What would you tell a young twenty-something about simple living?

Book edits are the name of my current game, and since this site has over eight years of content—the large majority of it relevant no matter the year—I thought I’d dust this off and bring it to the front for those of you who missed it. There was a season when every week I’d share a reader question, give my answer, then let the rest of you fine people share your thoughts in the comments. This is one of the better ones, so I thought I’d give those of you who’d like to add your answers to the gold mine that’s already in the comments section. Tell us what you think…


It’s unfathomable that next summer will be my 20th high school reunion. Because last I checked, I’m still living in an apartment with three other girls, drinking a daily dose of Dr. Pepper and listening to The Cranberries while stressing over that geology final.

Apparently not, according to the three people calling me Mom every thirty seconds or so, along with certain items on my daily to-do list like, “Talk to kid’s speech therapist” and “Schedule Skype meeting with that editor.” I blinked and became a grown-up.

This is one reason I have a soft spot for this email from Rebecca, a reader who asked me a great question. And because I bet many of you are either in her shoes or mine, I thought I’d bring it up to all of you, to have you join with me in responding.

She asks:

Hi Tsh (and everyone else)!

What do you wish you had known in college (and in your first few years post-college) about the art of simple living? Were there things you wish you had done with your time, your money, your energy? Or things you wish you hadn’t bothered with? I am a college senior, graduating in a year’s time, and I really love the idea of a simple life that allows you to spend time and resources on the things you really want to do, and I’d love some advice on how to try to live that way now.

Thanks!
Rebecca

My answer:

I don’t have a lot of regrets, but I do have one… I didn’t pay off my school loans as fast I could. I bought in to the idea that they’re no big deal, so I let them linger, and linger, and linger. In fact, I didn’t pay them off in full until ten years later, which is also not a big deal, but looking back, I could have done it sooner.

I am glad, however, that I traveled soon after graduation, working for a non-profit in Kosovo (where I ultimately met Kyle, so that worked out). There is hardly ever another time in your life when you have the most freedom and fewest responsibilities, so I highly recommend getting out there and serving in some capacity. Not escaping—serving. You’ll learn more than you imagine about the world, and by proxy, about yourself.

Also, learn to cook simple, whole meals using real food. Don’t rely on the processed boxed stuff. Your health and the environment will thank you.

What would you tell a 20-something about simple living?

And finally, don’t sweat about finding that perfect job right out of college. Most people do quite a few things anyway, so just do something. Earn some money to pay off those loans (if you have them), learn what it means to have a solid work ethic, and find a mentor who could answer your questions and models a life you’d like.

In a nutshell: be debt-free, work, cook real food, find a mentor, travel. Your early 20s are meant for exploration—how you’re made, what the world is like, what your community needs from you. It’s okay if you don’t know those things yet… go and find them.

To answer your question, I wish I had better known that money management matters and that there’s real freedom in being debt-free. I’m glad I had personal experience in learning how the globe at large lives and works (Blue Bike has some of these stories). I wish I learned sooner the art of slow, local food, and how it’s better for both me and my community. I’m glad I served others. I wish I didn’t spend so much energy searching for the perfect job, and instead focused on contentment with the work ethic I was learning by waitressing, gift-wrapping, and teaching English abroad. Because I didn’t really discover my true passion until my early 30s—and that’s okay.

roadmap

The art of simple living means living holistically with your life’s purpose. Use this time to discover that purpose, and align the parts of your life with that. It’ll come together.

And hey: If you’d like to hear my thoughts fleshed-out a bit more, when you sign up for my free monthly-ish personal newsletter, where I share my thoughts on the writing process, travel, and more, you’ll get a copy of my free e-book you can’t get anywhere else—it’s called 20 Things I’d Tell My 20-Something Self.

Your turn:

Okay, AoS readers, I’d love to hear your answers to Rebecca’s question… What do you wish you had known in college (and in your first few years post-college) about the art of simple living?

77 Comments

  1. Maryalene

    I wish I would have known that accumulating so much debt and stuff early was a trap from which it would take YEARS to dig out.

  2. James

    Tsh was correct on everything she said. Travel is important and paying off debt is equally important. Like her, I will finally be paying off my loans 10 years later next year. Once you finished traveling, you may have the urge that it is time to grow up and be responsible. Don’t let society define these two things for you, such as what type of car you drive, what clothes you wear, and what part of town you live in. I fell into this trap and it was slowly killing me. I am just now forging my own path. Responsibility and success is different for everyone. Live a life that is successful to you.

  3. Rebecca

    Learn solitude. The ability to enjoy one’s own company is at the heart of keeping a life simple.

    • Jen Zeman

      Amen! I’ve alway been an introvert and in my twenties & early thirties always felt pressured to be more social. Embracing alone time is the key to finding yourself and your true happiness.

    • Dufour

      SO true!

    • Guest

      Great one!

    • Gail

      This is fantastic advice.

      I love the line from the movie, Sabrina: “You seem embarrassed by loneliness.”

      Don’t be.

  4. Sharon

    Travel! I have very few regrets in life. In fact, the only one that I can think of is that I did not travel. As said above, travel with a purpose. Learning another culture can only help your future. It is much more difficult (and expensive) to travel once you have a family. I would also focus on each day. I remember in my twenties always looking forward to that next step. I didn’t take the time to appreciate where I was both physically and emotionally. OK-one more. 🙂 I wish that I had found yoga earlier in life. I found it in my late twenties, but I wish I had found it as a child. Yoga has helped me through so much and I know I could have used some of the breathing techniques in my early twenties! Have fun and enjoy life!

