Living simply - how to start

22 July 2009

Next in the series of readers questions is how to start living simply.

Well, the answer to this is to know why you want to simplify your life. Is it because you feel stressed all the time? Are you concerned about the chemicals in your life? Are you moving to another house and want to change the way you live along with everything else? Are you trying to save money? Or are you tired of living with debt and stress and long to return to a gentler way of life? There are probably as many reasons to simplify as there are people reading this post, so let me tell you where I started and maybe that will work for you too.

When I stopped working for a living I had not thought about simplifying but I had grown up in the 1950s and remembered a life much simpler than the one I was living. Before I married, when I lived in isolated parts of Australia, I stockpiled, I gardened when I was younger and the first pets I ever bought for my sons were chooks. Those chooks taught them so much - about gentleness, attention to detail and the never-ending responsibility of providing food and water for pets. I have been 'green' most of my life but had never reflected that in my life consistently or with conviction.

I suppose I was ripe for the picking.

I wanted to live in a different way, I wanted to leave the stress of "normal" life behind me, I wanted to slow down, be quieter and more in touch with my family and my natural surroundings. And while I did all that I wanted to open myself up to whatever my life would hold at this point. Whatever was out there I wanted to "know it by experience" as Thoreau would say. I looked forward to collecting eggs and honey, to growing food fit for a king's table and living a meaningful life. I wanted to say goodbye to gossip, meaningless celebrities, greed and having everything at any price and hoped to discover a world where grace, respect and enrichment filled the sweet air I breathed. Boy, did I hit the mother lode when I started to slow down and live according to my values. It was all there; I found what I hoped for and much more.

I started by organising my money in more accountable ways, by making a budget and sticking to it and by cutting back a lot on what I was buying. I shopped in a different way - what used to be one chaotic weekly trip to the supermarket and a few other trips back to pick up things I'd forgotten, turned into a planned monthly shopping trip. We started planning our trips out and doing as much as we could each time we went out instead of making a lot of little trips for one or two things.

I started stockpiling, then my grocery shopping was even less frequent. This gave me a lot more time at home and that time was put into the vegetable garden. Over the first few years we produced vegetables only during the cooler months, having summer as our down time, but as we came to rely more on the garden produce, we continue planting year round.

To help our garden produce at its best, we have compost brewing all the time, we added a worm farm for castings and worm tea, and of course, we always have chickens in the backyard. We bought our first about 25 years ago when the boys were little and we still enjoy the clucking outside. The backyard wouldn't be the same without the chooks. At the moment, we're building up our fruit production. We had lemons, bananas, loquats, oranges, pecans and passionfruit since we arrived here, in the past few years we've added pink grapefruit, mandarins (clementines), blueberries, red paw paw (papaya) and avocados.

I started preserving/canning and freezing to save various excesses in the garden and to be sure we had good home made sauces, relishes and jams. I have always cooked from scratch so no changes there but we did stop buying the occasional takeaway meal and I developed a set of fast food that I could make at home. I also tried my hand at cheese making, fermenting - sauerkraut and vinegar, and baking.

In an endeavour to cut costs and stop bringing chemicals into our home I started making homemade cleaners and vegetable oil soap. This is one of the few areas Hanno isn't quite fully onboard with yet. I use the homemade soap to wash my hair but he's using a Neutragena shampoo at the moment and he still buys detergents ever so often, but he's promised to not do that in the future. He loves the homemade laundry powder and the other bicarb, lemon and vinegar concoctions I use, so we haven't gone too far off our course.

I love knitting and stitchery but the truth is I see them as part of my housework. I mend rather than throw out and I look after what we own so we use everything fully. I knit for the pure and simple reason that we need knitted dish cloths and face cloths and various woollies for winter wearing. I'm knitting a pair of fingerless mittens for Hanno now and will then knit him a pure wool jumper (sweater). Handiwork also provides gifts for giving throughout the year. Our gift for Shane and Sarndra at their wedding last month was a queen size wedding quilt. It was a gift I felt really good about giving them and they accepted with gratitude, I'm sure they'll treasure it for a long time. But there are also smaller gifts for birthdays and Christmas and more and more I'm finding people appreciate the time and effort that has gone into a hand made gift.

