December 1, 2010

Simple Living - Easy Steps You Can Take Right Now

Whether you call it simple living, voluntary simplicity, or downsizing, the goal is pretty much the same: eliminate clutter and simplify one's life. As noted in previous posts, simple living doesn't mean going without, living in poverty, or denying things that make you happy. It does mean being intentional about what you own, buy, and keep. It means being aware of the impact your actions have on the environment. It means getting out of society's idea of success: more and bigger.

If you are an old hand at simple living, I hope you will post a comment that adds something to the list I am about to provide.

I have found a tremendous interest in this topic among readers of this blog. To have a satisfying retirement you must have a firm handle on your finances. You may be looking to move to a smaller home or condo and aren't sure how you decide what stuff to get rid of. Maybe you just tired of dusting, maintaining, and storing a lifetime of accumulated possessions. Whatever the motivation, this is a topic I will attempt to revisit a bit more frequently.

This time around I am offering a basic list of some ways you can reuse, recycle, reduce, and become a bit "greener" in your daily life. This list is by no means complete. There probably is no such list. But, it can be a starting place if you are new to downsizing. It may spur you to do more if you are already a proponent. It may prompt you to think of all sorts of ways you can simplify your life and your living arrangement. Personally, I have accomplished about 75% of the items listed and I am by no means a fanatic on the subject. If I can take these steps, anyone can.

Ways to Reduce
...use less copy paper. Use both sides if you can
...use "save to file" instead of printing something that doesn't require a hard copy
...use old printed sheets for note and scrap paper
...ignore what the bottle says, you don't need to shampoo, rinse & shampoo again
...Take steps to be taken off all junk mail lists
...Call catalog companies and ask to have them stop sending you printed catalogs
...low flow toilets and new washing machines save a tremendous amount of water
...replace plants requiring lots of water with low water ones.
...Computers & TVs use lots of power when off. Use power strip to kill all power

Ways to Reuse
...Use organizations like Freecycle to give you stuff to someone who needs it
...Make use of second hand or used furniture instead of new
...When you end up with plastic grocery bags, use again as trash can liners
...If  use plastic water bottles, can be refilled & reused 1-2 times, then recycled
...Use rechargeable batteries in cameras, iPods, etc instead of disposable ones
...Use refilled ink cartridges in printer and save big bucks & the environment.

Share, Borrow & Download
...Swap books with friends. Use the library instead of buying
...Swap or share music and movies with friends.The library has these for free, too
...Share children's clothing with friends who have kids younger or older
...Read newspapers and magazines on-line instead of subscriptions

Green Stuff
...Use farmer's markets. Produce isn't shipped 1,000 miles first
...Try to get used to tap water. It is safe and saves you big bucks and the environment
...Use cloth grocery sacks always
...Use toaster oven for small meals, the big oven only when necessary
...Plan errands so make fewest trips possible in car
...No more incandescent bulbs
...Close curtains in summer to keep out heat, in winter to keep out cold sure ceiling fans are rotating in proper direction for season (yes, it does matter)
...install a drip system if your garden requires it. Saves water over hand watering.
...Use programmable thermostat to only run heat and AC when you are home.
...Do you really need a special hot dog bun warmer, smoothie maker, pasta machine?
...Change furnace filters at least every 3 months, once a month in dusty places
  • 12/2 -Shirley at Voluntary Simplicity just posted an excellent list of 9 things you can do to help save the environment and money at the same time. Click here

Now, your turn. What are you doing to simplify, declutter  or downsize? What items on the lists above can you start to implement?  Is this an important subject to you?


  1. My wife has the right idea - before she buys a new piece of clothing, she visualizes in her mind what existing garment currently hanging in her closet she will get rid of to make room. Not only does she manage to fit everything in her closet, but she shops that much more carefully knowing something must go if she buys anything new.

  2. I need to be sure my wife sees your comment, Dave!

    I bet all of us have stuff in the closet that never gets worn and just takes up space. Every once in awhile I'll find something that still has a price tag on it and I dson't remember buying it.

  3. When I read your comment about closing drapes or other window coverings, I realized that this is such a regular part of my life that I don't even think about mentioning it most of the time. I love as much sunshine as I can get, but in the part of Texas where I live, the sunshine can be brutal. When we moved in, we paid extra for custom drapes with sun-blocking linings. The drapes are opened and shut as the sun moves across the sky. When the drapes are closed, you can immediately feel the room cool down by several degrees. They're also shut against cold and windy weather, too. Although we have double-paned low-E windows, there's still exchange through those many windows.

    You mentioned farmer's markets. I'm vegetarian, so a "one step further" option interests me: CSA's or Community Supported Agriculture. You buy a share in a community farm, and receive a weekly or bi-weekly allotment of the produce, a half-bushel worth at a local CSA. At that nearby CSA, we can even volunteer for a morning's work preparing baskets for other members and receive our allotment in payment, a great cost-cutter for retirees. I'm not quite a retiree yet, but I'm more than interested.

  4. Linda,

    Thanks so much for your comment. I am not familiar with the CSA concept so I googled it and found close to a dozen active ones in Arizona. I will explore further. With basically a 12 month growing season there should always be plenty of produce.

    We bought pleated blackout shades for the upstairs bedrooms. They do a decent job of helping to insulate our old, single pane windows. Downstairs, we bought thermal drapes which also help moderate the temperature. New windows are on the must-buy list, after new carpeting!

    It is interesting that you find yourself doing something that to you is standard operating procedure, and then are reminded that to others it may be new information.

