I’d be hard-pressed to imagine a less simple life than the one we lived in our last few years of work, before we retired at the end of last year. Nearly every moment was scheduled, we were glued to our screens virtually the entire day, and we relied on things like convenience foods to keep us fed when we were too busy with work to shop or cook.
We knew we were this close to reaching our dream of early retirement, but we felt very far from living the life we aspired to live.
Of course we had some big things going for us that made it all feel worth it, not the least of which was being able to save so quickly thanks to above average incomes and none of the expenses that come with kids. Surely the lightning-fast progress made it all more tolerable. As did living in our dream spot in the mountains. Even on the most dreary conference call, I could look out my window and see a tiny sliver of Sierra granite and those majestic Jeffrey pines. And the drive I called my “commute” — from our home in Tahoe to the Reno airport, for the flights I took every week — really couldn’t be more beautiful. That stretch of I-80 that traces the Truckee River canyon is spectacular, and I can’t imagine ever getting sick of it. Plus there was that whole matter of having erased all money stress years earlier after we’d accumulated enough to count ourselves as financially secure.
So things for sure could’ve been worse. Really, they weren’t even bad, except during the worst of 2016. But we still felt a distance between our then-present life and our biggest priorities:
Time to unplug. Time to get outside. Time to spend with friends and family. Time to be present with each other.
Everything we yearned for was about time, but also about prioritizing what was most important to us with the time we had, something we weren’t always great at while working in our careers.
What we craved most truly was a simpler life, a concept I resisted for some time. I’ve never liked trendy concepts like minimalism and militant decluttering and hygge and [insert any other buzzword that makes good clickbait here]. But there’s no other way to describe it. We wanted to have days when we could be entirely offline instead of having seven hours of back-to-back calls, or a 3 a.m. wake-up call for a 5:30 a.m. flight followed by presentations at 9 a.m. and noon, a client lunch, a client coffee, a client dinner and then a midnight flight home. (I am not exaggerating. I had dozens of days like that.)
It’s the same thing so many of us crave in response to the ever-increasing pressure to be more and more productive at work, a trend that is unsustainable unless we all turn part-bionic. And that’s what I finally realized: our desire to slow down and make time for our priorities didn’t have to fit the mold of some Instagram buzzword to be valid.
It was up to us to define for ourselves what our simpler life should look like.
Psst. I finally made an archive page for Our Next Life where you can peruse every single post on the site. You can see posts by month and year, or scan the whole list of posts, including in the early days when they were all lowercase! Check out the archive here.
Simple Living Isn’t About Perfection (Though It May Seem Like It Is)
This is something I had to come to terms with myself. First, there’s the conflation of simple living with minimalism, the concept that some interpret to mean having as few possessions as possible, an idea that interests us very little. We have more pieces of outdoor gear alone than the number of possessions many minimalists own in total, and that’s before you’ve even left our garage. We aren’t uber-consumers and never have been, but we like having books around, for example. And we value having a space in which we feel comfortable. The concept of minimalism has never felt like it fits us, even if we do adhere to so many of its tenets, like not spending money on things that don’t add value to our life, and not being wasteful generally. Mostly minimalism just felt too prescriptive (and too judgy if you don’t “do it right”), and so by extension, the notion of simple living felt like it wasn’t for us either.
A big part of that is the imagery that’s out there. Almost all the pictures you see from people professing the value of minimalism or simple living fall into two categories:
1. Pristine white decor with no clutter whatsoever
2. Everything beautifully homemade
In other words, perfection. Either perfection in austerity or perfection in handcrafting your entire life, neither of which felt achievable — or desirable — for us. We love making things, but we don’t want to have to make everything. I’ll happily pay someone else to make me mittens that are waterproof and that will keep my icicle fingers warm when I’m skiing, even if they’re less beautiful than hand-knitted mittens would be. And I’ve made my own almond milk and tofu before, along with countless other staples, and I get no deep joy from it. (Also, it’s a terrible value. It’s so much cheaper to buy those things. Growing your own sprouts, however? An incredible value.) As for that perfect, clutter-free interior? Sure, maybe I could achieve that if I spent all my time cleaning and tidying instead of doing the things I actually value like getting into the mountains.
In other words, aiming for someone else’s definition or depiction of simple living or minimalism would actually pull us farther away from the simpler life that we craved, which was about giving ourselves more time even if that meant buying some things we could make and letting a little dust pile up.
That was my light bulb moment that it was up to us to define our own simpler life.
Simple Living Is Whatever You Decide to Make It
A few years ago, I wrote a post called Living Simply with Plenty of Stuff, which was my insistence that you can live a simple life without having to give away every nonessential belonging and move into a 200-square-foot tiny house. Because I really do believe this: there’s no one right way to live simply.
The only way to do it wrong is to aim for someone else’s definition and to toss out your own priorities in the process, like if I’d focused on decluttering instead of skiing more.
The way I started thinking about it is: Simple living isn’t about how your life looks, it’s how it feels.
It may not look perfectly Instagrammable or hashtaggable, but if you feel like you have time and space to breathe and time to spend on what’s most important to you, that’s all that matters.
For Us, It’s Simpler Living, Not Simple Living
Like with everything in life right now, I expect this definition to keep evolving for us, but right now we’re not aiming for simple living at all. We’re aiming for simpler living. The certainty of the “simple” descriptor feels more fixed and finite than we want right now, and we like that “simpler” suggests more of a continuum, an acknowledgment that this will be a long and ongoing process to improve and refine our life to strip away the non-essential in favor of what we value most.
Having lived all those working years at pretty much peak unsimplicity (that’s totally a word), getting a little simpler each month of early retirement feels like a big win for us. Barely looking at our phones in Taiwan was definitely movement toward simpler. Not setting an alarm clock most days is much, much simpler. Having whole days with no scheduled commitments and many fewer deadlines and constraints feels like peak simplicity for now, even if we still have a long way to go to really feel fully retired.
In some ways, at this moment in our early retirement, we’re suffering from too many options. On a given day, I could write for the blog, read a book, bake some bread and make some soup, go skiing, meet up with friends for coffee, go grocery shopping or any other of a multitude of potential tasks. When we were working, our choices were more limited and our imperatives were more clear. We could only ski on the weekends, so of course we’d ski if there was snow. Or perhaps we were out of food and had no choice but to go shopping. Now, nothing is ever imperative (except skiing on a powder day, of course!), which ironically feels less simple because we have to make more choices. They’re good choices, and choices we are excited to make, but it’s an important reminder to stay focused on what we value most instead of letting our old work habits dictate what we do when. It’s a reminder that simplicity isn’t a fixed state, but rather it’s a choice you keep making every day, one decision at a time. We’re working on retraining our brains to make the choices that support our life vision.
So for now, we don’t expect perfection and we know we won’t get this right all the time. We’re just looking to simplify bit by bit, a little at a time. Maybe not simple, but simpler.
The Giveaway: Liz’s New Book!
My friend Liz, who many of you surely know as Mrs. Frugalwoods, has written a memoir about her and her family’s journey to financial independence through — as the theme of this post has already given away — simple living. It’s not a how-to guide, but a deeply personal telling of how Liz and her family came to live out their dream of a simple life on a homestead in the woods of Vermont, complete with much more backstory than she’s shared on Frugalwoods. And while they may be self-professed frugal weirdos whose frugal ways may look at times to be awfully perfect, Liz’s goal in writing the book is to provide inspiration for how you can live more simply and achieve your dreams your way, not to dictate that theirs is the one right way to do it.
One of the ways that I always plan to spend according to my values is to buy books written by friends, even if they also want to give me a copy. (My actual rule: “Never be so cheap that I won’t support a friend, especially when we’re only talking about the cost of a book.”) So I happily bought Liz’s book, and if you want to as well, here’s a link. (<– affiliate link, FYI)
And, I’m excited to share with you guys that Liz’s publisher has decided to give not one, but TWO, copies of the book to Our Next Life readers, because y’all are the best and you deserve it.
To enter, all you have to do is comment on this post. (And if you want to comment and don’t want to enter, just mention that.) The contest will close Friday, March 9, at midnight Pacific time. The two winners will be randomly selected from entries received by that time. You know how this works. :-)
UPDATE: The contest is now closed, but commenting is still open.
How Do You Define Simple Living?
So let’s discuss — what does simple living mean to you? Or do you see it as we do, that it’s more of a progression, and an ongoing effort to simplify, not a fixed state? (Simpler instead of simple.) And do you see your definition of simple living as something you can live while working and saving, or does it require you to be financially independent first? Why or why not? Any other thoughts on simplicity, minimalism and all the related trends that you’d care to share here? All thoughts welcome in the comments!
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Categories: we've learned
I believe simpler living is all about what makes you happy. Usually this does involve money. If you are financially independent, choosing those things which make you happy will be easier than someone beginning their journey. Personally, I enjoy going for a walk and gardening. These activities do require some money in the form of the double stroller I need and sturdy shoes and seeds and tools in the garden. To me there is a range in the terms simple and simpler. Wherever you fall in that range is personal. BTW…I have followed your blog for a while and am loving your transition to retirement (as I have done with Frugalwoods). Very inspirational!
“Spend money on what’s important, and if it’s not important, don’t spend money on it!”.
It’s a phrase I like to say to my teenagers, and I think it sums up what simple living means to me.
Love your articles…thank you :-).
I love that! And you’re so welcome. :-)
Thanks so much, Amber! I’m glad to know you’re enjoying the transition. :-) I love that you don’t exclude all spending from your definition of simple/simpler living, and that you allow yourself the things you need to really enjoy those activities to their fullest.