    • Tsh

      I was just telling my (almost) 10-year-old how I spent so much of my early days wishing I was older—probably until I was in my mid-twenties, in fact. Looking back, I can see how I didn’t fully enjoy being in the present like I should have… Funny how we sometimes learn this later in life. (I still have lots of ‘present’ to live, of course.)

    • Alissa

      Yes! That is our one big regret. That we didn’t travel more when we were coming out of school. We were in too big of a hurry to “grow up” and “be responsible,” so we missed the opportunity to use our early earnings to experience the world. My husband didn’t backpack through europe and I didn’t spend a CityYear. Instead, we got married and then saved frantically and bought a house as fast as we could. And now we have a house payment and CAREERS (and kids) that limit our travel.
      Travel. Then travel some more.

  5. Karen

    Material possessions can be burdensome. Think carefully about what you are acquiring and the upkeep (cleaning, repair, moving) involved. Make sure your “stuff” means something. Purge regularly, Trust me, you won’t need your college text books 20 years later! 🙂

    YES to travel, and finding a mentor and learning to manage your money so you can give away more!

  6. Martha

    To not buy any knickknacks ever and to pay more for good-quality, well-fitting clothes. I am a hardcore nester and wasted a lot of money on small stuff and “deals” on clothing.

    • Tsh

      YES, Martha. Good one.

    • Lindsey

      Yes, I agree! When you first get a job out of college having a steady paycheck may make you feel like you can buy whatever you see or want. I wish I could go back 5 years (i’m now 30) and not have bought a lot of the stuff I did, mostly clothes and knickknacks. I feel like it is cluttering my life now, especially because my husband and I are now wanting to move and simplify.

    • Jenni DeWitt

      Yes! I did the same. I feel like I spent my 20’s collecting and my 30’s purging and simplifying. It’s exhausting and, like Lindsey said, very cluttering both physically and emotionally. I could have saved myself a lot of hassle by being more intentional about my purchases.

  7. Creativeme

    In my college years I was obsessed with staying on my very very strict budget. I was terrified that I would fail at being independent so there was zero flexibility. To me, accessing credit was the same as failing, so I just didn’t. I went without a lot of things my classmates had, I said no to social events so often that people stopped asking, I didn’t have any parents footing the bill or even helping, and it was 100% my own $ from rent to food to transportation and school supplies.
    So my advice to a 20 something is to find balance. Make sure there is a small flexibility for fun, make a bit more money to be able to do it! But be mindful that money management and even “good” debt have genuine long term consequences. Debt is something that sometimes must happen to get ahead in school (or get a house). Debt should NEVER happen for stuff or fun when income is uncertain (or ever really). It’s part of being a grown up… Taking responsibility for your own actions, knowing the difference between a want and a need. And no, you do not “deserve it” if there is no money in the budget, you don’t “need it” just because all your friends have one. Have fun, but keep it real to your own budget and no one else’s!
    That is the core to simple living, wanting what you need and not succumbing to peer pressure to want what everyone else is wanting.

    • Gail

      I agree with this. Don’t let the pendulum swing too far to the other side and be too severe with yourself. Don’t break your health trying to save money, for instance.

  8. Maggie

    I agree with all of the above as well, and would add not to accumulate too much stuff, as somebody else already said, it will take you years to dig yourself out from underneath it. Also most importantly when you are younger you do not think of saving, because you think you have all the time in the world, but you will be sooo glad that you did and time goes by faster than one thinks!
    Save every month from your paycheck, even if it is only 50 or maybe a 100 dollars a month, later invest it, in 30 years it will make all the difference: a peace of mind!

  9. Melissa

    I second the quality clothing thing – I’m 33, and I’m just now learning this. Also, when my husband and I registered to get married, we registered for *so* much stuff that we haven’t used/didn’t need/don’t like anymore. We did it because that’s what all of our friends had done. There was very little thought put into it, and I deeply regret that. Looking back on that part of my life, I’m shocked and dismayed at the amount of money that slipped through my fingers, simply because I was too lazy to cook, or too busy to fix that pair of pants, or too consumed with what other people thought of me to resist buying a second package of photo Christmas cards. There is so much peer pressure, and so much of it is imagined – chances are, most people aren’t thinking about you nearly as much as you think they are. So get out there, only buy things that you love or need, and don’t spend so much time thinking about other people’s opinions of you. 🙂

    • Lindsey

      Yes! Love your thoughts and completely agree!

    • Alissa

      Oh yea. Don’t register for china.
      We also registered for ALL THE STUFF when we got married young. It was easy to justify in our minds – we had NOTHING, so we need everything. But so much of that has been sitting in boxes. If you are getting married young, ask for travel money!

  10. Diane

    I echo all of Tsh’s advice. Definitely pay off your debts & start to save money~ I wish I had! But at the same time enjoy where you are in life at the moment… life consists of different seasons, and you can’t do it all & be everywhere at once, so enjoy the moment, even if it’s not perfect.

