The Ultimate Guide to Simple Living
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What is Simple Living?
A manner of living known as voluntary simplicity in which a person chooses a minimalist lifestyle in line with core values outside the modern status-quo that lead to greater joy, focus, and fulfillment.
But that’s just the most basic definition. Simple Living, or Voluntary Simplicity, is a broad subject that encapsulates a variety of values and practices.
Ultimately, simple living is self-defined. That’s one of the best things about the practice. You can take it to its depths, or you can implement only the pieces of the system that make the most sense for you. Some may choose to integrate all of these mindsets (or even introduce new ones of their own), while others may choose only a select few to build into their more mainstream lifestyle.
Read the following sections that further explain the subject and see what stands out most to you.
Common Values of Simple Living
Less Is More
This minimalist mindset proposes that by doing and possessing less you unlock the freedom to live more.
There are two main avenues to explore in a minimalist lifestyle.
The first, and most well-known, is the physical act of de-cluttering and cleaning up the material items in your life.
The second, and lesser-known, is the spiritual act of minimizing your social “to-do” list.
Perhaps you are a person who easily says yes to any request, whether or not you really have the time, energy, or interest to give it your best.
The minimalist lifestyle is about streamlining your external and internal life to find focus on the objects and activities that truly bring you joy.
Quality Over Quantity
We live in a society that too often measures success in quantity, rather than quality.
This idea can be applied to almost any facet of the modern life from purchases and consumer habits to our hobbies, interests, and even our friends list.
We tend to buy low quality items that need to be replaced quickly, rather than investing in quality items, whether it’s the clothes we where or the food we eat.
We also place social value on the number of friends we appear to have or the number of activities we participate in.
Simple Living seeks to flip this equation so that quality outranks quantity. A number of movements have been built upon this concept and often include the distinguishing word “slow,” such as Slow Food, Slow Fashion, and Slow Travel.
Intentionality stems from the idea that we only get to live this life once, so why not do it on purpose?
A great deal of us go through various life stages taking action because it’s what we are “supposed” to do, not what we actually want or need to do.
Intentionality is about questioning our approach to life, setting actionable goals, and taking the necessary steps to meet them.
Intentional living takes your life off auto-pilot and puts you in the driver’s seat.
Limit Technology Consumption
We have access to more technology and in more abundance than ever before. Technology is an incredible gift. However, too often we allow technology govern us instead of serve us.
If you fall into the trap of on technology overuse then you are no longer in control of the technology, the technology is in control of you.
By limiting technology consumption and asking honest questions about our use of screen-time, we can regain control and focus instead on the real-life joys that surround us.
Simple living emphasizes self-responsibility, independence, and personal development. Whether that means taking the time to learn a skill you’re curious about or seeking out your faults and improving them.
Voluntary simplicity demands self-sufficiency.
After all, it is about seeking control over life in a frantic world, creating calm amidst disarray, and attuning your actions with your values. None of this is possible without personal development.
Simple living isn’t something you just switch on. It is a lifestyle that builds upon the knowledge and growth of every individual on their unique journey.
A big proponent of voluntary simplicity is based on asking a deceptively small, three-lettered question: why?
It’s a question that leads to greater understanding of our actions, our outlook, and our habits. Many do not ask this question enough.
By asking “why” we self-check our decisions, actions, and outcomes to find greater fulfillment.
What do people most commonly think will make them happy?
Usually it’s a big goal we’re working toward. A promotion, owning a home, finding love.
We constantly think, “once I have x I will finally be happy.”
Yet when we finally achieve that goal the happiness we were seeking is short-lived, fleeting, and often not as full as we were expecting.
Happiness is a pursuit.
Living “the simple life” argues that the more significant measures of happiness are in stringing together the little moments of beauty, purpose, and sincerity in the every day.
Some think of mindfulness as something only a monk on some distant mountaintop can achieve. But it is much more approachable than that.
It’s about seeing the world, in its modesty and its grandeur, in a deliberate way.
It can be as simple as noticing the steam coming up from your morning cup of coffee, intently listening to the rain on your window, or trying to memorize the laughter of a loved one.
That’s all mindfulness is, seeing the world–your world–in a purposeful way.
Pros and Cons of Voluntary Simplicity
Many of us go through life doing things because we are “supposed” to. We take actions without thinking things through. We sacrifice deeper happiness for a quick fix. Is life just about “keeping up with the Joneses?” Or is there something more?
Newer doesn’t always mean better.
Technology doesn’t always promise ease.
Many live on the surface. Some want to live deep.
