Simple home, simple life?

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by Emily

Emily Walker writes about making your home a haven, and is a stay at home mom to two littles. While she and her husband have fixed up their 1960s ranch home, Emily has learned lessons along the way in do-it-yourself, making do with what you have, simplifying, and living life to the fullest. When she's not busy bossing her husband around on remodel projects, Emily blogs at Remodeling This Life.

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I read this article recently over on the New York Times blog: Living With Less. A Lot Less and it really got me thinking. How many of us can relate to what he experienced?

Not in an exact way – as we don’t all have multiple million dollar businesses to sell. But, we start out in our nice little home, then we start to make more money so we get a bigger home and we fill it with stuff, more stuff, and more stuff.

Then we realize we have all of this stuff we don’t need or want and instead of one boss at a job to pay for everything, we have two jobs – one that pays for everything, and another where our “boss” is the space we’ve chosen – all the room to fill, all the yard to take care of, all the house that needs our attention.

When my husband and I moved from our very roomy 2500 square foot Victorian in New York back in 2005 to a simple little 1500 square foot Florida home, we were forced to simplify. I thought, “This is amazing. We are so great at making our life so much easier – we have less stuff, we spend less money – we are awesome!”

Seven years later, I am not sure I feel the same way.

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Sure, we bought a much smaller house with far less space to store stuff. We had much less money to spend on anything but home renovations, but there were no glamorous makeovers. It was just basic stuff to make it healthy and livable around here.

I felt like we were truly living the simple life. Small house. No extra stuff. An abundance of time together. Easy peasy.

But then the house was done being remodeled, so the extra money we’d been putting into house projects each month was left over. And magically, just like that, it got absorbed right into the budget.

We started to put our kids in after-school activities that we’d said no to before. We started to buy way more organic food than we did before. We bought another house (crazy, I know) to fix up on the side. And suddenly simple had changed.

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I still feel like we have a simple life – our home is cozy and maybe even a bit small for all of us. We live a daily life that feels true to us. The yard that sold us on the house takes much time to maintain, but also affords us the ability to have eight backyard chickens, plus room for the kids and dogs to play.

All of these choices take work. Until I read the NYT article, I didn’t really think about how complicated simple living can be, or how much simpler my life could be. But I thought a lot about the path the author of that article took and how his life had become so much simpler with his choice to live smaller.

Is the measure of a simple life how small our home is? Whether or not we have a yard? Or clutter? I realized that for me, my simple home isn’t simple because of the size or stuff in it, but because it was the springboard to our simpler lifestyle.

I recently created a Facebook cover photo that showed the lovely little life we’ve created – and none of it showed our home. It showed the happy things I do, the things that make me get up each day, the things that I love.

The life we live is as simple as we make it in our heart, and the place we lay our head at night is only a small part of that.

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So, as I look back on the seven years since our simplifying journey began, even though there are many differences in the day-to-day, the lifestyle we have chosen and the living we call “simple” remains so, not because of the home we live in or how much stuff is in it, but because of the way we feel here, the time we have together, the life goals we’ve made, and what living this way has done for opening new doors and starting new paths.

What do you think of the idea that where we live and what we have does or does not determine the simple life?

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Comments

  1. Well said.
    My life feels too busy and complicated right now, but we are building a small house in the country that I think will be just right for us. Sometimes I feel like I’m putting too much pressure on the house to make our lifestyle simpler and happier. But I think you’re right, it’ll be like a springboard for the lifestyle we crave.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Nat

    • That is exciting Nat! I wish you much luck – and hope that the home you build will be the springboard for the slower life you are hoping for!

  2. I was struck by that same article, Emily. What I keep coming back to is the idea of “enough”. When do we have enough (money, belongings, square footage)? How do we know it? Why is it so hard to feel satisfied with enough? I wish I had the answer – Id shout it from rooftops – but also then I’d know the key to contentment. Thanks for sharing your simple story!