    The other thing I would say, is buy less & buy quality. Figure out what’s important to you, and buy quality in those items and take care of them. Things like clothing, shoes, purses, backpacks, electronics~ buy a few items you really love & enjoy. It’s easier to keep up with a few nice items, than to have tons of second-rate stuff that you don’t really like. It’s fine to purchase some things used, especially furniture, if you’re going to move around a lot. You don’t want to have tons of things to store & move before you’re ready to settle down.

  11. Debbie

    1. Be content with whatever job you can get and find purpose in it, even if it isn’t your dream job. You have the potential to waste your time and experience by focusing on what isn’t good about it rather than using it to grow yourself and connect with others by focusing on the good stuff.
    2. Learn how to cook real food. Doesn’t have to be complex but hold your own in the kitchen. Can’t go wrong if you have a good recipe (usually)! This will help you health-wise but if you get married down the road, you’ll be more prepared to not have to live off Hamburger Helper til you die. 🙂
    3. Travel if you can afford it (or raise money and do some missions work, get involved with YWAM, Peace Corps . . .whatever). I never got a chance to because I was too caught up in relationships and finding the perfect job and wanting to settle down. To this day, I have yet to be on a plane (sad, I know). Make it happen!

    • Adriana

      All of this.

  12. Marylou

    it has been many years since I graduated from college but my lessons learned are: trends and fads are transitory. That goes for clothing, lifestyle influences, etc. Look for friends who are kind, have good judgement and are trustworthy. Those post college folks can really influence your early choices. Don’t be afraid to be alone. It really helps you find yourself. Save. Always put yourself first. $25/week over years with compound interest insures a decent retirement no matter how much you make or what you do. Try new things. Question the staus quo if it isn’t working for you. And travel! Your health is your most precious gift. Guard it like your life depends on it because it does.

  13. Kimberley

    I love this question! I think Tsh’s answers are all things that first came to my mind. I learned to cook and bake at a young age so that was an amazing skill in my twenties and through university. It saved me money and made entertaining friends lots of fun. I even taught cooking lessons to students to help others eat healthy. I didn’t own a car. I loved public transit and didn’t buy a car until I was 35 and had my first baby. This saved me lots of money and added to my pursuit of a greener life. I made every little apartment and room that I had through my twenties into a home. I didn’t spend lots of money but useful and beautiful perfectly captures it. I created a small sanctuary for myself. Full of books and art supplies and photos. Looking back I had some crappy apartments but every single one felt homey and comforting. Finally, I wish I had travelled. I went to work and worked ridiculously long hours right out of university. I would happily have had more debt later on if I had traveled.

    • Jamie

      Kimberly I love this:

      ” I made every little apartment and room that I had through my twenties into a home. I didn’t spend lots of money but useful and beautiful perfectly captures it. I created a small sanctuary for myself. Full of books and art supplies and photos. Looking back I had some crappy apartments but every single one felt homey and comforting.”

      I’m 31 and still just learning this. I WISH I had known this skill when I was in my 20’s.

  14. Meredith

    In addition to all that Tsh said, beyond short stints of travel, don’t be afraid to move somewhere completely new for a couple of years. It is challenging to be in a new place by yourself, but you can learn so much about your own priorities, making friends, enjoying your own company, and stretching out of your comfort zone. I gained lifelong friends and new perspective in each of the places I lived in my twenties.

  15. Heatherly

    Instead of spending your hard earned money on things you don’t need, save as much as you can so that you can do big things that you really want to, like traveling or buying one big thing that you would really enjoy. If I could go back to my early twenties I’d tell myself not to waste time waiting for a significant other to make me feel whole, but to spend that time becoming the best version of myself that I could.

  16. Karen in AZ

    Remember that you are at the beginning of an independent (from your parents) life. I have too many starting out who are compelled to attempt living at the same level their parents live at after 20-30 years of investment. It’s not possible and is a road leading to major debt!

    • Aimee

      Karen – this is SO wise! I’m embarrassed to say that my husband and I looked at some of our neighbors (we were in our 20s and our neighbors were in their 50s!!!) and thought, man, what are we doing wrong? We weren’t doing anything wrong but they had been saving for THIRTY more years than we had! Such a great, great point you’ve made.

  17. Carrie in TX

    This goes along with all of the freedom from debt and travel advice – don’t get a pet. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my cats but getting them when I moved in my first apartment was a huge commitment and I realized too late it meant I had to rule out some big life choices such as travelling/working overseas for a long period of time. Being a responsible pet owner means you should be relatively settled before adopting a furry friend.

  18. Lee @ Modern Granola

    So inspiring- especially since I am in my mid-twenties and find this advice very relevant. Thanks for the post!

  19. Jennie

    Don’t let anyone else shape your life for you – no one has to live with your choices but you right now. I can’t tell you how many things I did because parents/friends/society expected it of me – I let it choose my major, the first job I took out of college, let others pressure me into buying a house too young, etc. That outside pressure doesn’t go away, but I’ve finally learned to follow my own heart, tempered with a healthy dose of realism.

    Really think about what you want your life to look like 5 or 10 years down the road and start paving the way for that now. Do you want to buy a house or start a business or do anything that takes a significant chunk of money? Start saving for it now. Do you think you might want to be a stay at home parent when you get married and have kids? Don’t commit to anything financially that you couldn’t pay for on one income. If you have a quarterlife crisis like I did, don’t be afraid to get help – friends, family, therapy, whatever. Budget, budget, budget and travel, travel, travel. You’re young and have relatively little responsibility, so enjoy it! You don’t need to have everything 100% figured out right now, so revel in that uncertainty – you might make a few wrong choices, but one of those could lead you down an amazing path you never even expected. Prepare for the future, but take full advantage of the present!