I agree with you that simple is defined by the individual. Mostly, I want to get to the point where I can feel fulfilled on my own terms and not “forced” to work. We do have kids so it’ll take us longer because well, they constantly need new shoes, clothes, sports gear (and I do mean need….I hate to shop). But I hate the posts where it’s all perfect—-homemade, decorated, everyone happy. That can’t be real life!
Not being forced to work is a wonderful goal! And your pace will be your own, as it should be. :-) And yeah, down with those perfect pics! Let’s celebrate REAL real life instead. ;-)
This post is totally why your blog is one of my all-time favourites! I am very much in your 2016 mode … but know that this too will change. For me, simpler means having had the last 4-5 weeks with no work travel (a total revelation). And having a big personal trip lined up next week and the week after. After that, who knows? But I’ll know it when i see it!
Thanks so much for that, Cath! :-D <3 Congrats on having all those weeks with no work travel! I almost started to feel unmoored during those rare windows of no travel when I was working -- haha. But now I LOVE having weeks and weeks at home between trips. Enjoy it!
Simpler is better indeed. I’m far from a minimalist as well and I struggle with decluttering. As a child of depression-era parents I’m aware they implanted a bit of a pack-rat gene into me. It’s a constant battle.
With my tiny work schedule now I too feel like sometimes I’m overwhelmed with choices of things to do. It’s not a bad thing at all as long as I don’t stress about what I’m not doing. I started creating rough schedules on my free days and although I don’t always adhere to them I feel they help.
Being a pack rat isn’t ALL bad, within reason. ;-) It’s great not to have to repurchase something you discarded in a fit of decluttering!
The rough schedule idea is a good one. I’m starting to gravitate toward something like that to give the days just a little bit of shape, but it’s still very much a work in progress!
I basically agree with you and live in a similar manner. But I don’t for a minute discount the value of true minimalists – I have learned so much from them. I happen to love Marie Kondo, even though my house will never look like hers hahaha. (I keep tons of books, too, among other things, and I like having paintings and decorations on the walls.) But going through her process with my stuff not only enabled me to get rid of a lot of things, but it also helped me to reset my relationship with stuff. I buy much less now, not because I’m trying to save money, but because I now understand the burden I’m taking on by bringing more stuff (usually clutter) into my home. I also happened to visit Japan a while back and had a chance to see how few possessions most people keep in their homes – it did seem rather liberating.
I’m so with you, Diane! I appreciate the insights of folks at the extremes to help those of us in the middle reframe how we see stuff. (I just wish Marie Kondo devoted more of her books to talking about mindfully discarding things so they don’t just go to the landfill — celebrating success in terms of number of trashbags filled strikes me as problematic.)
A “simpler comment” for a chance to win 😁
Simplicity isn’t about my things but rather about the alignment of ideal to real. I’m in the process of leaving an all consuming job because I was giving up all other aspects of my life. Less demanding position (albeit less $$ too) means closer alignment of ideal and real and thus simplicity.
Kudos for making what must have been a complicated choice! I’m sure the money in your all-consuming job was nice, but you rock for valuing the entirety of your life above money!
I’m still working towards a simpler life. You and the Frugalwoods are inspirations to me. I’ve become more minimslistic than I ever thought I would be but it has helped tremendously to cut down my spending and live a more simple life.
That’s so awesome, Mindy! The funny thing is that neither Frugalwoods nor we consider ourselves minimalists, but I’m sure we’re all on the same page in terms of making sure that the money we spend contributes real value to our lives. :-)
I would LOVE to read this book!!! I just read Cait’s book and it was amazing! ❤️❤️❤️
So glad you loved Cait’s book! I did too! :-)
As outdoor enthusiasts and farmers, I feel you on the gear! We have loads of tools and equipment that we can’t get rid of if we want to effectively do our work/hobbies! Even canning or preserving food takes gear and pantry or freezer space. Though we’ve done our best to simplify within the confines of our complicated life. We’ve worked on “leaning” our farm areas: getting rid of the clutter and implementing systems so we can work most efficiently and effectively. And we’ve let go of some of those homesteady things that don’t serve us: no time to can quarts upon quarts of tomatoes? No problem, I’ll throw a few whole in the freezer!
Would love to win Liz’s book!! I wanted to order it, but had to hold off, since I’ve recently simplified my life by getting rid of one of my jobs. :)
Oh yeah, the canning stuff is HUGE in terms of how much space it takes up. No shame on that stuff and the outdoors stuff, so long as you use it and it contributes happiness or fulfillment to your life. :-)
I think of simple living as a life filled with the people, experiences, and yes, things, that I love. I could never call myself a minimalist. Indeed, I have thousands of books in my house, but I love being surrounded by books. On the other hand, I would never have a house full of brass monkeys, for example, no matter how cheaply I might acquire them at a yard sale.
Ha — that’s a perfect way to put it! Simple doesn’t have to mean minimalist at all. I think “mindful” is a far better way to describe the lifestyle. :-)
I find your blog so very inspirational on my travels to FI. I look forward to Mondays and Wednesdays each week and now find myself venturing out to read other blogs as well including Mrs. Frugalwoods, Cati’s, Go Curry Cracker and Mad Fienstist. All fine examples of introduction to what FI can be like!
Thanks so much, Pat! :-) Knowing that we all help inspire you is the best compliment.
After the huge snow storm in the UK this past week, I’ve been regretting some of the simplifying decisions I made… the nordic skis that went to the charity shop because it never snows here (once every 8 years), the sleds that went when the kids grew up. I really missed both and am now thinking they should be replaced if we get another bit snow dump next year. What I haven’t regretted was keeping the 20-year old LL Bean snow boots that hadn’t been worn in 15 years but turned out fab for the weather last week.
Simplifying life is such a buzz word… but seems to care a judgment from so many people. I really appreciated what you wrote … having things that give you joy, even if you seldom use them, makes life so much better. I remember this everytime I make bread these days… in the bread maker that we nearly gave away 6 years ago because we had a great community store that sold better bread than I made. Well, that store went out of business and we’ve started using the bread maker again to make the dough that we then bake in the oven.
Things go round and I’m taking joy from that these days…
You make such a great point! So often decluttering experts suggest a very short time limit on using things before they have to go. Like if you haven’t used something in six months, buh-bye. This feels so short-sighted to me, and potentially wasteful. I too have repurchased things that I’d previously let go of, and that has helped me be less enthusiastic in my decluttering. :-) But, it’s still very valuable to shift your thinking to when you’ll eventually get rid of something at the time you purchase it, instead of putting off that thinking until later. So I now buy much less, and it sounds like you do too! Hope you enjoyed that snow — it looked lovely!
I think that if it works for you than that is your version of simple (or simpler for those of us who seek to improve daily). So if you are feeling stressed about money, than you are actually not living a simple life.
I’m just going to take a minute to feel superior to the perfect minimalists out there in the Instagram world 😂. I personally don’t think that simple living or simpler living has to wait until your financially independent. I am definitely not financially independent, but I’d like to believe I’m living a simpler life. I often struggle with the difference between simple living and minimalism for the purposes of my blog, but I’ve notice I tend to label things as minimalism when it deals very directly with stuff.
That’s an interesting distinction, that it’s minimalism when it’s regarding physical things. And I SO agree that simple living doesn’t at all require financial independence! But I do often hear people say things like, “I can’t wait until I can retire so I can live more simply.” For sure some aspects of simple living require more time, but not all of them!
Interesting. While minimalism may be “trendy” it is a super old concept. We lived “simply” in grad school over a decade ago (with one bag in a 300sq foot apartment) and it was definitely one of the happiest years of our lives. I also grew up in a minimalist home and when I was traveling the world as an athlete minimalism, especially of the mind was absolutely necessary to succeed.
To me minimalism is literally simple, focused living, and I am a huge fan. The it is not about having less things (though to me it is literally a giant happiness difference to have cut my stuff by more than half) but about purposeful surrounding yourself only with things, people and experiences that add value to your life which is different for every single person. It is a physical emotional and spiritual decluttering to focus on what matters most to you. I guess it is prescriptive in the exact same way as FIRE is prescriptive – save more than you spend but the details and measures of success are controlled by the owner. And it evolves with time and so should you along with it.
People often overthink minimalism – this is a concept just apply it to how it works for you.
Being rich (wholistic rich) is not having more, but needing less.
To me being rich is inner peace which I can only get with a wholistic approach and ensure I am focused and purposeful.
Ps and I know you have written about decluttering and waste – most of our stuff went to shelters or other places, our cars went to make a wish foundation and the throw away went mostly to recycling. With this we made changes to our use of plastic and other waste and how we consume. This is not to say that we are perfect (not even close) or we do it to judge others (that did not ocur to me) we are simply better than yesterday against ourselves for ourselves. And we have a long way to go it is a constant goal for us that keeps us engaged!
Honestly One if the biggest benefits to me so far is that It has allowed me to more quickly realize when I get overwhelmed and make changes sooner rather than allowing me to work until exhaustion brings anxiety and sickness….
AND this allowed me to ADD things to my life like monthly massages which I traded for buying more stuff 😋. This seems the equivalent to me of your skiing gear – if you use it and makes you happy that is the point, you keep it!
