"Getting" the simple life

21 July 2010
I continue to have a sprinkling of emails every week asking for tips on how to start living a simpler life or how to continue once the first step has been taken. I thought it might be a helpful exercise to list some tasks and skills that might help you move towards simplicity or to remain on the path. But it's not that simple. We all live in different ways. Age, or the stage of life you're at, will determine more than anything else how you're living your life right now. For instance, those of you in your teens and early twenties will probably be living differently than those in their late twenties and early thirties who have young children. People in their late thirties and into their forties, whose children who have grown, will be different again. Those my age, will have different priorities and goals.

However, there is a a loose framework we can be guided by and that involves looking at:
  • the way we eat
  • shopping
  • living well on less
  • housework
  • being green
  • the work we do
You will find that when you look at all of these areas, as they relate directly to your own life, that each of them is linked to the others and the way you do one of them will impact on all the other areas.

If you're not growing your own food, the best way to go is to eat seasonally. Eating what is in season will give you the freshest and possibly the cheapest food. It is really difficult to know what is in season when you're shopping at a mainstream supermarket because most of the fruit and vegetables will look fresh, even when they're not. Often their apples will be months old and just out of storage, tomatoes and eggs might be weeks old and if you're not a gardener yourself it's difficult to tell the signs to look for. If you can, shop at local markets and ask the seller when the produce was picked. If you can't do that, and supermarkets are your only option, do some research on what is in season in your area, and also be guided by price. When it's tomato season, they're cheaper. When berries or bananas are in season, they're cheaper. In winter, when cabbages and kale thrive, they're cheaper.

If you can, buy organic produce. If you can't buy all organic, buy what you can and be happy with that.

Cook from scratch. This will cut out all sorts of preservatives, artificial colourings and flavourings. If you don't cook at all, start with two simple recipes that you know will fit well into your lifestyle. When you're comfortable with them, add two more. You don't have to do all or nothing. Small steps towards your goal will work well.

If you're still out there wandering through shops looking for things to buy, stop. Having more will not make you happier, more fulfilled or the envy of your friends. It will just use up the money you work hard for. You'd be wiser to use that money on paying off your debts.

Take control of your shopping, cut down on the times you go to the shops; if you shop weekly for groceries, go fortnightly instead. The more you're in the shops, the more you'll spend. Plan your menus, stockpile groceries and don't waste food. Cook from scratch - it is cheaper. Use your leftovers. Get rid of disposable products. Make a conscious decision not to use plastic bags or bottles. Instead of buying the numerous expensive commercial products in the cleaning aisle, buy white vinegar in bulk (at least two litres/quarts at a time), bicarb, laundry soap, borax, washing soda - also known as soda crystals, soda ash or calcium carbonate, and learn more about green cleaning. (I'll have more on this tomorrow.)

Make up a budget and stick to it. Reading a sentence like that when I was a shopper would have made me cringe. I know better now. Now I know it's just a tool that helped me get my life back. I have some posts on budgeting and using the envelope system to help me organise myself. It's really liberating to get this part of your life under control and to be able to ignore advertising, turn your back on fashionable flim flam and be your true self.

When the penny drops and you realise that everything you buy will cost the hours of your life you spent earning that money, you will be ready go to the next level and work out a plan to get out of debt as quickly as possible. Being debt free means you're not beholding to any one or any bank. When you walk away from mindless consumerism and pay that last payment on your mortgage or credit cards, it will be one of the most memorable times of your life. On that day you will become a genuine independent and you'll live better and breathe easier because of it. Being debt free means that you don't have to make life decisions based on money. You can cut down your working hours if that is what you wish to do or you can continue working to save for travel or those things that are really important to you.

This post is getting to be quite long so I'll finish the rest of the list tomorrow.

What I hope I've demonstrated here is that moving to a simpler life means you take control of your own life and move into the driver's seat. Simple living is not passive. It requires that you make decisions and act on them. You will no longer be driven by what others have but by what you want and need instead. It usually involves more work but it is work that brings many rewards and is life affirming and enriching. But if you "get" it, if you can open up the elements of your life and really examine them, if you develop routines and a daily rhythm to this life work, if you can turn you back on what you're constantly told you want and want only what you need, then you will build a life like no other.