22 May 2012

Starting your simple life

There are many people reading here who know exactly what simple life is all about. There are those who live in a very similar way to me and Hanno and those who live their simple life in a completely different way. There is no right or wrong way to do this - you will know you've got it right if you're spending less, feeling you have control of your life, if you're less stressed than you used to be and despite what is happening in the world with the financial ups and downs, rising prices and unemployment, you know you'll be okay. Maybe you're happy too, or at least content most of the time.

However, I still get a lot of emails from readers asking about "how to start living simply". There would probably be thousands of answers to that question and I know the people who ask it want specifics - they want a starting point. So let's say: start with what you're doing now or what troubles you most. For instance, if living within your means has given you a few problems, start with that. Or if you're currently looking for new recipes, start cooking from scratch and ensure that all your new recipes are from scratch. You'll find that once you've started on one project, that will lead to another. If you start on budgeting, that will probably lead you on to stockpiling, menu planning, recycling, mending, mindful shopping or anything that will help you save money and still live well. If you start with scratch cooking and you gather a lot of recipes, that will lead you to organising yourself, possible with a home management journal, and maybe stockpiling. Take your lead from what you're already doing. Trust yourself. There are no simple living police who will tap you on the shoulder and tell you you've got it all wrong.

The truth is that anything you do to simplify your life is a start. That could be gathering the family at the kitchen table for dinner each night, it could be walking to work, it could be reducing the amount of rubbish you put in your bins each week. When you make a start, follow on with whatever comes up next. For instance, if you start with the family at the dinner table at night, that might lead on to washing up by hand and them drying up. My sister and I grew up doing that - although she tells me now that I made excuses to get out of it. Funny, I don't remember that.   ;- ). If you start walking to work, that might lead you on to taking a water bottle from home instead of buying it; or walking the kids to school too. If you start with the rubbish bins, that might lead you to composting or worm farming. Whatever you are lead to, continue on.

There are no grand gestures in this way of life. All of it - every single part of it - is made up of small steps. Starting with one step, will lead to the next, it is up to you to keep walking. Think about your life and what direction you want to go in and be consistent. Own your life, be a good example to your children and talk about what you're doing. This may be different to what your friends or neighbours are doing but it is nothing to be ashamed of, it's just different. Who knows, you explaining what you're doing to someone else, may well be the encouragement they need to join you. We all start with ourselves and those ripples slowly move outwards. It all starts with a single action.

I guess I started as I was growing up with an intelligent and resourceful mother who had very little money, yet she always managed to give us what we needed. I didn't know it then but I was watching her and remembering. I forgot her lessons for a while, but when I needed them again, it all came flooding back. When I gave up work we were already growing vegetables and keeping chooks, so I started organising myself properly and shopping for groceries with intention. For me, that lead on to stockpiling, menu planning, learning about food storage and many more things, all focused on our home. But I guess the thing that gave me the biggest incentive to keep going was to see how I could support my family while we spent considerably less than we did before, and then the contentment that turned into happiness that flowed from it.

How did you start your simple living journey?



  1. Rhonda you have a way of putting it perfectly into words. Starting with what you are doing now is great advice. We started with a worm farm and sawn in half wine barrels to grow veg. Then it spiraled into recycling, making do, less waste and now our whole garden is a little urban farm. I had been cooking from scratch for years but then we turned organic foods only which added the need to shop mindfully as you put it. When the garden came into full production I had to learn storage and preserving techniques. It's a wonderful adventure and journey.

  2. I grew up in a large family. So everything was rather frugal. My own journey began when we were a few years married and just bought a house (1984) and the mortgage rates were 10%. We wanted to have the house payed off within ten years. We were doing fantastic until little bumps in the road started to happen ( children). I quit my work ( drafts - woman) and stayed home. My new role became being a Frugal Mom. Thank-goodness I experienced it my whole growing up life. Funny though I really enjoyed being domestic and cooking and sewing from scraps. 28 years later and seven children, it is constantly thinking outside the box, as our world around us changes. But it can be done. We owe no one anything, yet still live very simply. I feel blessed.

