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Does simple living always mean “less”?

We often treat “simple living” and “living with less” as synonymous, but I’m not convinced they’re the same thing at all.

Don’t get me wrong: decluttering and letting go of stuff definitely simplifies our lives.

Saying no to busyness just for the sake of busyness does as well.

Spending less, preparing meals with fewer ingredients, creating a capsule wardrobe…all of these things can simplify our life.

But are they necessary to live simply?

Maybe you have a larger-than-necessary home because hospitality is one of your highest values and you love to host guests all week long for play dates and community groups and overnight stays.

Maybe your schedule is full to overflowing because you’re intentionally making time for connecting with and serving in your community on top of your work and school obligations.

Maybe you love to cook gourmet meals, even though that means spending hours in the kitchen each day.

Maybe you’re building a new business and intentionally choosing to invest long hours and hard work now for the pay off later.

Conversely, maybe the minimalist with only 100 possessions and a clear schedule is lonely and unmotivated. (Please know that I’m not saying this is true of all minimalists. But minimalism is not a magic formula that guarantees a happy and fulfilling life, and I guarantee there are minimalists doing it for the wrong reason who are not satisfied with their lives.)

Maybe your desire to keep your schedule free of stress means you’re missing out on a great opportunity that would actually be worth the stress involved to make it happen.

Maybe trying to live by other people’s rules has left you feeling frazzled and stressed rather than in control of your life.

As humans, we want rules and formulas and guidelines to follow: “Do this to achieve that. If you want that, do this.” Even the nonconformists among us who don’t want to live under other people’s rules like to set our own!

But simple living isn’t about following a particular formula. Yes, it’s good to be inspired by other people, to be reminded of the benefits of living a simpler life, to see the folly in working more to acquire more so that one day you can just enjoy life.

But what if simple living is really about being intentional in the choices you make, not in following someone else’s rules?

2014 has been my year to discover what it means to really live, and the most important thing I’ve learned is that I can’t live under someone else’s rules or expectations for my life.

Simple living for Tsh and her crew includes a trip around the world. For us, right now, it means exploring closer to home.

Simple living for some people means moving to the city, where walking and biking are a way of life. For us, it means living in the boonies where our kids can play outside for hours on end.

Simple living for some families means a tiny home with few possessions. For us, it includes an ever-growing library of children’s books.

Simple living for many people means learning to say no and finding room in your schedule to breathe. For us, it’s been learning to say yes to community, even though we have to work to make it happen.

At its core, simple living isn’t about living with less. It’s about living intentionally.

It means knowing why you’re making the choices you’re making and living a life that reflects your core values and beliefs, even when those choices mean more rather than less.

Want to explore this idea of living intentionally and creating a life you love in more depth? Join me next year for LIVE., a 12-month course to help you do just that.

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  1. Angela Mills

    I love this post so much. I love being home, I love tons of books on my shelves and we have a big home that was given to us. Sometimes I feel I am just wrong when I read “simplifying” posts, even though in my gut I know I love the life we’ve created. This post is very freeing!

  2. Jana

    This is such a good post!!

  3. Kathy C

    Well said, well said. Thank you for this inspiring post.

  4. Karen Ratzlaff

    Mandi, so true! Simple living really does mean different things to different folks. For me it has to include shelves (and shelves) of books rather than a Kindle. 🙂

  5. Theresa

    Great reminder to stay on our own path! Setting up our lives around other people’s convictions or limitations won’t work for us no matter how well it works for them. I think it is good to remember not to be a “simple-pusher” & assume that because it looks different for someone else that they are doing it wrong. I am often guilty of having judging thoughts towards others & their vacations but really I think it is awesome that they make time with just their family a priority & if it means they have to get a way to do it then so be it! Just hoping they let me tag along in their suitcase sometime :).

  6. Steph

    “Even the nonconformists among us who don’t want to live under other people’s rules like to set our own!”

    Ha! So true. I love that simple living can be expressed in whatever way is best for individuals and families.

