What is Simple Living?

“The hardest thing to do is simplify your life. It’s so easy to make it complex.” -Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia

Really? Simplifying your life is the hardest thing you’ll ever do?

I wasn’t sure if I believed that.

I thought back to the beginning: The year 2006 when Mr. Right and I first got married. We started going into considerable debt – from the wedding that went over budget to decorating and redecorating our new home, to buying leather furniture and a shiny new car.

My life wasn’t simple at all. Taking care of my family and working full-time left me borderline crazy for simplicity.  That much I knew. What I learned in my quest for a simpler life was this:

  1. Simpler isn’t always good for the environment.
  2. Living a simple, sustainable life can be hard work.

A broken idea: Simplify your life by spending

I wasn’t the only working mother desperate for simplicity. Like many American families, we had filled up our free time with activities. The weekdays were spent working, the weekends trying to catch up. I desperately wanted to slow down.

At first, I simplified my life the only way I knew how. I spent money on:

  • Disposable everything – napkins, plates, bags, containers
  • Bottled water.
  • Fast food.
  • Processed junk food.
  • Grab and go lunch entrees
  • School lunches for the kids

The more I learned about sustainable living, the more these options didn’t feel right.

I started going crazy for something else – green living.

I wanted to slow down, go green and save money – all at the same time. That’s why the quote, “simplifying your life is the hardest thing you’ll ever do” makes a lot of sense to me now.

Making my own bread wasn’t easy, but it helped me simplify my life by saving money. This helped us get out of debt so I could quit my day job and work from home. See how amazing homemade bread can be?

What simple living means to me now

I still know a lot of people who want a simpler life, but the fact is, getting there is anything but simple.

When I say this blog is “a simple approach to homemaking” I want you to know that may not mean easier at first. It takes hard work to live a simpler life. For me that means:

  • No debt. Period.
  • Using cash at the store
  • Eating as much real, unprocessed food as possible
  • Writing on my own schedule
  • Using cloth napkins, refillable water bottles and regular dishes.
  • Avoiding fast food as much as possible
  • Reading more, plugging in less
  • Saying no to things we don’t have time for.

Simple living means changing old habits. It can’t be bought at a store. I hope reading my story will inspire some new habits of your own.

My view is that living simply can lead to a better life with the right approach. Yes, it was hard at first, but it has allowed me to eliminate debt, reduce stress and do what I love.

A challenging journey for a priceless reward.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on simple living in the comments below. Are you trying to simplify your life?

Photo by Nick-K (Nikos Koutoulas)

Special note:

Leo Babauta and Mary Jaksch are offering a new Bootcamp, The Art of Blog Seduction: How to Draw Subscribers to Your Awesome Blog. Check it out! (aff)


Check out Arrows by Melissa Gorzelanczyk, coming January 2016 from Delacorte Press/Random House. Visit her author site here.

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1 Julie Ott March 4, 2011 at 9:04 am

Hi Melissa – my sister sent me the link to your site last week and I can’t be thankful enough!! Your words are exactly what I need right now and you’re “borderline crazy” really hit me. I’ve got the full time job in corporate america, I’ve got the 2 young kids, I’ve got a pending move contemplating what is just the right house in Suburbia in just the right school district. I cry UNCLE!

Your blog is my saving grace right now, so thank you!

2 Melissa March 7, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Hi Julie,
I’m so glad this post resonated with you. Good luck figuring out what simple living means to you.

Melissa

3 Ashley King March 4, 2011 at 9:19 am

My husband stumbled upon the ZenHabits blog and we found you from there. I went back and read a lot of your older entries also. Loved your “How to Find Your Spark.” We are definitely stuck right at the beginning of trying to simplify your life, but I’d say the biggest help is that we are BOTH finally on board. Before this, it was just one of us ready to simplify…. It was mixed feelings for the kids. One parent eating better, the other one snacking in the kitchen…. One of us getting rid of everything we didn’t need, the other one shopping for new things…. Getting everyone on the same page was a huuuge first step and extremely helpful…. Living minimally is our goal. Saving money is another. Look forward to following your journey of ideas and stories, as well as inspirations. I’ve definitely found a lot of inspiration here. 🙂

4 Melissa March 7, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Hi Ashley,
That’s how it was in the beginning for us, too. We didn’t discover a simpler life at the same time – it really became a learning process, one that thankfully we decided to take on together.
Good luck with your goals! I’ll keep the inspiration coming.
Melissa

5 kevin March 4, 2011 at 9:21 am

good morning, melissa.

i, like you, left a very successful career in corporate america so i could enjoy a simpler, more sustainable life that was also packed full of great memories. for me, that’s meant daily commitment, practice, even compromise and sacrifice…but it’s all been worth it!

i love everything you write about, and actually i’ve put many of the same habits in place for myself and my family too. one thought on your post today. you say “use cash at the store”. i wanted to share one of my tips that’s in line with your thinking yet a bit different. we too cut up the plastic so everything we spend comes right out of our checking account…but we don’t use cash at the store, we use our debit card. let me explain why. our bank provides the best budgeting software on their website, and it’s been an amazing tool for us to set up, track and maintain our simple, green budget. what i love is that the bank and the technology does most of the work for you, down to organizing every transaction by major budget category when it hits the books. we love it!

here’s to living a simple, green life in a very complex, non-green world! i hope you continue to inspire more people to do the same!

thank you.

