Crayon drawing of house

Our Thoughts on the Simple Life

- The Road to Simplicity

 

 Our thoughts on the simple life have generated a lot of questions. We get e-mail saying "thats great but what about____? Here are some of the "what abouts?"

Weíve been doing simplicity for so long, reading about it has become irrelevant. And because we arenít coming to simplicity from a way more complicated place, most of whatís out there doesnít apply to us. What has influenced us has been internal rather than external - our own sense of the life we want to live and the way we want to do it.

We have been living a simpler life than most of the population, by choice, for the whole 25 years weíve been together. Until recently, it didnít have a name - it was just our way of life! Itís a bit disconcerting to suddenly find ourselves part of such a popular trend!!!

Also, judging from some of the stuff we have been hearing and seeing in the media, there are some approaches to so-called simplicity that we just canít get our minds around!

We have never had a consciousness of doing without, which may make us different from others who have embraced simplicity. For us itís not downscaling. Instead itís a positive approach to gaining and keeping control of your life. Your time, your commitments, your expectations, your spending.

We are always conscious that in every situation there are choices. Some of them may be more difficult than others, but there are choices! So we are not content to be buffeted by events or circumstances. We live our lives, we arenít lived by them. Thatís not to say there are never situations or problems beyond our control. But what we can control is our response to them.

Our lifestyle also assumes a certain degree of faith. Iím not talking about religious faith but a faith in life, the universe, and everything (apologies to Douglas Adams). When we need something, want something, are trying to do something we trust that we will find it or the tools to find it or do it. Of course, it helps that we always tell everyone we know - youíd be surprised how effective such a network can be!!

 

Ease on Down the Road to Simplicity (this article first appeared in Emerging Lifestyles magazine)
by Judy Woods

Simplicity can be very complicated.

There are so many forks in the road to the simple life that many would-be simplifiers lose their way. There's the "work overtime now and retire early" path. Or the "sell your house, move to the country, and grow a garden" approach. Don't overlook the "all you need to do is clean out your closets" or the variant "get rid of all your stuff" roads. I've even seen (not often, thank goodness) advocates for the "quit your job and live off family and friends" route.

The road less traveled is what I call "conscious simplicity". It's relatively easy to reap the benefits of voluntary simplicity while living an ordinary life. The secret is in the choices you make.

If you're ready to choose the path to a simpler life that doesn't require heroic efforts to achieve, start packing for your road trip. Be sure to include these items in your luggage:

1. A real desire to simplify.
Early in our partnership my husband Clay and I made a decision that is the basis for all the choices we've made since then. We decided that time is better than money. Time to enjoy music, read a book, tend a rose garden, pursue a hobby, or visit with friends is far more valuable to us than the money we could accumulate by working long hours instead of enjoying them. This revelation encouraged us to spend less time acquiring things and more time acquiring experiences, insights, and relationships.

Try listing the reasons you long for simplicity. Keep your list handy to encourage you when you have reservations about the changes that take place. It's also helpful to write down the top ten things you like to do. Then list the top ten ways you spend your time now. A desire for more time to do the things you like to do is one good reason to pursue a simpler life.

2. A plan for paying the bills.
Lacking inherited wealth, we need to work! We choose to maximize our work time by making it as enjoyable as possible. Although our educations prepared us for corporate jobs, we opted for self-employment because it afforded more opportunity for controlling our time. Doing work that we like allows us to enjoy the time we sell to pay the bills.

If owning your own business isn't a good fit, you might consider working flex time or part time. Or work full time at something you enjoy. If self-employment is a future goal, ease into it by building your business on the side while you keep your "day job".

3. A willingness to reduce your spending.
We spend carefully, considering whether a potential purchase is really worth the hours required to pay for it. Sometimes it is worth it, but buying is a conscious decision, not an automatic reflex or an attempt to "keep up" with the herd. You'll be surprised to discover how much you can do without and still have more than enough to eat, stylish clothes to wear, a reliable car, a comfortable home - and time to do the things you really want to do. When the need for cash is reduced, it's possible to pursue the work you've always dreamed of doing.

We've also discovered how easy it is to take advantage of others' surplus. Cars, furniture, bits and pieces are no less useful for having served somebody else before arriving to satisfy our needs and whims. In fact, we find great satisfaction in capitalizing on society's wasteful tendencies by reusing somebody else's castoffs!

4. A plan for emergencies
Accidents happen. So does the flu. We decided long ago that the peace of mind derived from having health insurance makes it worth the cost. We don't, however, carry the pricey, everything-covered kind. We have a high deductible, knowing we can cover occasional doctor visits or prescriptions, as well as the deductible and co-pay amounts, even if we have to work out a payment plan with a health care provider. Anything catastrophic would be handled by the insurance. We think it would be irresponsible not to have it.