    • Can you shout it loud enough for me to hear, please? :)

      I do think you are very right about “enough”. I think I come to the conclusion plenty of times a year that enough is enough and that is when the decluttering and purging process comes in. Everyone’s switchoff valve is different though :)

  3. I think the place where you live in and the stuff that you own does have a bearing on how simple your life is. There is a reason why country life is associated with simple living and life in the big cities is thought of as complicated. I too have experienced the difference!

    • But choosing a town to live in (rural or urban) is a far different choice than how big the house is. I think living rural can be simpler even if you live in a huge farmhouse and living urban can be simple even if it’s in 400 square feet. Urban vs. rural is far different than simply saying “my house is small so I have a simple life” or “my house is huge so my life isn’t simple”. And there are a lot of not simple things about living in the country – more driving comes to mind. I’ve done both and in none of the instances was house size the factor in how simple life was.

    • I loved the blog post. My life in the “city” (small city) was so less complicated than where I now live in the country. Now we have a huge yard to mow and maintain, snow removal, leaf pickup, moles in the yard, fungus rings in the yard, varmints, mice, snakes, bag worms. Ugh!! So to me, country equals more work!!

  4. YES!!! I so often feel as though we are told that we have to have less stuff to be simple and happy, and none of the rest of it is talked about. I totally agree that less stuff is often a spring board; but it’s not the only thing- and it’s not a prerequisite to a simple life. Each of us have different lives and so our simple is going to look different. For me, for example, I have a lot of things that belonged to my grandparents and my great grandparents and even further back. It’s “stuff” but it’s important to my family history (pictures, letters, a rocker that has been in my family for 200 years) I know it can be or become a burden if it’s too much or you don’t like it- but I LOVE it. I love telling stories about my great-grandmother and her chickens while my daughter looks at her and sees the family resemblance. During Veterens Day we pull out the letters my grandfather wrote to his mother and his wife from Germany during WWII. We pull out the medals given to my Great Uncle shot down over Berlin who didn’t make it out. For me this is simple and beautiful and brings connection to my family. It takes up time and space- but it’s so worth it!

    • Leigh, I love that!! There are definitely things, that take up space and require storage, that also can bring great joy and memories. I think that it’s important to remember that this life is different for everyone and having a clutter-free small house isn’t the answer for everyone.

  5. This is exactly the topic of my mind’s wanderings for the last few weeks. We like to live simply, have a small home with a biggish garden and eight chickens too, and LOVE that because of our little home with things to do outside the kids can be simple kids. But with each successive child has come stuff. Hand me down clothes to keep in case there are more babies, books, toys (even though I am ferociously protecting our ‘no playroom’ policy), more chores. I am trying to rethink what we want out of ‘simple’. Less stuff? Fewer activities? What do we value? How do we spend time? This post is helpful. So, many thanks!

  6. A few years ago, I quit my job and we downsized our life to one that reflected our priorities and values in my both time and money. I don’t think home size is THE or only indicator of simple living. For us, it has meant owning a home we can afford comfortably on one income, with a yard that is easily maintained in a short amount of time each week, in a neighborhood of community and near places we frequent so we can ride our bikes. I like to think that because we’ve been so intentional with our choices, our life has become more simple.

  7. I don’t think the size of your house or the amount of stuff you have “determines” whether or not you have a simple life, but for some people choosing a smaller house, or redefining how much “stuff” you really need starts them down the path to having a simple life. Maybe downsizing the house is the first step in making their lives more simple because too much time and resources is being devoted to maintaining the house. I read about your chickens and vegetable garden and yard work and I think “yuck” (sorry) and feel grateful that I live in a house by the beach where our yard consists of sand and stones, and there is no yard maintenance required. What constitutes a “simple life” is going to be as unique as the people living those lives.

