Simple Living in a City: The Basics 101



Simple living is said to reduce stress, help you save money and be better for the environment. And there are plenty of books, blogs and examples of people finding their simple living bliss out in the country and homesteading in the suburbs. But can you do simple living in a city?

Cities can be a great place to downsize and live a simpler life with options including:

  • micro living
  • container gardening
  • community garden programs
  • worm composting
  • better walkability
  • bike friendly paths
  • public transit
  • car sharing programs
  • free cultural activities
  • city parks for exercise
  • meetup groups for recreation

At lot of simple living articles tend to focus on minimalism and general simple living practices you can do regardless of where you live. However, my goal with this article is to provide simple living basics that are specific to city dwellers or those thinking of moving to a city. So if you’re interested in learning about ways to live small and slower in the city, stick around for a bit.

Why Choose a City for Simple Living?

You may picture city living as the complete opposite of simple living. With the noise, traffic and sheer number of people busily rushing around it can conjure up visions of chaos – not simplicity. However, the city can be a great place to downsize, live small and reduce your carbon footprint.

While housing can be more expensive, at the same time you don’t have some of the expenses you may have living somewhere more rural. One of the biggest benefits to consider is the ease of alternative transportation like public transit, services like Uber and Lyft and the walkability factor.

Gas, car payments and routine maintenance can be a huge drain on your pocketbook. However, in the city you can typically get by without owning a car, meaning there is no gas to buy or expensive car repairs to contend with. That’s a substantial savings considering Investopedia reports that the average yearly cost to own a car is $9,576.

Beyond reducing ones financial burden by going carless, there are many other ways you can embrace simplicity in the city. Let’s take a closer look at some of the basic ways you can live more sustainably, grow some of your own food, enjoy a more relaxed pace of life and live with less.

Micro Apartments and Studio Living

Small living is not just for tiny house owners. Micro Living is becoming more and more popular in big cities like New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Denver to name a few. Many developers are devoting entire buildings to purpose built micro living spaces.

Both micro apartments and studio apartments have a lot in common and are typically under 500-600 sq. ft. They each do a great job squeezing everything you need to live comfortably into a small space. However, while studio apartments have been around for a long time micro apartments are the new kids on the block. They are LEED certified, energy efficient and purpose built space-efficient dwellings designed to feel and live bigger than their tiny footprint.

Curious to know more? Get some serious micro apartment inspiration from this article on Curbed.

Container Gardening

If you have a balcony, small patio, or really any space large enough to safely sit some containers outdoors, you can start a container garden. While you won’t have enough space to grow a ton, you probably have enough space to grow some smaller veggies, herbs and flowers.

For example, I have two Juliet balconies and successfully grow herbs, small veggies like peppers and greens like kale and Swiss chard in window baskets attached to the railing.

According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac there are a couple main things you need to consider before starting a container garden in the city. Does your building allow gardening on the balcony, rooftop or terrace? Also, can the balcony, terrace or other space you’re considering for your garden take the added weight of containers full of soil?

Community Garden Programs

Outdoor space can often be a luxury that not everyone has in the city. However, this shouldn’t deter you from considering gardening as a viable option. Lots of communities are turning vacant lots and ugly unused spaces into urban gardens residents can tend and share.

Community gardens give apartment dwellers and urbanites the opportunity to experience the pleasure of gardening and the satisfaction of growing their own nutritious organic food.

Chances are there may already be a community garden you can help tend in your area. The American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) website is a great resource for not only finding a community garden but they also provide resources for starting your own.

For some really creative container and community gardening inspiration check out Rob Greenfield’s How to Grow Food for Free in the City.

Composting Indoors (Worm Composting)

Composting offers the best nutrition rich soil for growing healthy organic veggies and herbs in your container garden. However, with limited space in the city you often have to consider composting indoors.

While composting can sound scary if you’ve never done it before, it’s actually quite simple as you are just allowing nature to do its thing. Various scraps such as  fruit peelings, veggies scraps, coffee grids and even tea bags can be easily be turned into rich organic fertilizer for your garden in a compost bin.

