February 5, 2020

What Makes A Simple Life? It's Not What You May Think



When I say "living a simple life." what springs to mind? Probably one or more of these phrases:

              * Fewer possessions - Minimalism   

              * Smaller living space

              * Less involvement and commitments

              * Financial control

              * More self-sufficiency

              * Avoiding the race race (whatever that means to you)

              * Fewer distractions


Yes, these are all ways of defining simple living, or living a simple life. Thousands of web sites, blogs, podcasts, and YouTube videos expound on the value of following these guidelines.

Personally, I resonate with much of this approach to life. I am not a minimalist. But, I do my best to surround myself with what makes me happy and avoid what doesn't.

To that point I want to suggest that to be meaningful, effective, and have long-lasting, positive effects, simple living does not really begin with any of the steps listed above. If you adopt any of them without doing something else first, you will be disappointed, frustrated, and ultimately bound to give up.

Simple living must start with an internal shift. How you look at your life and your interaction with the world around you must come first. Deciding what is a need and what is a want must precede a decision to give something up. The parts of your daily life that satisfy you need to be increased, while those parts that fall short of your expectations must decrease.

You simply cannot serve two masters.

Start with an internal inventory. What are the things you do that make you happy or give you joy? What do you look forward to? What do you consider a blessing and not a chore? What does mean when translated to your daily approach to life? 

What energy level is best for you? Some of us need to be constantly moving. Working hard in the wood shop, hiking to and from the lake, studying for that long-delayed goal of a college or advanced degree. Others find a calm, unhurried, meditative approach best. Your personal energy will determine what is included in your simple life.

Do you love to redecorate, try new looks and furnishings in your home as your mood shifts? Or, are you happy with that old sofa and comfortable reading chair and don't like much change inside your home. Either choice can result in a simple life because you are matching what your mind tells you is important with what you choose to surround yourself with.

Are you happiest with very few rooms to clean and maintain, or do you love the freedom a separate room for an office, another one for your crafts, and a nice guest room to welcome family and friends gives you? Obviously, those choices will impact your choice for where and how to live.

Is meal preparation a chore or a time to express your creativity and try new recipes? Do you love leftovers and the ability to feed yourself with as little fuss and bother as possible? Or, a kitchen with all sorts of specialized gadgets, utensils, and ingredients at hand sets your heart aflutter. 

I could keep citing examples, but the point is this: a simple life has less to do with what you own and more to do with what brings you joy. A 300 square foot tiny home could be heaven to you. So could a home with a dozen rooms and a three car garage. Either can be part of a simple lifestyle.

If you are living in a way that matches your individual style, then you are living a simple life. The stress that comes from an out-of-balance existence is not there. 

Do you want to lead a simpler life, one that pleases you and doesn't cause anxiety? Do an internal audit before you follow what others tell you what you is a simple life. Like retirement, this choice is unique to you.
                
        

32 comments:

  1. When I pared down my books by 800, leaving me with 1000, there were detractors who said I did not need so many books--1000 were too many. These people had no more than 10 books by their own admission. They simply did not understand me or my thoughts. Needless to say, my books were more important than their opinions. I am glad you did not proscribe individual tastes and lifestyles.

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    1. If 1,000 books make you happy then you have made the right decision. Others aren't "allowed" to judge what brings you joy or what to surround yourself with.

      On a personal note, book lovers are a special breed. I don't own a lot of books anymore but that doesn't mean I am not surrounded by them from the library and on a Kindle. Books bring me a sense of the possible, of security, and of an instant escape to a world different from mine. Plus, the smell and feel can't be replicated.

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  2. What a thoughtful post!! When it came time to downsize from a larger home and retire, to simplify from a complicated business and overly busy lifestyle.. we found we wanted pretty much the same kind of environment we always had, just less of it! I love to swim every single day when it’s warm, so we wanted a pool.I love to cook, so a big kitchen is esssential in retirement, when I now have more time to putter around in there. Ken needs a certain measure of solitude, so a big den for his guitar,chiro tools, and his other hobbies, was on the list. We bought our son’s home which has alll we need, on a smaller scale (smaller for us, but I am not content to live in a “tiny house” that’s for sure.) .so.. we sold a lot of the “extras” such as dishes, furnishings, and have been enjoying a cozy retirement in a “just right” space. Choosing daily activities that nourish and nurture us is the one pure delight of retirement! We don’t travel as much as we thought we might, and find a lot to do righ here in the East Valley and throughout Arizona. A simple life, as you say, is much more about knowing how you love to spend your time and energies.. not the square footage or work/not work questions!

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    1. You and Ken have a lovely home that seems to offer stimulation at every turn. It is easy to see why you are feeling so content.

      Yes, square footage is not a measure of simple living. Surrounding yourself with what fills your days and makes you happy is the best way to judge.

