The first step towards simplicity

17 August 2009

Some of the lemons ready for juicing next week. Leaving them sit for a week makes them juicier.

I've had a few emails recently asking about how it's best to start living simply. I've written about this before but it's always an area of interest and often the first step is the most difficult.

THE bees.

Simple living is not about grand gestures - it's not moving to the country and it's not giving up work to become self sufficient. It's more about little things - small steps that make the way we live mirror our values. I believe that simple living is about being an individual - stepping away from the mainstream and living the life you want, even when that life is very different to those of your family and friends. Now I'd be the last one to tell you what sort of values you should live by. One of the best things about living in a free and open country is that we make those choices ourselves. So it would be wise to take some time out, sit by yourself, or with your partner, and write down the values that are important to you. For example, for me, it's important that:
  1. I live in an environmentally sound way;
  2. I want to limit the amount of chemicals in my home;
  3. I want to reduce waste;
  4. and make as much as I can for myself.
I have other values that I live by but those will serve as a good illustration of what I'm getting at here. Now that I have those four things, I would then make each of them a category to work on. In a note book, give each category a page to itself - write the value at the top of the page and then, over the course of a week or so, bullet points ways you can change your life to reflect your values. Some of the ideas you come up with might be easily achieved, some will be difficult but the point is to identify what you want in your life and what you need to do to make that life.

Above all else, don't copy me or anyone else whose life looks good. This way of living means you evaluate your life and make the changes you want. If you copy someone else's like, you'll be faking it. Now having said that, let me also say that if you evaluate your life and it ends up being similar to my life or your best friend's, then that is fine, as long as you went through the process and identified that is is what you want.

Lemon and coconut cake.

When I first started living this way, I was in contact with many other women on a forum who kept telling me that simple living was about slowing down, being mindful and taking time for oneself. They told me the practical things I did everyday - the bread baking, keeping a simple home, green cleaning, preserving/canning etc, were homesteading, not simple living. I never believed that - I think that a simple life is the whole kit and caboodle. It's the way I feel about myself, my home, and the way I live, it's slowing down and being mindful and it is the practical expression of all those things in the daily tasks I do each day. The philosophy of it and the expression of it are part of the whole. The values you live your life by are expressed by the practical tasks you do each day.

The last mandarin.

Another helpful way of thinking about a simple life is to just think about the things you do now, and try to make them more simple - focusing on less rather than more. Draw a line in the sand today and say to yourself: from now on I will stick to my budget; I will reduce waste and never have my rubbish bin more than half full; I'm going to stop buying so many disposable products; I'm going to cook 50 percent of our meals from scratch - then add another 10 per cent in a month, then another; I will shop for groceries only once a fortnight (month/ two months); I will teach myself to knit. Your list may not look anything like that because it will suit your life and family, but it will give you a focus to work on and bit by bit, you'll be simplifying.

In my simplified life today I'll be tidying up the bush house, starting off some vinegar with wine left over from the wedding, taking photos of the garden, having my eyes checked by the optometrist, and cleaning the front verandah, as well as a few other things. Thank you for all the wonderful comments and emails you've sent my way this part week. I don't always have the time to respond, but I read every word and appreciate you taking the time to make contact with me. Often I'm quite overwhelmed by your comments and every day I'm thankful that my blog makes it possible for me to connect with so many of you. I hope you have a beautiful week.

(A variation on my orange cake recipe)

  • ¾ cup caster sugar
  • 125 grams butter (¼ lb), room temp
  • 3 teaspoons finely grated lemon rind
  • 3 eggs, room temp
  • 1 ½ cups self-raising flour, sifted OR 1 ½ cups plain (all purpose) flour with 3 teaspoons of baking powder added
  • 1 ½ cups desiccated (shredded unsweetened) coconut
  • 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 ¼ cups milk
  1. Place the coconut, lemon juice and milk in a bowl and let it sit for an hour. This will sour the milk.
  2. Preheat oven to 175°C (350F).
  3. Place sugar, butter and lemon rind in a large bowl, and beat until light and creamy, this will take about 4 or 5 minutes.
  4. Add eggs one at a time, beating well between each one.
  5. Fold flour and coconut mixture into the butter mix. When it's combined, place it in a round greased and lined cake pan.
  6. Cook for 50 minutes or until , when tested with a skewer, it comes out clean.