So as you can see, once we started living a more simple life, one thing lead to the next and it grew organically to what we have today. I think most plans will develop themselves once the first step has been taken; it's always that first step that's the most difficult. And make sure you remember that my life and what I've just described for you certainly isn't the only version of a simple life. You don't have to give up work or wait until your children leave home and you don't have to be living in the country. You can do this anywhere, at any time. Cut back on your spending, look at the way you feed yourself and change what you can for the better, teach your self how to bake, sew, knit and whatever you do, be pleased with what you achieve, don't dwell on what you haven't done. That will be waiting for you when you can manage it.

So now to the important part - we've talked so far about the practical side of simplicity, but you also need to think about yourself and your life in a different way, and you need to slow down, stop multi-tasking and be kind to yourself. As soon as you make your first step, say to yourself that you're living simply, tell others, if they ask, that you can't go shopping with them because: "I decided to live more simply, I won't be going out shopping very much now. I'm saving to pay off my debts." Just hearing yourself say that will affirm your change. Build on it by thinking about your life and your changes every day. This way of living is as much about how you think about yourself and your life as it is about the practical things you do everyday. If you do many of the things I've described but still think of yourself as a shopper and long to get back to the mall, that is where you'll end up. You have to develop a simple mindset. Think about the values you want to live by. I want generosity, kindness, grace and respect in my life, and I consciously work on ways to live to those values. If you can, take time out for yourself every day. Think about ways you can reconnect with your family and how you can develop your simple life.

And then, just do it.


  1. Rhonda Jean, this is a great post. Let's hope that folks reading it really think about what you are saying and follow your advice. For so very long, I was convinced the cultural paradigm of people as consumers was wrong; human experience is so much richer than the world of commerce and shopping. Thank you.

    AM of the bread (which is still lovely...I'm using it for pizza dough now too!)

  2. Our culture in the U.S. is centered around consumerism and having the biggest, the best, and the newest. It has been a relief to not go to the mall shopping, in fact we finally went to return something the other day and my son asked, "Mom, where is Santa?" because the last time he stepped foot in a mall was at Christmastime to see Santa Claus. Our life has definitely changed for the better!

  3. whatever you do, be pleased with what you achieve, don't dwell on what you haven't done. That will be waiting for you when you can manage it.

    This spoke loads to me. I have made many changes but still I tend to dwell on what I haven't achieved. Thanks Rhonda.

    cheers Kate

  4. Another wonderful post. Thank you.

    Best Wishes,


  5. Once again a great post. I love the reaffirmation that you always give us.

    Thank you.


  6. Thank you for your blog Rhonda. I have been following it for a little while now, and it has been an encouragement to me when I am feeling discouraged at home. At those times, your articles help me to refocus.

    I am in the process of simplifying our home life. It is a slow process, and a thoughtful process, but when I look back, I can see the progess that I have made, and know that I will continue moving forward.

    One of the things I found helpful in avoiding shopping so much was to fill my days with other activities, and to have a plan of attack when I had to fight the urge to go shopping. Like make myself a nice coffee at home and go into the garden to read, visit friends, go for a walk along the beach, take the children to the park, go bikeriding. And even taking on some paid work one morning a week (music lessons).
    All of those things have helped keep my days full and productive, and have helped me avoid the shopping centres when the shopping bug has struck.

    The other thing that has helped me is to create a 'shopping day' - and the rest of the week I add to a list things I need to buy on that day. Then when shopping day comes around, I prioritise that list, taking off some things that I can do without a little longer etc - and then off we go. I always feel good after this, as my shopping has been thoughtful, and with a purpose.

  7. I made pie crust from scratch today. So quick, easy, flaky and delicious! Apple pie mmmmm so good. And I did it myself!

  8. Thanks for this wonderful post. Your advice is just what i needed. I also like to knit, crochet, embroider & quilt. I've been slowly progressing with knitting dishcloths. Been years since i knitted & it's going slowly. Going to try a crocheted one next.