That seems like the perfect way to look at it all: striving to better yourself but not comparing yourself to others. AND if it adds in wonderful things like monthly massages, all the better! :-D
Oh yeah, you should see the homes my parents grew up in — big families with lots of kids in TEENSY TINY places. And that was normal among everyone they knew! The idea of smaller spaces or having less is not new at all, but it has been forgotten by many. ;-)
I love your definition of minimalism, though the leading voices on the internet and Instagram would disagree with you, which is why it’s such a problematic term.
This post really hits home for me and your timing couldn’t be better. Thanks for the inspiration.
I’m so glad! :-)
I LOVE this! It’s so easy to fall into the instagram trap of wanting the perfect house and the perfect diet and the perfect schedule and completely ignore the fact that actually, your doing pretty ok as it is! I have wanted to ‘live simple’ for a few years now, but I think changing my mindset to ‘live simplER’ is the better way to go for now.
What a great way to put it, Charlotte! I hope the post helped YOU feel that you’re doing just fine as is. :-)
I love the Frugalwoods blog and look forward to reading their book!
Lastly have you read about the Swedish “death cleaning” – this may be really weird but I don’t want to leave my kids the chore of clearing my stuff when dead and thinking that they have to keep something for emotional reasons. This concept overwhelms me for them even before I knew the Swedes did this lol. Maybe from volunteering at the hospice or from having to see friends go through that emotional burden of feeling attached to things passed on (they did not want to keep by felt guilty).
I have read about it, but I did a major downsize for a relative with a VERY full house, and feel I have already lived this lesson. So yeah, not leaving a huge mess behind for anyone to deal with is a big motivator for me not to acquire too much stuff!
I have found a lot of value in minimalism, but I’ve never felt compelled to live in any of the ways that pictures of minimalist homes look. For me, getting rid of excess stuff has helped us with the mental strain. We have too many choices to make as it is, so I like cutting out our visuals to help things at least look simple. That, for me, has helped a lot. But it’s such an ongoing process. So excited to read Liz’s book!!!! :)
I think that’s a perfect way to apply the principles! Certainly lessening the clutter in our homes has a huge positive effect!
I so connected with this “at this moment in our early retirement, we’re suffering from too many options” because we feel the same way. I have to slow myself down and think about what to do each day – because it feels like there is a rush to get in all the things we wanted to do in retirement. Love the “simpler living” focus too. You don’t get to “simple living” and that’s it. Goals and feelings will change over time – and so will how you live.
Thanks for reassuring me that it’s not just us, Vicki! ;-) I definitely feel the pressure to start checking things off the list, or at least not to waste time, and so this reminder about simpler living is super helpful to me. Just as you said, lots of things are going to change and keep changing, so it’s great to focus on simpler, not some perfect idea of simple.
Looking forward to reading it- thank you!
“Simpler Living” is a great concept that makes you feel free to create your own personal level of simple life. I love it!
Yay an archive! Thanks to the twitter conversation, perhaps? I know there are quite a few old posts I haven’t read so I may need to block out an afternoon to binge them…
And simpler living sounds much better to me – life is way too hectic most of the time but going all the way to the end of the hygge spectrum sounds downright boring to me for any length of time 😉
I know, finally, right? ;-) Yes, completely thanks to the Twitter convo. I think I thought it would be harder than it was, but it was actually easy and then I felt dumb for not doing it long ago. Hahaha. Always how it goes. ;-) And yeah, NO NEED to go all the way to FULL HYGGE. Not to mention that buying all those candles just seems wasteful. Hahahaa.
The only candles we have in our house are as serious backup in case of a power outage ;)
I have a box of candles I bust out for Thanksgiving and that kind of thing, but I’m pretty sure I’ve been rocking the same set of candles for like 10 years. Hahaha.
Through simplifying our family’s life and aligning with my values, I was able to retire from my unfulfilling 12 year career last year to focus on raising our 3 sons. As the former breadwinner of our family, this was a huge moment that was sparked by simple living and minimalism writers and mentors such as Liz. While I’m not as frugal as The FW or as minimalist as The Minimalists, their blogs, books and interviews served as catalysts of change in my life and examples of what is possible. Thanks for taking a moment to honor the non-perfection side to this movement – I struggle with some of these labels as well.
SO AWESOME. And yeah, it’s a hard balance for those influential, visible folks to strike! To inspire others, they need to be somewhat extreme, to show the end of what’s possible. But then that also sets the bar high for others. So it’s important to recognize that paradox and appreciate their example without feeling beholden to it. :-)
I’d prefer to call it something like “value-added living” rather than simpler. Being close to FI and giving up my full-time work last year for my rather part-time consulting practice (7-8 trips a year) means I don’t need to meet weekly deadlines, or drive to work everyday, or do the depressing corporate dance.
On the flip side, I’m now commuting into NYC (from Connecticut) once a week for musical improv classes and I lead a new improv practice group here. My consulting work is bimodal: free time at home, or being constantly on for a week (often in Asia.) I wouldn’t call any of that simpler.
Same goes for possessions. We’re not giving up our mid-century modern house or the Airstream or two cars. (I will go with an EV next time for one of the cars. We might even add a camper van when my wife finishes working in 3-5 years so that she can go off on her own while I perform.)
OK – we buy fewer (but nicer) clothes, eat out A LOT less (for nondeductible meals), and we simplified our phone plan. But our life isn’t a Frugalwoods or MMM or any other blog’s life – it’s ours.
I’m glad that you guys have a life you’re enjoying more without the “depressing corporate dance.” (<-- Love that!) ;-) I think "simple" and "simpler" don't have to have anything to do with stuff. Not having so much to pack into your life does sound simpler to me, but the label is far less important than whether you enjoy it!
I would to win this book! Read it, get inspired by it, then put it in my little free library!
For me, simpler living is about having fewer obligations that I don’t look forward to. More stuff means more cleaning, which is an obligation. If I look forward to using the thing, then cleaning it is part of the fun of maintaining it and enjoying it. I don’t want to reduce that.
Such a great way to put it, Jim! If you truly enjoy that thing, then the maintenance that goes along with owning it won’t feel like a burden.
I agree that simple(r) living is personal. What I enjoy seeing is that so many young people are 1) on this FIRE journey and 2) have realized, much earlier than I did, that happiness does not come with buying and having stuff – it comes from experiences and sharing with others. Great post and I’ll see you again on Wednesday.
So true! I’d love to know how many folks are interested in simpler living and financial independence, but it absolutely seems true that more people are waking up and realizing that the promises marketers have been whispering for all these years aren’t true after all, and that stuff never buys happiness. :-)
I love it! This definitely resonates with me a lot, and it’s similar to the way I approach veganism/vegetarianism (make real efforts to eat less meat, not necessarily zero meat). I think we have a tendency to present ourselves with false dichotomies as a mental shortcut, when in reality most things exist on a continuum.
Such a great way to put it, Jeffrey! We do seem to be wired to see things in black or white when things are rarely so clear-cut. I appreciate very much that you focus on reducing your meat consumption instead of holding yourself to perfection as a standard.
Very interesting. Thanks for offering up the book to commenters!
You’re welcome! :-)
So excited for Mrs. Frugalwoods’ book!
I’m 24 days away from early retirement! I would love to read the Frugalwoods book. I’m really looking forward to have time to read😊. Thank you for your thought provoking blog!
SOOOOOO awesome, Debbie! :-D
To us, simple living means being happy. That’s it. Regardless of the stuff we have or money in our account, happiness for us often stems *from* simplicity. Thus, to feel happy, we necessarily are living a simple life…at least, simple enough for our lifestyle. :)
Oh, and no interest in the book. Please don’t choose me. :)
Such a simple definition, Steve! I love it! :-)
I 100% agree – people need to define “simple living” in a way that is meaningful to them. For me, I would love to make as much of our food from scratch as I can – like growing and preserving our own vegetables, grinding meat, making homemade pasta, etc. But those activities are relaxing to me and give me satisfaction. Other people might hate those kinds of activities, and that is a-okay.
Forgot to mention, I already pre-ordered the Frugalwoods book so no need to be included in that!
I so agree with you! Simple living is never going to look one way, and while your definition of making most of your food from scratch fits with a pretty textbook definition of simple living, to someone who doesn’t find joy from that, a life filled with all those food chores might be the opposite of simple. ;-)
I really liked Tom’s comment about value-added living. I think that as we moved to our permanent (finally!) home we made a mental shift to only buy things that either contributed to or moved us towards the things that get us to the end point of this is the picture of what we want our life to look like, even if it only barely resembles that now. So when we make the choice to spend money, we ask the question, will we get $xx of use or enjoyment out of it. And so by focusing our efforts and dollars toward those things that add value to our picture, we’ve ended up simplifying as a result.
Thank you again for an inspiring blog.
You’re so welcome, Megan! And I love your approach and definition. It helps me, too, to think about the eventual end of life of whatever I’m considering purchasing. How will I find it a new home or ensure it is fully recycled? Asking that question cuts down on things I feel inclined to buy! :-)
would love to read mrs frugalwoods book!
It’s not about simple and frugal. It’s about best, happiest, and healthiest. It just turns out that the best way to get there turns out to be simple and inexpensive. Spending time with friends and family is better when we share time in the kitchen instead of the restaurant — and it’s better for your waistline and less expensive. Doing sports is better than watching sports — and less expensive. Going fishing is better than watching other people fish on TV. Time spent with family in the park or on the trail is better than time spent at the mall. Making music is more fun than listening to a streaming service.
Buying something brings a moment of joy, but it passes quickly and leaves a nasty credit card bill. When I track what really makes me happy and healthy, it’s always about doing and rarely about owning.
