Living Simply: What Does It Mean and How to Do It
What does it mean to live simply? There can be many definitions. So how do you live more simply in ways that are right for you? Read on to find out.
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Do you sometimes feel like life is more complex than it needs to be? Do you feel like society expects you to buy more than is necessary, own more things than you need, or do more work than you want? Then you probably want to find ways to live more simply. In this article, we'll talk about what it means to live more simply. Keep in mind that there can be a big range in answers depending on who you ask.
What Does Live Simply Mean? (A Definition)
Wikipedia defines living simply as voluntarily engaging in a number of practices to simplify one's lifestyle. Others define this lifestyle as “a tool to eliminate life’s excess, focus on the essentials, and find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom” (Millburn & Nicodemus, 2016).
Some argue that living simply (or minimalism) is a reaction to materialism (Par, 2021). Others propose that it is a part of "alternative hedonism"—or a movement that arose in response to the destructive models of capitalist consumption (Caruana, Glozer, & Eckhardt, 2019).
Given these are broad definitions, there are many different approaches we can take to simplify our lives, depending on our goals. Here are a few different approaches people have proposed to help us live more simply.
Your definition of living simply can involve a mixture of some or all of these approaches. In fact, it may be helpful to try different approaches out to see how they make you feel so that you can adopt the new habits and lifestyle that you feel will best boost your well-being.
Video: What It Takes to Live a Simple Life
This video shows you a day in the life of a man living simply in a cabin in nature.
Benefits of Living Simply
A lot of people choose to live more simply after discovering that consuming and buying things doesn't make them happy. They find a greater sense of well-being from owning fewer things, reducing the amount of pressure on themselves to work to buy more things, and gaining extra time to spend doing the things that bring them true joy. Indeed, living simply can result in a variety of positive outcomes including:
Examples of Living Simply
In recent years, living simply has become a trend across numerous different communities. So, lots of people have tried lots of different techniques to simplify their lives. Here are some examples that you might want to try too. If simplifying your life seems too overwhelming, you might just try one of these small things at a time to see how each one feels.
Here are some more examples below from people who are living a simplified life.
Example: Living simply in a dumpster
In 2014, the Atlantic published an article about a college professor who was voluntarily living in a dumpster. The dumpster—his attempt at living simply—was no ordinary dumpster. He fixed it up with lights, art on the walls, windows, and a roof. This may represent an extreme version of living simply, but he shows us that it's possible to live happily with very few belongings.
You can check out the inside and outside of his dumpster home below.
Example: Living simply in a small house
Another woman is living off-the-grid in the forest. She aims to grow (or forage) most of her own food and live off nature as much as possible. In the video below, she talks about many of the things she has done to simplify her life. She also talks a bit about the process that she went through to get to this point, and she gives a tour of her small house.
Example: Living simply in a small house in the city
We've shown you some examples of people who have devoted their lives to living simply out in nature. But this lifestyle isn't for everyone. For example, I love the idea of living in the woods, but I also want to live near friends, family, and some modern conveniences (like restaurants and an address that Amazon will deliver to). So the fully off-grid, in-nature lifestyle has some drawbacks that might limit the amount of well-being that some people can gain.
One man addresses this issue by creating his simple, tiny house life in the city. His story and tips are included in the video below:
Example: Living simply but not minimally
Another woman has chosen to live simply but not minimally. She actually collects pretty things and has lots of craft supplies, but she chooses the objects in her life mindfully and spends her time intentionally. In the video below, she shares her story.
Tips for Living Simply
Does the idea of living simply seem like a good fit for you but you're just not ready to (or you don't want to) change your entire lifestyle? Here are some tips to live simply while still living in the modern world.
1. Say "no" more often
Our lives often get cluttered and busy when we say yes to everything. Maybe we say yes to eating junk food we don't want to eat, to participating in consumer holidays that we don't want to participate in, to doing more than we handle, or to accepting invites to events we don't want to attend. By learning how to say no, we get back more of our time and we take back power over our lives. So take some time to think about the things that you let into your life that don't need to be there, and start saying no to them.
2. Disconnect from technology
Whether it's turning off notifications on your phone, taking a break from social media, or just disconnecting from the Internet for a few days, you'll quickly discover how much extra time and headspace you get when you set limits with technology. For more tips, check out my book, Outsmart Your Smartphone.
3. Do the wardrobe challenge
To start, put all your unused clothing items in a box, leaving out just enough clothing to wear for 1 month. You're not yet getting rid of your extra clothing, but just putting it in a box. At the end of the month open the box and decide what to keep and what to donate. Once you get used to the idea of living without all the extra clothing, it'll be easier to get rid of the extra stuff.
4. Practice mindful eating
Carefully choosing the foods you eat, eating them slowly, and paying attention to how they make you feel can help you slow down and enjoy the simple things. Check out this article if you need more help with strategies for mindful eating.
5. Set yourself a budget
Setting a budget can help you live more frugally and prevent you from filling up your spaces with more stuff. Try decreasing your budget each month until you're down to just the bare essentials. For example, you might keep your food and medicine budgets but get rid of your clothing, online shopping, or coffee budgets. Then you'll end up with less stuff and more money for the things and people that matter to you.
6. Take mental health days
We take days off from work when we're sick, but what about when our minds and hearts need a rest? By taking more days off to enjoy life, spend time with loved ones, and have enjoyable experiences, we make our lives better. We often feel less stressed and may even get sick less often.
Living Simply and Frugally
A byproduct of living simply is a frugal lifestyle. In fact, the frugal part of this lifestyle may be what contributes to many of the benefits—not having to work as much, getting to spend more time with friends, etc... So how do you make sure your simple life is also a frugal life? To start you can cut out impulse purchases (like the things by the cash register at the store), get books from the library instead of buying them, and do clothing swaps with friends so that your old clothes become their new clothes and their old clothes become your new clothes.
Watch the video below to get even more frugal living tips:
Living Simply Documentary
Want to keep learning about ways to live simply, check out this documentary below which is available for free on Youtube.
Video: A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity (2016) - Free Full Documentary
Books on Living Simply
Whether you just beginning your journey towards a simple life or you're already taking steps to simplify your life, you can always keep learning new strategies to help you get where you want to go. Here are some more books that can help you focus on different things that can help you simplify:
Blogs on Living Simply
Want to keep learning from others who have "been here-done that"? Here are some simple living blogs to check out with their tips:
Podcast: The Minimalists on Simple Living
Quotes About Living Simply
Need some inspiration to motivate you? Here are some quotes about living simply:
Articles Related to Living Simply
Want to keep learning skills that can help you develop a more fulfilling, enjoyable life? Here are a few more articles on related topics that you may be interested in checking out.
Living simply can be a great way to boost your well-being—your social, emotional, and financial well-being especially. Luckily, there are lots of small things you can do to start living more simply. Hopefully, the information and tips provided here gave you some ideas to help you create your perfect simple life.