I started this blog as a way to share my journey towards simple living with others. But some of you might be wondering, Just what is simple living, anyway? Is it the same as minimalism, and if not, how are they different?
In this article I’ll be sharing my thoughts on what simple living means to me. I’m still learning and by no means an expert. But I can at least share my own definition and what sort of life I’m striving for when I say ‘simple living’.
The Five Pillars of Simple Living
In order to better understand it myself, I tried to think of the ‘big picture’ principles of simple living that really define it. For me, there are five key elements that I’m striving for in my own life that holistically come together as simple living.
The first is minimalism. I think the two ideas really go hand-in-hand, and it’s difficult to have one without the other. The Minimalists define it as “a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.” To me, minimalism doesn’t mean that you try to have as few possessions as possible (it’s not a competition!) It’s more about only having what you need or what matters most to you.
But minimalism, I think, is only one part of the greater whole that is simple living. While minimalism focuses on the reduction of excess, simple living takes that and expands it to the pursuit of one’s life purpose. When combined with the remaining four pillars, minimalism is one cog in a wheel that holistically makes up the lifestyle that is simple living. So, let’s talk about those other pillars!
Self-sufficiency, also known as homesteading or ‘living off the grid’, is something that I am starting to explore more and more these days. However, becoming 100% self-sufficient is very hard and takes a lot of work. There is so much to learn, I’m not sure I would be able to ever be fully sufficient on my own. Instead, I’m working its principles slowly into my life with smaller steps. For example, I’m trying to make more of my own DIY products at home, such as natural toiletries or household cleaners. This past summer was also the first season that I grew vegetables in our garden. I only ended up with a couple zucchinis, some tomatoes and a ton of kale, but I learned a lot and know more for next season. Plus, it felt so rewarding to put something on the table that I’d grown myself!
Sustainable living is something that I feel is important to living a simpler life, though I’m not saying it should be for everyone. Its definition is “a lifestyle that attempts to reduce an individual’s or society’s use of the earth’s natural resources and personal resources. Practitioners of sustainable living often attempt to reduce their carbon footprint by altering methods of transportation, energy consumption, and diet.”
So how is this connected to simple living? When I think about simple living and minimalism, I think about less waste. Less waste from purchasing things that you don’t need, use, or love; less wasting time on things that aren’t important to you; and less wasting of our planet’s natural resources. Consumerism is driving so much of the damage that we’re doing to our planet – everyone wanting more, more and not even really stopping to realize that all of that ‘more’ is causing more grief than happiness. So to me, living more sustainably and reducing my impact on the environment is a central part of living a simpler life. It’s a way of giving back to the planet and balancing out the damage driven by consumerism.
The fourth pillar of simple living is personal development. Marie Kondo wrote, “When your room is clean and uncluttered, you have no choice but to examine your inner state.” This is so true for me. When I started removing all of the clutter around me (whether it was in my home, career, or relationships) I started to gain a clearer sense of my own self, what my true passions in life are, and what makes me happy. This led to me making some pretty big changes in my life because I realized that what I had wasn’t actually what I wanted.
To put it bluntly, I started living the life I wanted to live, which up until that point I realized I hadn’t been. Thinking back, I went to university straight after high school with no idea what I wanted to do or even who I really was. But, that’s what people had to do to get a job and be ‘successful’. I took Psychology because I found it interesting, and so many other people were doing it, so surely it was a safe bet, right? Then I did my postgraduate degree because I needed to differentiate myself from all those people, again to get a job. When I finally started working, I did it for the paycheck and to do what I thought I should. It wasn’t because I had found what I was truly passionate about or something that was my life’s purpose.
What I’m trying to say is up until that point where I decided to live a simpler life, I wasn’t living life on my own terms, I was living it how I thought I was supposed to. This landed me in a life that I hadn’t created for myself, and I was constantly wondering, How did I even get here? In my search to bring more meaning and fulfillment to my life, I discovered simple living, and the answer suddenly became clear. I knew what changes I needed to make in order to live a life that would make me happy.
I’m not saying it’s that easy. There’s still a lot of hard work in designing a fulfilling life for yourself, and I had to make some hard decisions. But at the end of the day, simple living is the catalyst for me finally examining my life, realizing what needed to change, and beginning to design a life for myself with more intention.
The final pillar is mindfulness. Mindfulness is “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us” (source). Building on what I talked about with personal development, mindfulness is a sort of positive effect that emerged from living a simpler life. I began to slow down and take life at my own pace, instead of this mad dash that I’d been burning myself out on before.
Being more present and bringing mindfulness to my everyday is something that I’m still working on. I still worry about things that have happened in the past, or get anxious about what could happen in the future. However, I worry less about these things now that I’ve made positive changes in my life that bring more happiness and fulfillment to my day-to-day. It’s much easier to have a positive outlook when you’re living your life’s purpose (or at least working towards it). There is less clutter and commotion around you, distracting you from the present moment. I’m better able to bring more mindfulness into my life because I live a simpler life.
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Simple Living Day-to-Day
Now that we’ve talked about what simple living means to me, you might be wondering what it actually looks like on a daily basis. So, let’s explore some actionable ways that you can simplify your life based on the principles listed above. Note that these are not rules to live by, but have beneficial effects that will become manifest when you choose to start living your life based on those five pillars of simple living.
- Spending less on frivolous items/impulse buys, reducing consumerism
- Owning less; having less clutter
- Owning only things that matter to you
- Surrounding yourself only with things and people that you love
- Consuming less, creating more
- Feeling content with what you have
- More freedom
- More time/resources to spend on what truly makes you happy
- Growing your own food in a home garden
- Fixing something that’s broken instead of replacing it
- Making DIY products, such as household cleaners and toiletries
- Generating your own electricity or heat
- Increased independence and ability to choose how to spend your time
- Reconnection to nature
- Buying ethically and sustainably made goods
- Recycling, re-using, or repurposing items if possible
- Buying secondhand, as well as re-selling your own used goods
- Purchasing and using products which don’t contain ingredients that are harmful to the environment (or to yourself)
- Eating clean, whole foods that have been sustainably produced
- Reduced environmental footprint
- Increased health & wellbeing
Day-to-Day Personal Development
- Taking the time to examine yourself and determine your life’s purpose
- Making changes or adjustments to your life to bring it more in sync with your goals
- Not caring what others think
- Helping others (when we solve or stop focusing on our own problems, we are then free to help others)
- Increased focus on what’s important in your life
- Living a life on your own terms and one that is true to your life’s purpose
- Living life at a slower pace
- Being more in the present, letting go of past (depression) and future (anxiety) worries
- Living each day with more intention
- Having more time to spend on what matters, things you enjoy in life, cultivating relationships & hobbies
- Feeling less stressed
- Feeling happier in your day-to-day
I hope this article was helpful in showing you what simple living means to me and why I started this blog. In future posts I’m sure I’ll go into more detail on each pillar, but for now this is a good overview of what I feel is important.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on what simple living means to you or anything in this article that resonated with you (or not), so be sure to comment below!
Until next time,
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