I’m glad you’ve found your idea happy and healthy life! But I do think that definition might look different for others, and it’s important to create space for that. For someone who doesn’t enjoy cooking, forced time in the kitchen might be the opposite of happy. ;-)
Great post! Simple living for us is to invest in experiences and not in stuff. Clutter and stuff are things that can weigh me down. For example, we recently invested in a trip to Ireland with the extended family, but still have one of those crazy big projection TVs from 16 years ago (and when it dies it won’t be replaced) and are a one car family (12 years old and still going strong – yay Toyota). Money is a finite source, we buy the material necessities, and after that we fund memories.
Thank you! I love how you put it: “funding memories.” That very closely matches our point of view, though sometimes we need expensive gear to create those memories. ;-) Hahaha. And hooray for practical cars! (Our 14-year-old Honda Civic is right there with your Toyota!)
Especially now that I have a child, I’m doing my best to cut the fat from my life and focus only on what matters: our family and our happiness and health.
(And I’d be so psyched to win the Frugalwoods book!)
I love that! I’m sure that having a child changes so much about how you see your priorities!
Love aiming for simpler living in general, without pressure to do it “right”. We’re thinking of switching to RV living for a year or two and all the minimizing that would be necessary. Unfortunately, my parents are trying to downsize as well and keep bringing us random stuff from their house…a conversation about our priorities is in order! We’ll see if they listen!
There was a recent episode of the Young House Love podcast about hoarding, but it had some lessons that feel completely applicable to you guys about not taking stuff from parents who are downsizing. You might enjoy it! (Though the podcast is slightly focused on stuff otherwise, so maybe not.) ;-)
Heh, “[insert any other buzzword that makes good clickbait here]” isn’t good for your SEO and you’d be way better off actually putting in the additional buzzword ;) (just kidding, SEO is dumb and I laugh at how the plugin tells me every post of mine isn’t optimized at all. Thanks, plugin, I don’t care!)
I’m a longtime fan of the Slow Home Podcast, and I love how Brooke and Ben define simple/slow living. It’s all about making time and space for what’s important to you, not following some prescriptive plan for the Instagram-worthy life. And as a recovering perfectionist, I’m all for aiming for a simpler life. Perfect is boring, and stressing myself out about the perfect “simple” life is definitely something I’m not interested in. Plus, like you, I sincerely enjoy not freezing my extremities off in hand-knitted winter gear!
Definitely entering this giveaway because I don’t think the DC public library is hip to the simple living lifestyle and despite the fact that I’ve suggested it, I suspect I’ll be waiting for quite some time for them to purchase the book–if they ever do.
Oh my gosh, can you imagine this blog if I wrote for SEO, like, ever?! It would be sooooo different! Hahahaha.
I so agree that perfect is boring, though that lesson didn’t come easily to me. Just ask my old DIY house blog and my many attempts at perfection! ;-)
And you should request that the library buy the book! I find even our little local library very often buys hard copy and e-books that I request! (I know, I know… it’s DC. But still worth a shot!)
I think not budgeting (after you get it figured out) and just spending on what you value makes budgeting simple. I have all my recurring bills and investments automatically taken out. I also only say yes to stuff I actually want to do and I have a Roomba
I LOLed at the Roomba comment, but I think that could be soooo worth it! We would get one but we think our dogs would lose their minds. Hahaha.
Love this post! I agree that you’re shooting yourself in the foot if you’re comparing your definition of living simply and being happy with others’ definitions. Also: so jealous of that snow! Here in Kentucky we almost never get that much! I have snowshoe envy…
Fingers crossed that the book gods smile on me, but I think I’ll also ask my local library to purchase a copy!
Thank you! :-) It’s like with all things — comparison has never made anyone happier, ever. Maybe more smug or more self-satisfied, but that’s not the same thing. And just remember that the snow comes with a biiiiig heating bill, so it’s a double-edged sword. ;-)
Great post! Love your blog and also a fan of the Frugalwoods!
I am still working on defining what simple living means to me, but that is part of the journey! I also think that the definition could change as a result of life circumstances as well.
Oh 100%! In fact it SHOULD change in response to your life. :-)
i’d love to win a copy!
For me, simpler living (and FIRE in general) is all about having choices and the freedom to choose. As you pointed out, it’s both a blessing and a curse, as now we have so many things we can choose from.
Decisions, decisions. Some might think life is simpler when someone else is making most of the decisions…
I do think there’s truth to that! In some ways life IS simpler when someone else is dictating how we spend our time. And in other ways we can simplify once that time constraint is gone. ;-)
My mother was a minor victim of the hurricane in Houston last year. She decided it was actually a blessing because it forced her to go through many decades of stuff and get rid of damaged items, but also give away things she realized she would not ever need. She inspired me to do the same and go on a buying fast, which I’ve been able to succeed at so far this year, except books.
How inspiring to see someone turn hardship like that into a major opportunity to simplify! Kudos to your mom, and to you for following suit!
Simple living is living according to my values. Simple living is spending time learning, and not taking care of stuff, or thinking about stuff.
What a great definition!
I’ve always taken the minimalism, tiny-houses, hygge stuff sort of for granted, without analysing them for myself. I appreciate reading your blog because you often take these things I take for granted and challenge them, making me question what else I’ve taken for granted. I appreciate the call to action– what is ideal living? Is it simple? Maybe for some the ideal is a complicated, crazy, meeting-filled days! Not me though.
What a fantastic compliment — thank you! :-D And it’s so true — all that really matters is what YOU find ideal, whether that’s simple or slow or small… or none of those things! ;-)
To me, a big part of simple living is living in a small house or apartment where if I really needed to, I could clean from top to bottom in a full day or weekend. I’m not the tidiest person, so simply having less stuff is huge for me: there is a limit to the upper bounds of disorganization!
I love that you don’t want a small space just because that’s code for simple living, but because you know yourself and your own tendencies, and therefore want to have a system that keeps you in check. That’s the best possible reason to want a small home!
I will live as simply as possible, focusing on what I enjoy and ensure that I am not wasteful in all aspects of my life. I appreciate so much your perspective and letting others know that they don’t need to fit into a mould. Find what works best for you but ensure sound principles are in place to create a successful future. Cheers and have a great week !
Thanks, bud! Curious, though, why you put that first line in future tense. ;-) Is anything holding you back from doing all that in the present tense? ;-) Have a terrific week, friend!
I think I wrote it more like a mission statement, lol too many years in the corporate world. My manifesto ;)
Ha! Well in that case, I LOVE IT. :-) (Manifestos always welcome here!)
We need something guide our actions by right 👍🏼
We do! :-D
I believe simple living starts with life focusing on relationships vs stuff. Spending time with the ones i love, doing what we love. But does that really mean less stuff??? I’m still working on what simpler living means for me.
I love that you’re not simply taking on someone else’s definition, but figuring out the answer for yourself!
I also see it as an ongoing effort, but definitely not in a stressful way. I just try to be mindful if something bothers me and if there could be a simple solution to make life easier. Like if shoes by the doorway is irksome, first decide if there are shoes you can donate, then find a basket/closet/etc. you could always try to keep them in. Something like that usually works for a while, then it gets out of hand again, so you reassess and do better to make your life easier again. No real stress involved, just taking a minute to be mindful of how to simplify.
Such a great analogy. The idea of finding something that is perfect for all eternity is foolish, and we shouldn’t waste time or mental energy trying to achieve that. Maybe something that’s a little better for now is all we need.
I agree that simple living is a different recipe for everyone. I started the journey 4 years ago when we sold our mega house in the suburbs for a tiny condo in the city. City living got to be too expensive so after 3 years we loaded our few belongings and moved to a log cabin in the Blue Ridge mountains. Step one, and maybe two – complete. We’re on the path to financial freedom in the next few years, but BEFORE you get there, I think it’s so important to really appreciate the simple things in life. You’re going to need that mindset when you get off the treadmill. Having less stuff. Getting outside more. Enjoying the breathing room that we’re creating for ourselves – that’s our recipe. I am so grateful for blogs like this as we can all learn so much from each of our journeys!
Congrats on making some big changes in your life in response to that desire to simplify, Gwen! That’s so awesome. And gosh, YES. Getting off that treadmill of always buying more is SOOO important.
We have young kids, so “simple living” is not a concept that translates. There’s things like strollers, car seats, diapers, sippy cups, bibs, extra changes of clothes, milk, snacks, toys — all that stuff is *required* before you can even head out the door.
Yes, I suppose there’s some single people or young couples that can lead “simple” lives… but it seems like an impossible dream for this father of two.
Ha! That’s what I hear. ;-) But I think that’s just the stuff definition of simple living, and not the definition that’s more focused on cutting out tasks and commitments that aren’t important to you and focusing on the ones that are. If you use that definition, is it any more achievable?
I love this post, Tanja. I struggled with the same idea when I first heard about minimalism – do I need to get rid of ALL my stuff to truly be “minimal?” I’ve come to a happy balance between being aware of what stuff I own, and if it doesn’t serve a purpose in my life anymore, either sell it or donate it. That being said, I still have tons of things.
I do envy those with immaculate white/clean homes with so little items (i.e. West End catalogs) but need to ask – “Where do they store all their little things?! Like rings? Or hair ties? Or my glasses container?!” Then I remember that it’s just a staged room, not an actual home :)
Thanks, Krystel! :-) We’re totally on team “tons of things,” too, and I don’t think there’s any reason to be ashamed of that if you use what you have and are mindful about future purchases.
