October 29, 2010

Simple Living My Way

The topics of simple living, voluntary simplicity, frugality, and decluttering are of great interest to many of us. In a couple of posts last month I quickly discovered this was an important subject area for Satisfying Retirement readers.

In those previous posts I provided information about some of the better known blogs and web sites that focus on those topics. In case you missed them, links can be found at the end of this post.

This time around I am personalizing the subject. I'm going to detail some of the steps my family have taken over the years that made us proponents of simple living before it had a name. We weren't trying to start a trend, this was just they way we decided to live.

Most of the things on this list I have been doing for decades. There are a few recent additions  as I have become more sensitive to the negative impact an overly-consumptive lifestyle has on the planet and my own happiness. I hope you will compare this list to your efforts in this area. Then, I would very much appreciate your ideas and steps you may have taken (or want to take) to simplify your life. This is a great topic to learn from each other.

A video talk I saw on TED by economist Tim Jackson contained the perfect quote to start me off. He was talking about the direction of our society in terms of its relationship to buying stuff. He said, "People are being persuaded to spend money we don't have, on things we don't need, to create impressions that won't last, on people we don't care about."  That sets the stage for my list.

I don't enjoy shopping so I don't buy much. I shop when I must for what I need. To some people, shopping is a form of entertainment or relaxation. To me it is a chore to be completed as quickly as possible. That saves me money and clutter. Maybe this is a guy thing, but I avoid malls.

Clothing covers me and keeps me warm or cool. That's it. For me clothing is not a fashion statement or an indicator of my economic status. If it performs its function, is within my budget, and I need it I buy it.

A car is transportation. It takes me from point A to Point B with a minimum amount of fuss. It must be dependable, relatively safe, and have good air conditioning (this is Phoenix after all). Its year, make and model, even its color are not terribly important (ask my wife about the baby blue Mustang I had in 1976).

I use it up, wear it out. Only then do I replace it. If something does what I need it to I don't feel the need for a replacement that does it 2 seconds faster, or is in a different color. I don't even require it to have all its parts as long as it still works. 

We repaint, re-purpose, reuse. My wife is amazingly creative in looking at something and finding a whole new use for it. We find it much more satisfying to do that than simply throw something away that can be used in another way.

I buy very few books or new music. I read books constantly and listen to lots of music. I just don't feel the need to own most of them. That's what libraries are for. That's what the Internet offers. Part of that belief came during my radio days. I was given thousands of free CDs (I still have most of them). So, I got out of the practice of buying music and never regained the habit.

Of the books I did own, I got rid of 80% of them.  I realized I would never re-read them. All they did was take up space and get dusty. Someone else might enjoy them. So, I took many of them to a used bookstore for credit, and donated the rest to charity. Then my wife re-purposed the bookcases!

Use our own photos and painting to decorate. My wife and I like to take photographs and she is a painter and mixed media artist. Why buy someone else's work to decorate our home? We have the photos blown up and framed, or printed on canvas. Her paintings grace several walls in the home. It is much more satisfying to be surrounded by something you created.

Simplify lawn and yard work. Within the last two years I have cut back considerably on the number of potted plants I maintain. It was getting to be a chore, not a pleasure. We converted most of our bushes and shrubs to low water, low maintenance varieties. This saves time and money.

Cook enough at once for two meals. It is very unusual for us to make a dinner that doesn't produce enough leftovers for next week. And, if an ingredient is required for a meal we find another recipe that requires the same stuff so it doesn't go to waste.

Family above all else. Can't get much simpler than that.

So, what steps have you taken to simplify or declutter or save money? Anything on my list spur your creative juices?

Related Posts
Living a Simple Living - 9 Places to Start
Helping You Live a Simpler Life -10 More Blogs


  1. I am with you on your observations, especially regarding shopping! Do you ever feel exhausted after just 10 minutes of shopping? I swear there is something in the air that just sucks the life out of me - I am not good for more than 15-20 minutes max and fortunately my wife understands and takes pity on me. When I shop, I know what I am looking for. If I find it, I buy it, if I do not, I leave! I am however guilty of buying books on a regular basis. The convenience of Amazon and the variety and the pretty good prices for used are a deadly combination for me. I basically read the book and then build a stack next to our book case. When the stack gets waist high, I donate!

  2. Sounds like we suffer from some of the same "problems." I go to a store with one or two things firmly in mind. If I find them, I grab them, hit the register and am gone. My wife prefers to take 5 hours to explore half a dozen different stores to compare prices and selection. The good news is she often comes home with nothing. Just the "thrill" of the hunt does it for her, not the actual spending.

    Books? Don't even get me started. I had to put myself on a strict Amazon diet and replace most of that urge with the library.

    Have a great weekend, Dave. Go Coyotes (and Sharks!)

