Simpler living means to live with less chaos and turmoil, and increased calm and contentment. It does not mean depriving yourself. Simple living, high thinking is about gaining more, from less. Here’s everything you need to know about how living simply can lead to living better.
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I’m going to be honest, when I first heard the term ‘simple living’, I wasn’t totally on board. But that’s because the first thing I read about it didn’t align with what I’ve since come to understand simple living to mean.
So let’s take a look first at the common misconceptions of simpler living, and then at what it actually means (and why the movement now has my heart).
What People Often Associate With Living Simply
When I first became aware of the concept of simple living, the article I read gave me the impression that at best it’s about minimalism, frugality, and abstinence. And at worst? Self-denial, self-sacrifice, and martyrdom.
But I don’t want to put up with old or broken items as a lifestyle choice if I don’t have to (been there and while I’m fortunate enough to have the choice, I choose better for my children).
I’m aware of my privilege and grateful for it, but I don’t think it’s a dirty word. It becomes ugly only when people forget that life is a lottery and don’t do their bit to help others less fortunate.
So while I’d never judge those who choose an austere lifestyle, it doesn’t personally appeal – I like my home comforts too much!
With this in mind, I thought slow living seemed more my cup of tea. (Pun not intended as I wrote the sentence, but a nice demonstration of where my priorities lie!)
What a Simpler Life Really Means
When I dug about a little I discovered more about the idea of simpler living. I realised that with a slightly different interpretation, it actually sums up the way I already try to live my life. It fits, and I love that it has a name and a movement!
While simpler living can be associated with material possessions, it goes way deeper than that.
After all, the opposite of simple is not outdated, expensive, or extravagant; the opposite of simplicity is complications.
Simple living is not about how much you own, or how much you covet; it’s not about going without for some greater purpose.
Simple Living Is…
Living simply is not about the value of what you have – it’s about how much you value what you have.
It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.Charles Haddon Spurgeon
If a simpler life has connotations of reducing and decluttering and minimising, it’s not as a sacrificial reaction to consumerism and overconsumption.
What is Simple Living, High Thinking?
Simple living, high thinking is the natural consequence of reframing and organically coming to appreciate the simple things in life. As its weight becomes a burden, it’s the choice to actively shake off (amongst other things) materialism, in favour of simplicity.
Ask a bird how to fly, and it might tell you to remove the weight from your wings.Erin Loechner, Chasing Slow
It’s about coming to realise that being content with less is liberating, and that choosing a simple life free of distractions, means choosing contentment.
The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.Socrates
And so, part of this new-found freedom (which is there all along if you choose to see it) might look like anti-consumerism, or decluttering your home, or frugality. That’s because at its core, the simple living approach is about reducing excess, which can certainly extend to material possessions.
But if you take a step back, the bigger picture is about the conscious decision to simplify life, to free yourself of unnecessary excess complications, giving you more time and space to enjoy the things that are truly meaningful.
Simple living involves:
- Rejecting materialism and the pressure that comes with it,
- Valuing people and contentment over things and status,
- Being authentically happy with less,
- Taking pleasure in the small things in life,
- Chasing joy instead of stuff,
- Making personal growth and life satisfaction your goals.
Taken in this context, I can definitely see the appeal of this lifestyle:
Simplicity over stress, calm over chaos, joy over junk.
The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: A simple, effective way to banish clutter forever
Simple Living vs Slow Living – What’s the Difference?
Depending on where you look, you’ll get different answers to this question – the concepts are definitely open to interpretation.
Slow living is often interpreted as being a more mindful way of living, with simple living leaning towards frugality. However there’s a lot of crossover between both.
As we’ve seen above, thriftiness is not necessarily a part of simple living, and it can very much play a part in slow living too. It’s worth remembering this SLOW acronym to give additional context:
Slow living means focusing on a slower, more leisurely pace of life, while embracing simplicity means paring back your life to remove complications.
It could be said they ultimately amount to the same thing: being more intentional with your time.
And really, the label is less important than making the positive lifestyle changes that each encourages.
Either way, a more relaxed approach to life has become enormously attractive to many people – particularly since the pandemic.