  1. I always like reading your posts about starting to live simply. Athough I have been on this path for a couple of years now these posts bring me back to the begining, help me re-evaluate. Thank you.


    ps Love all the lemons.

  2. Hi Rhonda
    Every once in a while I stop by and read your blog. I´ts inspiring with something divine and kind about it and makes me feel better about myself. Somehow. I´ve always been domestic, enjoying baking, cooking and knitting for example. anyway I was so inspired the other day I decided to grow some rocket in the backyard. 2 months have passed and my rocket lettuce refuces to grow taller than an inch, or go past sprouting state. BUT a)it has given me something to laugh about, b)at least I tried c)I´ll do better next year. d)In Iceland rocket is definetely an inside plant, I thought the plastic I put on top would create a glasshouse effect, apparently it did not...
    Keep up your lovely blog girl...

    Best regards
    Kristin, Iceland

  3. Morning Pippa!

    Hi Kristin, it makes me smile to know that you are in Iceland, reading my blog down under. I'm glad my words make a difference to your day. Take care love.

  4. You make it hard to want less with a photo of a lemon cocoanut cake. Carumba! That looks good.

  5. I didn't know that about lemons...thanks for the tip! And that lemon coconut cake looks SO YUMMY!

  6. i always get such a lift from your words..
    take care,

  7. Just a quick note to say thanks for your blog - you write beautifully and I find your words very inspirational. Thank you!

  8. Well, I've identified what I want. I want that lemon coconut cake! My stars and garters, does that look GOOD!

    Barb in GA

  9. Yesterday my daughters and I started getting the backyard in order. I decided that in order for it to get accomplished I would set smaller goals to strive toward. I had taken four days off from work. Saturday I got out there and started pulling weeds. It was hot and I got sore from time to time, but I would just take a break and go inside to get a drink of water and cool off. Saturday evening my youngest came by after work and hacked out some of the bigger weeds for me, then her boyfriend and I put them in bags (which I will empty out at the recyclers and reuse)
    Today my oldest daughter and I tackled what was left of the area where the younger one worked last night. We decided that I would bring pallets home from work and tear them apart to reuse the wood to make planter boxes along the fence. We can plant herbs and lettuces in those boxes.
    Tomorrow my middle daughter and I will take the weeds to the recyclers and empty the bags and cans that we filled. We will then start in on the back part of the yard.
    I'm sorry that I am writing such a long comment, but I am really, really excited and I want to let you know that reading your blog each day has encouraged me to do this. I have been wanting to clean up the yard and use it to grow some of our food and maybe set up some chickens next spring (so I have time to make them a proper enclosure)
    Thank you. Thank you so much for your words of wisdom and experience!

  10. Okay, I think we need the recipe for the lemon coconut cake. But then, everything you produce looks like a picture out of a cookbook! Go Rhonda!

  11. Rhonda a trick for the juicing of lemons...
    The day before you juice them leave them to sit over night in the bath tub in cool water the excess of the juice is astounding and made rich by the oils in the lemon skins. It is how I treat them before juicing and freezing the juice. Ice trays then bagged is a nice way to have just that bit extra for a small recipe

  12. We never set out to simplify. We just had x amount of income and had to stretch it. A neighbor got us interested in gardening, the gardening bug caught on in a huge way! That led to canning and other food preservation. I already sewed for the family but now did gifts and more sewing for our home. We paid off our home and land. It may not be as big as we want and it is not in the country but it is all ours. It has limits but still there is Much we can do to be independent here. We found ways to save on the groceries we did have to buy and as the years went on bought less and at little cost. Keep a good pantry. Keep reading, asking and learning and trying. The work is hard at times but so rewarding! There is always something to strive toward. Something you want to try. There is no hurry, we Want to do this. It is our life we are creating so only we can say what that is and it feels so natural. Ronda you have been so helpful to all of us. We each have our own lives like you say but you have taught us sooo much! Thankyou! Jody

  13. I really appreciate how you express that we need to find out our version of a simple life. I am doing an evaluation of how my life can better express my values in my day to day at the moment. Thanks so much for helping making me think!