  8. avatar
    Kelly Luna says:

    Maybe “simple” is the wrong word. I think it connotes a certain lifestyle that might not actually look simple or feel simple. I think the word we need to use instead is “deliberate” or “intentional” or “aware/conscious” – something along those lines. Choosing the kind of life you want based on your values and making deliberate choices to get you closer to what you want. Simplicity for the sake of simplicity isn’t enough, I think. There should be reasons behind doing what you do, regardless of what that means. Whether that means living in a smaller space or not, whether that means buying organic food or not, and so on.

    For me the goal is to be aware, conscious and deliberate of why I do what I do, how that fits into the life I want and simplifying where it counts for ME, not what that might mean for anyone else. It’s a work in progress, most certainly, and something I’m coming into as I realize that just going with the flow isn’t working. Being deliberate, making choices that are important to me are what it will take to make a good life. And yes, that does include simplifying in some areas, once I’m clear on my priorities.

    • Kelly, I so agree. While I like the idea of living more simply, “intentional” or “deliberate” better characterize my desires. “Simple” has become so ubiquitous and prized that I think we (I) can often make it an end in itself instead of a means to an end of ______ (fill in the blank with whatever are your family’s ultimate goals).

  9. Loved your post!

    I envy your ability to scale back. I often find myself so tired of working hard for someone else’s dream. We live in my husband’s childhood home which is mortgaged to the hilt, requires lots of maintenance, fixing up, etc., but I expect getting him to sell it will never happen. I work outside our home and at home, but try to incorporate my own “simpleness” to our life (for my own sanity LOL). The other commenters are so right! Simple is really different to each of us and also will be different as we move through life. Sometimes when you have little kids, it’s just a busy season of life and yet you can incorporate “simpleness”, appreciating simple fun, simple food, simple memories into that busyness. My youngest child is a sophomore in college and my husband and I are, for the most part, empty nesters (if that truly exists LOL). I have enjoyed simplifying my life, as in, making homemade food, bread, using fresh vegetables, fruits instead of using quick mixes, cereals, snacks etc; hanging out every single stitch of our laundry instead of using the dryer, loving on and talking goofy to my pets. It may seem that all of that cooking, laundry, and pets are more work and not really more simple, but in my mind they are simple joys and that’s all that matters.

    Great post! (I grew up in Florida and oh how I miss it!)

    Gina

    • Gina,
      I was thinking particularly about plenty of people that I know that simply don’t have the choice to leave the homes they are in and downsize because they owe too much to be able to sell where they live currently. I think so much more than one’s home determines a simple life and your situation is just one good example. You can have the simple life wherever you are.

  10. I started small and moved to medium. (How size that is). I’m quite happy here. But, the extra money does seemed to get absorbed, doesn’t? Things or activities get pushed aside until we have more money, then it all of a sudden becomes a realized dream and a necessity.

  11. Getting to simple living can be a lot like that pile of papers that sits on your desk. Eventually the important stuff gets taken care of. And the rest – with all the missed deadlines, etc. – goes in the recycling.
    For us simple living fundamentally has been deciding that we’re not going to get overwhelmed and try to fit too much in. We focus on what’s important and make sure that gets done. The rest, often falls by the wayside. And over the years, we’ve developed a comfort with saying “no” to invitations or potential new projects.
    Big house small house – you’re right, it has nothing to do with the house size or what you end up filling your day with. It’s really about the fact that you acknowledge we can only do so much in an hour, day, week, lifetime. Might as well dive deeply into what we can and not always be looking over our shoulder envying or regretting what we didn’t.
    I’ve written about some of how we get overwhelmed right here:
    http://fitfamilytogether.com/healthy-home-biz/over-scheduled-kids
    Glad you shared this insight!

  12. I loved the post and all the comments. What has struck me about everything written is when we realize that “stuff” doesn’t make us happy, it is easier to simplify. I work on this (but often feel I fail more than I succeed): that happiness comes from within, not without. Only I can make me happy, not the bigger or nicer home, not the things in the home or yard or even the other people. I have a pretty simple life, yet I want more. If I can realize I do have enough, that’s when I’ll be satisfied with my life, no matter how simple or complicated it is.