COVID seems to have caused a global revolution: a reevaluation of priorities and a natural shift in attitude towards a simpler way of life. And for good reason, because there are many associated benefits.
The Benefits of Simple Living
Living simply feels good because it is good for you. It’s beneficial across a range of areas of your life including:
Take refuge in simple life! You will find three treasures there: Healthy body, peaceful mind, and a life away from ambitious fools!Mehmet Murat ildan
Physical Health Benefits of Simpler Living
Unsurprisingly, a study has shown a link between materialism and poor physical health.
Embracing a simpler life and consciously letting go of the need to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ can bring several health benefits:
- Decrease in chronic stress
Incredibly, this study revealed that living more simply can literally reduce chronic stress levels.
The compulsion to do better, be better, have better drives us to engage in lifestyles which promote stress. The more we have, the more we tend to want, and the only way to break the toxic cycle is with a change of mindset about what’s important, and what to let go of.
- Better sleep
The less we have to worry about, the easier we find it to relax at the end of each day, the better we sleep, the better we feel.
Decluttering our lives of excess obligations helps with this, and so does minimising the physical clutter we surround ourselves with.
- Improved brain function
Our brains like order and incredibly, research shows that clutter affects working memory!
Mental Health Benefits of a Simpler Life
I’ve always said ‘messy home, messy mind; tidy home, tidy mind’ so it’s no great surprise to me that mental health can also be negatively impacted by clutter.
Outer order contributes to inner calm.Gretchen Rubin, Outer Order, Inner Calm
- Increased focus
Visual distraction can reduce focus, and research shows clearing clutter from the home and work environment can improve concentration and productivity. Mind. Blown.
- You naturally begin to respond rather than react
With the advantage of decreased stress, comes another indirect benefit to your mental health: calm.
Calmness brings with it the ability to stop reacting, and you’re able to enjoy a cycle of positivity, whereby your reasoned and measured responses facilitate healthier relationships and improved moods.
A person who knows who they are lives a simple life by eliminating from their orbit anything that does not align with his or her overriding purpose and values.Kilroy J. Oldster
- Your life is less cluttered
Clearing your life of all that does not serve you should extend to stuff. And while it goes without saying that any overwhelming situations or circumstances affect our mental health – it turns out physical mess can do the same.
A study showed that the stress hormone, cortisol, was higher in mothers who lived in a cluttered environment – and that is definitely something I can relate to!
If your home is peaceful, then the other areas of your life, such as your finances, emotions, relationships, and a sense of well-being will reflect that.Peter Walsh, Lighten Up: Love What You Have, Have What You Need, Be Happier With Less
7. Financial Benefits of Living Simply
While simple living is not conditional on frugality, it does tend to be supported by a thrifty mindset – one organically feeds into the other. And this is important because that shift in outlook means that acquiring less won’t feel like self-denial – it shouldn’t.
The point is that over time you are better able to rise above the bombardment of consumerist messaging to more highly value priceless entities such as time, balance, and freedom.
You might decide to embrace some aspects of self-sufficiency and homesteading – but only if it doesn’t lead to other complications.
With this in mind, you’ll likely begin to notice a boost in your bank balance too.
Social Benefits of Living Simply
- Improved relationships
Spending quality time with the people you love and making it a priority will naturally lead to deeper and more meaningful relationships. And if you’re generally calmer and more positive too then you’ll be more pleasant to be around, further reinforcing those connections.
- Better for the environment
While simplicity may not always be about sustainability, adopting a more mindful attitude in terms of consumerism and materialism will only benefit the environment.
Many a man thinks he is buying pleasure, when he is really selling himself to it.Benjamin Franklin
Emotional Benefits of a Simpler Life
While there’s some crossover here with mental health, I consider emotional health to be the additional benefits we can (and often do) live without, but which enrich our lives if we’re able to make time for them.
- Simplicity and freedom go hand in hand
Requiring less offers several different kinds of freedom. Freedom from
When you bow out of the race, you no longer need to live up to expectations. So liberating
If you’re not trying to live up to the expectations of others, neither will you feel the need to justify your actions.