  14. Rhonda, I am curious. I am not familiar with what a bush house is. Could you explain? Jody

  15. Hi Jody dear. A bush house is an outdoor structure where gardeners raise seedlings and nurse sick plants. It's a warm weather version of a glasshouse. :- )

  16. Hi Rhonda

    The cake looks great! What is the topping made of?

    Many thanks


  17. You hit the nail on the head when you said about finding your own version of simplicity based on what's important to you.

    I was on a blog the other day where the owner had almost run themselves into the ground trying to mold themselves into someone else's idea of self-sufficiency while holding down a full time job. Crazy!

    I said the same thing you did - don't follow anyone else. Do what you can in the time you have and don't feel guilt-tripped into doing something because a book or guru tell you to.

  18. Fabulous post, beautiful pictures and i wish we could grow citrus fruit, but I don't have room for a glass house...

    thank you for sharing and inspiring me

    x Alex

  19. i really enjoy reading your blog. I admire what you do. I am slowly doing things to make my life simpler and more environmental(it's hard when no one else in the household wants to do it)
    My decision last week was to start buying a wash powder that is an environmentally friendly one that can be used in grey water (my next step is to find a way to get that water outside to be used on the lawn etc)
    I guess every little bit helps (when my washing machine disintergrated I demanded a front loader as it uses less water than a top loader - I had had a twin tub for years but my back no longer liked to use it so when it broke I took my chance)
    You cake looks scrumptious, I will be trying that this week as there are some lemons sitting on the bench that someone gave to me

  20. I thank you for this post. There are so many who try to tell us how to live simply, and if we don't do it their way then it is wrong. I have always disagreed with this way of thinking. It is all an individual effort. Plus whatever you put into this way of life is what you get out of it. Do what is right and good for you, or you will be living someone else's life.

    Peace and Blessings,

  21. This summer off from teaching has allowed me to make the steps more towards a simpler life and I have enjoyed reading your blog. One thing is that I have found my passion again for reading and have turned off the tv (not that I watched a ton, but I don't watch any now). I don't miss it and I feel better. I am sewing once again, baking more, making my own yogurt (in the crockpot!). I am playing with my 2 yearold non-stop. I am trying to get the courage to stop working sometime in the next year and be a stay at home Mom, which I think should be on my simple life plan! Thank you for a great blog! Any suggestions for a partner who, although very supportive, doesn't share the same philosophy to the simple life? I should clarify that, he has been better about budgeting.

  22. I agree, simplicity could be different for folks. I have to work full-time outside the home but after that, I don't commit to too much outside the home anymore. My true love and passion is at home caring for the farm animals, our land, house, and husband. If I get good quality time at home then I'm much more content in my life.

    FYI - I'm in a small USA town in North Carolina.

  23. Hello Rhonda,

    I just love it when you post about this subject! I am trying so hard to live my life in a more simple and gratifying way. I think that simplicity does not necessarily mean that you have to homestead or live on a farm, but that you slow down, take accountability for the way you live no matter where you are. We are responsible for the imprint that we will leave on the earth. I have been contemplating this way of life for some time now, and it has just been the last few months that we have decided to make some big changes in the way the we handle our lives. Thank you for being a part of that decision - I don't think you realize how many lives you touch. By the way, the lemons look delightful, and I can't wait to make the lemon cake!

    Have a wonderful day,

  24. Thank you for the recipe. I will definately try it - I love lemon! Every day I read your blog I pick up new tips. Today I learned to let the lemons sit before juicing them. I have never heard that before and we juice lemons a couple times a year to freeze. Thanks so much!

