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2 December 2008

Small steps

The question I am asked more than any other in emails is "how do I start living simply?' Unfortunately there is not a simple answer to that question, but I'll have a go at answering it.

I started living simply before I knew there was a name for it. I'd been a "greenie" most of my life and had periods back in the 70s and 80s when I grew vegetables, kept chooks and stockpiled but it never felt like a way forward or even a cohesive lifestyle then. Now I believe that money is the key to a simple life - not in the accumulation of wealth, but in paying off debt and being frugal. When you do that, many things come together and it feels right. Being frugal spills over in to many other areas and tends to modify the way you live.

I wrote this sentence in my book the other day and it's worth repeating here: " Whether you like it or not, if you want to live simply you must reduce your spending; it's part of the territory. You will get away with not growing your own food, you don't have to keep chickens or goats, make soap, bake bread, sew or knit, you can live in the city or the country, you can work or not, you can be young or older, but the one thing everyone has to do is to reduce their spending."

But if that seems too big a hurdle for you right now, and I'm not blaming anyone if that is that case - things are what they are and I judge no one, there are other things you can do first. A wonderful thing happens when you decide to change - one thing leads to another and things start to flow. For instance, if you decide your first step will be to cook healthier food from scratch, that will open up a lot of things for you. You'll look around for new recipes, you'll buy different food, you may shop at different places to get that food - like farmers' markets, the bulk food store and organic co-ops. You may decide to stockpile to cut down your costs and save time. If you decide to stockpile, that may trigger you to reorganise your kitchen, or garage, or wherever it is you decide to store your stockpile. That may show you it's time to declutter, and so it goes.

One thing leads to another.

And what if your first step is to use green cleaners in your home? You find recipes you want to try, buy the ingredients and start using your new cleansers. They work well! So you decide to add more of them, and you make your own soap too ... and then laundry detergent. Etcetera.

These strategies will probably be cheaper options than those you were using in the past so you'll notice you're spending less on your groceries and food each week. That may give you hope that there is a way to save and start paying off debt. Maybe, just maybe, you'll start thinking about the "B" word - budget.

What I'm saying is that taking small steps is the way to a brighter and simple future. Small steps are easier and less scary than grand gestures and if you make a mistake, it doesn't matter, you just fix it and move on. But the great thing about small steps is they lead to other things. They open up possibilities and show you that change is achievable. And if you follow the path those small steps open up for you, you'll turn a corner one day and know you're living simply.

Other small steps you might like to consider are: slowing down and taking time for yourself - even it's in little bits and pieces; growing some of your own food; baking from scratch - bread, rolls, sourdough, cakes, muffins etc.; reading your electricity or water meters; cleaning your teeth with salt or bicarb; shampooing your hair with bicarb; using a cotton shopping bag; making your own shopping bag; using cloth table napkins; keeping chickens; decluttering your home; making do with what you have; taking shorter showers; talking to your children about conservation - ask them what they know, they might surprise you; using a Diva cup, homemade pads or non disposable nappies/diapers; reusing; repairing; recycling; smiling, opening your windows (in warm weather); opening up your heart (all the time); talking to your neighbours; supporting local growers and traders; spending time with your family and friends; learning how to knit and sew; cutting back on what you spend at Christmas; growing herbs or fruit; and making a commitment to change and live the life you want instead of what is expected of you by your family, friends and neighbours.

One thing leads to another.

Once you've started along the road to simplicity you'll notice that every time you take one of these small steps, it changes you. Each small step will help you move further away from your old way of doing things and closer to your goal of living well.

So I guess the simple answer to the question is that it starts with one small step. It's that simple, but it's not easy - nothing important ever is. Where that first step takes you is up to you. All our paths will be different, but my hope for you is that you make interesting and significant discoveries about yourself and your world along the way and that when you land on your target, the landing will be a soft one.