  20. Megan

    I would tell my younger self that it’s not a competition. After college graduation, I continued on to law school (and amassed TONS more in student loan debt … but that topic is for another day) while all of my college friends started their “real” jobs. Because they were bringing in an income, they could afford to shop, eat out, and entertain to their hearts’ content. I felt the need to keep up and put it all on numerous credit cards. Here I am 15 years later and still digging out from it all (almost done thanks to Dave Ramsey’s plan).

    Because I’ve been digging out from all of that, my husband, who has always been very responsible with his money, and my two young children are suffering as a result of my irresponsibility. I would LOVE to travel with my husband and show my kids the world and save for retirement but all of that is on hold for now. And for what? So that I could buy the latest in fashion and be seen at the latest new restaurant?! Who cares?!

  21. Mama Rachael

    I’m going to go against the flow here and say paying off student loans more depends on situation and context. First, consolidate your loans, get the lowest interest rate you can, then consider… are you wanting to settle down? Is your money already in a place where it is earning good interest? more than the interest on your loans? And find someone you can chat with about this stuff, I don’t understand all of it, but there are times when its worth holding your loans. but it really does depend. I got out of college debt free, and went straight overseas. (coming upon on 20th high school reunion time, too).

    For sure, start saving for retirement (find someone to walk you through this if you aren’t confident in it!). Putting in a couple thousand in your 20s and then nothing in your 30s will do more for you than if you don’t start till you are 40 (or even waiting till you are 30!) compound interest, baby!

    Don’t be quick to deck out your place, even though doing so lets you feel *so* grown up. Not if you settle in the states, or overseas. I sent overseas, but I was too quick to acquire things. but getting those things made me feel so grown up.

    And don’t acquire credit card debt. That is a bad deal, all around.

    And remember that the simple life looks different for different people!

  22. Dana

    Write things down! You think you’re never going to forget that amazing person or event, but you do. Trust me. Also, go for the jobs that look cool/exciting – Peace Corps, ski or beach resort, water rafting guide. You may not make any money for awhile, but you’ll meet interesting people and have life-changing experiences!

  23. Jenni DeWitt

    I feel like I spent my twenties collecting stuff and my 30’s getting rid of it. I wish I’d been more cognitive about my purchases (and a little less impulsive) – sometimes less really is more. And I agree with the other readers: TRAVEL. Move to a place you’ve always wanted to live. Go on that trip you’d like to take “some day.” It’s the perfect time in life to have those experiences and make some memories. I wish I could tell Past Jenni that.

  24. Linda Sand

    If you have a couple good friends from your school days, make the effort to continue those friendships. In their 60s now my sister-in-law still has a yearly “girl’s weekend” with school friends and they support one another in ways you cannot begin to imagine at your age. Plus, I remember my grandmother, about age 80, saying, “There are so few people who still call me Emily.” That shared history becomes more precious as time goes by.

    Walk! Everywhere all the time. When I stopped walking a lot I gained about 3 pounds a year. After 33 years of that I am appalled at where I am now. Never stop walking several miles per day. Buy a pedometer to track your steps if that helps but walk!

  25. Jen M.

    Give yourself the time and space to figure out who you are and what’s important to you. Especially as you start to work, take note of what you enjoy doing and what you don’t. Own it. Just because everyone else at work is trying to climb the ladder and attain a certain position doesn’t mean you have to. Figure out if you enjoy managing people, or not, if you enjoy working in groups or alone, etc. Use those learning to shape your career choices. Similarly, learn what you enjoy in your personal life and what is important to you. Maybe it’s travel, but maybe it’s not. Learn where the balance is FOR YOU.

  26. Sharilyn

    I like to think I lived my post university life in the best manner I knew how- I’m proud of what I did and still do- lived deliberately and very free- I didn’t have much more stuff than could fit in the back of a pick up truck- until after getting married & having kids! I wish I had travelled more but am still happy with where I went! I would say travel lightly and often- walk softly and leave no trace!

  27. Lee Ann

    If you are considering post graduate education, find out how and if you can get someone else to pay for it! I did my PHD in science and the government payed for it and I got a stipend. After my post doc, when I had given 10 years to science, and I had two small kids and was having a hard time balancing it all, I was able to leave my career without having the burden of debt. if you do need to pay for secondary education think long and hard about the cost, and how much you will likely make when you are done.

  28. Laura

    I found all these answers both interesting and valuable. I am in my 60’s and (yes – hopefully you never stop learning and growing and changing!!!) I believe the thing that I wish I would have known in my 20’s was somewhat different from the other answers… what I would tell you is that PEOPLE are the most important thing in life. Having family and friends around you in close community is what makes life wonderful and memorable. A year or two ago I ran across a magazine called Kinfolk which expresses this (especially in the first few issues…) perfectly. You can go to Kinfolk.com and watch their lovely videos to get a taste of the things in life that are memorable. This attitude toward living can fit into any lifestyle, but it usually (at least in my experience) has to be something that you deliberately do. I hope your life is totally blessed and all you hope for it to be!