6 Melissa March 7, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Hi Kevin – That’s a great point! For us, using cash is one of the only ways we STAY within a budget – it’s too easy to overspend otherwise. Now that we’ve been practicing for so long, it might be time to look at streamlining the whole process even more.
Thanks for getting me thinking.
Melissa

7 Constance March 4, 2011 at 10:03 am

One of the greatest tools I found for simplifying my life was FlyLady.net. Daily, easy routines for a clean house without clutter is a wonderful route to a simpler life. The site includes getting out of debt help. I recommend it.

I love your story and your blog.

Thanks,

Constance

8 Melissa March 7, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Hi Constance,
I’ve heard of Fly Lady before … I’ll have to refresh my memory. Thanks for connecting with me.
Be well!
Melissa

9 Djinny from My Spinning Plates March 4, 2011 at 10:16 am

Love your post!
I am in the process of simplifying my life as well. I know it sounds odd, but it’s a lifestyle that has to be maintained. I find so many things start creeping back in if I don’t keep an eye on them.

10 Melissa March 7, 2011 at 2:45 pm

So true! I am finally putting the “one in, one out” rule into practice for clothing. These habits take a while to form – slow and steady, that’s my motto.
Thanks for stopping by!
Melissa

11 Clara March 4, 2011 at 11:28 am

I am desperately working to simplify my life! I work 40 hours a week, take part-time classes towards my Ph.D., and oh yeah, I have a 2-year-old and a husband! Phew…not to mention, I started a blog last year (as if I needed something else to do). I cook about 3-4x a week, making enough for leftovers, and on weekends we grill outdoors. We definitely try to limit fast food, although we get it maybe once a week. I have been thinking about trying to bake my own bread, but haven’t found the time to do that just yet. We do, occasionally, use paper plates :(, in spite of many other green efforts (including cloth diapers, recycling, etc.). It’s a continual process, and it’s never easy…but the more I do it, the more it seems like second nature. I am hoping one day to develop a business that will allow me to work from home and regain some of my sanity as well as more time with my precious little one. It’s all a work in a progress….

12 Melissa March 7, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Hi Clara,
I like your point – the more you do it, the more it seems like second nature. Weird becomes the new normal. So true! Don’t beat yourself for eating fast food every now and then – instead, celebrate the things you are proud of.
Hugs!
Melissa

13 Lisa Ahn March 4, 2011 at 2:04 pm

I also came upon your website through Zen Habits. I really like the tips in this post. Our family commitment this year is to stop using plastic shopping bags. We’ve replaced them with Chico bags — easy to store and use. http://www.chicobag.com/

14 Michelle March 4, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Awesome. It rings so true. What else can I say?!

15 Holli March 4, 2011 at 2:44 pm

You are a kindred spirit! Our family has been going through a similar transformation over the past two years, but it sounds so much neater the way you’ve explained it here. I have often reminded myself that anything worth enjoying for the long haul takes a lot of consistent work and effort, like parenting, marriage, a garden or business.
Thanks you!

16 Melissa March 7, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Hi Holli,
That is so true! A familiar idea: Anything worth having is worth working for. Thanks for sharing and good luck on your journey.
🙂
Melissa

17 Lauren March 4, 2011 at 3:31 pm

I have been working on the same journey for the past 2.5 years. I find I have to change one thing at a time in order to keep myself and my family sane.

I, like Ashley above, struggle with getting everyone on the same page. If you have any words of advice for how to get (at least) on the same page as your husband, that’d be helpful.

18 Melissa March 7, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Hi Lauren,
Let me think on that … It would be a good topic for a future post. I’ll see if Mr. Right can help me remember back to the beginning … how we handled it together.
Advice off the cuff – focus on what matters to you, without “forcing” it on anyone else. As it begins to make your life better, the rest of the family joins in.
More to come!
Melissa

19 Linda Lee March 4, 2011 at 5:50 pm

I started choosing a “simpler life” over 20 years ago when my kids were little.

It has been a twisting and turning journey which is an ongoing choice, not just a one-time choice.

I didn’t really know anybody else making that choice back then. I think you provide a valuable resource by creating this online community where people of like mind can connect.

Thanks!

20 Melissa March 7, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Hi Linda,
That’s a good point – the choice to work from home is ongoing. Doubts come, but in the end, I make the same choice, over and over.
Thanks for connecting with me here.
Melissa

21 Lynn March 4, 2011 at 6:13 pm

$16k down….much more to go. Almost $9k in credit card paid off now 🙂

22 Melissa March 7, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Wooo! Go Lynn! The thaw is coming. Hang in there.