  3. I think my journey began when I started doing things to save money on utility bills; with the saved money I purchased things at a thrift store that furthered that goal (wool blankets, flannel sheets); then I moved on to saving money on toiletries, then clothes, and more. I'd always been frugal with grocery money by cooking from scratch, but I began to do more. I still don't do everything, my time and resources are different. But that's the beauty of living simply. What is simple to one person isn't to another. Thank you for sharing all your knowledge; and thanks for asking for reader contributions. Keep up the good work! Oh, and thanks for the apron swap. I had the good fortune to meet two very wonderful women from Down Under.

  4. The first thing I consciously did to simplify our lifestyle was to make our own dishwasher powder. The succes of such a simple action spurred me on to make laundry liquid and then pressed soap.
    I've gone on to include all sorts of simple ideas into our lives, one by one. As each new experiment works (!!) and then becomes routine, I try something new again.
    It sometimes takes my partner and son a little adjustment, but the long term health and wealth benefits outweigh sticking to old habits.

  5. I started with cloth nappies. That led to line drying, menu planning, baby led weaning, table cloths, my own laundry powder.... and now we're added chickens and bread making, and natural cleaners.

    And always inspired and supported by Rhonda. So actually, it all started with you....

  6. It really is like you say, Rhonda; the journey to living simply just flows together. You keep your mind on your goal, and somehow, seemingly without much effort, you're making steps in that direction - and even if each step looks like a minor change, one day you wake up and realize how far you've gone!

  7. I think my own journey to living simply started when I was 16. My father lost his business in the 1982 recession, and the resulting stress in the family made me decide then never to be in debt. So I never have been, and have cut my cloth to suit our income. Marrying someone with the same attitude to money helped! Two major decisions that have profoundly influenced my life.
    I would also add that the simple living journey is one that isn't static. Once you start you find that things evolve with your life stages.

  8. Hi Rhonda

    I properly started my simple-living journey after I'd put quite a sizeable dent in my personal savings when I had to live on them. I was very glad that I had these savings when I needed them!

    Each step or lesson is relevant at different times in your life and it's something you train and build on and that comes back to you when you get lazy about it.

    The more you practice and give yourself credit for the bits you do well, the more you see opportunity to improve elsewhere. It's quite a creative process in a way.

  9. Thats an interesting question! I grew up with a frugal mother, and when I had children and little money, being frugal was just normal! I've been reading Grass Roots and Earth Garden magazines since I was 18 and always wanted a back to earth type lifestyle. It didn't quite happen that way but a lot of little things added together made the journey a simple one anyway!
    My thoughts on living simply would be reuse, recycle and reinvent - doing that makes you think twice and it all seems to progress from there!

  10. Fantastic explanation of how to get started. I started with deciding that I wanted to lead a healthier life so started to look at the food we were eating, which lead me to stop buying processed food to cooking from scratch, to growing some of my own to buying Organic, which meant I had to cut down what I spent elsewhere to be able to afford it. This lead me to realise that I didn't need half the stuff I was buying which lead to a year of buying nothing new which has become a habit now, which lead to making my own clothing, sewing and knitting, which lead to making gifts by hand... A snow ball effect really. One new thing always leads to another and I'm loving it.

  11. Good morning Rhonda,

    We bought a sheep farm in the early 80's. Huge interest rates. We would butcher our own sheep for meat. I remember my grandparents came to stay with us and when we brought cut up the sheep she would get the flaps ( the front rib cage ) and debone it and cut off all the fat and then make a rolled roast out of it. Before I saw her do this our sheep dogs would get this portion. She taught me to render down into suet in the bottom of our slow combustion stove, the fat from around the kidneys and stomach. We had very little money and just had to be inventive. We ate what we grew. And that became a lifelong journey for me. I really enjoy be resourceful and making something out of what we have on hand. I love the saying "Necessity is the mother of invention. I, like Paola believe debt causes so much stress.
    Blessings Gail

  12. For me it was memories of grandparents ... a huge vegetable plot that my grandfather tended and the frugal but happy way they lived their life. I lived another way ... a consumer way....for some time ...but those memories were at the back of my mind everyday .When I had children , I wanted to give my babies good food ....and this is when my vegetable garden started .
    We all start in different ways and we all do it differently but living in a purposeful , mindful way is very much a part of simple living.
    We should always work to live.....not live to work .