You may be able to join a group policy offered by a membership organization or purchase coverage through a part time employer. Shop around for the best deals - there are lots of variables. You're likely to stay healthier with your new reduced-stress lifestyle, too, cutting your health care expenses.

We keep a slush fund to cover non-medical emergencies (automotive problems, leaky roof). Since most savings accounts are only slightly more productive than cash under the mattress, look for a credit union or check out certificates of deposit that can be cashed in easily. Check with your bank or an accountant for more ideas.

5. A willingness to experiment.
Sure, your whole planned lifestyle change is something of an experiment. So why not branch out a little and try some new skills? Change the oil in your car, bake a loaf of bread, paint the living room. If doing it yourself works for you, you can save the cash you would have paid someone else to do the job. Which means reduced expenses, less hours of work - you get the picture! If it turns out you have ten thumbs or hate repairs, try trading skills with a friend or neighbor.

You can also experiment with taking your lunch to work instead of buying, riding a bike or walking instead of using the car for errands, borrowing books from the library instead of buying. Be creative.

6. A sense of community
A network of family, friends, and neighbors makes life easier and richer. It's also gratifying to lend a helping hand. We've found that working with others to accomplish a task or help someone in need is always a win-win situation. New friends, new skills, new possibilities are added benefits to getting involved in your neighborhood or serving on a committee.

7. A plan for indulgences
Simplicity is about freedom and owning your own life. It's not about deprivation. Planning for fun is part of choosing how to use your resources. We travel as much as we can and go out on Friday night "dates". We have always believed that we can have whatever we want, as long as we want it badly enough to not have other things we don't want as much!!

8. A little faith
How do you simplify without worrying about having enough money to live on? Have faith in the process. There have been times over the years when we were down to our last few pennies. Something always came along. Faith is as important as ingenuity! Admittedly, it takes some time and practice to realize that what you need comes to you. Be open-minded. Sometimes solutions come from unexpected directions.

Tell everyone you know what you want or need. Turn up your inner receiver. Keep your eyes open. Have faith that your plans for achieving what you want will work.

Above all, as you embark on your own path to simplicity, remember that you aren't sacrificing a lifestyle for something else, you are embracing the life you want. Pay attention to the opportunities and choices that come along. Have fun. Now pack your bag and hit the road.

Stuff

For us simplicity hasnít necessarily meant living without stuff!! Although we lived in a van for 6 months, and could do it again with no problem, our stuff seems to expand to fill the available space!! Itís the kind of stuff and how we get it thatís different. That network I mentioned often produces exactly what weíre looking for at little or no cost.

Examples: We are building a little cabin in the woods, mostly with seconds and salvaged materials, with our own hands. We needed a refrigerator so we told everyone we know. Our neighbor bought a new bigger model. And gave us the old one. A friend just bought a new jazzy computer system. And gave us her old one. Much of the lovely old turn of the century oak furniture in our home came to us via the garbage pile at the side of the road. We replaced the missing legs, drawers, etc. and refinished it to create wonderful antiques from someone elseís junk!
 

We love used stuff. We rescue it from oblivion. We keep it out of the landfill and recycle it to extend its useful life. And when we canít use something weíre given, we pass it along to someone who can.

So what we do without is very little. No new cars - both our vehicles are used models. No new designer clothes - but youíd be surprised what you can acquire in resale shops and friendsí garage sales!

We also do without credit debt, bill-paying anxiety, and the sense of competitiveness that goes hand in hand with keeping up with the latest new stuff.

We have completely done without a dishwasher or garbage disposal but the reasons are environmental ones for the most part. We donít have the latest, newest anything - we stay behind the curve, after the depreciation has kicked in!! I canít think of anything we really want that we donít have eventually but we are willing to wait until weíve saved enough to get it. Often we decide against a purchase if it means too much of our time to earn it.

The Simple Triangle

Several years ago an article in In Context magazine pointed out that in most cases, something that saves you money (specific choices or philosophies) will also be environmentally positive and good for your health. Something that is good for your health will probably be good for the environment and will save you money. Something that you do for the good of the environment will also (you guessed it) save you money and promote good health. They had a neat little triangle, not unlike the recycling triangle with health, money, and environment as the sides.
 

Think about it. You stop using pesticides in your home and garden to keep from poisoning yourself (health). You save the money you would have spent on the chemicals. Your immediate environment is allowed to function without noxious chemicals in your indoor and outdoor landscape. Or you decide to eat less meat. Good for your health, eating lower on the food chain uses less resources including land, water, grain, energy for processing, etc. (environment) and it costs you less to eat veggies and fruit and grains than to eat meat (money). Try some other stuff - usually it works.

Keep the faith

Weíve been asked how to simplify without worrying about having enough money to live on. I guess the answer is to have "faith". I don't mean religious faith necessarily, although that works for some people. I mean faith in the process. And when things get sticky, it's the faith that things work out. For the best.