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  3. Thanks for the reminder. I think this internal audit is something we all try to do when we retire ... but then we forget and fall into habits that may not bring us the most happiness and fulfillment. We need to stop and take stock now and then, and adjust accordingly.

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    1. It is an ongoing process, isn't it, Tom. In our society it is too easy to accumulate both things and commitments without insuring ourselves each is best for us at that time in our lives.

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  4. The point in between the internal inventory of what's important to me and physically making that happen in my life is where I'm at and it's not an easy transition. Before my husband's stroke and his passing we lived big, busy lives with irons in a lot of pots. I no longer need all those pots or irons but to move forward I can't just walk away from them. They need to be methodically sold off so that I get the most money out of them. A catch-22 of sorts. I'll get there but just forming the plan, taking the mental inventory, is the easy part of simplifying your life.

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    1. How true: this never happens as it seems to on a 60 minute television show. I would take the position that if one is mentally looking to change and, is taking small steps to get life in sync with space, commitments, and possessions, then all is good. After all, this isn't a race.

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    2. when we downsized I was disappointed in the amount of money I was able to get for beautiful but used furnishings,dishes,etc.. but I had to get over it.. and release it all to the next owners..the market will bear what it will bear. Now, 7 years later I’m over it. I am still surrounded my beauty.. we have so much in this country I htink we forget what privilege many of us lives with.. I pray your transition since your husband’s passing gets easier to bear..and that you are able to find solace in friendships and activities that nourish you.

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    3. As someone who is downsizing now and has helped people clean out their homes,one has to decide of th he priority is having things gone or making money. Sometimes those two will mesh but so often they wont. In general I am firmly in the let it go camp.

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  5. Bob, very insightful post. My wife and I have been developing the list of what makes us happy. What we have determined thus far is that experiences drive our happiness. We love our home, albeit too big now that our children are grown. We own it outright so not having a mortgage is a major driver to not rush into downsizing our home. We plan to spend a larger percentage of our retirement budget on travel and entertainment (concerts, sporting events, etc). The more we can experience while we are relatively young and have the physical ability to do so the better. The downsizing of the house and other decisions about where to live later in our lives can wait. We did prepare for downsizing by de-cluttering and plan to work on our attic storage areas this spring.

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    1. Not having a mortgage is a great feeling. We were lucky with a hot market so we could buy our last two houses for cash. The 100% equity in our current home will pay for the entry fee into a CCRC and probably a year's worth of monthly fees, too when the time is right.

      We always choose experiences over things. The memories last much longer than something we bought.

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  6. I am also firmly in the let it go camp. Good thing too because Hubby and I are simplifying our life by shedding the responsibilities of home ownership. The house and yard maintenance just wasn't fun anymore and we wanted to spend that time and energy on creative pursuits instead. The house sold in three days with a short close. We have been decluttering for years but it is amazing how much stuff keeps crawling out of the garage and closets. Younger relatives are hauling it away by the truckload and what they don't want will be donated. I'd rather spend my energy on the new apartment rather than trying to sell used stuff, but also feel grateful that we don't need the extra money to move forward.

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    1. We are likely to stay put until we feel it is time to move into a retirement community. But, the downsizing and decluttering continues. After 43 years of marriage, even when we think we have been good about stuff, the attic, storage shed, garage, and closets continue to surprise.

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  7. After reading this blog two thoughts came to mind.
    Simple doesn't mean boring, and
    retirement shouldn't be complicated.

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  8. Peter parker and his bitcoin nonsense just keep trying to slip a comment by me. I wish whoever it is would just move on.

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    1. Yep. I thought about moving to moderation but am trying to avoid it.

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  9. For quite a long time we had a house in Center City Philadelphia and, a beach house in Ocean City, NJ. After Dave retired we continued on with the back and forth in the summer months. Then, one weekend we had no company visiting at the shore so we decided to take a ride to Cape May. We'd been there many, many times over the years. We had stayed in some of the inns there,too. Our visit was fun and, on the way back to OC I said to Dave, "why don't we sell both houses and move to Cape May?" It took him a minute or two and he said, "I like it! Let's do it!" We did in less than a year! We have no regrets. We're still close to our friends in Philly and OC, and have made many new ones here in CM. Downsizing can be very good!

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    1. Growing up in South Jersey as a child, Cape May was one of those places my parents always said we should visit, but never did. Medford Lakes and Ocean City were it. After you and Dave moved there, I have taken some time to look at pictures and read about your new(ish) home. My parents should have followed through and taken our family to see Cape May. It looks so interesting and pretty, even in the winter.

      I know when we sold our weekend cabin in the mountains, about 90 minutes north of Phoenix, we regretted the decision for about a minute. It had become a maintenance problem and we felt compelled to go more often than we really wanted to. Downsizing to one home at a time was the best choice for us, too.