I don’t think you have to be FI to strive for simple living. For me, simple living is a work in progress. It means reducing the physical and digital clutter, not over committing to obligations, and minimizing the number of decisions that need to be made in day to day life.
I love that you included obligations and decisions in your definition, and didn’t just focus on stuff. That’s such a huge part of it!
look at all these comments! i gotta do a giveaway, T$. i spent years “crafting” a simple life with very little scheduled for my free time. i got a lot of leeway due to sympathy for my crappy schedule at that time. mrs. smidlap is more on the go and has to be out and about with her involvement with the art community. i’m happy to run to the park with the dog and have some wine and chillax with a sixers game or to cook something interesting. it works for us and that’s important, but now that my work schedule doesn’t suck and i’m not tired all the time i find myself, like y’all, paralyzed by too many choices. doh!
Ha. Yes, a giveaway does tend to get the comments rolling in! :-) I definitely understand where you are with commitments and choices — while working so much, I didn’t want to take on very many things and was protective of my free time. But now, I want to do everything! :-D
In my mind simple living is not focused in one domain but rather relates to reduction of role strain (conflicting expectations and obligations) as it relates to time, money, interpersonal commitments and more.
That’s a great definition! I love that you’re thinking well beyond just physical things. :-)
No alarm o’clock. Not having to follow someone else rules.
Not setting an alarm clock most days is the BEST. Every bit as great as I hoped. :-)
Feeling lucky! Hope I get a copy. Enjoyed listening to Liz’s interview on MadFientist while on the elliptical at lunch today. As always, agree with you sentiments above. I definitely desire a “simpler” life. With 3 kids and 2 careers that is hard to attain at times. The new plan is to buy an RV in attempt to have more “simple” moments in nature, but who are we kidding, an RV is just going to complicate life a whole lot more! Sigh. Maybe someday I’ll figure it all out.
In the meantime, I’m coming to Tahoe next week for our anniversary trip. Haven’t heard anything about the spring meet-up in Tahoe??!
I appreciate so much that you acknowledge that having an RV will come with LOTS of new tasks and maintenance, so it’s not a magical cure-all. ;-) But that’s not to say it’s not worth having it if makes it easier to get out into wild places! It’s just a trade-off, like everything else. ;-)
‘Simpler living’ to me means more control over my time – not having to work if I don’t want to, more time to nurture relationships with family & friends, lots of time for camping with my hubby & 3 kiddos, time for some domestic travel and the odd international trip, lots of time to attend professional curling (as in the winter sport) events as a spectator, and lots of time for my own curling endeavors (purely recreational for me!). Yes, I’m a curling fanatic from north of the border. ;)
Love your blog & writing style! Happy that you intend to keep it up in retirement and thank you for the constant inspiration!
Thank you! I’m absolutely planning to keep it up in retirement! :-) I love your definition of simpler living, but do wonder if the requirement of needing to have more time limits it to be something only a retired person could enjoy, and not something that anyone could live now.
Yes! Love this! For me, it is constantly evolving and changing and I evolve and change. I don’t ever wanted to be so rigid and boxed in that I can’t change my mind lol. It was a hard road to get off that path and I don’t want to go back to that line of rigid thinking and perfectionism.
I can’t claim “Early Retirement”, only “Earlier than most”, but I have come to realize that the values I’m living by become self-evident they longer you live — provided you’ll look honestly at what you have done as the years have gone by. Yes, i made early choices that are still true 35 job-years later, but other things have shifted, and I can only see them in hindsight.
Earlier than most still counts as early, my friend. :-) I so appreciate your comment, and the importance of assessing our lives honestly, not just seeing what we want to see.
This. Is. It. “Simpler” suggests more of a continuum, an acknowledgment that this will be a long and ongoing process to improve and refine our life to strip away the non-essential in favor of what we value most.” A thousand times yes! In my world, it would be a life with less fear because, for me, fear is a major driver/ inhibitor. Fear I will regret purging something or, conversely, fear that I’ll hang onto it and miss out on an increased sense of lightness (because I do aspire to those clutter free white spaces!). Fear of making active money decisions that may “undo me” financially. Fear of passive money decisions (i.e. doing nothing.) Fear that if I make a single misstep I will never be able to retire (much less early.)
Letting go of fear (a continuum for sure) and its attending mental forecasting and gymnastics would simplify things for me a LOT.
Oh gosh, I recognize so much in what you’re describing! That fear can be paralyzing for sure, and it can fill up too much of our limited mental space. I find it SO helpful to remind myself — and you may as well — that we don’t have to optimize everything (or even anything) to make a FIRE plan work. We only have to match the markets and save more than the average. Sure, it’s great if we can do better than that, but it’s certainly not required. Ain’t nobody out here doing any of this stuff perfectly. ;-)
You made an important point when you said pursuing a simpler life is an ongoing process. If we do it right, how life looks today isn’t how it will look in just a few short years – life isn’t meant to be static. Hopefully, we’ll keep investing in ourselves, in the things that contribute to our personal growth and happiness. And there is no one prescriptions that suites everyone – what adds to my joy may detract from yours. We all have to design our individual version of a happy life and embrace our own seasons.
I agree with every word of this! :-)
Love the idea of living simply on your own terms!
I think consciously choosing a simple life takes discipline and a lot of willingness to say no. No to stuff your mother-in-law gives you, no to extra commitments, no to buying another outfit for work. It’s pretty contrary to everything advertising teaches us!
I agree! Building up that “No” muscle is critical, and not always easy!
One appealing aspect of a simpler life is less concern with efficiency in my daily life tasks. I frequently find myself measuring the value of my time in terms of dollars (from an earned paycheck). Weekend/vacation hours are such a rare commodity that even the time that should be relaxing is measured and maximized to the point that it is no longer all that relaxing. I can’t wait for the time when I can choose to do a thing or not do a thing based on the satisfaction it might give me and not have to worry about the opportunity cost so much.
I can relate to this completely! That was us just a few months ago, but I will say that the flip side is that when you’re less efficient, you’re truly less efficient! ;-) Meaning: We get a LOT less done in the same amount of time. So it’s a simpler life for sure but also one ripe with massive inefficiencies. Hahahaha.
I really would love receive this book. Hugs from Brazil =)
Love this, new to blogging and taking our first steps towards a simple life with frugal living. Looking forward to reading more x
Good luck with your blog! It’s a BIG thing you’ve taken on, but it can be so worthwhile. :-)
Thanks for another great post! I love the idea of simpler living, not because it is effortless (it’s not) but because it reduces all of that background noise from things that don’t matter to focus on what does really matter. Kind of like how one might approach saving for FIRE. Just as you might reduce spending on things that don’t matter to you, minimize all of those time-wasting or energy-wasting parts of your life that aren’t fundamental to your best life. That’s simpler. It’s also not about only doing thing that are enjoyable either. What you and Mark did to get a little slice of your ideal life in Tahoe while still working is something we’re trying to do as well. Having a simpler life makes it easier to fully focus on my job and have less guilt when I have to step back from it, actually. There’s a clarity that comes from having less background noise in your life, period.
Gosh, yes to all of this! It’s so true that in our case moving and simplifying DID make it easier to commit fully to work AND to pull back when we needed to or could. I love your description of it as reducing the background noise. We all still live in the world today, and there’s more than ever here to distract us, but the more we can reduce everything that sucks up our mental energy, the better! :-)
Simple living has made it possible for one of us to stay home with our 3 young kids. Would love to win the book.
I would love to win this book! Love the Frugalwoods blog!
My husband thinks that I want to have no possessions at all and live in an empty apartment, but that just isn’t true. I simply want everything to have a place in our apartment, not spilling out onto the floor, and for us to not have a storage unit full of things that we haven’t looked at in 2 (two) years. Is that too much to ask?
Hahaha — It’s funny how our minds are so inclined to go straight to the far ends of the spectrum! ;-) I don’t think that’s too much to ask, but it can for sure be hard to talk about stuff like this when it becomes emotionally charged. And having stuff around is a great comfort to a lot of people. Have you tried talking about it in terms of what you each want your home to feel like and why, without assigning blame?
I actually just put a hold on this book at my local library!
Great! It also supports author friends to get libraries to buy more copies of their books! :-)
I agree with the idea of simpler living as a progression instead of a static idea of simple living. I think that simpler living has a lot to do with being intentional about how you spending your time and money. It can be done while you are working and saving, but it may have more challenges. For us, simpler living means that I am taking a year off (of school and work) during our daughter’s first year. I didn’t feel that I really had that option when my son was born.
I’m so glad that you feel you have more options now and are able to devote this time to your kids in your daughter’s first year!
Next to “JOY”… my second favorite word is “SIMPLICITY”. We’re still 3+ years out from semi-retirement… maybe 3 beyond that before full retirement… but achieving simplicity isn’t on hold until we reach that point… we found it 12+ years ago when we officially began our FIRE journey. Each person’s definition of simplicity is going to be different. The answer lies in asking yourself… What truly brings you joy? What makes you truly content? Then do that…. and for the most part, only that…. that’s simplicity!
Even currently working 40+ hours per week… our lives our filled with joy… we’re content. We’re on the path to FIRE because for us, the ultimate simplicity, joy and contentment comes with the freedom to choose how we fill ALL our time.
I love so much that you don’t see simplicity as something for LATER, but as something for NOW that can co-exist with work. I couldn’t agree more! Simplicity is more a mindset of saying yes to what’s important and no to everything else, and that can happen at every stage of life. Kudos to you guys for embracing that, and joy of course!