  13. Morning Rhonda,

    The needs of maintaining health and living on a lower-end income were the things that started us on living simply. The first things we did were to can most entertainment outings - movies, restaurant dinners shopping etc. We learned to be happy at home, making our own fun, having family and friends over for bbq's etc. After that came cooking from scratch, a simple vege garden and now chooks.

  14. Rhonda, you have such a lovely way with words - quite inspiring!

    I didn't realise I had started my simple living journey, I just knew I was tired of feeling pressured to be something that didn't feel right. So I consciously decided to go back to the basics and do things so I understood what I was doing and was comfortable with it.

    There is a certain amount of strength needed to do this. I found there was constant input from many directions telling me to "do this" or "do that", and I had to evaluate all this "advice" and work out what felt right to me.

    I also found that I had to be gentle with myself. There seems to be pressure now to have things immediately, so I had to learn patience - it takes time to learn about things, you don't have to be perfect first time, deadlines are often self-imposed and it's not the end of the world if you fail (although what is failure, but a chance to learn?).

    This whole life is a work in progress, and I'm gradually getting better at it. I know this because I'm gradually feeling happier (or more content). Sometimes I slip back into the old ways, but tomorrow's another day :-)

  15. Hi, I can't remember when I started the simply lifestyle but I have always liked to make jumpers blankets, beanies with stripes in them to allow me to use up small amounts of wool thus creating no or little waste. I do that with my cooking so that leftovers don't go to waste but often the start to the next evenings' meal. When a jar is empty I have always scratched around to get the last drop and added water and then shook the tomato sauce bottle and then added to spaghetti sauce. I also really despise when people don't recycle in the right bins and have been known to pick it out of the wrong bin and put in the correct bin. Sometimes people don't realise they are living a fairly simple lifestyle. I only wish I could find like minded people to have as good friends.
    Regards Melinda
    PS I have tried to use your forum but just don't seem to be able to master it

  16. Hi, Rhonda!
    What do you think of couponing? Do you use them? I have reread lots of posts but never see you mention them. Your phrase of shopping for groceries with intention reminds me of coupons. I have been trying to get into coupons, but so far its cost me more money to buy newspapers to get them and hours of clipping and not seeing much in savings. Seems its only for processed foods and cleaning supplues, things im trying to get away from. Your thoughts, please? Thanks for all you do to help us newbies at this.
    My simple living journey started with stopping eating out so much and using that money on good locally grown food to composting and then doing more for myself by sewing my skirts and things. My goal is to make my first batch of strawberry jam myself. I see its in your book. I am now on my third reading of it and learn something new each time. Thank you to you and Hanno for sharing so much of your lives with us.
    Jeanie in KY...USA

  17. You write so well Rhonda.
    I guess my first big thing to do was making the laundry liquid. This got me curious about how to make other cleaning products, not only to be cheaper but better for us and the environment. My husband was a student for 7 years so we also made many adjustments in the kitchen. Making pita bread, baking, cooking from scratch...it is amazing what can be made with a few basic staples in the pantry. I do have to remind myself to work within my limits. Knowing you can make all these things yourself from scratch is good but can be an overwhelming task if I try do it all at once. I have to space out the jobs and fit them in where I have time. Fact is doing it yourself does take more time which means scheduling. Thanks for your encouraging posts, I love catching up with them every morning.

  18. I had always pretty much cooked from scratch, but I think a turning point came when I began baking bread. In the next few years I started making more things I used to buy such as muesli and biscuits.
    Starting my vegie garden in our little townhouse yard was also a turning point.
    I delved deeper and discovered blogs such as yours.
    But the thing is there is always more to learn. There is always another interesting project on the horizon.