  9. I don't find that it is a simpler life in the sense that I work less; in fact I still work a full time job both for pay and for the household. The difference is that I most times come home from my paid job tired, stressed, and discouraged. My household job though, that gives me great satisfaction. My family appreciates what I do and helps where they can. If I go to bed tired, it's a good tired. That's the kind of life I can live well. And someday, I hope to be able to drop to part time, after we get bills paid off, so I can work even harder at home.

    I originally found your blog through a search for home made laundry soap. I have been using it for a year, and I am very happy with it! Thanks for sharing. If it weren't for people like you it would be a lot harder to make that transition.

  10. I have really enjoyed this week's posts. I have been trying to simply my life, cut back on the spending, and buying things that aren't needed. I do stockpile and right now need to clean out my stockpile before I buy more. I also can, just finished making tomato sauce. Right now I don't have enough in my garden to can from it, but put up what I can. I did 4 quart freezer bags of sweet/English/green peas this morning from my garden. You are really inspiring me to try to live my life differently.

    By the way, those are some big potatoes. I don't think mine will ever get that big.


  11. I new to your thred... however, I've been making the journey (ever slow as it is) to a simpler life since I moved to a much, much smaller town about 4 years ago. I'm also in my journey to become the mother & housewife I'd like to be. I fully agree with what you are saying.

    By the way.... I love your site! Expecially those oil lamp candles =)

  12. We live in an area with no shopping malls, and not many places where we *can* spend our money... it has helped us to save, big time! *smile* Stockpiling helps too. I love the weeks when we can spare ourselves the Big Shopping Trip because we have all we need right here at home.

  13. Such a feeling of freedom comes just from deciding to live a simpler life.

    We feel that we are living more deliberately and more deeply by choosing not to go the double-income-huge-mortgage-elite-private-schooling treadmill.

    Can't say I don't get occasional pangs of jealousy though by the executive lifestyles our high-flying siblings and friends have. Even though I know they pay a price.

    Maybe I should direct them to your blog, Rhonda!

  14. I have been living a simple life, physically, for many years (since I was a young wife and mother, and now I just became a grandma). But, something in the last post really caught my attention and that was a sentence about a simple life not being just something you do, but also about the state of one's mind. I'm very focused on doing and improving and I see the next step for me is a simplifying of my mind, thoughts, intentions. Multi-tasking must go! This is going to be much harder for me to do than, say, finding yet another way to eliminate plastic from my home. Anymore thoughts on this road, anyone?
    Thank you for the thought-provoking blog, Rhonda Jean.

  15. This was lovely. I love reading about how people are living simpler, meaningful lives in accordance with their values. Very inspiring.

  16. We've always tried to live fairly simple, but the last year or two, we've been making changes to be more self-reliant. My husband says he'd like to get to the point where we can raise all our own meat. This year we tackled the veggie garden. Next year he says it will be bigger and given more priority.

    One thing that we have a problem with still is fast food. We get so busy with chores that cooked meals fall to the side and we wind up grabbing something for convenience. We've both talked about how silly it is to invest so much time in trying to get things better and then filling up on fast food all the time. I'd love to see some of your suggestions for home-made fast foods to have on hand.


  17. Dear Rhonda,what a great words you have today. And I can only say: it's the truth.
    We've began a couple of years ago and right now I can say that we are on the good road. We're not quite there here we want us to be, but we know that we will in the future. We love to have a couple of chickens, but on our appartement? But one step we made was to rent a garden for fruit and vegetables. Our first harvest is a fact, and we lóve our "home-made" vegetables. It tastes delicious!

    And as you were saying: once we've started...

    We know we still have a very long way to go to our finishline, but we are on our right way. And with all your tips and trucs it only can get better and easier. ;o)

  18. Since my husband and I are working really hard to get our debts paid off and to save every place we can, this post is great and very inspirational.


  19. Thank you for the wonderful post! It really spoke to me.:)

  20. That is a great post, as always. I was worried when i heard "worm tea", but then i look it up and was relieved. I was sure it couldn't be for human consumption. ;)

    Your life is so beautiful. I wish i could take the reigns and decide to live such a simple, wonderful life.