There have been times over the years when we were down to our last few pennies, then something always came along. Faith is as important as ingenuity!

Admittedly, it takes some time and practice to realize that what you need, comes to you. Our secret has always been to be OPEN to whatever may come along, sometimes from the most unexpected directions. Always tell everyone you know what you want, need, are looking for. Tune your inner receiver up to maximum. Keep your eyes open. It really is that simple. Part of the problem is identifying what you need/want, of course.

This may sound a little Pollyanna-ish, but it really does work that way for us. It started working better when we stopped worrying about it!

That doesn't mean you stop setting your own course and wait for the universe to support you. It does mean having faith that what you are doing to achieve what you want will work.

Above all, remember that you aren't sacrificing a lifestyle for something else, you are EMBRACING the life that you want, perhaps giving up some excess baggage along the way! (Of course, if it's the baggage that's most important, you may need to rethink!)

 

The simple truth

We have been living simply (or so we thought!) for the past 25 years. But now that it's become so trendy, much of what we've read and heard bears no relationship to our reality! We've heard a so-called simplicity expert on the radio. He lives simply by having no job and no commitments and living with friends for as long as they'll put up with him, then moving on to mooch on someone else. This sort of societal parasitism isn't what our version of simplicity is about! We have also read about scores of people who worked at high paying jobs, saved up lots of money, then dropped out (sounds like the 60s) and are not working. For us the simple life doesnít mean dropping out. It means jumping into life, with all its fullness, and steering our own path through it.

Our approach has been very different! We started out together with the realization that we didn't want to spend all of our waking hours working to pay for a lot of stuff. We were (and are), however, very willing to work for the things we really want. We also enjoy travel, so we work to finance that.

But we work on our own terms. We have always had our own business(es), operating out of our home, setting our own hours and scheduling our own vacation time (usually at least six weeks a year). Built into our workday is enough time to attend meetings of the various community groups we belong to because we think it's important to work for environmental causes, historic preservation, and improved quality of life for us and our neighbors.

I expect most of our acquaintances, and probably most of our good friends, don't realize how little we spend. Sure, they know we drive "old" cars and live in an old house we renovated ourselves. They may even have noticed we don't have as many toys as they do. (We do, however, have a lot of toys. We are willing to work for computer stuff, good music equipment, etc. We've gotten some of it used.) They all seem to know that we are happy to take their "hand me downs" for ourselves or others.

My point is, we are very mainstream. We belong to the Chamber of Commerce. We've been honored as Citizens of the Year for our volunteer work. We donate to local charities and several national environmental groups. We are members of the public television station. We have health insurance and a retirement plan. We don't depend on either a big income from a former life or on the generosity of others to live our lives. We do pay attention to what we really want to buy and how we really want to spend our time.

I think what makes us "different" is that we constantly pay attention to what we're doing, and how. Many people we know allow their lives to live them instead of the other way around! With that attention comes the ability to make choices that allow us to live a rich, full life, with enough stuff to fill our needs and entertain our interests, without selling our souls to a corporation or spending our energies keeping up with anyone else's idea of what we "should" own or how we "should" live.

 

Stressed out?

 Life is sometimes stressful or difficult. For all of us. Living simply reduces that for us. It also gives us the resiliency, because we have so much control over our time and resources, to work through it instead of responding with knee jerk reactions. Also, we have developed a good, strong problem-solving style that serves us very well. For us, though, doing and being are more important than having. That cuts out a lot of stress.

 

On being "strange"

We like to think of ourselves as really creative but we realize some people just think we're weird!

Actually, people we know got used to us a long time ago! But in general, thereís more acceptance of simple lifestyles these days. However, sometimes itís qualified. In other words, donít go too far or get too weird.

We've noticed that some of those who give us the hardest time (when are you going to buy a new car? get a real job? grow up?) seem threatened somehow by the choices we've made. As if, by failing to follow the same path they do, we fail to provide some kind of validation they need. I suppose if you spend your time and energy acquiring and displaying, someone who fails to appreciate the display makes you uncomfortable!

A lot of the reaction we have always experienced has been wistful. Gee, I wish I could live like you do. YOU COULD. Oh, no, I couldnít. It would be too much work, too scary, make me responsible for myself to a level Iím not ready for so Iíll just keep wishing.

Now thatís strange!

 

What about  the kids?

We have never had children and think they complicate everything!

This was another choice we made in the beginning. Because we knew our lifestyle would be unorthodox and that kids are such conformists ( as well as a whole lot of other reasons that are a whole different story) we chose to be childless. (Which has always generated a lot more flack than our decision to live simply!)