  13. Well said. Lately I feel like I’ve been striking a balance… And realizing that simple living CAN be synonymous with a full life. A friend recently told me that we have to say “yes” to our gifts/strengths/etc in life. Doing what we are meant to do can sometimes complicate things, but it still allows us to live simply with our life’s purpose.

  14. We recently moved our family of 5 from a 1700sq ft home to a 2 bedroom condo (about 1400sqft)…our goal is to get out of debt in a year. People have told us we are crazy to cram our 3 kids in one room ( they are 5, 3.5 and 10mos) and to give up our privacy, yard, storage etc….I decided, when we began the idea of downsizing, that we would no longer use “storage”. If there wasn’t room for it IN the house, then there simply wasn’t room for it.

    I so relate to what you’re saying though…we live in a time of the “glorification of BUSY”. You ask how people are doing and it’s a competition to see who is busiest. To me, it feels like a competition of whose life is more valuable or more important. For me to feel like we are living a simple life, I very intentionally underschedule our lives. I don’t like rushing, I don’t like being frantic and I don’t like doing activities just because everyone else is doing it! We say no to a lot of things….mostly because we are putting any extra money to our debt, but also to help keep our lives sane and manageable and that to me is living simply :-)

    Thanks for the insight!

  15. These are all great thoughts! We have been trying to “simplify” for several years now. We are pretty good about not bringing new stuff into the house unless we really need it – mostly out of the desire to get out of debt, partly to simplify. But, it is amazing to me every spring I tend to find bags of stuff to get rid of…again. Just when I think I have gotten rid of everything in the house that I don’t use, a new spring comes around and I realize most of the “maybe” pile from last year isn’t needed. It isn’t bringing me happiness to store stuff, so why do I keep it?

    For me, having a simple life means that my family and I can do what we want to do, whether it is hike in the woods, play outside, go to the beach or just sit and read a book. I feel like the more we get rid of the “stuff” the more time I have for the things I love. What is the point in taking care of all that extra and then not having the time for the things I find important?

    That being said, I do struggle with what is enough as well. I think anyone living in the western world would. There are so many enticing things to have, and if everyone else has it, I might need it :-) I try to limit my exposure to what is available. It helps deter me (and the rest of my family!) from the wanting :-)

  16. One of our mottos is: How we do home is how we do life. And I believe that is true. Stuff requires energy to maintain and manage, and the more stuff you have, the more energy it requires. Of course, not enough of the stuff you need can require a whole lot of energy, too, and make life much more complicated. (I’m sure glad I have a washer and dryer!) I think the answer of what is enough/too much can vary greatly. Minimalism is not a one-size fits all proposition, and it doesn’t automatically create a simple life.

  17. avatar
    Emily Woodall says:

    O.K., so I feel like I need to print out every comment on this thread and put them on sticky notes around my house. I read all the comments and I feel SO uplifted! You ladies rock! We are all living in different places with different lives, but I sense a common theme among all of us: to live our lives intentionally. I love it. Thank you all!

  18. This was so well put, Emily. My husband and I moved from a 3 bedroom 2 bath house to a 900 sq. ft. apartment last fall, and after all the decluttering and downsizing, I thought “Yay! We’re living so simply now!” But somehow, it still doesn’t feel like it. The money we’re saving gets absorbed into the budget way too often, and our schedules, ay yi yi! We’re pulled in a dozen directions each week. I’m beginning to realize that there’s more to simple living than not having as much stuff!

  19. Your thoughts are echoed in the song “All I Need” by Sara Groves. If you’ve not heard it before, you should have a listen.