  1. Hi Rhonda
    I dont very often comment these days because have so many other commenters but today I have something to sa Yesterday you said you dont know why your blog is so popular so I will tell you!
    You guide us without bossing, you help us with our road map but dont bully us along it. You offer us practical advice (soap maing, stitichery, or how to organise a larder) but also fire us up to find happiness in our world. Your contentment, in spite off or because of your restless nature, is a goal most of us can only aim towards. You inspire!
    Best wishes

  2. smiling, opening your windows in warm weather and opening your heart all the time.......RHonda that is just beautiful and sums up the you we have come to know on this blog. bless you


  3. I guess one of the first places to start is within our own heart. You truly have to want to do this and then it will be automatic where to start. I think frugality and simplifying may seem to be 'the thing to do' to some and that is why it poses such difficulty to them. Cherrie

  4. Good morning Rhonda,
    Small steps are definitely the way to go. I struggle at times because I know what I want to do, but after a day at work I'm often so tired I take the easy option. Its the little things that make a difference, and just edging my way towards the good life is the way for me at present. Thanks for the advise and encouragement Rhonda, because it really helps and keeps us all motivated to keep trying until the time when it becomes second nature as it does for you.

  5. Hi Rhonda
    Lizzie, above, hit the nail on the head. You can find all kinds of information on the internet nowadays but your blog is a treasure trove of practical advice coupled with a truly inspiring philosophy.
    Encouraged by your words I have tested your cooking recipes, have my first batch of soap drying in the laundry, my first vinegar brews standing in the kitchen, used up half of my first batch of washing powder, crocheted my first kitchen cloths. I have retired now so my income has decreased drastically. I feel quite rich though as I follow your advice and find more and more ways to save money - and have fun doing it.
    Many thanks

  6. Since starting to read your blog I've stopped buying convenience, packaged foods. I've gone back to what I did when I was younger before I had children - I bake my own bread, make meals from scratch and meal plan. I didn't think I "had time" when my children were younger - I was busy shopping! I recently made caramel apple jam to give as Christmas gifts to coworkers and watch every penny at the grocery store. I also put my name on the list to have a space at a community garden in the spring. All from reading your blog!

  7. Good Morning to you Rhonda,

    As the other commenters have said. you are an inspiration to us all.

    Thankyou for sharing your wisdom.


  8. cake looks great by the way!

    everything u said here is oh so true
    we started down this path by way of reducing the preservatives and what not in our food..the progression to growing our own food and changing cleaners came next and your spot on...the rest has just followed like a natural progression as if life should of always been this way.
    we have started to see some benefit in our weekly budget, but i think some of our changes we will see in our yearly what we paid off the house type figures.
    i love that blogs like yours inspire me towards our next step whatever it is that suits us. these last two weeks i have been transitioning to bicarb for my hair, i nearly gave up, but yesterday it came good and i was impressed. now i will start the rest of the family on this path.

  9. I was jsut reflecting on this the other day; how making changes in one area leads you to see the need for change in another. Taken as a whole, its just too big for most of us to contemplate so I plan to master one area, then move on to another. Its gentler on resistant family members that way too!
    P.S. I hope to make time soon to go back through your older posts. Sounds as if there are some real gems there!

  10. your words are like a breath of fresh air!

    Even though weve been living simply for ages, we can still simplify or adjust, and learn something new.

    We started lving simply - and its like the falling domino effect... one falls into place after another!

  11. As always a walking encylocpedia! Great ideas!

  12. Very interesting blog and I will check by often to learn more about living simply. It's been on my mind to do, but with your encouragement it seems possible. Thanks!

  13. Thank you so much for this post, Rhonda Jean! I can't tell you how much it has brightened my day, to feel like "Hey, I really am doing something." Perfect thing to read right as I finished making my 1st ever batch of granola (pretty darn good, if I say so m'self).

    One of the first things that made me feel like I was really stepping towards living more simply, was making soup. So simple in itself & so satisfying. It feels strange to say, but I really find it empowering to know I can "do" for myself.

    Thank you for helping to make the journey so enjoyable!

  14. Just as most of your readers and commentators, I think your blogs are wonderfully insightive, helpful, and encouraging. I especially like as Lizzie said, that you guide without bossing, help without bullying and offer practical advice. I have trouble with everything! budgeting, living frugally, being healthier pysically and mentally and I have been trying and feeling like the more I try the more I slide back but blogs like yours help me to keep it up and especially this one, to do it little by little and really I feel more enthusiastic and believe that I can and will become a better person for myself for my family for the earth. I am so thankful I found your blog!

