In many ways, simple living is about mindset more than anything else. For one person, simple living might mean minimalism in a 300-square-foot studio in Brooklyn, from which she bikes everywhere she needs to go. For another, it might mean a renovated farmhouse in the country, where he grows tomatoes, cans tomato sauce, and raises chickens.
What simple living has in common in every case, though, is intentionality. It’s a life where the excess is constantly pared away, like dead branches pruned from a tree, to allow the more meaningful parts of our lives to flourish. Only when we know what’s important to us can we begin to work our way toward simple living. Generally, it doesn’t happen overnight. Simple living is more often a gradual process of moving toward a life where the focus is our values.
Regardless of the shape the “simple life” takes, I believe we can find some common factors:
1.) Simplicity and debt don’t mix. Often, a huge chunk of the excess that needs to be pared away is in the form of debt. This can be personal loans, car loans, student loans, home equity lines of credit, credit cards, you name it. Debt comes in many forms, some better or worse than others, but it puts a constant pressure on us. Debt creates inflexibility. We might want to spend more time with our children, but we’re forced to work more to pay the mortgage, the car loans, the credit card payment. Being debt free might allow us to move to a home more in line with the lifestyle we want to lead, to save up for a vacation that helps us expand our horizons, to fully fund our children’s college fund, to freelance and work for ourselves. For my husband and me, becoming debt-free is the first step in our journey toward simple living. If you’re struggling with debt, I recommend Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover or Financial Peace University. His debt snowball is hands-down the best way to beat debt.
2.) We have to know who we are–and be okay with that. When we’re not okay with ourselves, we start searching for something to fill that void. That “something” often comes in the form of excess stuff. We might buy expensive clothes to shore up our self esteem, or treat friends to expensive meals because we’re afraid they won’t stick around if we don’t constantly impress them. Excess stuff often comes from trying to be something that we’re not. We might not really know who we are and what we stand for, so we buy a little bit of everything, trying to keep up with the status quo. We might be afraid of being who we really are, so we hide our truth with stuff. To simplify your life, you have to know what you value. What are your core values? What defines you? (Hint: If it’s stuff, you’re on the wrong track.) What are the most important things in your life? It could be family, friendship, art, teaching, activism, faith, community. When you know who you are, you can ensure that your life revolves around what you value–not things.
3.) For the sake of simplicity, something is sacrificed. Simple living always means sacrificing something. It could be that we love to eat out, but to simplify, we scale back our spending on restaurants and take-out. It could mean giving up that fancy car or the big house. It could mean that you attend a state university instead of a private college in order to remain debt free. Simplifying means we don’t get everything that we want. Because of that, we often find a greater sense of gratitude for the things we do have, a higher sense of purpose in our lives, and a stronger sense of appreciation for each purchase.
4.) Simple living is value-based. As we simplify, gratitude steps in to fill the void left by excess stuff. Since it’s November, this month is a perfect time to think about what we value and what we are most grateful for. To truly be happy with our newfound simple life, we’ll have to wake as often as possible with a sense of gratitude. We’re grateful that because we’re debt free, know ourselves, and have made sacrifices, we can live a life in line with our values. This might mean having more money to travel or donate to a worthy cause. It might mean having the ability to take a year off work to backpack Europe. It might mean being able to start our own business or strike out as a freelancer. It’s not until we truly know who we are and what our values are that we can align our time, energy, efforts, goals, and money with our dreams. It might take time to get there, but even the small victories are worth celebrating when we know we’re on the right track.
What about you? Where are you on your journey toward simple living? What factors would you add to this list? What would simple living allow you to accomplish in your life? As we enter the season of giving thanks, what are you most grateful for?