Key Elements of a Simple Life and Where to Start

elements of simple life woman contemplating


Have you been dreaming of a simple life? Escaping the pressures of modern everyday living or reducing your belongings to live more minimalist and clutter free? You are not alone. Lately, everyone seems to be talking about decluttering, homesteading and various other forms of simple living. It can be overwhelming. However, you don’t have to get rid of everything you own or buy a farm to live the simple life.

The key elements of a simple life stem from one of two main ideas. 1.) Minimalism – where the key element is reducing ones belongings, and 2.) Self-sufficiency – where the key elements include living more frugally and without the need of outside resources. For most people the motivation to live more simply typically grows out of one of these ideals.

However, there are many concepts that overlap on both sides, like consuming less.

Regardless of which side you fall on, and yes you can fall on both, we’re going to dig into the key elements of minimalism and self-sufficiency a bit deeper and explore ways to start living a more simple life.

Simplicity Through Minimalism

Deciding to practice a minimalist lifestyle usually grows out of the desire to own less and consume less as a way of gaining more time and freedom to devote to enjoying your life more. I think following quote from the Minimalist sums it up quite nicely:

How might your life be better if you owned fewer material possessions?      -the Minimalists

Minimalism doesn’t have to be an all or nothing solution. You don’t have to get rid of everything you own, unless you want to. Instead, embracing minimalism is more about approaching your belongings with more intention and evaluating what you need for your life to function well. This is a personal decision and not a one size fits all. What one person needs may be more or less than another.

Minimalism is also not about deprivation. In addition to evaluating what you need, it is also about evaluating what makes you happy. If you are going to live with less, you want to make sure you truly like and appreciate the items you choose to live with.

Choosing minimalism often begins with decluttering and paring down ones belongings. One of the best resources for decluttering is Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I find her method very useful and effective. She has used her years of experience helping people declutter to develop a process for decluttering that teaches you how to evaluate your belongings in the process.

When following her method you declutter by category, not location. Take clothes for example, you may have clothes in multiple closets, a dresser and under the bed. Following her method you would gather every piece of clothing you own in one place and declutter it at once.

She teaches you the best order you should declutter your categories of stuff. Following her order, you actually get better at decluttering the further along you go. The decluttering order is the most simple, yet genius, part of her method. Speaking from personal experience, I know it works. The ideal order as outlined in her book is:

  1. Clothes
  2. Books
  3. Papers
  4. Komono (Misc. stuff)
  5. Sentimental Items

Additionally, you don’t have to love modern design or white barren spaces to practice minimalism. Once you get past the getting rid of your stuff part, this is often one of the biggest concerns when deciding to try minimalism. Many people don’t like empty spaces and they can’t imagine living in something they envision will feel cold and impersonal. Let’s clear this up.

There is an architectural and interior design style also called minimalism which uses clean lines and austerity to create sparsely designed modern spaces. This is completely unrelated to practicing a minimalist lifestyle. While these two concepts do overlap quite often as a lot of people who appreciate minimalist decor also practice a minimalist lifestyle – the two are not mutually exclusive. You can practice minimalism regardless of your personal style and taste preferences.

Becoming More Self-sufficient

Similar to minimalism, those who follow the path of becoming more self-sufficient are also looking to embrace a simpler life by consuming less. Their approach is just different. Rather than get rid of their belongings (while they may), they move towards self-sufficiency as a way to be less reliant on modern conveniences and consumer goods.

The goal is to live more sustainably and frugally and be able to provide the basic resources needed for living on their own versus relying on outside resources. Starting a homestead is often the goal of many who desire to embrace simple living in this way. To live somewhere with enough property to raise all their own food and live completely off the land.

elements of simple life person holding dirt

However, as with minimalism, this is also not an all or nothing solution. Not everyone finds it practical or desirable to live on a homestead or in the country. There is a broad scale on which people practice self-sufficiency and someones version of it may look completely different than someone else’s.

For example, someone residing in a large city may choose to have a small container garden or preserve some of their food. While someone in the suburbs may choose to raise their own chickens or have a larger vegetable garden. Choosing to be more self-sufficient is more about evaluating your needs and figuring out which of them you’re able to grow, provide or make on your own.

Choosing self-suffiency often goes hand and hand with learning to live frugally and within your means. When living frugally you’re not wasting money on the latest new thing, or eating out all the time. The less you shop, the less you need and the less you spend. The simpler you are able to live. This article from Morning Chores is one of the best I’ve come across and offers many more ideas and tips for achieving a self-sufficient lifestyle.

Figuring Out What Matters Most to You

Hopefully this overview of the two main schools of thought and key elements of simple living has given you something to chew on. Is there a side that resonates more with you? Or maybe there are elements that appeal to you from both approaches. Regardless, figuring out what your values are and what your are most passionate about is the first step to discovering what simple living means to you.

What direction do you want your life to go? How can you support those values in your daily life? Once you know the answers to these questions you can begin to evaluate and work towards removing belongings, activities, purchases, and anything else you can think of that doesn’t support those values or the chosen direction for your life.

The first step is prioritizing the things that are most important to you so you can go about choosing ways to live more simply in a thoughtful and intentional way.

This could be the basics of what you need to be happy – food, water, housing. However, don’t just consider basic living necessities also consider location and what is needed nearby in terms of geography, cultural experiences, access, etc.

Some changes may be small. In fact, starting with small incremental changes can be a great way to test the waters. For example, you may decide that more time with family is something you value and want more of. This may be as simple as watching less tv, or even getting rid of your tv, and deciding to use that time for family instead.

Larger changes such as creating a new budget and getting out of debt or planning a move are going to take more time, but are totally achievable with the right mindset and determination.

Related Questions

What Does It Mean to Be Frugal?

There is often a misconception that being frugal means being cheap. However, this is typically not the case. While someone who is frugal may spend less money than the average person, it is typically a voluntary choice. They have made a conscious decision to spend less. For most people, choosing to live frugally is about prioritizing their purchases and being intentional with their spending. They want to ensure they truly value what they own and only purchase items they find important.

Is a Simple Life Better?

There are probably just as many opinions on this question as there are ways of living simply. However, there are some common ideas as to the benefits of simple living. These are my favorite 10 benefits courtesy of Uncluttered Simplicity.

  1. Save money
  2. Reduce decision fatigue
  3. More time with family and friends
  4. Less cleaning
  5. More time to serve others
  6. Less materialistic children
  7. Fewer misplaced items
  8. Better health
  9. More space
  10. More time to pursue whatever interest you

Have you started taking steps to become more self-sufficient or minimalist? Please share your experiences in the comments below.


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