  21. There is always something to tweek and or learn and grow from. Simle living is not dull at all. It is full and interesting and relaxing even if you are working hard..because you are doing what you want to do. You are living Your life. Your own personal life how you want it. We all have restrictions of time or space or knowledge. Still we can accomplish so much with what we have. One step at a time and build on it. You do one thing then it reminds you of this or that and on you go to another goal. It Is a beautiful life! Rhonda you need to start on a second book already. Your posts are so full of good advice and you have such a solid beautiful way with words. You can put into words what we only can feel but can't seem to get onto paper. Jody

  22. Rhonda, another excellent post; food for the soul and so far removed from the 'gossip, meaningless celebrities, greed and having everything at any price' you mentioned.

  23. I don't find knitting to be frugal. Yarn is expensive. I knitted a dishcloth, but found that for the price of the yarn, I could buy several dishcloths at the store. I can find sweaters and scarves in good condition at the thrift stores. Knitting may be a nice past time but it isn't inexpensive.

  24. Hi Rhonda,

    Do you ever get bored though? I tried to do the monthly shopping trip and using a regular shopping list, but I got bored with buying the same things every time. Did you have this feeling, and did it go away over time? What about the routine of doing the same things every day? I find it relaxing for a few days, then the boredom sets in. Is this all part of the path to a simpler life and just part of de-programming the consumer lifestyle?

  25. I have to agree with anonymous on yarn being expensive! A good wool is really pricey.
    I guess that is what Rhonda means when she says that one person's simple life is different from another's. One may prioritise the making of things, becoming less dependent on manufacturing while another may (by choice or circumstance) prioritise frugality. Either way, you have both thoughtfully considered the value of knitted items- Rhonda chooses to knit and you choose to buy thrifted garments. I've heard of people buying thrifted items, unraveling them and reusing the yarn. You could do this with cotton yarn for dishcloths.
    I am still dependent on a lot of store bought items; time is more of an issue than money for me. But by consciously seeing where I can make changes, I am slowly building my repertoire of self-made, self-grown, locally sourced, sustainable products- emphasis on the 'slowly'. Works for me.

  26. Hello everyone!

    Christine, you can, dear. :- )

    Tasha, I have never been bored. There are so many tings to do and so many things I want to learn about. I am engaged in living my life to the best of my ability and that requires me to be focused and committed. When I'm not working on something, I'm relaxing and while I supposed there could be elements of boredom attached to relaxing, I don't see it like that. Maybe it's an age thing, but even when I was much younger, I was never bored.

    I commented about buying yarn in the dish cloth post.

    It truly pleases me a lot to read about your life stories. Thank you all for sharing yourselves here.

  27. Tasha, your question reminded me of some wise words in Screwrtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (when you translate them from Screwtapesque...) - that people have a desire for change, that things all the same are boring to them, but at the same time repetition is good for them - which is why there are changing seasons that are both the same and always different... And that's why the devils instill in people the desire for new and new things, people, experiences... I was amazed at this, because it fits so well into the ideas of this contemporary simple life "movement", and yet it's about fifty years old... That shows that some truths are timeless. :-)

    My reasons for trying to live simple life (still just trying) are just as simple as the life I want to live: I've always wanted to be like that. Everytime I met someone with the skills to live simply, someone who lived simply in one way or another, I was fascinated and admired them, and told to myself that was what I wanted to be like. Here you go. :-) Thanks to Rhonda Jean and other great people online, I came back to that old ideal. Right now the main step I made was a decision not to buy new clothes, to buy them second-hand or make them. With the exception of socks, because I don't feel up to that yet, but would like to get there one day as well. I guess this is as good a start as any other, right? It might not necessarily be frugal, because fabrics aren't always cheap, but it's at least much more satisfying.

  28. I made a shampoo bar of soap. I found the recipe at The shampoo bar left my hair feeling like coated straw! And by the end of the day, I felt like it was greasy and needed washing ~ again.
    How does your hair feel after using your soap? Do you condition it after using your soap?

    I love your blog :o)

  29. Just wanted to let you know I have linked this post to Buddy's Extra Best of the Week. I hope that it will bring you many new friends.




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