    • Elizabeth

      “What I would tell you is that PEOPLE are the most important thing in life. Having family and friends around you in close community is what makes life wonderful and memorable.”

      I think what you said here needs to be highlighted more. Very profound, simple, truthful. This is exactly what I want my children to know. Be kind, because people, not things, are what life is about.

  29. Stephanie

    So, SO many good thoughts above! I agree with so many of them. I believe someone has already mentioned it but do not wait for a significant other to start living. Be you. Find your path. If you believe in God, pray about what you should be doing and listen to the answer. If there is a person meant to be in your life they will show up while you are following the path you are meant to be on. Have a hobby. Be involved in things that interest you, that you have a heart for.

    So many people say “Party when you are young! It’s a stage. Everyone does it.” NO! They don’t. It is a lie. Do not listen. Don’t waste your time and money. You will regret it. Same advice goes for debt. Other than a house and maybe a car (and maybe health care, depending on what country you are in) there is absoluteky NOTHING you need to take out a loan for! Do not get caught up in trying to keep up with what the marketers say you should have or what the Jones’ next door have. You will never catch up.

    Travel. Even if it is not far. See a new part of your own country. Or even your own city.

    Think all your decisions through carefully. Only allow things and people into your lufe that you truly love.

    All the best as your live your 20’s. Enjoy them. Relish them. LIVE them!!

  30. Amy Rogers Hays

    Oh I love this! I think that a lot of what I learned in my 20s was how to be healthy under stress: eating real food, exercising outside of a free college-gym, learning to take a sabbath, and learning to trust my instincts about healthy and unhealthy people. It’s not that there isn’t room to love people who are unhealthy, there is! But a ministry is different than a close friendship–and you want those people to be stable and trustworthy. I’ve got one more month before I hit my 30s, and the blogging community (as well as my church community) has been so amazing at showing me women in their 30s who are amazing–giving me great role models to follow. I think that my 30s I will likely be learning about feeling guilty about not accomplishing everything and feeling more comfortable in my own skin. That of course would be a great lesson for the 20s as well!

  31. Gina Comer

    Oh yes! To all. Invest in positive relationships and journal your experiences is all I could add.

  32. Laura

    This is all so good!

    Don’t fall into the trap of thinking stuff makes you adult. My husband and I are still getting rid of the possessions that we bought individually because it was what we thought an adult was supposed to have. Small appliances, furniture sets, electronics, tools. We use the same 2 knives, cutting board, and 2 plates every day. That’s really all we need.

  33. Lisa E

    I love everything said so far. One thing I would like to add is to make a home from wherever you are right now! Whether it’s a studio apartment, a large rental house or a room you share, make it home. You do not need to wait like I did for that perfect place to finally call home. I waited till we owned our home, then waited for a better home,so on and so forth. At 56 I know home is where my heart is. My kids have grown up and have families of their own, and I finally get it!

  34. Allison

    Work hard, play hard! Work as hard as you can to pay down debt (I even picked up a waitressing job on top of my full-time job). But try to find that balance to keep yourself sane – this is the tricky part. Travel, hang out with your friends, make some great memories, take chances!

  35. Amy B

    A wealth of solid advice here! Much that I agree with has already been said: travel, journal, purchase fewer but better quality pieces, start saving early.

    To this list, I’d add this: after you decide how you’ll spend a period/”season” of your 20s, embrace your choice, avoid comparing it to others, and recognize that you’ll still have time to try out other experiences too.

    I joined Peace Corps after college and absolutely loved it. Even so, there were times during the first year when I found myself slightly envying the lifestyle of college friends who were already in the “20-something in the city” period of their lives. During a visit home, I recognized that the opportunities my US-based friends were having would be there for me after I finished Peace Corps service in another year.

    Letting go of that comparison made my second year of Peace Corps service even better than the first! And later on, I got to enjoy my experiences as a young professional in the city.

  36. young

    Travel. Remember money is a tool. And before buying something, ask yourself if you’d be willing to cart it across the country.

  37. Jessica in Canada

    I am going to buck the trend and say don’t travel if it’s not your passion, just because everybody else is, everyone is telling you to, and don’t go into debt for it.

    My husband and I got married while we were in university. Upon graduation everybody said “Travel now while you’re not tied down!” I agree, it made sense to do it then, and I felt a lot of pressure, but we just weren’t feeling it. After years of uncertainty, I was just ready for some stability and I wanted to be back home. We bought a house in a good market, started our careers, and started a family.

    Since we have affordable housing, a simple lifestyle, paid off student loans, have flexible jobs, and homeschool our children, we travel all the time — WITH our kids. You just have to do what’s right for you.

    • Amy B

      Good point! Reading your post makes me wish I’d added a caveat to my own. Travel, IF it’s your passion.

  38. Maggie

    I can look back now and truly say that I should have chosen to be single longer and truly discovered who I was back then rather than putting that off for 30 some odd years after my children were grown. In my twenties I ‘thought’ I needed to be married. I had 3 children by the time I was 29 and that defined me for many years. I loved being a mother but I should have discovered my real self first.

