Redefining simple living: enjoying the things you love

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by Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

Simple living looks different for everybody. This is implied in the definition of “simple living” that I share in my book — which, by the way, should be out in bookstores sometime this week (I hear that Amazon is sending your orders this week as well — hooray!). Living simply, in its very essence, must look different for each family and each person, because of the very nature of what it is.

If you agree with the definition I explore in the book, then your simple life won’t look the same as your neighbor’s simple life. If you’re trying to copy your neighbor’s simple life, then it’s lost the meaning, and is no longer a simple life.

Follow that?

In other words, the crux of living a simpler life is embracing who you are, how you were made, and what’s important to you. When you find those things, it becomes much, much easier to simplify your life — and therefore, all the parts that make up your life, such as money, your home, and your calendar.

Simple living doesn’t only mean not having a lot of stuff. It means you freely let go of the things encumbering you to live the life you’re meant to live, both literally and metaphorically.

Quality versus quantity

Sure, simple living means not having useless things cluttering your life. But you’re still allowed to own things if they make your life more of what it’s meant to be. Heck, you should even enjoy those things.

What? Enjoy stuff?

The point of pursuing a simpler life isn’t to get rid of a bunch of stuff and call that minimalism, or simplicity, or whatever. It’s about letting go of the things that don’t matter to you so that you have the room, the money, and the time to dive head-first into the things that do.

You’re not more pious than your neighbor, or better at living simply than your friends, if you have fewer items and a smaller house, yet are still conflicted about who you are and what you’re about. It’s not a backwards race to see who can live with less stuff.

Remember, for each family, simple living will look different.

You should enjoy your possessions that truly work for you and your family. You should invest in the things that really make your life simpler, congruent with the core essence of the phrase “simple living” (and not the cliché buzzword meaning of a bare, Spartan existence). Invest in quality over quantity — in a way that works for your family — and you can’t go wrong.

This is why I’m okay with advertising on the Simple Living Media sites, because simple living isn’t about getting by with as few things as possible. It’s about all the parts of your life lining up and headed in one direction. It’s about the things you own being items you truly love and find useful. It’s about having the room to appreciate good design and aesthetic, for being truly thankful for those things that make your life a bit easier.

jumping on the couch
Photo by Chris Scott

The freedom to be you

Sometimes, something that’s beautiful and useful to one person isn’t so much for you, and you can’t really wrap your head around why anyone would want to live with that. But that’s honestly not for us to decide. We’re responsible for us. We’re held accountable to the things we allow in our homes and on our calendars.

Sure, it’s not good to own a bunch of stuff for no real reason. But it’s okay to own some things and really love and enjoy them.

• I really like my MacBook, and am glad I invested the money in it.

• I will gladly forego all sodas and expensive lattes to buy a bag of good-quality coffee beans to use at home.

• My sewing machine wasn’t cheap, but it works really well, and I hope it lasts for years and years.

• We don’t own a lot of movies, but the ones we do, I’d happily watch any of them because I like them all.

• The ingredients we buy to make ice cream at home taste a ton better than a pre-made box of ice cream from the store, even though it does cost more sometimes.

To savor these things that I really value, I sacrifice in other areas. I mostly shop thrift stores for our family’s clothing. We only have one car. Our kids share a room because the house we’re currently renting is tiny. We don’t use shampoo. I say no to lots of things because we literally don’t have the money, and we refuse to live on credit.

That’s us. It works for us, and we love it. For others, it’s different, and that’s okay. We’re not all the same — that would be really boring.

Let’s encourage each other in our pursuits of simplifying life, and not balk at each others’ thoughtful, intentional decisions about what we allow in our homes and how we spend our time. It’s different for all of us. That’s the beauty of simple living.

What are some things you own that you truly value? How are they beautiful? How are they useful?

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Comments

  1. I LOVE this post :-) I’ve been doing a lot of reflection on this in my life as an individual, as a Mom and overall for our family. One of the areas I’ve been focusing on is friendship. Like most people, I’ve got more acquaintances than I know what to do with….but good, solid friendships are something that take a lot of time and investment. I have realized I have not done enough to cultivate a few good friendships and have let many of my acquaintances suck the life out of me. I started with purging my facebook friends list…and now that I’m not wasting so much time with people I don’t really care to keep up with or that weren’t good influences in my life, I’ve been able to focus on my real “live” friends. :-)

    As a family, we LOVE our computers and iPhones. We saved long and hard for those…but we also realized that they can consume us. We have started a “day of darkness” where we unplug and really try to use as little power as possible…usually once a month. We cook, but once it gets dark, the lights stay off and we use candles. It’s a great chance for us to reconnect and again made us realize that we absorb a lot of useless information. I always feel much less stressed when I haven’t checked my email, fbook, news a gazillion times a day.