A large part of living a simpler life is choosing not to feel obligated to over-commit. This frees up your time for other priorities that are not a chore.
Fewer obligations means less frantic activity in order to keep up with them all!
With fewer items considered essentials, your money will go further. This will lift the pressure of providing for your family. Plus of course there are the pressures of all the other items on this list which will also diminish.
All of this new-found freedom will generate more time for you to spend doing the things you find meaningful, such as…
- Getting creative
Creativity is the expression of the soul, and we should all make time for it in our lives. Whether that means singing, dancing, painting, knitting, writing – making time to explore your creativity and enjoy your passion is beneficial for your health.
If personal growth is a priority for you – and it should be if you want to prioritise a content and meaningful life! – then simplicity can help you by laying the foundations for you to get to know yourself better.
As you carefully pare back your life to only those things which you value highly, you’ll learn about where your priorities lie, and this will reveal the principles you hold in high regard.
- Being true to yourself and your values
Once you become keenly aware of your core values, you can ensure you shape your life around them.
This is vital to your overall wellbeing, as undermining your values by not living in accordance with them can leave you feeling unfulfilled.
Do the work of naming the highest, eulogy-worthy priorities in your life. Then do the work of putting them at the centre of your life, every day.Brooke McAlary, Slow
The Art of Simpler Living
While the theory of implementing a simple lifestyle might sound, well, simple, it’s not necessarily quite so easy. At least not at first.
For a start simple living might look different to different people; remember, it’s not (just) about having less materially – it’s more about having less to do overall:
Fewer to-do lists, fewer obligations, fewer complications – less stress.
So in order to determine out what a simpler life looks like to you, it’s first necessary to consider your personal core values and priorities. Once you have this figured out, then you’re in a position to start making the necessary changes to live in alignment with those values.
And this is what will bring more calm and peace to your life.
In actual life, it requires the greatest art to be simple.Carl Jung
What Does Simple Living Look Like in Practice?
It would be easy to fall into the trap of just living frugally but, as I mentioned, simple living goes deeper than this.
In fact, there might even be situations where the frugal option doesn’t align with the concept of simple living (and might be a better fit with the concept of being sustainable, local, organic, and/or wholesome). Here are a few examples:
- Selling your car,
- Rejecting the idea of having a cleaner help you out,
- Making your own clothes.
Now let’s explore why these might not work well as part of a simple lifestyle.
1. Selling your car
If you live close by to local amenities and you’re easily able to walk to them, then selling your car makes lots of sense. However, if you’re going to be reliant on getting the bus everywhere then it becomes a huge complication – the opposite of what simple living aims to achieve.
Simple: keep the car.
Slow: take the bus.
2. Employing a cleaner
If you work and have a busy family life then it might make more sense to save yourself some time by hiring a cleaner, if you’re able to afford it.
This is one I struggled with myself for a long time as it seems like an enormous extravagance (and really it is). But my husband made an excellent point to me, and it’s one I always try to keep in mind now:
Start thinking about the money you spend in terms of the time it takes you to earn it.
When you reframe in this way and start imagining paying for things with your time, suddenly there’s great clarity about their value and worth.
By freeing up time I’d otherwise spend cleaning, creates more time for me to spend with my family or on my business. That makes it worthwhile for my current situation financially, and bonus – it also it simplifies my life.
Simple: hire the cleaner.
Slow: clean yourself (or maybe even make cleaning less of a priority).
3. Making your own clothes
And finally, if making your own clothes is a creative and cathartic process then it’s absolutely worthy of your time. But if it’s going to become a huge chore then it is not simple, in which case you’d probably be better off just purchasing them instead.
Simple: buy your own clothes.
Slow: buy locally.
Of course there may be situations where the frugal option is the simple one too, which is great. But if it’s not, that’s okay.
How to Live a Simpler Life
Some examples of simple living in my own life include:
- Rejecting the idea of upgrading my car because I rarely even use it.
- Choosing to keep my car anyway, because on the rare occasions I need transport, my life would become very complicated if it were gone.
- Giving up on my quest to find the perfect raincoat in a charity shop and simply purchasing it new instead.