Hi tanya just wanna say thanks. I binge read your blog n decided to put 100% of my bonus to vanguard. First time I did 100% thks
Wow! Thanks for diving in so deeply on the blog! Glad the info was helpful, and congrats on making the big investment! You’ve just done the ultimate form of paying yourself first.
To me, simple living means owning only what I need, so I can focus on doing the things that I want to do. Shopping takes so much time, so it it only done when necessary. It has freed up so much time to only shop for items I need to replace or that I know I would use. I would love to win that book! It is actually the reason I found your blog.
It is so true that shopping alone is a huge time suck! Kudos for shaping your life to embrace taking on only what you truly need!
I look around my home at all my things and despair of ever living “simply”. Thanks for reminding me that there are more ways to look at the world! I love my crafts, my outdoor activities, my stinky hockey gear and would hate to give any of them up. I guess my simple life is one spent enjoying my pursuits with family and not worrying about the detritus of life. :-)
I’m on the holds list for Liz’s book at my library too. I’m quite excited to read it!
Great post, as always. You do a wonderful job of getting us all to examine our thinking.
Thanks so much! And while it might make sense to despair a bit if you’re drowning in stuff you don’t use, insofar as it inspires you to be more mindful about future purchases. But if you truly use the things you own on hobbies that bring you joy? No shame!
What’s not to love about living a simpler life? It’s the best.
I just discovered your website and Love it! What you have done is amazing.
Thanks, Mark! :-)
I didn’t realize that “minimalism” was so myopic! Never studied it that much, but based on your description we’ve been moving toward ‘simpler’. Have a long way to go as I come from a long line of pseudo-hoarders but I’ve seen the consequences and have no interest in that chaos so it’s getting better.
Funny you have “too many options” now – weird parallel but I actually enjoy restaurants a little more being vegan since the choice is generally made for me. :) When we go to a vegan restaurant I’m flummoxed by all the choices! It’s a new dimension to early retirement I hadn’t thought about and frankly is disconcerting but I’m sure we’ll find a way to deal with it.
Hahaha — I have no doubt you’ll find a way to cope with the new smorgasbord of options. ;-) It IS a great “problem” to have. But I think when we’re working, our minds are drawn toward the antidotes to work, and when work is gone and we no longer need the antidote, it’s possible to feel much less directional pull. It’s not bad, just surprising!
I am so envious of the 5+ feet of snow in the Tahoe basin that you guys get to enjoy right out your front door.
Well that’s after two months of drought, which was after five of the last six years in drought. So it’s all relative! ;-)
Figuring out what is worth it and what isn’t is the work of a lifetime.
Liz’s new book sounds great! Excited to add it to my reading list.
I am gluttonous with resolutions, the more the merrier.
However, after discovering that my resolutions (for New Years, new birthday, new semester, new season, new month, new week, whatever…) were getting a bit too busy and cluttered (and really difficult to keep!), I decided to make them simpler. I distilled what I would like to achieve each and every day to three items, broadly defined: Being generous (with charities, praise, time, etc.); Enriching my mind and body (reading an interesting non-fiction book, yoga, etc.); Taking delight in something (sitting down with a cup of tea in the sunny part of the living room floor with our dog, going to see a matinee, etc.).
Much easier resolutions to keep than those I used to have!
I love that! Sometimes even our efforts to simplify can themselves become clutter. ;-) Good for you for recognizing that and creating a much more straightforward way to live your life every day. I love your three daily goals!
“Simpler” is a great word because it implies a never ending process. I’m trying to declutter my life, beginning with decluttering my home. It really hit home after a recent move, when we bought a house without built in book cases. I realized that I needed to go buy some new cases, and then I asked “why”. Most of the books I have I’ll never read again, so what is the point. It is hard to get rid of books and pictures and jewelry and clothes and all of the things I have to much of. But aiming to go on the “simpler” journey gives me permission to do it in my time, not try to meet someone else’s definition.
I love your thought process on the books and move. It reminds me of The Container Store and how much people spend to organize all their things when maybe the answer is actually to have fewer things. (Not judging having stuff or having things to organize it — I for sure have my share of both! — but it’s interesting to observe that lots of people assume there’s only one answer and never ask the question.)
Thanks for the archive! I thought I’d read most of your posts, but it appears that I’ve missed quite a few in the year or so since I started checking in regularly. I really like the theme of this post and the one about pacing yourself while waiting to achieve FIRE. While I appreciate many of the FIRE bloggers sharing their experiences, it’s really important to pick and choose what works for you. Moving to a low cost area where I know no one (some of us are not that social) doesn’t appeal, having a black thumb does not bode well for providing my own food and being extremely non-handy suggests DIY home projects will not be in my future. It’s nice to read encouragement on finding what’s right for you.
I’m glad to know that the archive is helpful to you! And I think it’s SO important not to try to live up to someone else’s standard and to find both what works for you and what makes you feel fulfilled. Maybe you could learn some DIY stuff (I actually believe you could — none of it is really that hard, it’s just a learning curve), but if you hate it, who cares if you can do it? The point of financial independence is to be able to pick and choose how you spend your time, and there’s no one right way to do that.
Planning to get the Frugalwoods book from the library, if I don’t win. Love your blog. The last post about values especially resonated…..
Thanks so much! I love knowing that. :-)
Simpler life… having an annual pass to SeaWorld and the zoo but choosing to take the kids on a hike through the canyon less than a half mile from our house. Why? Because even at a chilly 60 degrees in San Diego, it was a beautiful day. And it beat driving 20 minutes to the other options.
If you live in paradise, might as well take advantage of it! ;-)
To me, “simpler” means having the freedom to pursue what I want to do without answering to someone else (like a boss). I’m not quite there yet, but I’m getting close!
I see that as a great future definition of simpler. Is there a definition that would fit now and wouldn’t require reaching a future goal? ;-)
I struggle with the perfectionist imagery you talk about that is so prevalent in minimalism. So I really appreciate your idea about “simpler” living. I also think it was a post at Frugalwoods that really helped me with my perspective on this: she suggested making a list of thing in our life that are not perfect, but that make us happy. That’s a much healthier activity than seeking inspiration from the likes of Pinterest… My house would not make any Pinterest inspiration boards, but I like it!
I love Liz’s idea of IDing things that are imperfect but make you happy! That’s such a great way to embrace your own priorities and to remind yourself that perfection is pointless to aim for. ;-)
I love the distinction you make between ‘simple living’ and ‘simpler living’! It can be easy to get caught up in the minimalist aesthetic and lose sight of the true intentions of minimalism.
I agree! And this is something I’ve had to remind myself of many times, because I get just as sucked into those beautiful images as anyone! ;-)
On of my sons started following the Frugalwoods due to some growing interest in FI, but maybe more for the Frugalhound. He and his wife now have a greyhound. This book was on his Christmas list. I should get a copy for myself.
You mentioned the expenses that come with kids, and yes, they come with those. But whether we have them or not, they are a blessing. As we find more time to lead a simpler life, we are challenged to invest in the next generations, and not just count the cost. Our society will be better off as we do so.
Wow, do Liz and Nate know that your son got a greyhound because of Frugalhound?! I bet they’d love knowing that! I love your perspective on kids, too! Whatever is meaningful to you has value, but of course when you’re talking about something as important as the next generation, that’s even more true. :-)
I think simpler living is about not cramming too much into your life. For my husband’s birthday last month our children and I had a think about what he might like. We decided that he would enjoy having one day each week where there is nothing planned. We juggled some extra-curriculars to a different day of the week and cancelled others. And now he knows that every Tuesday is entirely at our disposal. It was the best present we could have given him.
This is a lesson I’m still trying to learn. ;-) I LOVE your gift idea — the gift of time is absolutely the best thing there is!
Simpler living to me is to intentionally enjoy the desires of my heart and letting go of the fast paced work place.
Love that! Is that something that you’re practicing while working, because it seems like that would just require a mindset shift, not actually quitting work.
That pary about hours of back to back calls, commute to the airport and suffering through customer lunch and dinner, and trying to make it safe home is very much a description of my life. It’s not weekly, rather biweekly or monthly but when it happens it’s across the world, and for a longer time, which means in those short moments when I am at home I need to think about all the other life and family things I need to cram in my calendar to make sure they get done when I am gone again. As I type this, it’s 5:39 and I am awake for 3h jet lagged in a hotel in NJ. Yeah, Hyatt regency, senator lounge on the way, a guy with a black limo holding a card with my name at a gate to pick me up. But this is definitely not what I want in life.
So yeah, we’re on our home stretch. We’re pushing it, harder and harder, going outside of our comfort zone in frugality, just to get out of it. And I do wish to be able to see if I enjoy making tofu or almond milk. Heck, I will give knitting a try!
You’re giving me flashbacks! ;-) I totally feel that pain, though, and it’s crazy that so many people see that kind of travel as glamorous! I remember when I was just starting to travel for work, feeling like I wanted to get the limo driver with a sign instead of going to cab line. But of course I realized that having a driver is just a small comfort compared to all the discomfort of all that work travel. I definitely get wanting to sprint to the finish (we did!), but remember to pace yourself too. :-)
I have been enjoying your blog and your podcast. I appreciate this post regarding a simpler life. Living without judgment of yourself and others is a journey. Thank you!
Thanks so much for reading and listening! :-D
Simple living is about treasuring the things that are truly important to us, and channeling our time and resources towards these priorities. It means getting rid of the distractions, so that we can focus. Perhaps living with less, but yet more.
