20 April 2009

Simple living - getting started

New readers often send emails asking about how to start a simple life. This question is almost impossible to answer because we are all so different - different ages, countries, family situations, expectations, assets, desires etc., so I think the best way to help is to tell you how I started and go on from there.

Simple living surprised me. I didn't know there was such a thing but when I looked back I realised how far from "normal" I'd drifted. When I closed down my business to 'retire', I wanted to return to my home in the most complete and pure way. I went looking for ways to lessen the impact that me not working would have on my family. I wanted to save money by being a more economical shopper and I wanted to go back to cooking from scratch. Years before this transformation we had put in a water tank, a solar hot water system, had an organic vegetable garden and chickens, but now I wanted more. However, I didn't want just the material things that helped us live this way, I wanted to reinvent myself as well.

I hoped to leave behind the commercial world and immerse myself in being a housewife again. I knew my happiness was lurking here in my home somewhere, I just had to find it. I had an inkling that providing as much as we could with my own hands would make me happy and I thought that collecting eggs and picking fresh produce every day would calm me and help readjust my life. But I didn't realise then that I'd become a proud homemaker, and that I would define my success by the size and colour of tomatoes, the taste of a well made loaf, how happy simple things would make me or how well I slept at night. I didn't know I'd be proud of what I do here, and I didn't know, until I did it, how important the everyday work of a homemaker is.

So I guess the short answer to part of the question is to say that living a more simple life is all those things you want to include in your day to day activities, but it is also readjusting the way you think. Simplicity is a mindset as well as the everyday actions of the common home.

The first major thing I did was to shop in a different way and to build a stockpile. This was important for me because I believed if I could save money on my groceries, because I was buying them every week, that would be a considerable, ongoing saving. It took me about four or five months to build my stockpile, then I wanted to do some preserving (canning) to add my home grown produce to the stockpile cupboard. I had done some preserving in the past but had to relearn it. Then I thought it might be a good idea to get rid of the preservatives in our food, so one of the first things I did then was to learn to make a good loaf of bread. This lead me to buying flour and other dry goods in bulk, and I had to learn more about food storage.

Getting rid of the preservatives in our food made me think about getting rid of them in our home too, so I stopped buying household cleaners and started making soap, laundry powder and the other cleaners I needed. When we started making soap, we added luffas to the garden. Homemade olive oil soap and an organic luffa is a gift you can give to woman, man or child alike and they will appreciate it. Christmases and birthdays came and went and I had to think a lot about gift giving. I started knitting and sewing again, this helped me with our own clothes too, as well as those soft furnishings I wanted in our home. I found that when I did anything new, it always opened up other areas I needed to work on and think about.

I started to slow down, to concentrate on what I was doing and I tried to do everything to the best of my ability. Slowing down was enough to let me see a number of things that I didn't notice when I skipped over my housework and tried to do it as fast as possible. I realised I liked doing a lot of the tasks when they were carried out in a mindful manner, and slowly, over time, I reorganised myself and my home to reflect this new way of being. That change showed me that being at home had the potential to nourish my soul and if I could make my home a place of comfort for everyone who lived here, and for those who visited, that would be a significant and valuable gift. It's not easy, in fact there is more work to be done, but the next day always brings it's own challenges and joys and, by taking one small step at a time, I got to where I am now. This journey is never over. Simple living is not a destination or a reward that you move toward, the journey itself is the prize.

But I must remind you that living simply isn't just a series of tasks and actions that are completed over the course of the day. I believe you need to slow down, be mindful, develop generosity, be kind, give more, expect less and live your life as an example to those around that happiness and fulfilment can be found almost anywhere, in a city skyscraper, a suburban house, a farm or anywhere in between. Don't fall into the trap of thinking you need to be living in a serene rural location to live this way. It can be done anywhere.

One word of caution, you do need to be organised to live simply. Get yourself an old journal or binder and write down your new recipes, your meters readings, rainfall totals, your wish list for your garden, seed catalogues, your stockpile list - both what you have on hand and what you need to buy, any patterns you may find. Add to it the simple cleaners I've written about here, and you will have made your first step towards simplicity.