    The only other thing I’ll leave a comment on is the upcoming holidays….we have adopted this motto for our little family: “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read”. We will do 4 gifts each. That’s it. Of course we’ll get things from other people, but we as a family will not go beyond this.

    Thanks for all you do, Tsh. I LOVE LOVE LOVE your blog :-)
    Mandy

    • “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read”. I love your Christmas present motto, it is just fantastic!!! My kids are young and still believe in Santa but once they are old enough I will definitely go with this! Greetings, Gina

    • I love it too! We only do two gifts… one from Santa and one from Mummy and Daddy but we might have to adopt this motto when the kids are older.

  2. Very down to earth post – thanks.

    Mandy, thanks also for sharing your ‘day of darkness’ idea – it really speaks to me and I think it has enough novelty that my kids would go for it too.

  3. I love this post! Sometimes when I read other blogs, the tone does come off as a little judgmental, which can leave a bad taste in my mouth. This is a great reminder that living simply has a personal definition for each of us, and that we should all be encouraging & supportive of each other’s personal goals. Thank you, Tsh!

  4. oh – I’m right there with you on the MacBook. I have the Pro and it’s huge and heavy and I LOVE it! (I almost spilt water on it last night and was soooo glad that I didn’t.) It’s beautiful to me because it allows me to work anywhere, any place, on things that I enjoy (pictures, blog, etc.). It allows me to stay connected and gives me freedom in the process.

  5. So happy for you and your book release this month. Love your writing style, and that you get that every family was uniquely created and has to find their own version of simplicity. Looking forward to reading more of our material.

  6. Awesome post! I keep looking around my home too see what else I can get rid of to make things easier to care for around here. Some things I will not let go because they make me smile. You are so right it really is about finding what makes your heart sing!

  7. I love this! Cheaper is not always better, I totally agree…AND I agree that if we consciously choose the material possessions we feel will enhance our lives, they are a worthwhile investment. A Spartan lifestyle is not the point; it’s making sure we surround ourselves with things that make our SPECIFIC lives better instead of just mindlessly consuming.

    Very well stated, Tsh!

  8. This may be my favorite SimpleMompost of 2010.

  9. This is one reason why I love shopping at garage sales and estate sales and Freecycle. Heck, it’s one reason why my husband and I enjoy romantic breakfasts at McDonalds!

    The emotions such actions produce – they’re far more valuable than the monetary stamp society puts on these simple things.

  10. I think I don’t like the term simple living all that much (obviously no offense to you Tsh, I’m just thinking out loud here). It has too many definitions. I think I’d like to hang my hat on intentional living which pretty much means living with intention, much the way you define simple living.

    I make choices everyday that are not simple to some. We hand wash dishes, hang dry all our laundry, live with one car, buy food from local farms, spend our recreation time together outdoors, and homeschool, to name a few.

    To me, these decisions have simplified our lives in many ways (by saying yes to few options we say no to many) but haven’t meant that our lives have less work. But the work we do feels more meaningful. Full of intention and based on conscious, values based decision making.

    Like you, we don’t eschew goods or services but do think about what we buy based on our values, which are necessarily different from those around us. We are all so unique in this regard.

  11. This is so true. Simplicity/minimalism is different for every person, not to mention that we are all at different places in our journey towards simplicity.
    You hit the nail on the head that this lifestyle is about choosing certain things over others, and the freedom to be ME.
    I am currently on that journey to relieve myself of so much stuff, years of stuff. I want more time to just BE.
    Bernice

  12. “It’s not a backwards race to see who can live with less stuff.”

    THANK YOU! I love reading about simplicity and minimalism, but there are no ‘absolute’ rules about what constitutes simplicity. Like having a car. I’m just not gonna get rid of my car — My boys love to play baseball and we play on travel teams. We can’t walk or ride bikes to a weekend tournament 80 miles away. It’s a family thing we love to do together and the car gets us there. We laugh and talk in the car on the way there, we cheer and support each other during games and talk about disappointments or successes while we have lunch with our baseball friends between games. But, many sites that talk about minimalism talk about getting rid of the car, or quitting your day job, etc., etc., etc… One lifestyle doesn’t fit all.