We have known families, however, for whom it worked very well. I think itís easier if mom and dad are already living simply before the kids arrive. The increased attention and greater time spent with children in a household where the parents arenít focused on earning as much as possible then rewarding/compensating themselves for doing so, more than makes up for what the kids donít have materially.

I happen to believe that any big changes families make should be decided by the family, that kids are really willing to pitch in and pull in the same direction as mom and dad when they understand that they have an important role in the success of the endeavor.

We have no expertise, however, or experience in living a simple life as a family of more than two people. Leading a life of simplicity is probably more difficult with children, but there are few things that will serve children better than recognizing the benefits of a non-materialistic world view. we see so many parents giving their kids things instead of time. Time is the ultimate gift.

Surely when they are adults themselves, your children will remember the things you did together, the talks you had, the lives you shared, rather than the designer jeans or brand-name shoes they wanted. If not, weíre all in trouble!

 

In case of emergency

One of the toughest problems in simple living is health insurance. Itís our biggest expense. We are always searching for the best deals we can find on insurance. We are healthy (because we have a healthy lifestyle) and don't like paying for first dollar coverage, so we always have a high deductible ($1500-$2000). We know can cover occasional doctor visits or prescriptions ourselves. Anything catastrophic would be handled by the insurance.

The whole idea of insurance is a little weirdóyou are betting youíll need it and the insurer is betting you wonít! But we think it would be irresponsible not to have it.

 

Technological simplicity???

The technology/simplicity debate will never end. And it all comes down to your definition of simplicity.

For us itís never meant living a life of deprivation. The computer is a wonderful tool for keeping track of finances, for entertainment, and on and on.

The Internet is such an incredible information resourceóit makes it easier to live simply. Whether youíre trying to learn how to fix your car, prepare healthy low-cost meals, or grow some of your own food (all of which we do, by the way) the information is somewhere on the Net.

Also, we generate a large portion of our income using the computer and there are many opportunities for doing so, from maintaining mailing lists to doing graphic design.

The key is to avoid being dogmatic. Use all of the tools available to make your journey what you want it to be!

 

What about where?

We live in a city of about 25,000. We grew up in Rochester, New York. We lived in Dallas for a couple of years after our road trip. We were city kids.

Despite the initial culture shock of moving to a small town, we wouldnít have it any other way. Itís easier for us to live here. Itís easier to get around. We can (and do) walk to stores, meetings, etc. We found it easier to become part of the  community because thereís a different attitude about community than in a big, anonymous city. Thereís always someone willing to help with a task, help solve a problem, help celebrate a milestone.

However, simplicity works anywhere.

 

Getting started on a simple path

The first step in gaining control of your life (which is, for us, the true simplicity) is to decide that you want to do it.

The second step is to realize that you always have choices in what you buy, how you spend your time, etc. If itís important to you to have a Lexus to impress your friends, neighbors, and co-workers, thatís a choice youíve made and you donít have room to complain that you have to work too hard to pay your bills.

If you choose to spend a few hours tuning up your car (and the time to learn how to do it) then you can use the money youíve saved on a mechanic for something you really want. Recognition and choice are the keys. I donít mean to imply this will be easy if youíre locked into material consumption. But if you really, really want to gain control of whatís important in your life, itís do-able. A way to convince yourself of this is to try the two lists mentioned in our home page.

Whether you go cold turkey or in incremental steps depends on your own personality. Some people embrace change and find it exciting. Some people are not quite so comfortable with it.

Also, although I know a lot of simplicity gurus advise amassing savings and investments to live on, then dropping out, itís not an approach that we advocate. Meaningful work is often very important to people. It doesnít have to be traditional employment. We have always worked. When we traveled around the country we picked up odd jobs (had a great time working the apple harvest in Washington state) and ever since we have been self-employed, doing work we enjoy to cover our necessary expenses and the frivolous ones weíve chosen to indulge. It hasnít always been the same work. When we get tired of one thing, we move on to the next thing we want to do. (We happen to thrive on change!)

When we first started out on our path together, we sold all our worldy goods (well, almost!!) and set out in an old van for a six month trip around the country. We visited 36 states, broke down (or ran out of gas) 14 times and had a wonderful time visiting natural wonders and interesting cities and meeting people we loved and people we couldn't stand. The only other people who really understood what we were doing were a few retired folks who were doing the same thing - except they had waited their whole lives to do it.

Living in a van on almost nothing made everything that came after it seem like incredible luxury!! That's not to say we don't indulge ourselves. We travel as much as we can manage and go out to eat once a week. We have always believed and have proved to ourselves that we can have whatever we want. If we want it badly enough to not have other things we don't want as much!!

Choosing not to have everything has made what we do have very valuable. We appreciate our stuff and our time and our freedom and each other.

Pay attention to what you really want. Pay attention to the opportunities and choices that come along. Forget about pride and appearances and being part of the herd. Have fun. Eat chocolate. And hang in there.

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