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  10. Hi Bob! I so agree that the must happen on the inside before it can ever happen on the outside. Even if a person gets rid of everything they would probably just start accumulating again if they haven't changed. I also agree that becoming a minimalist is the answer. In so many ways that's just another "fad" that is difficult to maintain in the long run. Far better to find out what works for you (rightsizing? :-)) and then live that way for the highest fulfillment. Either way, finding that "simple life" that works for each of us is such a rewarding and satisfying way to live. ~Kathy

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    1. After reading your last book (and reviewing it on Amazon), I was reminded about how much you and I agree on ideas and opinions on this subject. Rightsizing relives so much stress and unneeded excess from our daily schedule. It isn't really about what you own but getting rid of the stuff that owns you!

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  11. I was raised by patent who had moved overseas multiple times for work and as a result were not keepers as such. I thought we had a fair amount but as I recall dealing with their home, my broths and sister and I spent one ling night of drinking wine and eating cookies and dividing yo the good stuff and memorabilia. We than spent another day if i recall deciding whi wanted things like the cast iron cooking pans and so on and them we were done. I'm not quite so ready as my hobbies are intense and require inventory but I'm not a collector as such and can still find things to let go even as i look at moving and downsizing again. My brother kept more things than us other siblings and his wife has literally all of her parents stuff (they were close to the hoarding side) and i envy them not a bit. I enjoy a certain amount of comfort type stuff but as for the rest....

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    1. My parents did not move, ever, but they did travel. When my father passed and we cleaned out the 4000 sq ft house for the 700 sq ft apartment for mom- there was enough to furnish ALL five of our houses (if we wanted to). Here we are, six years later, trading pieces and agreeing to give things away.
      The move we are going to make in three years will simplify our lives a great deal. We are determined to get rid of most things that we own. China, furniture, Mishmash collections of things. My kids and their kids are picking out things they would like us to "keep with them". Otherwise....simplicity is the name of the game!
      I am taking the gardening pots that I have collected though...... and the art....always the art.

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    2. BTW Bob- I LOVE Grist! Thank you for finding that one. The articles are some of the most balanced ones on the net (that I can find). Their rating on Clean Climate Candidates told me way more then I could find elsewhere. Thank you again!

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    3. Janette: check out All Sides News (allsides.com). It categorizes stories as leaning left, center, or right. Often you can see how the same news story is portrayed from these different perspectives. It is quite interesting how different the same set of "facts" appear. I have found it a very helpful place to try to understand various points-of-view.

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  12. Oh so very true! All of it. A thoughtful post.

    We bought our right-sized home in 1991 at age 30. Why? Dad was already quite disabled and said "if I am going to visit, there cannot be stairs. 1650sf on 1 level it is. And as we've needed to repair, everything arthritis ready so Dad and Mom could be comfortable here. We carpeted the entire house in the mid 90s. We had the carpet layers divide the house into 2 half jobs. We emptied those spaces into the garage-they laid new carpet. We decluttered as we "moved back in". More than 1/2 of what we had went to the thrift store. Then the 2nd half. SOOOOOOOO glad we did this and learned to make mindful choices with our money moving forward.

    We're by no means perfect about this mindfulness...mind you. Today's "Friday Finish" task (a challenge I put out to an online group I'm in), was to tackle the coat closet-a small space. I've listed 41 items on my donation list. Sheesh! I don't want to think about the fact that this accumulation is in the $400 expenditure range. Someone else will benefit from cheap but quality goods.

    I enjoy your posts immensely! Happy TGIF to all.

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    1. One of the tasks I keep putting off is replacing the carpeting in parts of our house. It is such a job to move stuff out and then back. But, I hadn't thought of the positive side: giving extra thought to what gets to come back in from the garage! Thank you for giving me an upside to think about.

      Someday someone will explain to me why my wife and I can downsize, give away stuff, donate more to a garage sale for the Girl Scouts, have our youngest daughter move a bunch of her stuff out of the storage shed.....and everything still feels full.

      Glad you enjoyed everyone's thoughts. Thanks, Elle.

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  13. Bob,I think that Lowe’s and Home Depot will move your furniture if you get your carpet installed by them. We did a guest bedroom last year and they moved gather bed,tables,etc. Also we did a laminate floor in master bedroom a few years back andI am pretty sure Lowe’s moved stuff.Worth checking.

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    1. I believe you are right, up to a certain amount. I figured we'd probably have to hire some people to move the heavier stuff and potentially breakables, like TVs and stereos into the garage and back, but the smaller stuff the installation company would move.

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  14. That is such a good point. We think that a simple life has to look a certain way. "Simple" is an internal quality. If my life feels full of what I love and enjoy, and uncluttered by lots of things that drain my energy, then it is simple. Our lives just don't have to be as complicated as we make them. Great post.

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    1. Thanks, Galen. If we surround ourselves with things that bring us joy and contentment, then that is simple living, regardless of how full a closet may be!

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