    My simplicity moments are walking in the woods sometimes and just looking up at the trees — the only music in my ears are the sounds of the birds and rustles of the leaves and hearing a deer “thumping” when he senses I’m close. My moments are when we picked out pumpkins and watching my 11 year old carve a pukin’ punkin’ to put on our front steps. My moments are cuddling with my dog laying on my feet (even though he is a source of great consternation at other times).

    I’ll never pare down my belongings to a hundred or even a thousand things — but my goal is that the things I have around me be useful and used to support my “living” moments.

    Thanks for sharing!

  13. It’s a matter of priorities. Loved this post. Thank you.

  14. Fantastic post! I love the definition! As for what I love…hmmm. Probably books. I’m guessing we have more than most “simplists” would approve of, but they’re something my husband and I both love and value, and we want our children to be surrounded by good books!

  15. avatar
    Mother of Pearl says:

    One thing that I am loving for its usefulness right now is my iPad. We got it for free from my husband’s work, bought a mount, and hung it on the wall in the kitchen. No more taking up precious counter space with a binder of recipes or address book or to do lists or grocery lists or any such thing. They are all in my iPad and the clutter is gone from the countertops.

    I appreciate your saying that simple living looks different for different people. My priorities make my simple life look different than my friend’s simple life, as she has different priorities.

  16. I love this post–I think you’ve done an inspiring job of articulating the heart of simplicity.
    What do I own that I love? My house would probably have to be at the top of the list. We moved into a bigger home about 18 months ago; I wrestled with the decision at first because I felt like we were betraying our mission to live simply. But God showed us very clearly that a bigger home would allow us to do two things that are crucial parts of his plan for us: practice hospitality and grow my husband’s business. We told him, “All right, show us where to go,” and he led us to the perfect place: large enough to accomplish his purposes, but small enough that cleaning and maintaining it doesn’t take too much of our time (or budget).

  17. To me this post explains exactly why simplemedia is so good at what it does: the core principles behind the websites are gold. It’s easy to underestimate the difficulty of explaining such an intuitively ‘simple’ thing as simple living. Yet, you manage to grasp the essence. Bravo!

  18. Hmmm, I can feel a few New Year’s resolutions coming on already! This is all such inspiring stuff …

    I rearranged a shelf today and threw out a few old documents, packed a bag with old books for charity and marked a few good books to give to a friend who has a book swapping account online. Looking at my uncluttered shelf has made me feel good all day.

    We have a lot of photo albums and they do take up a lot of space. I know no one prints photographs any more as it’s all on the computer … but you can’t beat sitting down with a 2 year old on your lap who delightedly points out everyone she knows on every picture.

    For some reason we also seem to possess an unreal amount of jackets to the point that 4 coat large coat hangers are always overflowing with jackets on the floor etc. We are a family of 5 so there will always be a good few coats/jackets but this is something I would like to do something about.

    Back to the New Year’s resolution (how ridiculous :o) … ), living simple also means eating simple and I really want to get rid of all the rubbish we eat. We stick to homemade food all day and enjoy it thoroughly but for some strange reason come nighttime, kids in bed, myself and my husband just HAVE to have some chocolate or cake or similar. I guess it has become part of our unwinding ritual and it really does not tie in with a simple lifestyle not to mention the money we spend on it and that it is not good for our health, either.

  19. Love the idea of cherishing (and investing in what you love). And I’m intrigued by your shampoo free lifestyle. Do you know if this works for curly hair? If it does, I might give it a shot!

    • Jenna, head to that post and scroll through the comments — there are well over 300, and many people there give tips on handling curly hair. Hope it helps!

    • I have curly hair and I haven’t used shampoo in 6 months and will never again. My hair has never been as shiny nor healthy in years. I love it!

  20. Had to share that my (or I should say YOUR) book came today!!!!! :) I have been devouring it all evening long. It’s wonderful… so full of totally useful information and ideas!

    Love in this post how you point out that it’s better to invest in quality rather than quantity… something that we are trying to remember as the holiday season approaches!

  21. tsh- your book came today and i am SOOO excited to get in bed an start reading it! i’m sure i will have to use some discipline to put it down and get some sleep before the baby wakes up for his first (of too many) night feedings. will i find the answer to: “when do i stop storing and keeping clothes for my kids? my daughter isn’t even 2 yet and we have a 6 huge bins of clothes in case we have another girl. #2 was a boy which means even more bins. . . frugal or space saving?”

    thanks!

    • Yes, I do touch a bit on storing kids’ clothes. I personally find that my kids, like me, mostly wear the same basic items again and again, even with a plethora of choices. So I prefer to keep each size range to one Rubbermaid-type box. For example, I have one that has girls’ clothes, sizes 0-6 months; another that’s boys, size 2-3T, etc. I keep these until we “know” we’re done having kids.

