Practicing a Simpler Life // Rehearsal for Early Retirement

we know we’re not the only ones who have thoughts like: after we retire, things will be so much easier. things will be less stressful. things will be simpler.

and most likely things will be simpler. but the idea that we aren’t in control of our lives now, that we have to wait to have the lives we want, is silly. that would suggest that virtually everyone on the planet — most of whom never retire early (or at all) — aren’t getting any say in the lives that they’re leading. while we all may make plenty of mindless decisions, or get caught up in the flow of life and forget to look around, we still make choices about the lives we’re leading that make a huge difference.

it’s our goal to be active shapers of our lives, and our life together, not just in the early retirement we’re working so hard to get to, but now. this year. today.

related post: living for today — and tomorrow

the life that we want is, in a word, simpler. less stress — that’s a given. less information overload. fewer deadlines. no office politics. and simpler on the home front too: less time with screens, more time face-to-face, more full nights of sleep, more time cooking and less time reheating. more time to devote to our physical fitness, but on a leisurely schedule, instead of cramming in a quick ride or walk after work, before the sun sets. more time to breathe deeply, enjoy the scenery, read long books, write long letters.

our question now is: why wait until we’re retired to start living more simply? life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans, of course. what if we never reach early retirement? the market crashes, one of us loses a job (or, heaven forbid, we both do), our house burns down, we get bankrupted by a medical emergency, who knows. we think we’re getting a lot out of the journey to early retirement, even if we care a whole lot about the destination too. so we want part of our journey to include not waiting for circumstances to be perfect, but shaping the life we want now.

we’ve already moved to the mountains, and bought a house we feel at home in. we’ve simplified a lot of our routines — just a few, mostly homemade, toiletries and cleaning products live in our cupboards — and become more engaged in what we put into our bodies, engaging with farmers at the market and making most of what we eat from scratch. we’re super happy with these changes.

but the rest is the harder part: consciously changing how we think and behave in ways that reduce our stress, not add to it. starting with a biggie: work stress is a reality for now, but we still get to decide how we deal with it. and building up our financial cushion helps a lot with that. not that you need to have a lot of money saved up to keep healthy perspective on work, but it helps us immensely knowing that we could quit our jobs today and be fine. we could live for a long time off of the cushion that we’ve built up. knowing that helps us keep work b.s. in perspective, and actually helps us stay more dedicated to the work that we’re doing for a few more years.

then there’s everything peripheral to work: all the travel, the need to be constantly connected, the pressure to work long hours that interrupt our sleep. on this front, sometimes it’s about changing how we do things, and sometimes it’s simply about owning our decisions, and knowing that we’re making a proactive choice to do a certain thing rather than being forced to do that thing by circumstances beyond our control. we may be having dinner together, and glancing at our email in the middle of it — a total bummer. but we have consciously decided that glancing at email keeps us less stressed — for now! — than not checking it, and knowing that something could be blowing up and getting worse than if we just keep an eye out. (this is a behavior we’ll gladly abandon in a few years!) for work travel, we think about how we can make it feel like real travel — travel we’d choose to do — by taking at least an hour in each trip to go somewhere or do something we wouldn’t do at home. and sleep — we have just decided to be more protective of our sleep. we’re not getting any younger, after all, and our bodies and minds need sleep to stay sharp. we try much harder than we used to to cut off the work, and think clearly about whether that project really needs to be done tonight, or can wait until tomorrow.

most of all, though, living more simply today means this: if we find ourselves wistfully lamenting that our life is too stressful/busy/whatever to do something right now, we have started saying to ourselves: let’s do that thing now. let’s get off the couch and get some fresh air. let’s spend hours in the evening devouring books. let’s take a whole day and cook food to can or freeze, or to serve to loved ones. let’s put the phones down for two whole hours and engage without screens. let’s enjoy the simple thrill of the wind whipping around us as we bike down that hill just a little too fast.

life is too short to waste even a single day. we’ve been as guilty as anyone of wasting some of ours, but we’re committed to living the life we want every day from now on, even if we haven’t yet reached our destination.

what are you doing to shape your life before you reach financial independence? how do you shut of the work stress? what are you prioritizing? share your thoughts in the comments!

Don't miss a thing! Sign up for the eNewsletter.

Subscribe to get extra content 3 or 4 times a year, with tons of behind-the-scenes info that never appears on the blog.