  19. Well i have stared my simple living we have brought chooks 3 lovely girls who should start laying this week fingers crossed and we have planted a few fruit trees i will tackle getting rid off all the stuff i do not use and go from there. I brought your book and think its fantastic advice where i need it thanks


  20. I cannot identify when my own journey began because I guess this way of life was instinctive to me, it was always 'within' me. I guess I had the opportunity to express what was within when I got married in my early twenties. I always thought my ideas and values must have been very 'old fashioned'. I did not recognize them as being 'simple' or frugal.However now I know there is a 'new fashion'around which I want to embrace with every fibre of my being!

  21. Hi Rohnda, I started with composting, making my washing liquid and cleaning with bi carb and vinigar almost at the same time. I've always tried to cook most of our meals from scratch but is hard at times when working. I've always enjoyed baking but have been doing a lot more lately to save money as hubby isnt working and because its healthier. I made my first loaf of bread by hand yesterday and I must say I and the family were impressed, but I still need more practice to perfect it. I usually try to mend as much as I can and we wear things till they are very worn out. I desperately want to have a veg garden and chooks one day but just isn't possible at this point. I do enjoy this life but hubby dosnt much as we don't have a lot of money because of so much debt but we will get there thanks to your encouragement and wisdom. Best wishes Jodie

  22. Hi Rhonda,

    I see in the picture that you have the book "Simple Knits for Cherished Babies" and was wondering what you thought of it? I'm expecting my first bub in November and have been looking at the reviews on Amazon and it says the book has some errors?

    Would you recommend it though? I'm a fairly new sewer!

    Thanks in advance.

  23. francesmoniqueMay 22, 2012 11:22 am

    This year I had been trying to not spend so much to hopefully put extra on my mortgage. I have bought a small house for my daughter and I which I love. It is strange how huge some peoples houses are. (mind you I couldn't afford a huge house anyway!) Suddenly I saw your lovely book and it was so interesting and changed my way of thinking. So I am quite new to this but I am cooking all meals, starting a garden, have started a stockpile cupboard, repairing things instead of throwing away, recycling, not shopping as an activity(!), going to make gifts, making dog food; thanks for this great blog and it's great to join in.

  24. Hi Rhonda. Another thought provoking post....thank you. My simple living journey began when my first born started eating solids. I was determined to make all of his food from scratch because I felt so strongly about not loading up his little body with preservatives and artificial everything. I then moved on to green cleaners as I started to think about all of the surfaces around the house he touched as he crawled around and the thought of chemical residues really concerned me. As well as cooking from scratch and making green cleaners we also make soap, laundry liquid, have solar panels and solar hot water, compost, recycle and are now focusing on increasing what we grow in our vegie garden. I love this journey that I am on with my family and am always looking forward to where it will take us next. One of the greatest benefits, though, is seeing how much my two boys are getting from this. They really are like sponges and to give you an example, the other day I offered to buy my 8 year old a new pair of shoes for a very special occasion. He replied "Mum, that would be a waste. My old ones still fit me, maybe you could just give them a clean and polish". Out of the mouths of babes.......

  25. What a wonderful post! I'd have to say that my simple living journey started when I graduated from college back in 1990 and refused to join the rat race. I ended up working part time for a music school and had to figure out how to get by on a salary of $100 per week. I call it the sink or swim method!

  26. Thank you for asking this question, Rhonda - I have really enjoyed reading all the amazing and thoughtful comments on this post! I identify very much with "just joyful" in that living this way has helped me become more patient and process-oriented. For me, it started with learning how to cook for myself. It wasn't from scratch for years later, but cooking also led me to growing a few herbs and vegetables and the rest came (is still coming!) step by step.

  27. Hi Rhonda, things at our home must be settling down as I now have found some time again to comment and do a little blogging.
    My journey to a simple life started when I had a fascination with the Amish and their way of living. I felt very drawn to see if I could live as simply as they seem to live. That was many years ago and I have continued in my own way to live a life that isn't dominated by consumerism. Bread baking and meals from scratch still are the norm for me. I would love to have the time to sew and knit all our clothes but that has not been possible yet as we have a very large family and my time does not stretch that far. Simple living just seems to evolve once you start and one thing leads to another and then to another.
    My dream would be to move onto property and really become more self sufficient but I have to be content with where I am and live the simple life I enjoy where I am right now!