  22. i really liked this post – i agree with an above commenter that it may be one of my favorites of all time.

    we are in full-time ministry and live on missionary support, so our income is not the most extravagant. but, there are things that are important for me to make room for in our lives that i do think are important.

    we do not own a tv. we never have in our almost 9 years of marriage. we also live in an 1100 foot house with one bathroom as a family of 6 (4 sons and a husband!) but we are a 2 car family with both cars paid for in cash (a jeep wrangler and a honda odyssey minivan for our 4 kids!). good cars, but no car loans, was very important to me. also, our two oldest kids are in christian school. even with a minister’s discount it is a big portion of our monthly budget, but it is important to us for where we are right now.

    i guess simple is truly different for everyone and i think it is important to find the things important to us and then focus on those. thanks for this post. i loved it.

  23. Tsh…

    Profound and important and I think my very simple life does indeed need a copy of your book to head in the right direction :)

    Because I’ve come to realize that:

    Simplicity isn’t a matter of stuff or circumstances — it is a matter of focus.

    Have I stripped away all the distractions to the essence — so that I am simply focused on what matters most?

    I love what you are doing here, Tsh. Exciting and life-changing! Grace! Congratulations, my friend! I simply couldn’t be happier for you, your book, your work. Sitting here tapping on these keys, smiling from ear to ear.

    Blessings, Tsh….
    All’s grace
    Ann

  24. YES! Thank you :)

  25. sometimes paying more for something is MUCH better- a friend paid a lot for her vitamix blender- in the same time, I have had 4 blenders, and right now I don’t have a working blender….:)

  26. This is a lovely post. My kids all share a room (three of them. The baby sleeps with us) and we only own one car. A lot of people where we live think that we should be more focused on material things. I have a friend who manages to slip in her firm belief that children need privacy almost every time she sees me. (I think the room thing scandalizes her…) And we also have some things that are expensive and not-so-simple that we really savor and enjoy. I could totally relate about the ice cream ingredients, though I can’t quite make peace with the cost. We use local raw milk and organic free-range eggs to make homemade ice cream. It’s so delicious. And so darn expensive.

    Just ordered your book and I’m looking forward to reading it.

    Jennifer @ Mothering Outside the Lines
    http://mothering.com/jennifermargulis/

  27. I really like the idea that simple living needs to be defined by the one living and not others. You also really make an excellent point in regard to freeing yourself to live authentically to who we are.

    I really feel like you have done a great job with this concept in both the blog and the look forward to reading the book.

  28. I completely agree. Less “stuff”…more “treasures”…that’s the way we’re trying to live. The older I get, the more I’m content with just a few things that truly bring me joy.

  29. avatar
    Denise C. says:

    Wonderful post! And I must say I just bought your book through Amazon today- & cannot wait for it to arrive! Woo Hoo! Somethings that I love & are beautiful to me:

    -My set of All-Clad cookware. Yes they cost me a small fortune, but with the amount of cooking I do I wanted something that would last a lifetime & take a potential beating if my kids were near by. They are *solid*.

    -My hope chest. It was given to me by my parents when my eldest son passed away. I’ve struggled with wanting to keep it & sell it. Eventually I remarried & had 2 more beautiful children, & gave it to my daughter. She was an extremely hard pregnancy & almost did not make it full term. A gift to me, turned into a gift for her. :)

    -My Mac. My first Mac bit the dust earlier this year, & my husband surprised me with a brand new one! Yea he rocks!

    -Last, our espresso maker (& grinder). Our son had colic. And was/is a night owl- early riser. After he was born we would go to Starbucks 3-4 times a day to get a caffeine fix. After a month the cost was just too much, so we purchased a top-of-the-line espresso maker, & love it! We’ve had it 4 years now & use it daily (sometimes twice a day!) It was worth the money.

  30. I really enjoyed reading this post. I treasure the artwork on our walls. Many handmade frames and paintings from loved ones. Home decor can be so expensive, but we’ve tried really hard to make our home reflect who we are.

  31. Thanks for this post Tsh. I actually have discontinued my subscription to some other “simple” blogs because they come off as “a backwards race to see who can live with less stuff.” I’m already competitive by nature and struggle with perfectionism so making simple living a competition is counter-productive for me.

    As for the “things” I truly value, I would list our family car (we live in a climate where temperatures drop to -40 C in the Winter), my new second-hand digital camera (I love photography and am expecting my first child in February), and my lovely large kitchen.