And finally, there is no one size fits all prescription for simple living. Each person does their own version of it. So be guided by me and all the other blogs you read but make the way you do it reflect you. This is about authenticity, not conformity. Do it your way and do one small thing today and another new thing tomorrow. Don't let anyone tell you you're not doing the right things. And if you find new pleasures in how you carry out your work, it is okay to feel pride in that. Open up yourself to new experiences and push your envelope. Be the person you always wanted to be, show your children, by example, how wonderful life is. These things, as well as making your home a place of warmth and security, are part of your simple life.



  1. Such good advice!
    I started by concentrating on finding the items I needed to bake from scratch, since food expenditures seemed to be the biggest chunk out of my finances. I looked at thrift stores and garage/yard sales for pans, mixers, etc. I also concentrated on finding just the "right" bread recipe, biscuits, cornbread, soups, etc... so I would enjoy cooking from scratch. (that was the fun part ~ and my family loved the experiments)

    I also find that it is uncanny how, when I need something for my home or kitchen, I find it very inexpensively if I just ~wait~ for it!

    Thanks, Rhonda, for a great post.
    ps... I love the stitchery on your wall pictured in this post. Beautiful!!

  2. Wonderful post. This always overwhelms me; the where to start. Thank you for this encouraging advice. I now know it can be done, which I wasn't so sure of before. I've been trying to work on the food; cooking everything at home/stop eating out, and we just planted some tomatoes, sweet peppers, and mint today-our first garden! Thank you!

  3. Anon, thanks for sharing how you started. If we all do that, I'm sure we'll encourage the newcomers.

  4. I a simple living veteran that is trying to reclaim areas or forge new ones. I love your blog and especially appreciate this post- so many people want a "HOW TO" program and it simply doesnt wxist.
    Each person must,as you said, allow our living to reflect US as individuals!

  5. Umm Omar, yes, concentrating on one area that is important to your family is a good start. Food is usually the place for many people. I wish you well.

    Wise words, Autumn, thank you.

  6. Rhonda Jean, I love your words, they are not only very wise but when reading them, they bring a peace to my soul. Thankyou.

    I would love to make olive oil soap.. that is on my wish list.

  7. Beautiful! There is so much we can learn from one another, isn't there? I love how by simply sharing our simple lives we are able to come along side one another, encouraging and guiding one another along this journey. I am amazed at how completely my life has changed in the last year and a half. Things I thought were odd, are now routine! Time to go mill some wheat for flour and set the bread to rise!!

  8. Dearest Rhonda,
    Thankyou for such a wondeful post. I am making small changes every day & feel great. I love my home & want it to be a haven for my family.
    What a lovely way to enjoy my morning cuppa & read your inspiring blog.
    Thankyou once again

  9. Hi Rhonda Jean,
    A wonderful post! Simple living has always been away of life for me, I grew up living it. You're so correct one size does not fit all,its whats important to you and what works for you!:o)
    Its spring time here, I love it picking and eating alot of "Wild Food" and canning some.
    Hope you have a wonderful wk.

  10. Great advice Rhonda - it also helps to believe in yourself and your abilites whether you have to learn some new skill or tweak one learnt in the past. A lot of trepidation about changing direction in life is about confidence - but doing things slowly and mindfully helps build that confidence.


  11. I do so enjoy reading your writing and looking at your beautiful photos. As I'm in England it's now getting past my bedtime so I will think more deeply about this post tomorrow.

    I wished to pop in now however, to say thank you for your kind words and advice the other day. Since diving in to start my 'living simply' journey I have decided to limit my hours on the computer so that I use the time to create my 'own' memories.

    I am going to be planting vegetables for the first time tomorrow and am very excited about it, but also slightly apprehensive.

    Kind regards,

  12. It is so interesting what I find when I start looking for it. It's like language learning: when I learn a new verb structure, I start hearing it everywhere. Now that I am learning about simple living, I see possibilities all around me.

    You are always an inspiration

  13. "I knew my happiness was lurking here in my home somewhere, I just had to find it. I had an inkling that providing as much as we could by our own hands would make me happy..."

    This made me smile. It so true--and so easy to lose sight of in our fast-paced, indoctrinated world. Thank you for blazing a path of simplicity and then sharing it with all of us.


  14. Good morning Rhonda,

    That was just so nice to read. As always, thankyou for taking the time to encourage.

    Blessings Gail

  15. I always love reading your getting started posts Rhonda and especially reading the reader comments on these posts. I know a day will come when I am able to concentrate on what I am doing as you do, but for now I am forging ahead as best I can, with my two very important little distractions, the ones who I ultimately started the journey for, who are watching and learning along with me.
    Thank you for providing such a wonderful reference point.

