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.

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