    • Mandi

      I wrote that line just for myself, lol. I am a noncomformist through and through…until I’m the one making the rules! 🙂

  7. Lindsay

    So very true. “living a life that reflects your core values and beliefs” This is the approach that I love. It bothers me when we try to box people into our own definitions of “simple” because it’s different for each person/family. Thanks for that reminder!

  8. Alissa

    “At its core, simple living isn’t about living with less. It’s about living intentionally.”

    Thank you for this! I love being inspired by the minimalist ideas, but that lifestyle doesn’t fit MY ideal of simple. In many ways, living intentionally still results in living with less… because we are removing the things (stuff, activities, engagements, people) from our lives that are distracting us from our intention and goals. I think it’s more of a sense of streamlining – keeping what is useful and soul-giving and doing my best to discard the rest. Ah… that vision fits for me.

    Thinking about our cooking habits is a great example. We eat “clean” and scratch cook most things, which often fits with simple living, but that means I have a larger, well-stocked pantry and I keep lots of disposable containers on hand because sharing food with others is high on our list of priorities. At the same time, we try to streamline our kitchen tools and gadgets… no cake pop maker or banana slicer over here!

  9. Michelle C

    Yes! INTENTIONAL is our “magic word.” As you say, there is no formula. It’s different for everyone. But our life choices should be based on our most important values, and that takes intentionality.

  10. sarah @ little bus on the prairie

    This is so true! I would also add that sometimes lifestyles that appear simple are actually more difficult.

    People often think that by living in a bus off the grid our lives must be so simple, but we’ve discovered that it has come with some unexpected complications – such as figuring out a food storage situation for a family of five (soon to be six!) that doesn’t involve going to the store every day. Figuring out energy solutions for the winter when solar power won’t be as plentiful is another example.

    • Mandi

      That’s a great point, Sarah, and I think it’s easy for us (who don’t live on a bus) to glamorize that lifestyle, especially when we’re tired of sweeping the floors or cleaning up a disaster closet.

      But I would also argue that the complication of living on a bus can STILL be part of living simply. I’m not sure there’s a hard and fast formula for when something crosses the line from simple & intentional to unnecessarily complicated, but I think it’s something we can just FEEL when we head that way. Would you agree?

      • Sarah @ Little Bus on the Prairie

        I would agree in theory… I just think that we are just in a situation where things are very intentional and very (necessarily) complicated 🙂

  11. kate

    This is exactly what I needed to read RIGHT now! Thank you so much for sharing such an insightful way of looking at simple living. I am looking forward to learning more about the upcoming course!

  12. Andrea

    This is an excellent post. Like most things in life, there is rarely a true “one size fits all”. Few people would say I lead a simple life… But I beg to differ because my husband and i make intentional efforts to give ourselves some breathing room despite hectic schedules. And from perspective the people claiming to live simple lives… Actually work really hard to do that. Simple does not necessarily mean easy. Simple does not necessarily mean less. Simple means what works best for you (an your family) at any particular moment in time…. Learning when to say no…. But also when to say yes 🙂

  13. Joslynne

    Maybe I have been subscribing too long to this blog, but things are really getting repetitive! Hate to be the only non-Great post! comment, but nothing new here…on an aside, I am really tired of reading ‘Don’t get me wrong,…’

    After all, the comment section reads ‘Speak Your Mind’, so …

    • Mandi

      I think it’s true that there’s nothing under the sun, and the longer we’re on the internet and reading about specific topics, the more likely we are to encounter repetition. I usually find that encouraging when it’s a topic I really care about, but perhaps more importantly, there are also plenty of people who are new to blogs or to simple living who may not have heard certain ideas yet. This topic is something I personally have been thinking about lately, and I think it resonates with other people who haven’t yet thought of it that way and could use the encouragement.

      I’m curious about your frustration with “Don’t get me wrong…”, though, especially since I never said that!