No spam ever. Unsubscribe any time. Powered by ConvertKit

20 replies »

  1. These are all great points! Although, financial independence/early retirement is the ultimate goal – the journey to get there is important to savor as well. :) When you start incorporating simple living you desire in early retirement, everyday life to get to that destination becomes more enhanced & intentional. Shutting off the work stress is a big one for me. I used to work at a job where I was running & gunning 60+ hours a week, and had to be at the mercy of my cell phone/email/boss over the weekends and after hours. Even though I’m at a job now where once you leave the office you are done for the day (no requirement to check email, etc.), I still have that unsettling feeling that I need to be constantly plugged in. I feel similar effects when I go on my paid vacations (working on that one)! What I do now is I purposely leave my phone at home, or turn it off whenever I can. I focus on my communication and get back to the roots of tangible relationships. It’s important to me, because the people in my life that I spend time with are helping me reach financial independence either directly, or indirectly. :)

    • Wow — leaving your phone at home! We’d probably feel like we’d had our hands chopped off! LOL

      Your current situation sounds great, as does your healthy mindset! It’s so important to prioritize people in our personal lives… though of course the paycheck helps us get to FI!

  2. Since I started the FIRE journey, the most plus of it must be: enjoy the now!
    Is it the fact that I have a plan in place that gives me the sense of rest, a sort of calm? I have no idea. I now live more aware of the now and my values than I used to do before. That alone, is a great plus.
    Things I do:
    Leverage work-life balance: work when and where it best suits me. I do this as much as possible. I also don’t mind working in the weekend, when the kids are sleeping and I am babysitting. IT gives me free time in the week.
    Take the time in the morning to take care of the kids and bring them to school or camp. This way, I can be home later in the evening and it is not too bad.

    • How wonderful that you are more aware of the now. And it sounds like you have a great system worked out for balancing work and life — we’re still working on it!

  3. I personally decided a couple of years ago that I didn’t want to give away my freedom to a corporation and the corporate rat race is very stressful and unhealthy, in my opinion. However, it was easier done for me than others. I happen to have rental income coming in to cover my basics; I don’t care much for convenience or luxury, so not having a car is wonderful for me, but not for everyone; I was making 6-figures at my peak, allowing me to save a hefty emergency fund; and I don’t have kids, so I know at the worst, all I need to do to survive is have access to food, water, medical care and a safe shelter. Not having a long list of needs helps. I’m constantly looking for ways to simplify my life. I once went a year without a cell phone because I had a land line. Now, I just have a cell and no land line.

    I always say that unless someone has a ton of financial obligations, everyone can afford to reduce work or at least take mini-sabbaticals. Now, if I wanted to go back to work part or full time, I would know that I can quit anytime, which means I would work on my terms and not let it stress me out. It is a wonderful feeling!

    • We definitely hope to emulate what you’ve achieved! We’ve thought about taking sabbaticals, but feel like we’re so close at this point (2 1/2 years) and should just suck it up and get through to a much bigger payoff. We’re definitely golden handcuffed in our current jobs, but the flipside is that they let us save a lot quickly! So we hope we’ll be able to shake off this stress once we’re free in a few years, and in the meantime not take on too much stress to begin with. One day at a time…

  4. I love this post, so much that I’m going to print it off and reblog it! I read it and thought: this is us. This is exactly what our household is going through right now. Trying to stop thinking in future terms and start thinking about the now. Having one partner that works full time/ days (me) and one that works part time/ nights, we often find ourselves lamenting about our lack of time together. We spend a lot of energy waiting for and planning our days off together. In the end that just adds a lot of pressure and unnecessary expectations; i.e. complications. I think you are 100% right when you equate simplifying with just doing. Doing what you want, right now, without all the anxieties and worries and build up.

    Fantastic post!

    • Thanks! So glad it resonated with you. We for sure don’t have it all figured out, but are finding that we feel much happier when we just do things, instead of wishing we could do them! :-)

  5. Focusing on paying off my debt and now on my savings has led me to a much simpler life than I led a few years ago. I like it! I mostly work from home and have a flexible schedule so sometimes I feel like I am sort of living an early retirement lifestyle. It’s wonderful to be able to set you own hours for work. I know it’ll be even more wonderful to not HAVE to work. Only 13 years until I retire, haha :)

    • I’m positive that you will hit your ER goal much sooner if you stay focused. Goals have a way of gaining momentum and speeding up, especially as you keep finding ways to strip away the non-essential elements of life. Definitely cheering you on!

      Also, it’s so wonderful that you get to set your own schedule. We both work from home, but have to be on conference calls much of each day, which means we’re not in charge of our schedule — plus all the travel. We’re thankful that we’re close to ER, but still trying hard every day not to lose sight of the great life we’re living in the meantime. :-)

      • Fingers crossed! I’d love to get out in 10 years. I try and practice gratitude for my life now even as I’m chasing down a better life for myself.