    I simplify by cooking basic, unfancy, but healthy meals, walking and/or reading most evenings instead of shopping and/or watching tv, and saying no to social committments that are not meaningful to me.

    Thanks again for this post Tsh,
    Bre

  32. Thank you for this post. I enjoyed reading it.

    I tend to buy well-made, classicaly styled (read: non-trendy) clothes from places like LL Bean, and just wear them for 20 years. (I never was much of a fashion maven!)

    I also don’t skimp when it comes to buying books. And keeping my piano tuned and well-maintained.

    My dad taught me an important lesson, beginning when I was a small child, when he purchased a two-year-old Mercedes. People thought it was ridiculous that he’d spent so much on a car. But … it was paid for in a few years, and he drove it for twenty. Because it was such a well-made car, he rarely had to take it to the shop. Of course, he took very good care of it through the years.

    When he retired his ’72 Mercedes in ’92 and purchased a like-new ’90 Mercedes, no one said anything. :-) People who had bought cheaper cars and traded them in for new ones every four or five years ultimately spent a lot more over the twenty-year period than my dad had. (Plus, he made pretty good money when he finally sold the “antique”!)

    I can’t afford a Mercedes, but I do believe in spending money on the well-made product, and then caring for it and making it last. Money is saved in the long run.

  33. Wow – that’s good stuff that I want to really absorb… One thing I love to have/own is a fast connection to the internet! I love to be able to quickly and easily research everything from the different names of clouds, to common symptoms for something I think my kid might have, to videos of homebirths to pump me up for my own! :)
    Honestly, other than that… hmm… I don’t really know. :)
    Love your writing, Tsh!

  34. I am probably much older than most of you posting here, but the blog post and all of your comments really resonate with me. We downsized four years ago from a big family home to a 2 family flat in the same community. When we moved, we thought it would be a temporary arrangement. % years later, we are happier than we have ever been anywhere else, and we aren’t going anywhere. Moving forced us to edit down our furnishings, our wardrobes, and our “toys”. While we did make a serious attempt to get rid of some of our books, that turned out to be the hardest thing about moving, and we have more than ever now. So be it. That is something we value and love.
    I tell my 60 something friends who have been brave enough to make the down sizing move ( most are not),: “Think of it as your club house for the rest of your life”.

  35. I got your book a few days ago from amazon and I am loving it!!!! :-) LOVE this blog, too! Thanks!!!!
    Amy in CA

  36. I also loved this post. Something that I think is important is to take more time out to THINK. So often we get caught up in DOING that we forget the why behind it. Even if its just five minutes a day to think about who we are as moms, what our role is, what we are trying to accomplish. Simplicity can’t happen only by doing, we need to think about what we’re doing.

  37. I LOVE this post so much. I have some friends who are always judging others on owning too much stuff and it has really made me uncomfortable at times (apparently their ‘stuff’ is the right kind of stuff) and made me do a lot of soul searching. I have had periods in my life where I have had way more stuff than I was comfortable with but I have lots of other things that just make me happy to have around. Moving internationally 3 times in 4 years soon helped me sort out what I wanted to get rid of! But your post just kind of clarified the thoughts floating around in my head. Thanks!

  38. Hi Tsh! I met you briefly ages ago at a Blissdom conference. I lurk…

    Just ordered the book and can’t wait to get it. It looks BEAUTIFUL.

  39. I love this post. I have never come across such sensible and honest definition of simple living. My husband recently got an iphone from work, and he only has a few apps in his phone, but we love all those apps. Instead of downloading each and everything..instead he is very mindful of what apps are appropriate because our 2 year old son also plays with his iphone.
    We also tend to get rid of things we don’t want anymore on regular basis, so we never have clutter around the house. We are able to survive on my husband’s income alone and so far we are doing well. We don’t eat out, I always pack a picnic when we go out, even pack lunch boxes when we go for shopping..it is not about saving money for me, it is about sharing happiness with my family.

  40. this is a good word. Thanks for the encouragement. It is so easy to judge others who make choices that are different from ours. It’s also easy to compare ourselves to others.

  41. I’m going to Amazon and putting your book on my wishlist right now!

    And I’ll start thinking about the no-shampoo thing…wow.

  42. avatar
    Rebecca M says:

    HI I am a regular here at Simple Mom, but don’t comment very often, but wanted to say after reading this post, how much I appreciate all you stand for and present through this site. This topic is especially close to my heart and was exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you Tsh.

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