weekend to relax and don’t make any plans. Or go on a long walk and wander your neighbourhood without a destination.
Simple living will improve your life – even drastically.
But it won’t prevent stress or grant you unlimited happiness and fulfilment.
And keeping your life simple will be a constant learning experience. You’ll relapse and you’ll make mistakes. But what matters most is intention and persistence.
Decluttering is often a first step towards a simple life, but it doesn’t end there. Decluttering gives you a cleaner and more organized home but it doesn’t necessarily make you any less of a shopaholic or any more intentional.
Only a well-rounded approach to slow living leads to meaningful change. And that approach takes time – there are no shortcuts and it doesn’t happen over a weekend spent decluttering and changing your bedroom color scheme.
A simple life means a rejection of materialism and the values that mainstream culture often holds dear. And that takes effort, thought and self-awareness.
4 Simple living quotes
If you need some inspiration to start a slower and simpler life, here are some of my favorite quotes on the beauty of simplicity:
1. “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” – Confucius
2. “To me, so much of simple living hinges on less – both owning less and doing less. Intentionally choosing to live an uncluttered, minimalist and slower life. I want to make time and space for the people and experiences that are most important for our family.” – Melissa from Simple Lionheart Life
3. “Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it.” – Joshua Becker from Becoming Minimalist
4. “Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” – William Morris