  20. As long as we are in California, I don’t think it will be a ;simple life!’ ….too stressful

  21. avatar
    Kathleen Welnack says:

    I never comment on these things but felt compelled to chime in. My husband and I have lived in apartments as small as 800 sq ft and houses as big as 2400 sq ft. As a now family-of-five, we just last month moved from a 1000 sq ft apartment to a 2200 sq ft house with yard. In all honesty, while I think that living small might to some equate to living simply, this just isn’t true for me. I may ideally choose a slightly smaller square footage – we don’t absolutely need every last square foot we have – but having a space for my husband to office out of as opposed to cramming him behind the couch in the living room did indeed simplify (this example is one of many). We’ve probably doubled our inventory just since the move – we literally had no furniture – and have been the blessed recipient of lots of “seconds.” We’ve added some heirloom bedroom pieces from my husbands grandparents, some cabinets to store all my sewing/crocheting/crafting “stuff,” etc – all of which go a long way to simplify my life! So, my personal thought is that it’s indeed a lifestyle, yes intentionality, and time. TIME. Where we choose to spend our time is a giant source of simplicity (or lack thereof). We lived in DFW before moving to Little Rock two years ago (and now to Houston). My life changed dramatically from an on-the-go, over-scheduled, play-date crazed and frazzled momma to a home-centric, peace-filled (mostly!), not-afraid-to-say-no one. We downsized activities outside the home. We downsized our craziness. Sure, there were sacrifices (I do miss my DFW friends) but it’s a lifestyle I hope to now continue in the hustle and bustle of Houston, where we now reside. A bigger home, yes. But the kids have a yard – a yard! More to clean, yes. But room to put the “stuff” that makes our home just that, a home. It’s a balance – as is everything in life, and so it seems it’s a constant quest to achieve it. I do hope for some friends here and playdates for the kids now and then, but prayerfully will always keep my home as homebase. And keep choosing intentionally how we then spend our time and money here.
    Thank you for the reminder!

  22. I love it! Shared it to all my friends! The life we live with our love ones are far more important than the material things! Shed a tear seeing a happy pictures with your family.

    Rose

  23. Simple life is not always so … simple. Social pressures for one. Hubby and I have been living “simply” for the last 5 years… it lead to moving to our home town to be near family. Moving into a small (2 bedroom/converted livingroom) farmhouse. Buying everything we need second-hand. Having me stay at home with our 2 small daughters…

    But it is certainly NOT easy. we are stretched monetarily every month. We have been on “step 2″ of the snowball for the past 4 years and everytime we seem to be making progress, something explodes (appliances, car, house… our health….). Our families do not share our viewpoint on “simple living” and the view of the life we wanted to create by moving home just isn’t realistic…

    I guess more than anything, I’m looking for some rah-rah motivation here ;-) Any tips on getting out of the uncomfortable 2nd step snowball blahs? Esp. when there is NO understanding or support from family around you?

    • Maybe you could look for support from other circles–a mom’s group, church friends, old friends that you could reach out to by phone or email? I know I find encouragement when understanding friends talk with me, and I am further lifted up if we pray for one another right then.

  24. Wow what wonderful insights – to be honest this wasn’t really a post I would normally choose to read because, exactly like what this post talked about, when we see “simplify” we often think of “less” or “smaller”, and like what so many people have mentioned, it really is a lot more than that, thanks for everyone’s insights and wisdom! I started realizing this when we bought a dryer right before our eldest was born – I know it sounds weird, but we live overseas and most locals do not use a dryer, they just hang their clothes out to dry and we had been doing that. Now, in terms of money and electricity, it certainly was “less” but timewise, it most certainly was not, and the clothes wore out easily and quickly. Since getting the dryer we felt life got so much simpler haha! And that’s just one small example of many other things, like choosing to live close to my husband’s work (so that he sometimes can come home for lunch and see the kids!), and within walking distance to markets/stores/other places. We live in a large busy city but our pace of life is not hurried due to the time saved, what a blessing!

  25. I think that you’re right that it can be a springboard, but a simple house can still be the home base of a cluttered head. Or a cluttered schedule or cluttered life. We live in a small house, but simplification sometimes feels like its own job since we have relatives who are constantly giving us and our kids more stuff. I don’t know how to tell them to stop bringing random crap with them when they visit!

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