  39. gina

    I once read that nothing influences your life as much as who you choose for your spouse! True! I have a good one: educated, great career, great to talk to, good values, etc. But we did have issues at first: different backgrounds, family traditions, ideas about money, how we would practice our faith, etc. And these were almost deal breakers until we ironed them out. I met him in my twenties. I advise you to find someone who shares the same values, money attitudes, parenting beliefs, and religion. Just easier sailing.
    Also, know that most people hire those they like over the most qualified person. So, get a job were you want to work, even if it is low paying at first. As new jobs become available, and they like you/ know you, you can move up .
    Pay off student loans even if it means living with parents to do so. So grateful my husband did this with medical school loans. Gives your life a fresh start.
    Lastly, dont care what anyone thinks. When you do, you’ll feel you have to buy a new car, live in a certain neighborhood, and go to Disney a lot with you kids! You don’t. 🙂

  40. Adriana

    I’d echo much of what is posted here. The particular strategies that worked for me (and that I wish I’d known prior to my early 30s):
    1. Stop reading women’s magazines, and/or repeat the mantra “Comparison is the thief of joy.” These magazines glamorize a lifestyle that no one actually lives, and promote a level of consumption that becomes dangerous. Part of being in your 20s is surviving moments of insecurity and discomfort, and you can’t buy your way out of it. Dig deep and find healthy (and active) coping mechanisms instead of believing that if you dressed a certain way/if you drove a certain car/if your apartment was decorated just so/if you did x, y or z on the weekends with your friends, you’d snap out of it.
    2. Save money every month, even if it’s only a little bit. $25 a paycheck adds up, and you never know when you’ll need it.
    3. Quality over quantity. I taught high school in my 20s, and my life changed the moment I started wearing high-quality shoes to stand in all day. In fact, I still own the first pair I bought 12 years later, and they are still comfortable and look amazing.
    4. Pay off your debt, don’t accumulate more, and spend your fun money on great life experiences. While it took me a bit to pay off my own credit card debt, most of my favorite experiences in my 20s were with good friends, and doing something off the wall. The beauty of having college friends spread out all over the country and world is that you have great excuses to visit and learn new places. The bonus: this has caused us close college friends to develop deeper relationships as adults, but ones that are still rooted in our youthful wanderlust. Next spring, at 35, a group of us (and SOs, for once!) are taking a reunion trip abroad to backpack, and all because we worked across time and distance to nurture those relationships.
    5. Own what you love to do if you find it early, be open to learning and growth, but maintain “you” time, too. While I agree with many of the comments about not needing to love your first job(s) (my husband is a prime case of this, too), I was lucky enough to stumble into a field that I adored right off the bat. However, I was constantly pressured to do something “bigger,” and I wish I’d stood up for the importance of my work earlier. That said, my compensation strategy was to be hyper-involved, learn, and seize great professional opportunities that came my way. While I wouldn’t trade those professional experiences in my 20s, as they led to amazing opportunities down the road, I wish I’d been a bit less career-focused, and spent some of my energy establishing a healthy work-life balance, and developing an identity outside of my work.
    6. Read blogs. There are so many times when I have felt like I’m the only one wrestling with a particular question, or trying to find my place. Turns out, there’s a whole lot of other people brave enough to put themselves out there and talk about the same thing. Find your digital tribe and support network.

  41. Guest

    I can’t believe that prudent, thoughtful me is saying this but it’s been on my mind since I read this post. I would agree with everything you wrote but I would add – take risks. I traveled extensively in my 20s and had, by most standards, a great decade. I look back though and I see that I was waiting a lot and I really didn’t want to make mistakes. I wanted to take sailing lessons but didn’t because my husband traveled full time for work and I was waiting until he wasn’t traveling (which didn’t happen until we had kids – in our 30s). I wanted to see more shows at the Kennedy Center but my friends weren’t interested. So i didn’t go to most of them.

    Don’t get me wrong. I definitely did some things solo but I should have done MORE things. It’s the best time in your life to try new things and take risks before you have kids, a house, etc.

  42. Yvonne, The Dahlia Scene

    I think the one thing that I wish I had known earlier was how to budget well. I got good at it once I moved to California, but it wasn’t an easy lesson. You don’t want to live off Ramen just because you didn’t budget til the end of the month. That being said I wish I had the luxury of being able to pay off my student loans earlier, but I didn’t and couldn’t without a lot of help. I’m still paying on the largest one, but I hope to get it paid off before I hit 20 years out of college!

  43. Vicki K

    For three months after college, I had a job that barely covered my living expenses–but it totally motivated me to get out there and find a better paying and more interesting position.

    When I got the higher-paying job I got serious and paid off my student loan and car loan within 14 months. I found a better place to live–but got a roommate to keep the cost the same

    Along the way, I bought one piece of clothing per month – good quality, worked with the rest. Fortunately, friends needed me to babysit their furniture, so I only bought one dresser for $75. I was able to save for a few great trips that I took from age 24 to 29.

    So what would I do differently? Two things. Save SOME amount even when you are paying down debt. It would have been good discipline because there will always be a reason not to save. That whole time I didn’t have an emergency fund–fortunately I didn’t have such an emergency, but I it would have been a good idea anyway.

    Second, I would be more confident in my choices. Adriana is totally right–don’t read women’s magazines! My choices did not match up to the clothes and apartments and beauty treatments and attitudes in those pages. And even though I managed to not give in, those magazines created a lot of unnecessary desire and I felt that I was a strange duck even though my choices were working well for me!

  44. Robin

    It’s okay to try something and have it not work out. I wanted to be so responsible when I graduated from college and felt like there was no room for failure. Wishing now I had taken a few more calculated risks with jobs, housing, and travel decisions.