We can complicate our lives with all the extras, but why? When we know what really brings lasting joy, happiness, and contentment is more of the simple little things. Little things that add up to a big life. Those are the things that matter at the end of a day, a year, or a life.
It’s about noticing. Contemplation over impulse. Experiences over “stuff.” Relationship above relationships. Thriving instead of surviving. Action in the pursuit of dreams. Finding balance. Seeking clarity. Developing our best self.
A life attuned to self-defined values can break through the barriers that keep you from a fulfilled existence.
A simple life doesn’t wait for others, it finds purpose for itself.
If you want to be a person who lives:
Deeply and deliberately
In contrast to the status-quo
Then tart implementing simple living practices and see how your perspectives change.
Living deeply, the intentional pursuit of your passions, finding clarity, and increasing joy. These are the clear benefits of a simple living lifestyle. But what are the negatives?
Simple Living is a lifestyle outside the status quo.
In a world that celebrates material consumption and display, voluntary simplicity becomes a counterculture.
Like any individual who chooses to forge their own path, you will meet opposition. It can be difficult for people with modern priorities to understand why you choose simpler ones.
Some might question why you choose to have technology-free nights, host movie nights at home rather than spending money at the theater, cook your own quality food more than eating out, your preference to think before you buy, or your love for putting effort into intentional activities rather than just passing the time. These questions often come from those you love who have a different lifestyle than you do.
But is this really a negative for you?
Simple Living is inherently designed to be based on your own self-defined values. You are living according to your own intention and therefore saying no to others’ expectations of you. This is a two-fold aspect that is at once a benefit and negative. It’s a benefit for you because it’s set by your rules. It’s negative for them because you’re no longer living by theirs.
This point leads to the next quite nicely: What is the biggest benefit of voluntary simplicity?
You make the rules.
Simple Living is mindset, but there are no hard and set terms for how to accomplish it. You define it for yourself. If you are only interested in minimalism, go for it. Only want a bit more mindfulness? It’s yours. You do not have to indulge in every aspect of voluntary simplicity. Just do what makes sense for you. Maybe you do go all in. Great! The point is: it is yours to decide.
How to Live a Simple Life and Be Happy
It’s pretty simple. You just start!
But don’t worry. You don’t need to be everything at once. Someone who wants to run a marathon doesn’t run twenty-six miles on their first day of training.
Avoid overwhelm by starting small with the elements that are most on your mind.
Use the first five steps to starting a simple life listed below to help you find your first . Then take action on your first goals.
- Read the simple living terminology and common values section of this guide.
- Write down which values and terms resonate most with you.
- Write down one or two areas in your life you would like to start changing (house and home, personal development, food, shopping, etc.)
- Under each area write one perspective shift you can make over the next week.
- In seven days come back to your notebook and reflect on what you’ve learned, how your thought process has changed, and what you want to dive into next.
- In my home
- Reconsider what takes up the horizontal space in my home and whether or not it is still necessary to have out.
- In my home
Simple Living Terminology
Because simple living varies by the individual, terminology can be hard to pin down.
Think of Simple Living as the umbrella term for varying life philosophies that all stem from the same core idea.
You will often see Simple Living categorized alongside terms such as minimalism, frugal living, intentional living, slow living, or essentialism.
Here’s a quick guide to what each of these common terms mean and how they relate to the simple lifestyle.
Intentional Living is nearly synonymous with Simple Living. It’s about living life on purpose. It’s about asking the question why and following it up with how. Those who live with intention are goal setters, task masters, and proud accomplishers. They also understand and accept the various processes of life and seek to learn how to perform them better in order to garner a greater sense of fulfillment, self-sufficiency, and peace.
Minimalism at its most basic definition is the idea that less is more. Most of the recent trends inn minimalism are discussed in regards to home living and the decluttering of spaces. But minimalism takes place on a much grander scale. Minimalism is a philosophy. Minimalists believe that while the modern culture may be fond of excess that excess is not always the gift it seems. Excess, the masses of “stuff” that each of us possess over the course of a lifetime, can be a detriment to not only the peace and fulfillment on an individual, but also to the culture of modern society as a whole. They believe that by removing the excess of life and by focusing instead on only keeping objects or activities that you need or love you can find greater joy. Minimalism is often accompanied with discussions about sustainability, though it is not a requirement.
Slow Living is a mindfulness movement that reminds individuals to celebrate life’s small moments, find beauty in the everyday, and in so doing live a happier, more stress-free life focused on gratitude for the simple, small components that sum up a life well-lived. Taking part in the slow living movement can be as simple as setting aside distraction-free time to intentionally enjoy a cup of tea and your thoughts, noticing the beauty in the soft way a light comes through a window, or even just going for a slow walk to soak in the world around you.