  3. Our list is very similar, including my strong dislike for shopping. It's just not in my genes, although my wife and girls enjoy it and that's fine. While we have been thrifty in many material things, we have valued family vacations and charitable giving so those have been larger ticket items.

    I used to think, why save $1 on x and spend $50 on y. For example, taking my lunch to work doesn't save a great deal of $$$ relative to a family trip to Europe (to visit children living there, lest you think we just jaunt to Europe for giggles), but I like making and taking my lunch. I discovered for us it's not about the $$ per se, it's about intentional life choices. Others of course can and should have different choices; I'd only suggest that those choices be the result of authentic reflection rather than be from reactions to emotions or fears. Enjoy your weekend.

  4. You have made an important point, J. Simple living is all about intentionality. This means not letting your choices be influenced by marketing or societal forces.

    Many people think simple living is all about making due with less or giving up what makes you happy. That isn't it at all. It does mean not surrounding yourself with stuff that becomes a burden instead of a joy.

    A trip to Europe to see the kids would rank as a necessity on my list!

  5. Hey, Bob…

    I identify with so much of your list. I tend to wear clothing until it wears out. My shirt will go from looking good to “good enough to wear to the health club,” to my wearing it when I work in the garage.

    My car is a 1990 Landcruiser with 255,000 miles on the odometer.

    Family above all else… si seƱor. Bill

  6. Thanks, Bill, for the support in your "wear it out" philosophy. I see no reason to get rid of a perfectly good T-shirt that happens to have a few ink stains on it or the collar is a bit frayed. That makes it perfect for the gym or backyard chores. I won't wear it to the store, but why dirty a good shirt to prune bushes?

    255,000 miles and 20 years old....Now that is really something.

  7. Great post, Bob! My husband and I pretty much live this way. I hate shopping and going to the mall gives me the heebie-jeebies!

    I drive a 1995 van which still runs fine, I buy few new clothes and I love to cook so we eat the majority of our meals at home and I freeze what I can of the extra.

    My husband is on a gluten free diet and I make bread for him in the breadmaker. I used to have trouble with that because we couldn't use a whole loaf before it got stale. Now, I make a loaf, keep out what we can eat in a day or two, slice the rest and freeze it so I can take out only a couple of slices as we need it. I've also cut up slices and made croutons for our salad from this.

    I do have a thing for books as well. In the past year or two, I've rounded up all old books and sold them at the Half-Priced Book store, then I've gone to the library for new reading material.

  8. I haven't read the phrase "Heebie-Jeebies" in a long time, but it is a perfect description of my reaction to shopping, too.

    My wife and I are doing much better, but there is still too much food we have to toss each week because it goes bad. Freezing bread already sliced is a great idea.

    I bought half a dozen books on retirement issues when I started this blog in June. Yesterday I went to Borders and bought a new hardcover. That has been it for probably 2 years. I used to buy that many in a month. The librarians now greet me by name!

    Have a great weekend Joan.

  9. I drive a 1997 Acura that we maintained well and which still looks good and gets great gas mileage. I frequent the library now, too. We moved to a small town, where our entertainment is close by and consists of time with friends, local festivals, a historic opera house and an active music scene. We put in low-E windows, a radiant barrier, and a geothermal system for heating and cooling. We used a knowledgeable local landscaper to find natives that would do well and to help me establish a garden. I must confess that while all my herbs come from my garden, the other plants have been less successful as we're feeding the local wildlife more than ourselves. We had plans for a solar system and other such tactics that would be good for the earth and bring our monthly bills as low as possible, but the downturn in the economy and our earnings have so far made that impossible. Still, I have hopes . . .

  10. I am impressed, Linda. You have made a serious effort to simplify, save money, and help the environment.

    My wife started growing several pots of herbs recently. Almost every night she goes outside to clip off something for dinner. She even added a tomato plant that is supposed to produce in 50 days.

    We really need to replace the windows but a major bathroom emergency took that money so that project will have to wait.

    Your efforts are an inspiration. Thanks.

  11. Simple is fine,as far as it goes but I'm into making more money so simple is an aesthetic decision and not an economic one.

  12. That is one of the most important parts of the simple living ideal. It isn't about getting by on a shoestring or depriving you and your family of creature comforts. It is about eliminating those things that don't bring you happiness or create a burden you are tired of carrying.

    Thanks, Ralph.

  13. it's nice to be able to let go of feeling like you have to shop or buy or have things, I've made a lot of the same changes over the last few years myself, but I still have a a way to go!

  14. Since your blog involves eliminating debt, this topic should be right up your alley. Controlling the impulse to buy and acquire is difficult but necessary.

    Thanks, Louise, for stopping by and adding your comment. I appreciate it.