      • Joslynne

        If you read Tsh’s blog, you’ll encounter ‘Don’t get me wrong’ quite frequently, in her post as well as guest posts. ( In line 3 of your post, you said it!)

        • Mandi

          Oh, you’re right, I did! Maybe it’s an overused phrase; I’ll definitely be paying attention to see how often I use (and read) it. 🙂

      • Shannon @ GrowingSlower

        Thanks for your post Mandi! I’ve certainly been around the simple living blog niche for quite a while as well, but I really appreciated what you have to say. It speaks so closely to what’s been on my heart this year. It’s all too easy to dive into simple living head first and find yourself suddenly overwhelmed. It’s encouraging to hear someone else coming to that place of peace with some realistic expectations of what simple living might look like in different seasons.

    • Sarah @ Little Bus on the Prairie

      To sort of echo Mandi, I totally hear you on how things can often get repetitive when you’ve been reading about a certain topic for a while. I often feel that way about personal finance and simple living blogs, but I also think that, usually, the messages being relayed are timeless and might be resonating with people who are just now getting on board!

  14. Gina

    I loved the post. My family strives to live simply, but that looks very different to my husband and myself. We live in a house that is probably too large but we use every room every day. I know for certain that we have too many possessions but we are also very intentional in what we purchase and clear out excess frequently. I agree that simple living has been defined too narrowly in many circles. I love equating it to living intentionally. And I also believe that snarkiness about certain repetitive words is NOT living intentionally. I though your post was beautiful.

  15. Katie Harding

    Great post, well written and such a beautiful reminder, thanks!!

  16. Practical Mama

    So true. Simple living to us is enjoying family time until the kids want to spend more time with their friends than us, homemade healthy food, lots of reading and appreciating nature. Therefore, simple living does not mean less in our kitchen or library or arts&crafts corner. Thank you for pointing out considering beyond the literal meanings of words for intentions.

  17. Stephanie Luce

    Love! I think it’s so important that we figure out what works for our family, instead of assuming a one size fits all formula will work for everyone.

  18. Alyson

    Absolutely! We own less, we live in less space and some people could think us crazy to have quit a monster home for 2 backpacks and a 1 bedroom flat, but our lives are far, far richer for it. We do so much more of the things we love and will continue to do so. We’re very happy with our choice.

  19. Emily

    I appreciate this reminder! Minimalism is so trendy right now, but when it is not based on meaningful passions or principles, I find it stifling. Simplicity is not an end in itself, which I think you argue so well in this post.

  20. Cori

    I love this post and appreciate your perspective. My family is currently building a larger home, with the hopes that we can do so much more hosting of people and gatherings than we can in our current space. It won’t be huge or fancy, but hopefully it can be comfortable for both our family and others.

  21. Jenn @ A Simple Haven

    I so appreciated this post! I can sometimes put minimalism in all areas of life on a pedestal–where it ought not to be. Like you said, I think it’s more about living with purpose and intention, doing what’s best for your family in your particular season of life.

    I remember reading a post here about simplifying in the kitchen by reducing the family’s dish count to 5. It made me smile because I had just bought six more place settings on Craigslist. We frequently host, so for me it feels more simple not to have to run to the dishwasher/hand wash more plates before people come over. But every family is different and what feels better for one won’t for another.

    Thanks for a gracious and freedom-filled post! 🙂

  22. Claire

    Great post, Mandi! Simple living can definitely look differently in different households and families.

  23. Shauna

    THANK YOU for this post! What a great reminder that living with intention is what it’s all about and that that looks different for each of us.

  24. Gail

    Right on! Simplicity is defining one’s family commitments and possessions based on one’s family value or mission statement (per Tsh’s book).

  25. Minimalismus

    I agree with these things, But don’t buy unnecessary things are very helpful for live a simple and happy life. We spend a big part of our salary on the unnecessary and useless things. If you want to live a Minimalism life then you will need to avoid these things. Our money and precious time is waste on these useless things. We save a huge amount of money and live a simple and happy life, if you avoid these things.

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