  16. Wonderful advice as always. And I love the picture of yarn. I knit and crochet and will do more sewing once I can get my hands on a working machine again. But unfortunately gardening isn't as possible as I'd like (landlord likes to weedeat down anything planted even if it is in a 'flower bed' and his grandchildren destroy what he doesn't). We've been living as simply as possible for where we are for a few years and enjoy it. I just get frustrated at times trying to locate some of the ingredients for cleaners since they are not readily available in this tourist town and/or are very expensive.
    As an fyi for any americans reading(not sure if it is in other countries yet)... check out and sign up at www.freecycle.org they have been a boon for us whether we lived in Texas or here in South Carolina.

  17. Hi Rhonda, lovely inspiring post as usual,a great motivation for me on this lovely Monday morning in Adelaide, can't believe you write this so early,have a lovely day, Carol

  18. I am not sure what series of links led me to you, but I am glad they did! I read your list of 50 things and copied it to my blog (with a link to you of course) so that I can begin learning new things. I began learning to knit this weekend and am very excited about it. I already have started some of the simplifications--esp. since I am trying to be eco-conscious. Thanks for your words of encouragement!

  19. Wise words Rhonda. I found an inspirational little YouTube offering yesterday called "Doing what you want to do" at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moNjG3JeEsc&feature=related.

    The woman who made this is 79, and has become a prolific video poster - I came to her through her 2 part video tutorial about bread making, which is an absolute classic.
    Check out her video "The Magic of Making Bread Part 1" at

    I think another important thing is to envision what you want your life to look like five years ahead. If you have that picture at the back of your mind, it will inform every choice you make, and every fork in the road you take.

  20. What a wonderful post Rhonda!
    For me returning home was the easy part, it was the slowing down that was the hardest, I was supposedly a 'stay at home' mum but truth be told I spent more time out of the home doing all the things I thought I should be doing - the sports, ballet lessons, the ladies coffee mornings and other church activities that people had asked me to be involved in. I recently wrote about this in a post I wrote entitled 'Why I'm not a Soccer Mum'. Today I can call myself a stay at home mum because I do stay home more than I go out - I have the time to cook from scratch, bake bread, care for my home and teach my children. I am also not afraid to say no to requests from people to volunteer for activities that take me out of the home - I do say yes to things like cooking meals for new mums, these are ways in which I can help people from my home. The best thing of all about being home and living a simpler life... I'm happy, my husband and children are happy. Happy homes are good places to be!

  21. Dear Rhonda,
    I just love your last two blogs!
    They are so encouraging! I know first hand that every persons' journey is different as I have two people with Coeliac disease in the family and cooking for me is somewhat more complicated. But what could have been a negative has turned out the reverse, for it encouraged me to cook from scratch!So I can't use lots of your recipes, but this hasn't stopped me finding my own journey. Keep the inspiration coming! Thanks heaps!

  22. Good morning Rhonda. It was bringing mindfulness to the task at hand that had me stumped for a while. In complicated life we race around lacking focus and concentration so it can be hard to slow down sufficiently to bring mindful focus to what we are doing. I kept struggling with mind chatter, distraction, "multi tasking" but I eventually "got" it. Some days it still eludes me but more often I am finding satisfaction in focussing and thinking about what I am doing. Cheers, Rose

  23. Fantastic, well thought out post. You are an impressive woman indeed.

  24. Thank you for your encouragement, Rhonda. I've decided to start by wearing an apron. Why? Because it reminds me to slow down and be mindful. It protects my clothing, so it will last longer. In my mind, it's tied to using homemade cleaners, also.

    My next step was to make up 16 menu plans for dinner, to be rotated throughout the year, with changes made for each season. I then made up a grocery list of all the ingredients needed to produce these menus, plus other things needed to run the household. Next, I will decide what I can produce of these ingredients, what I can preserve at home and what I should stockpile. I'll be learning more about food storage. Ah, so much to learn - it keeps me young!

    Thank you again for e-mentoring all of us!