Frugal Living focuses on living within your means, making conscious decisions about what you buy and why, and becoming financially wise with purchases big and small. Frugal mindsets vary in degree. They can be as simple as tracking your monthly income versus expenses or as complex as existing in a modern society debt-free.
Essentialism, as defined by Greg McKeown in his book, is the disciplined pursuit of doing less. This mindset focuses on serving the internal needs rather than succumbing to external expectations. It emphasizes saying no instead of yes to extraneous requests, thinking before giving up your time and energy, and putting attention into actions that align with your values.
A Personal Story of Voluntary Simplicity
When did things get so complicated? That’s a question I asked myself not too many years ago when life had started to feel like a never-ending spin cycle. Wake up, rinse, repeat. Everything felt crowded. The days went by fast with little to remember them by. I had become tired within and without.
I didn’t feel anxious. I didn’t feel happy. I felt, more than anything, numb. Worse still, I realized everyone around me was doing the same thing. Rushing through the days only to get to another one just like it. Everyone seemed to be focusing on the wrong things.
Maybe you’ve felt the same way.
I couldn’t help but wonder if something was missing. Were we, as a society in this fast-paced modern age, forgetting something? Something important?
I decided to return to my roots.
Most of us don’t start life with too much pressure. Shielded by our parents, we are allowed time to play, to observe—heck–even to be bored! But children grow older. Play is replaced by a cellphone you can’t stop checking. Joyful observation is replaced by emails, tasks, and the pressures of everyday life. Our days have become a task list instead of a memory.
We’ve lost something.
I wanted to get it back.
What’s left when you take away the cellphone, stop checking the incoming emails, and discard the quick fixes of superficial happiness? What remains without all the excess? Life.
Is it possible to design a life that allows you to be productive, industrious, and successful while still being playful, joyful, and calm?
I went after that balance, and that balance became simple living.
I stumbled into voluntary simplicity without realizing what I was doing had a name or even a community.
It started with the “stuff.” Where did it come from anyway? And how did I get so much of it? It felt scary to pare down. But once I did, I felt something else: the freedom of living with less. It turns out clutter and the value of what you keep inside your living space affects you more than you realize.
Next, I started in on my home. With less “stuff” sitting around I was able to stick to a simple cleaning routine for the first time in my life. Now it actually feels good when you walk in the door. I feel a pride in my home and my ability to keep it up. But don’t think this was just about looks, it’s about the feeling of a job well done, the satisfaction of doing something with your hands that is just for you. I started to realize I deserved a clean house and that I was the one to get it there.
Then came the food. I have always been a picky eater (just ask my mom), but after a few attempts at cooking for myself I started to realize something: I was having FUN. The joy of cooking for yourself is something we’ve lost in the rush of modern life. I didn’t become a chef overnight. Bit by bit I did become a foodie. Now we’re so good we have practically turned into food critics at every restaurant. We prefer cooking for ourselves and our loved ones because—hey—we’re just better at it than most popular restaurants. This skill came all sorts of subtle but significant changes. We built a focus on real food, quality ingredients, and healthy recipes that actually taste good (it exists! I promise!).
I started in on gratitude, mindfulness, and personal development. I starting thinking about my decisions when it came to purchasing, finances, and how I organize my time. I became intentional about my leisure time, how I traveled, even the clothes I wore.
Those were the pillars that got me started on the simple life. From there, all sort of wonderful things started to happen.
I became more present.
I found more joy in the everyday.
I was meeting goals that only a few years before were day dreams.
I discovered that sometimes I liked the old way of doing things. Like writing letters, cooking from scratch, entertaining myself without the help of a screen. And I found a million small moments of joy, gratitude, and reflection that had otherwise been lost in the rush of modernity.
I was living for myself. On my own terms.
This blog is designed to help you explore your own path to simple living. If you’ve ever felt like your life is a revolving door, if you can’t remember the last time you found awe in nature or the last time you sat with yourself in silence, then I hope the pages herein help you come back to yourself.
I will share what myself and others have learned with every aspect of simple living from your home, your food, and your wardrobe to slow travel and leisure and ultimately to your own self-development into a life attuned with your values.
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About the Author
Bex Skoog is the creator of the ‘Out of the Bex’ website, a guide to a more thoughtful life through books and simple living. If she had three wishes they would be for teacups to never empty, to possess an unending supply of classic films, and have access to the world’s greatest libraries. Bex lives in Virginia outside of Washington D.C. with her husband and hundreds of stray books.
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