  45. Thora

    I think what I have to say is think long and hard about what you want to do, want to be, and go for it. For me, this made my twenties look very different than many on here, and a very simple life in some ways, but more complicated in others. My husband and I got married when I was 22, and he was 23. We had four children while I was in my twenties, and while that is a lot of responsibility to take on (hence the complicated life), it also has focused us on what truly matters in any life, simple or not, which is people and your relationships with them. The simple life has come in as we have pursued a my husband’s dream of a Ph.d, which he will graduate with this year. I don’t know what your dream is, what you really want in life, but whether it’s travel, marriage, kids, a certain career – go for it. Whether the choice pays highly, or not at all. (Now, I am not saying go into debt, either. Debt is the nemesis of dreams). Whether you are pursuing your dreams or not, time keeps passing, so there is truly no better time than the present for going for whatever it is in a big way. And if you don’t know yet what you want – experiment around! I did a study abroad in college, for which I extremely grateful for. I lived for a semester in Egypt, and because of all the Arabic I took ended up minoring in Arabic, but although it was not a dream I had cherished forever (I went because the study abroad I originally wanted was closed for regional violence), it opened up my eyes in many new ways, and was the largest influence on my undergraduate studies. Instead of touristy travel, I would recommend something that would let you connect with where you are – a study abroad, an international internship (or one in a different part of America – that can be very eye opening as well), the Peace Corp, working for a non profit.

  46. Ulysses

    I wish I had known that you won’t screw your life if don’t work immediately and try to earn more and get more responsibility and study more.
    I wish I had taken more time to explore and travel.
    I wish I had had the courage to travel alone.
    I wish I had knew that eventually everything would come to place and make sense and that in life money, power and job title are not the most important thing, that they don’t define who you are and won’t make you more happy !!!

  47. Annie Keese

    I’m looking back at my early twenties (from an upcoming 30th birthday) some of these suggestions were more of a hinderance for me. I wanted to travel, to have extra money to pay off debt, etc. but that wasn’t available to me for that season. I’ve lived simply by necessity and by conviction since leaving my family to go to college. Because of those common “dreams” spoken over my generation, I felt less compelled to bloom where I was planted. I kept short roots and grow deep into my community because I was hoping for the next step, for the future adventure, for travel, etc.

    So my advice is to EMBRACE where you find yourself and what you find yourself doing – even if it’s nothing fancy or what you planned to pursue or what you feel specifically called to. God’s hand is in that! Even though it may seem like the “in between” …. Do not hold yourself back from relationships and community waiting for that “something” to happen. It took a couple of years to believe that God had called me to the town I grew up in, to the church my family helped plant. But He needs my gifts and those relationships He’s built through time to move in people here. I can speak this truth – TRUSTING GOD IS THE ADVENTURE. No matter where you are – that is the choice that moves life from living in your own power, trying to fill life with valuable things and experiences, to believing God has some beautiful, meaningful moments planned for you each day wherever you are!

  48. Suzanne

    I am 49 years old and the mother of two. Three years ago I had breast cancer. Last year my husband died of an inoperable brain tumour. He was 50, and a brilliant, loving man who deserved more time on this Earth. Life is unpredictable; wild and precious and precarious. It contains both extraordinary heartache and indescribable beauty. When you’re young, you can’t really know this. But I would tell my younger self to RELAX more; not to look so hard for answers, not to sweat first world problems, not to feel so pressured. Life is a gift; live in the present, I would say. Be gentle on yourself. Enjoy the day you’re in, even the struggles. And Breathe. A great quote: “Remember you are not Atlas, carrying the world on your shoulders. It is good to remember that the planet is carrying YOU.”

  49. Kimberley Allan Mulla

    I love this post and it is such a great question! Actually, I DID live simply in my twenties and I have spent the last few years returning to many of the ways I lived then. Now, with a husband, two kids, two businesses, a house and land, it looks pretty different, but I have revisited many of the things I did back then. During and after university I loved to cook, so much so that I taught friends how to cook real food on a budget. I lived without a car and tv. We are now back down to 1 vehicle (which in a rural place is tricky) and no TVs, anywhere in our home. I have returned back to cherishing a few things in my home, much like when I was younger and kept my belongings to a minimum for the inevitable moving I would do every semester or year. (Toronto was where I studied- 9 years living there- 13 addresses). I have started to seek out more cheap and free public entertainment and events. Back in my twenties, we lived on free live music and Pay What You Can theatre. I returned to a capsule wardrobe and went back to my love of vintage and second-hand, even for my daughters who love shopping second hand for clothes and books. The ONLY thing I would have changed, which has definitely changed for me now, is that I would have stopped wishing for more/different in terms of life and stuff. I wish I had known how lucky I was to be living that life. But I am so grateful that I did, and that I did it before kids.

  50. Macy Dyer

    I’m currently a junior at a small Christian university in Knoxville, so all of this has been SO valuable and relevant. Tsh, I’ve been absolutely floored by your lifestyle and how you have such an outstanding ability to weed out the things that aren’t important to you and your family. I read Notes from a Blue Bike last summer, and I must say: your travels helped me finally realize the value and the freedom that lies in a life free of excess. Because then there is the space (mental, physical, spiritual, etc.) for a richness in valuable experiences and cherished people. The Art of Simple has been my survival guide for college, and I cannot thank you enough for helping me learn so much about simplicity so early in my journey!

