what is the simple life?

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A frugal blog will inevitably extol the virtues of ‘the simple life’. After all, the simple life (synonymous it seems with ‘the good life’) is often one of the reasons for being frugal. But what is the simple life and is it a one size fits all definition? Is it something specific, or are there principles that can be embraced so that no matter where you live, or what you do, you can live the simple life?

Living the simple life is generally considered a voluntary lifestyle choice for environmental, frugal, spiritual, philosophical and social reasons. It is often characterised by one or more of the following traits:

  • Aiming for a degree of self-sufficiency
  • Practicing sustainable living practices such as solar energy
  • Organic gardening
  • Cooking from scratch
  • Not buying anything that you can practically make yourself like bread for instance
  • Keeping livestock
  • DIY, practicing traditional crafts, making your own clothes etc. Substituting specialisation for a broader knowledge base.
  • Working less or working less for money and more for passion or working more in the home
  • Low consumption, making do with what you have, spending less overall and investing in quality, ethical products
  • De-cluttering the mind, the body, the home, the schedule and the lifestyle
  • Choosing local or small business over mass produced and big business
  • Repairing, reusing, recycling
  • Living by your values and ignoring fads, fashions and trends
  • ‘Slowing down’ taking time out, exploring inner life, switching off, tuning out, quieting down, de-stressing

I loved British TV when I was a kid, and loved The Good Life. It was the type of life that I aspired to (and still do). The show also exemplifies the typical conception of what the simple life is:

As explored in the clip, the reality of living the clichéd simple life is that it is far from simple. A degree of self-sufficiency involves more knowledge, more skills, more organisation and more time than relying on big business to meet your needs. Nor does it necessarily mean living cheaply if you are investing in items that are energy efficient, biodegradable, hand-crafted, durable and aesthetically enduring, although these items often save money in the long run.

The common image of simple living is the hippie ‘going back to nature’. But do you have to leave the city, give away your iPhone, buy some land raise some chickens before you can say that you’re living simply? Or can simple living go hand in hand with modern living? I think that it can.

Simple living starts with making conscious choices about your values and how your day to day activities reflect and support those values.

No matter where you live or what you do for a living, anyone can:

  • consume less
  • invest in sustainable products
  • buy ethically
  • recycle and reuse
  • slow down
  • take time out
  • learn new skills
  • DIY and make your own
  • explore your inner self
  • focus on family and relationships rather than things and activities

But most importantly, you can decide to live by your values rather than following the fads and trends of the times. When you decide on the things that are most important to you, then all other decisions just fall into place. And the benefits are a happy, more fulfilling and less stressful life.

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction. EF Schumacher (Wikipedia)


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