    Donna in USA

  25. Rhonda Jean, I recently discovered your blog and enjoy it so very much. You have such a gift for writing. The way you expressed your journey to simple living in this post was very encouraging to anyone interested in following a similar path. I too returned home from the work force about 15 years ago, forced to quit because the stress was doing me in. I am a long way from my idea of true "simple living" yet when I look at where I am and where I was it's quite a long way. I cook most meals from scratch, bake quite well and sew and craft a lot more than I did. We have had various forms of livestock, I learned to weave and spin my own yarn and have gardened off and on as circumstances have allowed. This past summer I even canned or froze some locally grown produce and fruits. One of my children is disabled so there have been a lot of challenges, but I need the security of being as self-sufficient as we can be (apart from leaning on God as much as I have needed to!). After reading one of your posts I told my husband I hadn't thought of what a blessing it is that we can do so many of the old skills ourselves. Another thing that is different is how much I recycle by reusing or repurposing. I shop thrift stores and garage sales and have accepted a number of extended family hand-me-downs and I am so thrilled to remake something into something new and better or just to enjoy items that are antiques that remind me of my childhood, etc. It really feels like a win-win to me. I like to shop at the Habitat for Humanity thrift store where my dollars contribute to building a house for a homeless family, tax exemptions for me or anyone who donates items plus I'm reusing something and saving money. How great is that? Well, didn't mean to go on and on. Thanks for sharing with us all you have learned!

  26. I grew up living simply and am gravitating back to that type of lifestyle in whatever way I can. I take note of the little changes that happen and am encouraged by each one.
    We use only cloth napkins now and each time I use one I think..that is one less paper for the dump..a small step but every one counts!
    Rhonda..I made your recipe for dog biscuits for my daughter's dog and he loves them..so I thank you and the dog thanks you! grin

  27. I find the hardest thing for me not to do is "stressing my own self out" I real have a very simple life.
    No drama which I'm happy for. I explain my life is "uneventful life" which I'm thankful for.

    Coffee is on.

  28. good reading as usual..
    how is your blanket coming along?
    mine is going well..
    Have a wonderful week..
    take care,

  29. Thanks Rhonda for this wonderful post.

    One line particularly struck me...."Be the person you always wanted to be, show your children, by example, how wonderful life is" I think I need to make this my mantra! I left the workplace 12 years ago (wow, where did the time go!). I was not motivated by money and wanted to live a simpler life. My son was 18 months at the time. Flash forward, and that same son is going to school with kids with so much more than he has, and unhappy about it. It just hit me when I read that line that I have not been the person I wanted to be, because I have been sort of stuck between my old way of living and what I want to be. So while i have given up yearning for material goods, i have not really embraced my role as a housewife and made this home a haven! No wonder my son has been so vocal!

    I am curious...other than your husband, are there others that you share similar life styles? That has been one of my personal hurdles, I guess, as other than much older women (I am 51) I know no other homemakers/housewives. Eveyone I know works, and, I guess, don't know what to make of me!


  30. I always read your blog, though I don't often comment. I had to do so today, to tell you what a great post this was. Sometimes the idea of converting to a simpler means of living is so overwhelming, and I get to thinking it's just not possible for us. Having you break it down in 'bite sized chunks' makes it sound so much more doable!

  31. It took a big change of life (and, as you say, a "slowing down") for me to realise that the fast lane is the lifestyle equivalent of building a superhighway over the country lanes and scenic routes in life.

    Your lifestyle is inspirational and I can relate to so much of what you say, but getting back to a meaningful, mindful and fulfilled life is a very individual journey.

    At 24, housewifery started as a novelty and ended up becoming a bit of a Sylvia Plath nightmare (I joke). So I am taking the good from it (learning to cook from scratch, economising, gardening, eliminating preservatives from the house and our diet) and leaving the rest behind, for now.

    I'm at a different place right now, and if I ever want the idyllic lifestyle you have achieved, Rhonda Jean, I think I have to get back to work to save up for the house!

    Love your blog.

  32. Slow down - two words that strike fear into the heart of an over-achiever like me.

    But after coming across the book In Praise of Slow last week and now seeing your post, I think the universe is trying to give me a message.

  33. I echo Renna in that I always read your blogs but don't think I have ever commented. You manage to put into words exactly the life I am moving towards step by step. I am finding it so invigorating and am embracing a new freedom to be me as I was originally designed to be! Some of my friends shake their heads and smile, but they are noticing a difference in me and the questions are coming thick and fast!!

    Thank you for everything you share, the e mentoring comment by Donna is spot on, you are inspirational!