I love that your definition isn’t really about stuff at all, but just priorities! :-)
Simple living to me is owning what’s either useful, or brings me joy! That means I own 3 different pairs of running shoes, because they each have a purpose. But only one pair of work flats and one black and one tan pair of winter boots :) I think I’m like you guys in that I own quite a bit of what’s related to my passion -running stuff, duh ;) – but I keep everything else pretty basic. I don’t bring home a bunch of free goodies from race expos because none of that stuff has value to me. I don’t really bring anything new into my home unless it’s replacing something that’s worn out.
I definitely believe it’s an ongoing effort too – we are human after all, and we are changing! So as we change and grow older, our simple living may look different. I don’t think you need to be FI first either – I think simple living can help you achieve FI sooner! I think of all the money I wasted in high school and college trying to fit in and “Keep up with the Jones” (or the teenager/young adult version of that) and I wince. I could’ve been saving more money by only purchasing what I truly cared about! Thank goodness I’ve figured it out shortly before I turn 30 :)
And beyond stuff, it’s clear to me that you prioritize what you care most about (running), which is another important definition of simplicity. Surely you’re saying no to plenty of things so that you can say yes to traveling to races and all the time you spend training, and that’s huge!
Thank you for sharing living simpler on your own terms. Hope I am getting there as well, not as a necessity but as I chose. Love, Bijou
As long as you are following your own priorities, then you’re doing it right. :-)
I’m particularly interested in the ‘problem’ presented in having more (and perhaps too many) options in early retirement. As you noted, the choices are more clear and are fewer while working. You do fun things in the evenings and weekends because time is scarce. With more time, things don’t necessarily get easier or less complex: quite the opposite, it seems. Cultivating a simpler life can help with that.
The way I’m thinking about it is that when working, we were clearly drawn to certain things that felt like the antithesis of work. Now that work is gone and we no longer crave the antidote, we aren’t drawn so singularly to a few things, and instead see all these other options we hadn’t previously been thinking about. All of which makes sense but wasn’t obvious to us before we made the transition!
I love the idea of ‘simpler living’. I’ve been trying that out myself. As an example, we got 35 cm of snow in the last two days here so I shoveled a lot but didn’t drive the car anywhere. We didn’t have to go out for anything so we choose not to do it. That way I avoid getting stuck or causing traffic issues for others and no stress about getting to work on time. Have I mentioned I love early retirement? ;)
Not having to go out in the snow is a GREAT benefit of early retirement! :-D (Or, in our case, going out into it only to ski and for no other purpose!)
When I first started reading about FI, I definitely got sucked into “let’s do all the things!” mode. “Let’s cancel all the things! Let’s sell all the things!” (Not quite that drastic….) I’ve since come to understand exactly what you’re saying here – it’s about defining and prioritizing the things that give you joy, and it’s individual for each person (and within each marriage and family, too.)
I think you had a pretty normal thought process! A lot of us go straight to the deep end, and have to find our way back to a comfortable place after we realize that maybe we’d been too drastic. ;-) So it’s great you’re now in the place of prioritizing what matters and skipping the rest. That’s perfect!
Agreed! The issue a lot of readers have with everything, from frugality to the 4% rule to being nomadic vs not, is this: Nobody’s situation is the same! Especially that of the bloggers (ONL excepted!), who, through grit/luck/charisma/etc have gained a nice side-hustle income that is hard for most of us to replicate. And being the types of people we tend to be (spreadsheets, yo), we look for formulae to follow, and fear the uncertainty of the future. But that’s what all of this is, whether it’s about saving enough or having the lifestyle that fits you best.
I will say, it’s becoming clearer to me how much easier it is to earn a healthy side hustle income in retirement now that we’re here. We’re basically covering all of our expenses for the year with just a few small projects, so I don’t think bloggers and non-bloggers are much different in this regard. But it IS true that very few blogs are actually modeling living off the 4% rule instead of doing something more akin to semi-retirement with no more aggressive savings but enough income to cover expenses. But SO TRUE that this is all about finding your own path and your own lifestyle, and not “doing it right.” ;-)
I love simple. This post is simply a nook giveaway registration :-D
I`m with you on this. Been trying to simplify my life for a couple of years now. Difficult with 2 kids but slowly getting there…
Can you think of it as being about simplifying your priorities, even if having kids makes it tougher to simplify stuff?
Love the frugal woods on podcast but I think they used to talk about rags as toilet paper…yikes i don’t want to meet their washing machine! One thing in my simpler quest is using eBay /FB marketplace to get rid of things with decentvalue…its like finding them a better home…in fact it scratches that itch to shop giving a rush similar to acquiring something but in reverse!
I love that you find a new home for things you discard instead of just dropping them off at Goodwill and assuming they will sell! I’m sure it’s more work, but it’s a great environmental choice in addition to being great for your finances!
To me, simple living is all about cultivating a sense of calm and contentment.
I love that definition, Linda! Contentment is definitely underrated.
Simple living is a progressive state for us. We work to break the habits of just reaching for the Buy button, which is STILL surprisingly hard to break, so that we are being more intentional. I’ll never be comfortable the way a dear friend is with nearly no furniture. I admire how she lives because it looks cool and it’s good for her. But I don’t feel like I need to want that for myself. I’m a homebody, I want my home to be comfortable for me and for the friends we have come over to spend time together. It’s not about looking good, it’s about feeling good. And feeling good has as much to do with what we have (comfortable seating, room enough for everyone to cram in) as it does with what we don’t have (way too many toys, books, or miscellaneous stuff overflowing from each room).
Oh, amen sister! A comfy home is a completely worthwhile expenditure! No shame in wanting to have enough furniture to have people over, and for it not to be painful to sit on, as most beautiful furniture is. ;-)
Being able to retire early and spend more time on the things you love is a dream for anyone working 9-5 jobs religiously. I have my entire future planned out with the idea in mind that I will retire at a specific time in my life, so I have my entire financial future structured accordingly. I plan to reach the peak of my ecommerce success soon, which means I’ll be able to begin spending smart, and saving more money for my future. It’s great to keep in mind that being smart about spending and saving doesn’t mean simple living, it just means simpler living!
Spend time with people you love.
Spend time alone.
Learn to say “no”.
Live within your means.
Eat healthy and exercise.
I’m still struggling to define my version of simple living. I’ve been too overwhelmed with everything else to figure out how to slow down…and what I want my life to look like when I slow down.
Can you start with just one thing? Eliminate one time-suck that doesn’t add value to your life and don’t try to conquer the whole definition at one go. :-)
I am so happy you blog Tanja! I’ve thought about this concept a lot and I don’t have a good answer, but I like how you guys approach this. Simple vs. simpler vs. your own definition. I tend to be too hard on myself and compare too much and also follow things too literally. So when I see the white look or handmade perfection, I think “that must be how it is” versus “that’s not my idea.” Glad you challenge and give a new perspective.
Also, love the podcast and I’ve shared it with lots of women!
Thanks so much, Kyla! :-D And thanks for sharing the podcast! <3 I for sure started in that same place of trying to achieve a perfect look or a perfect life, and it was only by realizing that wasn't attainable (or that if I got there I wouldn't be happy) that I realized there's no "right way" to do this stuff. And -- real talk -- none of the people I've known who live in the most beautiful minimalist homes are what I'd call especially happy. I'm pretty sure there's a lesson in there. ;-)
I’d love to win the book!
Simple living is something that I’m currently grappling with. When I was 22, I lived in Central America for a year as part of a service program and simple living meant washing my own laundry by hand, not having a tv, and living on $100 (US)/month. I’ve hung on to the frugal lessons and the satisfaction of DIY that I learned that year (but now WITH a washing machine). However, more than a decade later, I’m frazzled by taking on too much at work, willingly making stuff from scratch at home (homemade peanut butter, granola bars, and bread taste too good to go back to store-based options!), and trying to be active in my community.
I just got back from a two week, restful vacation, and now it’s even more apparent to me that I am overextending myself. All in all, I’m working on figuring out what my simple living means for me in the present and how to not subtract the practices that keep my own health in order.
Oh gosh, I can relate to this! There was a time while working when I made tons of our food from scratch and canned and did a lot of “simple living” things. But then work got more stressful and putting pressure on myself to do the simple living stuff was making my life LESS simple, not more. So that helped me realize that simple is more of a point in time definition than an absolute, and it’s natural that it will change for each of us as we go through different seasons of life!
I’m with you on simpler living. Minimalism looks terrible for me. I need COLOR everywhere. And stacks of books. It would be nice to be rich enough to afford handmade everything, but I can’t imagine ever having a book shelf that was largely empty space for “beauty.”
My idea for my simple life will be working substantially less. I will want to do ~20 hrs/week at my business and the lucrative version of my current gig for a few months a year. The rest of the time will be for community and joy. Reading as often as I want. And learning as much as I want. It struck me as I’m processing the break up that a thing I’ve always wanted to do, but never thought would be feasible is learning to play the piano. When I have a simpler life, I want lessons. I don’t need to get great. I just want to be able to sit down and play and sing a diddy. A simpler life would have time and space for those passions. More yeses to friends and the random wonderful events a city has to offer. Fewer alarm clocks.
Oh, same! Who wants an empty bookcase?!?!? I want a bookcase overflowing with my favorite books and books I’m excited to immerse myself in!