- Choosing to buy a cake in the supermarket for ease, instead of making one from scratch.
- Being mindful of the fact that I love where we live, so there’s no pressure to move to a bigger house.
If I were focused on slow living, my list might look a little bit different, with a greater focus on making do, buying secondhand, or making things myself.
Essentially, my interpretation of simple living is that you set your own benchmark for what you’re willing to compromise on. The more you’re able to, the simpler your life will be – but compromising and then feeling a complication as a result undermines the purpose of building simplicity into your life.
It’s about balance, and finding ways, over time, to tip the balance towards greater simplicity.
Simple Living Tips
So, how can you begin to live a simpler life, which precludes self-denial? Here are some of the best ways to start actively working towards a simpler and more meaningful lifestyle…
1. Practice gratitude
The first step to simple living is to be thankful for the things in your life. By authentically developing an attitude of gratitude, you’ll naturally covet less, because what you have already begins to feel like enough.
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more.Melody Beattie
2. Identify your priorities
What brings you joy? Do more of that. And then make space in your life for more of the same.
By simplifying your life in other areas you’ll notice time begins to open up as a by-product, which can be spent on doing more of the things you love. But, if you need to literally block out time for it – do it.
3. Prioritise self-care
Self-care shouldn’t be an afterthought, and nor should it amount to your basic needs. You’re worth more than that, so allow yourself more.
4. Appreciate the small things
This is such a simple way of experiencing more pleasure, every day.
By being mindful, you can wake up your senses to the beauty of simplicity: a hot shower, the smooth sweetness of a square of chocolate, the vibrant colours of a flower, the warmth of a hug.
5. Learn to say no
This one is hard, but pays dividends! Your time is priceless, it should be spent only on the things you truly have no choice in, the things which bring you joy, or the things which contribute to your happiness.
Get comfortable declining obligations, and then work on doing it without justification. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for valuing your own time.
Reducing excess and streamlining your life will enable you to see everything with more clarity. It will help you to feel more balanced and content.
7. Covet less
Value the things you have. This lays the foundations for stepping away from that compulsion for more, bigger, better.
8. Reduce distractions
This might mean literally or figuratively. Eliminating anything that doesn’t add to your life, – whether it’s clutter, noise, or commitments – will provide you with an environment more conducive to focus and productivity.
It will also promote calm and serenity in your mood, and your interactions with others.
9. Less digital stimulation
We all know that screens can negatively impact concentration and mood. If we’re not busy on computers we’re often watching television or distracted by our mobiles.
All of this digital noise creates constant interruptions to our wellbeing – often literally. Try switching off more, and tuning into the present instead.
10. Live within your means
Over-stretching yourself in order to keep up with the Joneses adds financial pressure, and devalues your time.
Choosing to live within your means equates to prioritising the things money cannot buy, over effectively meaningless stuff.
Journaling is a creative outlet which is also a cathartic process, and a fantastic form of self-care. It facilitates mindfulness, and is an excellent way of bringing together many of the other elements on this list.
12. Spend time outdoors
Experiencing the joyful simplicity and richness of a walk also helps to reinforce the concept of simple living. Plus getting out in nature is a powerful way to re-centre, recalibrate, and recharge.
Is a Simple Life a Better Life?
That’s a personal question only you can answer. But keep in mind that simple living should reflect your definition of a balanced, content, and meaningful life.
It doesn’t have to mean giving anything up – unless you’re doing so to improve your life.
A simpler life might mean giving up your relaxed morning scrolling Instagram and enjoying your first leisurely caffeine hit each day, in order to make more time for walking to work instead of driving. Or maybe you’d prefer to drive and save the time for that chilled start to your day instead.
However you choose to live your life, the point is that instead of being swept up in doing what you’ve always done because it’s what people do – you make it a choice. So that one day, you can look back and say ‘I lived the life I chose to live.’
When we are content, our daily actions are infused with a quiet satisfaction that we share with those around us. We become aware of and responsible for other people’s well-being and they, in turn, for ours.Louisa Thomsen Brits, The Book of Hygge