  28. I've had various attempts at something like this, so I think some things stuck around and some never did. This real, long-lasting attempt, though, started with knitted dishcloths. That led to homemade cleaning products, and to mending clothes, and then to making clothes. Still a long way to go, though...

  29. For me, it began in a very clear moment when I finally admitted to myself that the career that I had worked so long and hard towards was making me miserable, sick and destroying my relationship. So I walked away and began establishing an organic market garden with my partner. I taught myself to knit and crochet from YouTube and now I sell my scarves and cowls locally and through a dear friend in the UK. We sell my preserves and jams at our stall at the farmers market and I am beyond happy.

    I think it's a very important point that you make to just start somewhere. It's great to read about commenters who just started with home made laundry detergent and from there began exploring a million other ways to live an authentic life. It is summed up for me in the saying "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Just start somewhere, just take that first little step and don't worry for one second about how it will look to everyone else or whether you're doing it right. If it feels good, you're on the right track!

  30. I like your hands: they look like the hands of my mother, hands that work and care, loving hands.
    I hope my hands will look the same, over twenty years.
    God bless you,
    greetings from Holland

  31. I've been frugal all my life mostly because we had to be.

    Anyhow - just a little off topic - we have been making ginger beer for quite some time now (at least I started it and h continues to this day) and noticed that the left over sludgy stuff was rather yeasty - as it is supposed to be :) so when there was lots of extra I took a couple of cups and made it up into my normal white bread recipe using the sludge instead of the yeast. It works a treat! Ginger beer flavoured bread buns:) And they did rise almost as much as normal yeast.

    viv in nz

  32. I grew up in a very frugal family, my dad was a single parent but still managed to do so much! He built our house, grew a vege patch, chickens etc. all the while managing two little girls, a job and church commitments! What an inspiration :-)

    After finishing uni and earning money for the first time I left my frugal past behind. My partner and I are both engineers and the money was started rolling in. But we are also pretty conservative and our first home was modest. We started off my tracking all our expenditure and setting budgets. We also found that menu planning saved us from wasting food, and I suppose wasting money.

    Then we moved to a remote part of Australia to work in the mining industry. We paid of our house that first year and then saved on top of that! Apart from the money, the best thing that remote living taught me was how to simplify our diet - fancy ingredients were not available and sometimes basics sold out and we had to wait for the next shipment. Making do.

    Now we are in major frugal mode. Two kids, one income, new mortgage :-D I am embracing the op shop, buying in bulk, looking thru catalogs for sales, reducing our meat consumption, growing veges, knitting and sewing clothes, making bread and yoghurt ..... It is sort of fun.... Including dealing with cloth nappies!

  33. My hubby and I have always wanted to live a simplier life. We look on ourselves as 'tight' as we don't like to waste our hard earned money or try to keep up with the Jones'.
    We have made a more conscious decision this year to move towards simplicity. I think is due to baby #2 being on the way and me not wanting to have to return to full time work ever if I don't want to.
    We have started by taking better care of our finances and by analysing our spending. I've started meal planning and being more careful about where and when we spend our money. I also don't spend much on cleaning products, using simple vinegar and bi-carb as much as possible and making our own laundry powder.
    The next step for us is to get a vegetable patch going and to plant some fruit trees.


  34. Rhonda, for quite some time I was popping into your blog whenever I could squeeze "being frugal" into our busy lives. When I read your story of how you got to the simple life...how you were previously, it is like reading my history. I have tried little by little to incorporate "simple life" into our home, but it didn't really take off until I retired 7 months ago. I was forced into retiring due to health issues and it is now a necessity to simplify. I can't list everything that I have begun that is causing our change, but I wanted to remind your readers that "free" is the ultimate cost savings. In the past months I have gotten free material to learn to quilt, free batting and now free yarn to learn to knit. Putting the word out either through Freecycle.org or through the "grapevine" has amazing results. Thank you so much for your inspiration and wisdom as I follow in your footsteps!