    • Andrea Butler

      I am from Knoxville (living in Chicago)! There are soooooo many things you can do and experience around where you are so make sure you take advantage of as much of it as you can because it is almost always free or low cost like the Smokey’s and the fun festivals downtown. Enjoy my town. I miss it!

  51. Erin

    Start saving for retirement now. I didn’t get into debt after college, but I didn’t save either. The longer you spread out saving, the more it accumulates and it takes the pressure off if you have a family/lean years and can’t save as much at some points in the future. But also keep the rule that we now live by: there must always be some savings going on. Not an option to not save – it must be done, even if you tighten the belt in other areas. I also wish I traveled more after college.

  52. Helena S

    TRAVEL and see the world, do not be afraid being out of your comfort zone, do not hold out for the perfect time to do things as now is the perfect time. That is all.

  53. Deb

    I know this may not work for everyone, but you can think about work/life balance in broad strokes, as well as daily ones. I took two approaches that allowed for having rich experiences in other cultures while still staying financially solvent.

    The first: I saved for self-funded sabbaticals every 5-6 years starting at the ripe old age of 23! Right out of college, I spent 3 years saving enough to travel for 3 months. After realizing how much I loved that, I realized I need a better paying job. So, I went to grad school, took a much better paying job that was more intense, but still very interesting and fulfilling. Six years later, I gave myself another self-funded travel sabbatical — this time for 9 months. Another sabbatical 5 years later was a combo of travel and 3 months enjoying where I live without working… Fourth sabbatical was to have a year at home with my newly adopted daughter. Rinse & repeat! After the 3rd sabbatical, a friend of mine said, “You’re the only person I know who thinks about work/life balance over a period of years rather than days or weeks.” I’d never thought of it that way before, but he was right. And it has worked for me, allowing me to comfortably afford to take long swaths of time to explore new places, new experiences, new opportunities.

    The second: work overseas. Living somewhere else is very different from travelling there– no matter how much you try not to be a typical tourist when you travel. I wish I’d taken a semester abroad in school. But I’m so glad I took 9 months to live abroad at least once for work. I’d love to do it again.

    Experiencing other cultures has expanded my viewpoint, allowed me to empathize more with other ways to look at things, opened me to new ideas & perspectives, and kept life interesting. Doing it in a way that was financially comfortable has kept me sane. 🙂

  54. Christine @ The (mostly) Simple Life

    I agree that it’s the perfect time to travel I traveled some, but wish I had done more. Also, I met some amazing friends in my travels but was terrible at keeping in touch. I regret that part.

    Also, I wish I wouldn’t have been so worried about finding my special someone. All of my friends were getting married right out of college, if not before, so I felt like I needed to find that too. Looking back I realize how young I was and I shouldn’t have been worried about it! I found my special someone when I least expected it anyways, so there was no need to be searching 🙂

  55. Stacie

    Don’t waste time on bad relationships. Buy based on need most of the time. Try finding things second hand first. Shopping should not be a hobby. Travel if it makes you happy. Learn to cook, and have fun with it. Meal plans are your friend. Consider the amount of money that you will spend on interest if you buy now v. Saving for at least 20% down and then buying that car, house, etc. It’s ok to have a credit card but pay that thing off every month.

  56. Lynn - Encore Voyage

    I would tell them that the best things in life are not things! I see so many young people trying to accumulate cars, boats, jet skis, snowmobiles, big houses…it makes me sad for them. Instead, I would offer that they should “pay themselves first.” The government takes its money FIRST out of your paycheck. You should do the same with a direct deposit to somewhere where you will not be tempted to spend it. You’ll find something less to buy – perhaps a few dinners out, or a bunch of lattes. But if you save $100 per month for all of your working career, you will retire a millionaire!

  57. Pauline

    In my 20s, I didn’t dare ask questions and speak to people I didn’t know well because I feared I might look bad, or stupid, or needy. So I assumed people would tell me without I asking, and guess what, they didn’t. So I wish I had pushed beyond my comfort zone to ask people those question and really listen to whatever they had to offer. In my 30s, I learnt that people love to talk about themselves and their experience and they don’t spend time overthinking why I’m asking the question!

  58. Andrea Butler

    Oh the 20’s are so fun! I am only 30 now but those were some seriously formitive years. I would only add that I wish I had not been such a go out and do more things 20s-er. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE people and could spend every waking momwnt with them but I wish I had read more and been more content with being alone and outside and adventuring on my own. Not entirely on my own but not so consumed with spending time with this friend to that friend to that friend. I guess it all boils down to better time managment and learning to say ‘no’ at times in order to say ‘yes’ to the most important things/people/adventures. What you spend your time on you can never get back. Chose wisely.

  59. Sarah

    I’d also add, really learn to live below your means, as much as possible. That will give you the flexibility you need when “life happens” and you need to make changes. Example: we almost bought a house early on in our marriage and thankfully didn’t. That same year I had stress related health problems that led me to need to reduce my work load. Had we been at our limit with a house payment, I would have been terrible stuck. This same mentality paid off years later on a happier note, when I had my first child and was able to mostly stay at home with him bc we had lived well below our means all of those years, forgoing a lot of material pleasures, renting for a long time, etc.

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