  5. What practical and do-able ideas! I've been reusing paper that was only printed on one side. I just put it back in the printer face up and it will print on the back. The place where I get my hair cut has a book exchange so I usually take a book I've finished along and swap it for a new one!

    Thanks for other ideas I will be looking to use over the holidays and beyond.

  6. A book exchange may be a growing trend. I'm used to seeing them at various bed & breakfast inns around the country. Having them in businesses like hair salons is great.

    Glad you liked the ideas. If you have the time check out some of the web sites I listed. There are some interesting ones to explore.

  7. Hi Bob,

    I like this post. I like the idea of simple living as I don't like clutter. Thanks for the tips you shared :)

  8. Clutter can really drain my energy. I appreciate order and neatness so simple living fits me well.

  9. Hi Bob. Lots of good ideas. I see some we can implement. Thanks.

    One thing I did a few years back, which was a bit extreme, was I rode my bike most places. I did it year round for two years, with the record cold day ride of 7 degrees (you just need good micro fiber layers) and the record hot day of 102. I kept clean clothes at the office and enjoyed the daily 14 mile round trip for exercise and stress release.

    Obviously, a more moderate practice of occasional biking (or walking) is something to consider (saddle bags on the bike make picking up a few groceries or other items really easy).

    Take care.

  10. Hi J,

    If she had her druthers my wife would ride a bike most places. It isn't so much the heat for much of the year, but the traffic is just too dangerous. We have bike lanes in our neighborhood. But, to get to stores there are major streets she would have to cross or ride on sidewalks.

    I wouldn't mind getting bikes for both of us, but we'd have to wear helmets and go on back streets only.

  11. Good awareness on bike safety. That is so important, especially since we don't bounce back from some injuries as quickly as we did "back in the day." I have some friends in their 50s who commute on bikes and are safe riders. Yet, every one of them has had spills that resulted in an emergency room trip and/or broken bones. I have had a couple of spills, but fortunately nothing serious in terms of injuries. And yes, we all wear helmets.

  12. We have to do some things in an opposite manner because of where we live. I had to learn how to passively solar heat the house in the winter- opening and closing curtains at different times of the day. The sun can bring up the front room temperature 10 degrees- a good thing on a day that is 20 degrees outside! I use the windows for air conditioning in the summer (something we did in the winters in Phoenix growing up).
    We have learned to purchase plants that do not mind being soaked. The rain here is outrageous at times:>) Planting fruit trees provides shade and food.
    Our library offers a book exchange in the front vestibule. I am always finding and returning magazines there.
    If you are close to a VA center or military post- they love magazines for their dr. offices! I put paperback books in there as well.
    Off to change my filter- thanks for all of the reminders!

  13. Janette,

    I have a brother living in Kansas so I know about your weather extremes. I lived in Iowa for a few years where I really learned about cold and passive solar heat.

    I'm very glad you left your comment because you are exactly right: all suggestions must be adapted to a particular location. Using the sun's heat in the winter and getting plants that are tolerant of lots of rain water makes perfect sense for you. I need to take just the opposite approach. But, we both accomplish the same thing.

    Taking old magazines to senior centers or VA hospitals is a great idea. We have cut our subscriptions from 15 magazines a month to only 5. But, even so I hate to just toss them in the recycling bin if someone else would like to read them.

    Great stuff, Janette.

  14. I've been an avid reader since I was 6. I had accumulated about 4000 books,and just had trouble letting them go. My life changed when I cleaned out the home of my deceased uncle. I didn't want to leave a huge job like that for someone else. Now, every week, I take at least one box of books or stuff to the thrift shop near my office. I take a digital picture of the contents for tax records. I'm down to a few hundred books and I've finally realized that if I really need to reread a book....there's the library, just waiting for mme to visit.
    Now that I'm in this habit, I'm moving on to clothing, and other small goods. My next project is to find a charity that will come to my house and pick up used, servicable furniture.
    Hey!! My closet is much easier to find things in now!!

  15. Keith,

    Very inspirational and very sensible to take on this type of change slowly, and over time. I have read some blogs that advocate an immediate purging of excess belongings. I don't think that is practical or necessary.

    The point is to make your life easier and more satisfying. How you get there is completely unique to the person.

    I am a book lover, too. I check out 4-5 books from the library at at time and read them all simultaneously. I can understand how hard it must be to get rid of almost 4,000 books.

    Thanks for the very practical suggestions.

  16. I miss the summaries by your blog referrals:<( I use your blog to jump to other blogs. With the summaries I knew if I had read one already or not.

  17. I was worried they made the page look too cluttered. But, I have no problem putting them back if they are useful. Thanks for letting me know. They should be back now.

  18. Hi Bob! I love simplicity. I love to learn about new ways to simplify my life. I'm all for "reuse, recycle, reduce, and become a bit "greener." We avid library users. I share a lot of clothes with my daughter, does that count? :)
    Thanks for raising awareness on this subject. Loving blessings!

  19. Sharing clothes with your wife did the same thing with our two daughters for years. The 3 of them seemed to enjoy swapping looks.

    Bringing these subjects to the forefront is important, but them we have to commit to making changes.

  20. When we partnered late in life we approached it as melding not merging and we looked at what we had room by room and item type by item type to decide what we would keep for a simple life. We ended up with much less than half of our combined stuff much to the delight of my kids and the local charity shop.

    1. That was an excellent plan. Blending two households has the potential for storage and clutter disaster! We are going through something similar at the moment: selling our RV. That means all the stuff that is in the RV must go somewhere since most of it is duplicates of what we have in our home. The kids get first pick, the church gets some stuff, and then Goodwill.