  35. I think things changed for me when I started making good money, ironically enough. I enjoyed it and bought what I wanted for the first time in my life, but I realized after a few years that having extra stuff didn't make me any happier. Then I joined a CSA, which got me cooking more. And I met my boyfriend, who is pretty frugal and really, really hates debt. Now I'm baking our own bread and treats like granola bars, plus making laundry detergent and dishwasher detergent.

  36. You say it all so well and, as usual, you are very practical. This harkens back to the once popular phrase "Bloom where you are planted." I've been discouraged with too many "simple living" sites that seem to imply it's all or nothing--you must buy a plot in the deep forest/mountains, live off the grid, haul in your water, and never, never venture out into "civilization." Right. How many of us can do that? Thank you for telling your readers we have the freedom to pick and choose what works best for us where we are now.

  37. One thing really does lead to another. That is very good and practical advice you've given there, Rhonda.

    I started with where my food came from which lead to organics which lead to gardening which lead to cooking which lead to...on and on.

    Its a beautiful thing.

  38. My 'waste not want not' journey started without any fanfare and I wasn't even aware of it at the time. I sustained a severe back injury which eventually led to me giving up work. I grieved over the loss of MY job and also the small income from it. I spent a long time in rehab then at home which can be very mind numbing when you have spent your whole adult life working. I started to think there has got to be more to my days than TV TV and more TV. There was! I started slowly relearning the handcrafts my Mum had taught me as a little girl. I found I could knit and crochet even while lying in bed recuperating from several back operations. I started reading again a pastime I love. Cooking was difficult at first but I found I could cut up veg. while seated. Eventually I returned to small cleaning jobs around the house all of which helped with my rehab. except vacuuming which took it's toll on my lower back muscles. I persevered and gradually my life took a different turn from what I had expected and planned when I started my working life. Lately I have discovered U3A (University of the Third Age) Online which has opened up a whole new world of learning for me.
    During my life journey I discovered my Australian Aboriginal Heritage which has reconnected me to This Land...My Land...My Life Journey.

  39. Thanks for putting this into words. Especially about taking small steps but to keep walking. Thankyou also to all those who have commented. I would like to add something I have learned from my father-in-law. He strongly believes we need to learn something new everyday. Be it learning to listen, doing a new job etc. I have used this 'wisdom' and every day I learn to live simply

  40. I do many things as I should, trying to live a simple, non-consumer lifestyle, but I have just read about a lady in Melbourne who tried living for a year without plastic. It made me really look and realize how much of our lives are reliant on this product - especially kitchen and pantry products.

    I have now started looking at ways to replace all that plastic with stainless steel, glass, ceramic, etc.

    One thing certainly does lead to another.

  41. I started dreaming when I was at Uni doing Environmental Science and realised the gravity of what was at stake. Then after Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the food intolerances that followed I just leapt in, partly out of necessity (it's soooo expensive to be Gluten and Dairy Free). Then after my babies came, it upped the ante again, making good food, from scratch in a chemical free home and teaching them about what we value. I have to say I have no no no desire to do it differently! Simple living means I am very busy (as opposed to what som many people think). But I'm busy putting my energy into where it really matters, my family.

  42. glad I found you - will be visiting often

  43. Very inspirational post! I'm still a bit overwhelmed with all the awesome and not sure how to start. I probably cling to my current lifestyle too much.

  44. Thanks you for this! It encourages me to start something :)

  45. Thanx Rhonda :) ... you appeared at a time when my hubby & I were peaking at retirement (20yrs from now) and not sure what direction to take & looking at each other for answers.
    While I was trying on an extremely costly but pretty jacket hubby was in a book shop, he found your book and of course we bought it (i didnt get the jacket). Your book has inspired us to take a closer look at all our bits of our wonderful life with 'no cows' (as i call it) and seeing what we can change for a simple life leading into retirement ... Thank You again xo

  46. I've been searching the internet for sites that help simplify and allow us to still be able to eat healthy. I love this - a great springboard of knowledge to start off from.
    My new mantra is 'Spend Less - Live More'


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