  6. I think we’ve all struggled with this, us very much included. In fact, the closer we get to retirement, the more that we want to retire. The problem is we are focusing way too much on the future and not enough on the NOW. Like you’re saying, the NOW is just as important as what we all are working towards achieving.

    Your comment about your ability to quit your jobs now makes it easier to deal with the b.s. at work is a very real one that I am dealing with at the moment. I started a new project – lots of people interaction with different large multi-national corporations, and the b.s., meetings and confusion is just overflowing at the moment. It can be pretty darn stressful if you let it. And honestly, coming back from vacation this week, I let it get to me a bit.

    You’re talking about a very, very important concept, and one that all future early retirees should definitely keep in mind. Your ability to retire early should make it easier and less stressful to go through life, not more tough. Remember, you won’t have to deal with all that nonsense much longer. Enjoy the paycheck and send your cares and inhibitions to the wind.

    Perhaps we’ll see ya on the road one day. :)

  7. Glad you are enjoying the present! I agree with you and think it’s a mistake to think all your problems will be solved once you’ve reached a certain milestone or something has changed.

    If you can’t find contentment now, why would you later?

    • We think lots of things will get easier when we retire, namely we’ll have more time and flexibility to do the things that are important to us. But the things we care about will never magically happen on their own. So might as well build up those “making it happen” muscles now. :-) Hope you guys had a great weekend!

  8. Wonderful post!

    Through ups and downs in my life, professional and personal, I have come to the following realization.
    + Bad food, No exercise and Stress are three friends we all make in life
    + In our 20s, we can be friends with all three with no cost; In our 30s, we can be friends with only 2/3 in the list; In our 40s, we can be friends with only 1/3 in the list
    + Different people pick their own poison…for me, stress is unavoidable. So, I choose to avoid bad food and exercise regularly. But, funny thing is, once I started blogging, I have found my stress levels to go down actually…the wonderful people I meet takes my mind away and also a clearer financial picture is helping too :-)
    + I do take time to consciously reduce stress every day and try to enjoy life every day. For example, I go for a walk every day to see the sky, see the trees and hear the birds. After the walk, if I cannot recall a picture of the sky, something new about the tree and some sound of any bird, it means I was stressed out during my walk and I repeat it :-) This gives my mind a break and breaks the stress cycle in the afternoon.

    From reading your blog posts, it seems like you already avoid bad food. My super best wishes on the other two fronts. When the mind slowly becomes free, you can have a vacation right where you are…..no need to go half way across the world for it right? Enjoy your time!

    • Thanks so much! Love your analogy about the decades! In fact, just shared it with a friend who turned 40 this weekend.

      You know what they say about best laid plans… we certainly TRY to avoid bad food and to get our exercise, though we don’t always succeed. But food would get our best grade, and exercise would get a C or so. As for how we handle stress, we certainly do better than we used to, AND having a good bit of money saved up, because we now have enough to feel confident that we’ll be successful at retiring in 2 1/2 years, and when people at work cause us stress, we can just think to ourselves, “we’ll have the last laugh when we say sayonara soon!” ;-) And part of it is just age and the perspective that comes with it — it’s much easier now than it was 10 years ago to say, “this is not a big deal, and will blow over,” instead of stressing out. That’s a long way of saying that we’re making progress!

      Thanks so much for your encouragement! Hope you’re having a wonderful weekend. :-)

  9. We have two children (middle schoolers), and for us, we struggle to prioritize our spending as it relates to them. We want to be diligent in our saving, but when we look at our oldest and calculate the number of years he has left in the house (only 5 more – eek!!!), it’s hard not to see this conflicting hour glass of lost opportunity emptying down to a moment where we’ll regret we didn’t do more with them. Where we’ve landed is this semi-balance between stuff and experiences. We say no to things like video game consoles, trendy clothes and the latest tech. But we do say yes to live theater, hockey games, family fun 5k races (registrations of which can be pricey). Yes, we hike and bike and entertain the kids in plenty of free ways, but we can’t seem to avoid dropping what (at the time) seems like a painful amount on a trip to some place new each year. I know we’d be much further along on our way to FI/RE if we didn’t do those things, I don’t regret it. My hope is the kids grow up to realize that while they didn’t have it all, they did have a pretty amazing childhood. Who knows..maybe it’ll help shape how they prioritize their lives as adults.