  34. What a great post! It's so much the way we live thousands of miles away.

    I think the hardest part of simple living hubby and I have had to learn is to do something without it having to be perfect. (Much like your last post about just getting started.)

    Some things we've been doing for years now but others are new. We've decided to start a raised bed garden this year (even though we both suffer fatigue from chronic illnesses) and I'm finally going to use my pressure canner.

    I just love coming here. :)

  35. What a wonderful post! You gave great advice and a couple of simple steps that offer a starting point for people. Thank you for sharing.


  36. Absolutely wonderful post!
    Last week I was hoping to have a garden this year. Today I AM going to have a garden. Well maybe not today..but you know what I mean. :o)
    Thanks for sharing.

  37. This is wonderful. I think the most helpful word in beginning to live more simply is "stop." Stop and think ... Do I need this? Do I need to do this? Do I WANT this? Often in our busy world we find ourselves running around, getting new things, doing stuff because it is what is expected, it is what we were taught, it is what our neighbors do, or "everyone" does. If you want to work harder to buy a fancy car because you love it, great! Go for it! If not, then stop. It's a practice we can do every day because the impulse never goes away completely ...

  38. Another inspiring post. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom!

  39. Your advice about organization is a good reminder. Out the home management binder goes again...

  40. Debbie, none of our long term friends live as we do but I teach a frugal home course at my Centre and most of those people are moving towards simplicity. We're still in the minority, and probably always will be, but it doesn't worry me at all. We are usually so busy with our lives here we don't have much time, or the inclination, to socialise anyway.

  41. Rhonda,

    I have found that if I keep a journal of the things I would like to get done....that really helps me keep my focus.

    I also have a journal with recipes and my grocery list.

    I have been working on some stitching and I now try to make time for it:)

    Thank you for all you do!! Do you have a date yet when your book will come out?

  42. Thanks Rhonda for the inspiration. I have been thinking of slowing down for some time now, but as an older woman (not near to retiring age however) whose children are not dependent upon me, somehow it feels indulgent to give up work!

    Why should I get the life I want to live and have my DH keep bringing in the money?

    I know that I could make some savings by being at home, but I don't think they would add up to the kind of contribution to the household that I am making now by working.

    Yet deep inside me I too, just want to be able to slow down and live even more simply.

    Reading you blog encourages me to believe that somewhere soon I will find the way forward for us.

  43. Debbie I wish you lived around me. I am older than you but also never knew any other homemakers and still know only a few. None of them live close at all though. Also none of them lives like we do. I think though, that by living as you said your true self you will feel more content with your life. If you were to enbrace what others think is what they should live it is their life not your's. We keep busy with our life here and our close family. Yes our homes should be our havens from the outside world. To come home and feel welcomed and safe and comfy etc, ... there is nothing else like it. No one knows your family like you do so you know what it would take to make it a haven for all of you.
    Also I noted Estelle is already taking steps to simplfy but doesn't seem to realize it? You can step back out of the rat race of today's life and not live in a house. Just do as Rhonea Jean said and do it one step at a time. Sounds like you are already doing that. Be easy on yourself. Take life where you are at this very moment. You have the tools and mindset to do it right now. Jody

  44. Another great post! Lately I've realized that I need to declutter and get organized in order to make this transition to a more simple life smoother. I've got some notebooks started, and now I'm starting to get rid of the stuff that takes my time and energy, but isn't really useful.

  45. This is a post I'll bookmark and come back to, as I continue to simplify my own home and life. Thank you for taking the time to write about this; it's a great encouragement to me!!

  46. I just stumbled upon your blog. It was a wonderfule discovery. I live in a big city and am constantly trying to find balance and a simple way of living.

    If I can't achieve it through my day-to-day life, at least I can live vicariously through your blog.

    This section gives me some great tips on how to achieve simplicity in my life (and my family's).
    Thank you and keep it up. I have added you to my favorites

  47. Thank you for your amazing blog. I have had to retire early because of poor health and have been fighting a battle over working/not working. I have always valued myself because of the work I did and this was my identity. Deep inside I have had a hankering for the simple life but did not have the time to really do anything about fulfilling this. Then I found you blog site and this article. I am starting to see retirement in a different light - the opportunity to take the time to develop a simple life. Thank yo for sharing your experiences and thoughts.

    Deb E


Blogger Template by pipdig