23 Nikki March 4, 2011 at 8:25 pm

Awesome post, Melissa. Thanks for your inspiring words. No, it is not easy to simplify since our society operates mainly in “instant gratification” mode, but every little change we make towards simplicity feels SO right! One step at a time and eventually, we’re there! Great job to everyone who’s making the change 🙂

24 Melissa March 7, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Instant gratification – that is so true! We want it now, don’t we? It is hard to break that mindset – something I’m working on everyday.
Thanks for stopping by!
Melissa

25 Living the Balanced Life March 4, 2011 at 8:56 pm

You are correct. Simplifying is not easy, but it is so worth it. It takes delinerate thought, it takes making hard decisions and choices. Our society wants to do whatever it can to suck you in, we have to fight against it!
Great post!
Bernice
Change what you can, accept what you can’t

26 Melissa March 7, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Hi Bernie,
I’m glad the post resonated with you. We can all do our part to encourage simple living.
Hugs,
Melissa

27 Marci | Liberating Choices March 5, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Simplified living to me is also an attitude. It is accepted that more is not better. It is enjoying what is instead of always wanting what you don’t have. Being grateful for what you have and looking for joy in the tiniest moments.

Cultivating this attitude is always a work in progress for me…

28 Melissa March 7, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Hi Marci – I like your view on simple living. Attitude is everything! Great reminder.
xoxo Melissa

29 Mindful Drawing March 7, 2011 at 10:57 am

When my daughter was born I was ever so grateful for all the second hand toys and cloths I got from other young-child families. De-cluttering that part is difficult (like you write) but very rewarding. It is hard because it is saying ‘bye-bye’ to lovely memories, but it provides you with so much space.

I think digital gadgets are horror: you ever store more information and hundreds of photo’s. What to do with all of that? You think a new computer or USB stick is the solution, but no, digi-clutter is very hard to let go.

I second Marci’s thoughts that being grateful for what you have and looking for joy in the tiniest moments is the best way of living.

Paula

30 Melissa March 7, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Hi Paula – Great point about digital clutter. I have so much! I need to streamline that part of my life. Simply.
Post ideas are flowing today … thanks for the help!
Melissa

31 Ty March 7, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Melissa – Thanks so much for your wisdom and inspiring posts. My new husband and I are just in the process of creating the “new normal” for our blended family. One of the first things we did was decide that shopping was NOT going to be a source of entertainment for ourselves and the kids. It is amazing how much time and money get spent needlessly because you can’t figure out what else to do. Yes, it takes more energy to figure out cheap/free entertainment that doesn’t involve purchasing, but we spend a ton of family time together which is extremely meaningful.
Thanks! Ty

32 Bethany March 10, 2011 at 9:39 pm

I do have a credit card, but no debt on it. I always use it for everything, but make sure I can afford it all, and then pay it off each month. It builds my credit and gives me reward points. (I will need credit to buy/build a house most likely)

33 Annette Campbell March 14, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Great article–thank you! It’s like a breath of fresh air to see so many people with the same mindset about simple sustainable living. My husband and I have found that there’s nothing like connecting to other like-minded people to boost our motivation. And you wouldn’t believe what our “strength in numbers” does for us in terms of savings! We’ve been able to bypass the farmer’s markets and health food stores and buy in bulk directly from local farms and distributors of health food products. We buy together in bulk and then divide it between ourselves so nothing goes to waste.

Before, we had to rely on word-of-mouth to be able to organize ourselves. Now, we use a new online tool called SplitStuff (http://splitstuff.com) to organize micro co-ops among people living in our community. The site is just waiting for groups of neighbors and friends who want to organize like we do. We’ve also noticed that this kind of group support encourages and eases the transition to a more simple, green, and frugal lifestyle.

Annette

34 Melissa March 16, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Hi Annette,
I’m so glad you connected with me here. The idea of splitting costs is really great – I’m heading over to check out your sites now. 🙂
Peace to you,
Melissa

35 Andrea Woolf May 21, 2011 at 1:57 am

Hi Melissa,

I love your post on simple living. I especially like your final points on not living beyond one’s means–energetically, monetarily, with scheduling time.

I appreciate the depth and heart of what you’ve written here. You obviously have given this subject a lot of thought and it’s great that you’re sharing your knowledge with others. You’re truly making a difference in the world. Keep doing what you’re doing!

To your magnificence!

36 Melissa May 23, 2011 at 11:58 am

Hi Andrea,
Wow, what a sweet comment. I’m glad the post resonated with you. Thanks so much for stopping by!
Melissa

37 Yolanda Hoskins May 30, 2011 at 1:39 pm

I really enjoyed this post on simple living. My family has just recently begun our new journey of simple living and as you mentioned learning to change old habits. It is not easy to live traveling in a different direction than mainstream American culture would have you to go, but I am learning that it is very worth it for our health and overall well being.

38 Melissa June 6, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Hi Yolanda,
You’re right about that – not everyone can understand WHY we want to live a simpler life. I think I’ve learned to be who I am and let others do the same. Enjoy your journey and thanks for connecting with me!
Melissa

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