Just did my taxes and thought- “Damn, this is NOT simple”… and I yearn for the day I retire and we ca simplify everything down to the bare basics and reclaim what’s important. Free time, joy and spending time with my husband. Gosh, it was such a gift to find this perfect person, now I just want to BE with him. I’m about a year out from a part time FIRE so I love seeing you and Mark in the beginning of the journey. Thanks for another great post!
I hate to break it to you, but you still have to do taxes in retirement, and they are still NOT SIMPLE. Hahahaha. ;-)
Simple living to me boils down to simplifying things mentally- to have focus and do things intentionally vs mindless and mindfulmulti-tasking (that often comes with many high power jobs). This is often accompanied by ingesting simple and health foods and getting enough rest and exercise on a regular basis. Combining that with reading, and following your passions gets you through most of the rest.
It’s a formula that both of you are demonstrating quite well!
I appreciate that your definition is about mental space and health and not about stuff! I don’t know that we’re demonstrating anything just yet, as we’re still in the detox period, but we’re working on it! ;-)
I see simple living as a journey that can begin at any stage of life, and one that will contribute towards increasing your financial security. You start off by thinking about how you want to live – examining what adds value to your life and letting go of what doesn’t. Then you start taking steps towards living the life you want.
Everyone’s idea of a simple life is different. For me, simple living is about being aware of my impact on the environment, and reducing it by reusing, recycling, being thrifty, and making do with what I have, while still being able to do the things I enjoy. It involves learning new skills so I can become more independent and resilient – learning how to make and do things myself, rather than just buying them. A big part of what I see as simple living is valuing what you do have, and living a life that’s not complicated by wanting or having too much. Letting go of the idea of perfection – realising it is the enemy of happiness.
Simple living is certainly not about being miserly and not spending any money. It’s about living within your means, saving what you can, not wasting money on things you don’t need and sharing what you have with family and friends.
I love how deeply the idea of contentment is baked into your definition! That’s so essential, but so hard for many of us to master.
For me a simple life is about doing the things I value in life, not what others or society thinks I should be doing. Being honest with yourself about what truly makes you happy and fulfilled. I’m a person who does not like to have all of my life scheduled to the minute so I try hard to not overcommit myself in order to preserve some time for myself to just unwind/
Keep up the excellent work! And please enter me for the book. Thank you.
Please enter me for the book! Thanks!
I am curious how another Vermonter makes it work in our special little state.
Her book will give you lots of info on that!
Oh I’ve definitely simplified in the last few years and it makes my working life more bearable. It’s about creating more time by doing less.
That’s great! I love that your definition is about doing less, not necessarily having to OWN less. ;-)
I struggle with ‘simplicity’ – there are days when I want to be a full-time homemaker. On my days off I ‘pretend’ to be but I work harder, I cook for the family from scratch, I exercise, I tidy up, but I’m so exhausted by the end of the day. Yet I still consider it my ‘simple living dream’. Also, I have worked since I was 15 and I’m now 44, so it’s not like I don’t appreciate how far women have come. I think I will find a way to volunteer at my daughter’s school more once I leave work completely.
Maybe you’re trying to do too much in your quest for simplicity. Could you rank the things you do by importance and joy, and see if you could cut or outsource some of the ones that fall near the bottom?
This post really hit home for me! I always feel like I have things I should do as thats what everyone thinks you should do wwith your day such as Yoga when you wake up. I tried for a long time to do it but guess what? I HATE yoga!
Thanks for such a motivating post and count me in for that book!
Hahaha — props for admitting that you hate yoga, especially to a former yoga teacher! ;-) It’s such a great reminder, though, that there isn’t one right way to do this, and if you are drawn to different stuff than what Pinterest or Instagram dictate, then good for you! :-)
ha ha wow I didn’t know that about you. Probably not the best way to introduce myself to your blog! :)
Hahahaha — No worries! ;-) Just giving you a hard time. But even when I was teaching it, I was the first to say it wasn’t for everyone. And who knows… you might find that you enjoy it when you’re in a different stage in life. We crave different things as we change as people. :-)
ha ha! Yes I’m sure once i’m actually able to turn my mind off for more than 5 seconds I can give it a shot!
The good news is you don’t have to turn your mind off at all. You’re just practicing not getting attached to your thoughts. But it’s PRACTICE, not perfection — I’m convinced no one is perfect at it. ;-)
Simplier life for me is to have “nothing” you have to deal with in a day.
We’ve had a few days like that, but not many! It’s interesting how even in retirement we still have plenty of commitments and things we have to do. Though it’s true that some could slide to another day if they have to, which is quite novel! ;-)
Loved this post. Simple living to me is synonymous with slow living. It is the emphasis on slow that appeals to me… walking to work, gardening, cooking with simple and non processed ingredients…
Thanks, Rose! That’s a great definition, focusing on taking your time and stopping the incessant rush from one thing to the next!
Lately, simple living for me means releasing over analyzing problems and constantly maximizing efficiency. I spend way too much time trying to decide what chore to do first so that I can be efficient and productive. But it doesn’t matter whether I load the dishwasher first or start a load of laundry first. I’m simplifying my thoughts and releasing the constant drive for productivity gains.
I love that! Your focus seems so healthy. And I will say that early retirement for us has been an exercise in near maximum inefficiency. Hahaha. So it’s possible to let go of that optimizing tendency pretty quickly, apparently. ;-)
Simple living to me, means to clear the clutter from your mind and quit attaching memories to objects, and to live more in the moment. Instead of buying a ton of souvenirs from a vacation, take a few pictures of the most memorable moments and just share stories with each other! Instead of holding on to that couch that cost a lot of money 20 years ago, give it to a person in need and remember the memory of buying the couch and the family and friends who have enjoyed it.
I also think simple living is appreciating and tending to the environment. Growing a garden, recycling rainwater, and composting food scraps are just a few things that will help save money for travel and living while not harming the environment or buying more clutter for our overflowing landfills.
You’ve given this a lot of thought! I like it. :-)
I’m a new reader here and have found all your writing super insipring. I’ve been reading lots across the Finance blogging community lately and this post really hit home. I am so drawn to the idea of a simpler life (very far from simple right now) but I think its super important to remind myself to decide what that means for me. Its easy to default to what looks like ” the beautifully simple life” on instagram, but its not realistic for many of us.
Thank you so much for sharing and inspriring me to keep going but feel good in finding my own version of “simpler”!
Thanks so much, Alexandra! :-) I agree with you completely about finding your own definition, and I’d add that it’s important to find your simpler *now*, which is to say a version of simpler that doesn’t rely on reaching all your financial goals or being free of work, but which you can live TODAY. :-)
Totally. Finding this simplicity has been my primary focus since retirement last July. Since I put so much self care on the back burner for the past 15 years, I’ve been working on the parts of me that need the most work and trying to get to my self-defined ideal health spot. I’m taking an online minimalism class which has been enlightening and already by making literal space and reducing my excess, I’ve found more figurative space to be creative. I’m less stressed because the house is tidier and the partner and kiddo seem to be more motivated to be more tidy. I’ve been able to walk my child back and forth to school every day this year (admittedly, I’m divorced from her Dad so 2 days a week he is in charge though I do volunteer 2 of those days at the school and still walk there once each of those days). I have notions of getting a badass summer garden going but with my new mindset, I’m going to start small and really cultivate this one smaller space so my focus isn’t spread out too much and getting the garden dialed in and keeping it doesn’t feel like a burden.
That all sounds great! I especially love that you’re focusing on starting small with the garden. I have such a tendency to jump in and take on everything, and it’s hard right now in ER to hold back, but I know it’s necessary. I already feel a bit overwhelmed, to be honest, with everything on my plate, and the thought of starting with a big garden would stress me out! ;-)
I’m trying to live more simple life,it’s hard with three kids who love the fast life,trying to slow them down as well .thank you for the chance to email@example.com
I’m sure that’s a tough balance to strike!
Living the simple life is the best. My husband lost his job after 30 years with his company. We can make it until retirement because of living this way.
How wonderful that you could absorb a job loss without it destroying your financial life. Well done!
Simple living is aligning my choices in life with what I value most. Making sure there is downtime to sit, relax and be grateful. (Please enter me for the drawing)
I love that definition, especially your focus on gratitude!
Just a general comment… I’ve come to enjoy reading your blog every Saturday morning as it regrounds me back to getting balance in my and my family’s life… I’m writing this after another week of work travel and another one coming up… So I have an appreciation for your pre retirement position.
Thanks for sharing that, Chuck! I feel you on that work travel. Just remind yourself how many miles you’re banking. :-)
Simplifying life is such a journey. Still trying to figure out what that means to me. Small steps show that its working though!
Also thank you SO MUCH for adding an archive! As a reader I find these pages so incredibly valuable! Saw that you were considering one on twitter a while ago (maybe closer to when this was added), and I think it’s very special that you took those comments to heart. I know it must have been time consuming since you had so much content and did not start off with this page.
You’re so welcome for the archive! No point in doing this blog at all if I can’t make it as easy to read as possible. ;-) That’s why I changed the theme back in the fall, too, to make the reading panel wider, so there’s less scrolling required. (I still miss the big header images, but making it easier to read is top priority.) In the end, it actually wasn’t hard to do the archive, and I regret not doing it sooner!
Simplicity has its own advantages in our lives. Great share.
I really enjoyed reading this. This post made me realize that I haven’t sat down and fully determined what “simple living” means in my own life (or in the life of me and my fiance). I have ideas but not a fully defined concept. If we don’t take the time to think about it, it would be much harder to put into practice. I believe I have some pondering to do.