  25. When I saw that scrumptious picture of the cake I thought, "I hope she gives the recipe..." and you did!

    What is caster sugar? (I'm from the US, maybe this is an Australian term?)If it's not available here would regular granulated sugar work?


  26. Hi Susan, caster sugar is fine granulated sugar. : - )

  27. Ooh that lemon cake looks like something my family would really enjoy! I must make it next week! Part of my simple living plan was to stop buying those little individually packed snack foods for my daughters lunch box and I have to say, it has been so much easier than I thought. There are no little packets of junk in there now, only real food. Every week I'll bake once (or twice..depending on how long before the goodies are gobbled up) for the lunchboxes. I find that I always have the basic ingredients on hand to make something tasty and it saves an incredible amount of money each week. My daughter appreciates the care that goes into making her lunch each day as opposed to just throwing in a handful of packets!

  28. Hi Rhonda,
    Your lemon cake recipe will be appearing on my list of things to make this week! All of my family likes anything to eat that has lemon in it. Thanks for all of the great tips and ideas that you post. Have a great week.
    Hugs, Aunt Bea

  29. Thank you for this post and its reminder that for the simple life to work it must be our very own version, not a copy of someone else's. It is so easy to get carried away with trying to imitate others!
    I'd also like to say that cake looks divine. I'm sure I'll be trying it soon.

  30. Rhonda,
    I am interested in your "starting off vinegar" Could you share your vinegar making process? Thanks for all your ideas and inspiration.

  31. i really enjoyed this post. what is simple for one may seem very challenging for another. we all need to define simple living for ourselves and then not compare ourselves to others. Nor should we judge others standards of simplel.

  32. Rhonda;
    I first have to tell you how dear your blog is to me and how much I enjoy it. I have been reading from the beginning to present and enjoying every bit. Your blog is a breath of fresh air for me. It is so in tune with how I feel and what I try to instill in our lives here and teach our children. In your Jan 3, 2008 post was about bathroom cleaning. You suggested using your broom to scrub the floors. I had never heard of scrubbing with your broom! You see, even though I am still relatively young, my hands are in constant pain and I am not able to do many of the things that I used to do and took for granted before. I was dreading a scrubbing that my kitchen floor needed and knew I was going to suffer for days. I instead tried the broom and was shocked at how quickly and easily the dirt was removed even a few dried on food bits and it was barely more difficult than sweeping! I thank you so much for all the time and effort you put into your blog and the helpful hints. Without this tip I would still be in there scrubbing on my hands and knees!
    Keep up the good work and keep inspiring others to keep their goals in sight despite what the neighbors might think!
    Thank you

    Amy, USA

  33. How very true this is! I've been studying up living simply and how I can reduce the amount of things I buy by either growing them or making them from healthy products. (Home cleaners and such.) Some things I think aren't worth making at home or growing, some things I can't- such as raising animals. (Hopefully that will come someday!) But I'm so happy with what our life here is becoming! Your blog has been a big help- a lot of inspiration to make me take a step back and look at what really matters. Thank you for posting!
    PS Oh my word, the lemon cake looks heavenly. :O

  34. Greetings once again and I pray the Lord will bless you as you reach out to help others live a "plainer" life and learn contentment.
    This week I have been away from home most days and it has brought a great deal of frustration to me as I am a homebody 99% of the time. I preserve about 1000 jars of food per year. My dh brought me a pressure canner ( not pressure cooker) from the States ( e-bay Australia has them on their site) and I preserve foods now like vegetables/soups and casseroles. We live on a farm and I have been blessed to be given a vegie garden paddock that currently I have 25 fruit trees growing happily down one end, my hen houses and the gardens at the other end.
    Your site is such an encouragement to me. I have been telling folk over the last 5 years to grow vegies/ preserve/ store foods/save seeds but most of the time the response has been " we hear you Karen" and then they do nothing. I sincerely thank you for taking the time to do your blog. God bless you.


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