  15. A great post! I look forward to your blog everyday! Weekends I just re-read a few! Thanks for sharing with us.

    cathy c

  16. So well said. I agree that you have to feel it in your heart or it won't last. Sometimes it takes taking the small steps and going through the motions before it becomes part of you and you feel it in your heart but once you do, it's amazing how simple and good it feels to live simply.

  17. Hello, Well after 14 hours friday, 9 hours on Saturday and another 4-5 on Sunday and an hour of fine tuning today...We have arrived at a zero balance budget , using excel we now have a master budget sheet and all expenditures are listed, as are all goals. We made it! I saw my husband smile , SMILE! He is smiling at the future.
    Five of the six hens now laying as of today. It was so funny! the first time one of them lays the ruckus is a riot! I think they are just as happy about it as I am.
    I need to buy shampoo...bicarb? Whats the method?
    The peas got tied up today and we have enough beans to have a side dish of them 2-3 times a week.
    Need to turn the soil and get another crop started.
    Peace be with yo and Hanno.
    Dog food? is it a hassle or a hard thing to make?
    Oh do you buy the feed for your chickens or the grit?

  18. For me, it all started many years ago when a friend gave me a bag of soap nuts to use instead of laundry detergent.
    Thank you for your insight


  19. Rhonda,
    I am so inspired by your blog, especially your words today.
    Thank you

  20. This is how it's happening for us - we had a good starting place, as we were just establishing our household and finances were low so we couldn't afford to fool around anyway. :o) Throw in a bit of environmental responsibility, and step by step, it leads to simpler living!

  21. I tell you what as well, reading this blog and the comments from your loyal readers, gives me hope in humanity. We hear so many horror stories of the state of the economy, and people still spending huge amounts on the kids for Christmas, but I find peace in the fact that you all do this to make the world a better place.

    Rhonda, you're revolutionary!!



  22. We started with recyling glass & plastic, then added tin and steel cans as well as newspaper. I eventually added reducing the amount of paper and plastic products we use, such as using less paper towels and reusing plastic bags, etc. I now have a rain barrel set up. I'm not sure what my next step will be, we've been working on our spending for a while but I don't know if that counts or not - however, we need to keep up with it. Simplifying can be daunting, but if you start small and break it down into individual steps it is much easier. It becomes routine very quickly.

  23. I agree with all the other lovely ladies (and gents) that commented already. This change is just a series of simple steps. But, wow, how much easier is this shift when one has constant inspiration and encouragement from someone like you, Rhonda?

    I love your blog.

    -Carolyn from Pennsylvania

  24. I love reading your blog. will come back later with a cup of tea and read through this a second time and have a quiet think.
    Be back later.X

  25. You mentioned the diva cup! I have contemplated using one for years, but have never met a real person who uses it to give me a real review of this item. Do you or your readers have anything to say on it? I would LOVE to hear any reviews! Thanks, Gen--IL Homesteader

  26. Rhonda,

    You are so right! Although it has been harder lately not to over spend and now with the holidays Yikes! Our budget has taken a big hit...I can see that we really haven't budgeted in a while. I have to say staying debt free gets harder and harder.

    I know that when we don't go out we don't spend but once we are in the car watch out! Right now gas is lower here but I am sure not for long and then what?

    I know it all starts in the mind and we really don't "need" that much. I enjoy just being home with my family. I just hate that when we do go out it costs a fortune!

    Many blessings,


  27. amen to this, rhonda. as usual, thanks for the inspiration (i always need to be continually affirmed and rekindled!). true, true, true, all, of it. she's right, new readers! have a go at it!

  28. I am new to your blog, so let me start by expressing my appreciation for your advice, guidance, and encouragement. I have recently begun my journey to live a more frugal and simple life, and your post about taking small steps was very encouraging... and so true! In just one week, my decision to use cloth diapers has led to placing a pile of rags next to the roll of paper towel, which has led to making homemade baby food. (Not a completely logical transition, but each time I do something that reduces the impact on the environment and my bank account, I am inspired to do something else.) Keep up the wonderful work!

  29. Excellent post. I realize it was written quite a whole back, but I stumbled onto it today. I agree wholeheartedly and I'll definitely be back to read more.


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