Vermicomposting, or composting with worms is the most successful method, and easiest way to compost indoors. A worm bin is simple to start in a plastic storage bin or any bucket with a lid. The Spruce has some some great tips to get you started indoor composting with worms and without.

Better Walkability

As the avergae commute get longer and longer, more and more people are looking to slow down and escape the traffic rat race. They are looking to not only live closer to work but also live in communities where food, entertainment and other amenties are just steps away.

Enter the city. Cities are just naturally more walkable and while cities like New York, San Francisco and Boston may immediately come to mind when we think of walkability. Cities and towns across the US are becoming more and more walk friendly by placing a high focus on encouraging neighborhoods to include a mix of live, work, play options.

Curious to see how your city ranks or want to scope out cities to move. Walk Score has been collecting data for years and provides walk scores and the ability to search apartments based on walkability.

Bike Friendly Paths & Streets

Along with walkability, more and more people seeking a simpler life are turning to biking as a transportation alternative. While a lot of cities still only have paint-on-pavement lanes for biking, there are some cities leading the way with protected bike lanes and a focus on adding biking paths that connect different communities and increased bicycle parking.

The League of American Bicyclists maintains a very impressive database of bicycle friendly cities across the US. They also offer many resources and tools for those wishing to advocate for bicycle friendliness in their city and town.

Public Transportation

There are many cities with well established rail and bus systems providing plenty of coverage for those looking to ditch their cars for good. The US still has a long way to go to match the extensive rail systems found in Europe and Asia, but New York and Chicago managed to rank in McKinsey & Company’s global transportation report.

And while it is slow going, many other US cities are beginning to follow suit and focus on improving their transit systems as the number of people looking to take public transit continues to increase year over year.

Currently the top 5 cities in the US with best transit systems using Walk Score’s “Transit Score Methodology”  include New York, Union City NJ, San Francisco, Hoboken NJ and Cambridge MA.

Car Sharing Programs

Shared Mobility is a trend that is starting to gain steam and car sharing is one of the main areas increasing in popularity. Car sharing is different from other types of car rental in that it typically allows the driver to rent a car by the hour. This is convenient for those who only need a car for short out of town trips or running errands involving large items that can’t easily be carried.

One of the oldest and most popular car sharing programs is Zipcar. Additionally, many cities and most major rental car companies now offer some sort of car sharing program including Enterprise, Avis, Hertz, Waive Car in LA and City Carshare in San Francisco Bay area.

Free Cultural Activities

While cities are not the only place with history centers, museums and other cultural attractions, you are likely to find a much higher number of options in a larger city or town.

If your idea of slow living is meandering through an art collection, pondering life over some historical facts, or marveling at a discovery or invention. You are bound to find plenty of options to keep you happy in the city and most of them can be enjoyed for free.

A large number of library systems, including Seattle, San Francisco, Dallas and Miami allow you to check out free passes to museums and science centers. Additionally, most museums offer free days throughout the year.

You can call the museum directly or your Chamber of Commerce to find out how you might participate.

City Parks for Exercise

The stereotypical image of city parks in the movies usually portrays joggers, families playing together and folks getting their relaxation and fitness on. The cool thing is – it is pretty much like that in real life.

City parks are a great place to get outside, experience nature and enjoy a taste of the outdoors in the middle of the city. Also, chances are there are yoga classes, tai chi groups, fitness bootcamps, soccer enthusiasts and countless other activities you can take part in for free or a nominal fee.

Contact your cities Parks and Recreation Department to learn more about activities at your local park.

Meetup Groups for Recreation

Lastly, most cities have very active Meetup groups. You may not immediately consider Meetup when thinking about ways to live more simply. However, a common goal of simple living is having enough time to enrich your life through a hobby or new skill.

In a city you’re likely to find a larger number of meetup groups for meditation, writing, knitting, sewing, woodworking, gardening, frisbee, chess, prepping, you name it. Wherever your interests lie, you’ll most likely find a group of like minded individuals to enjoy them with.

More Resources

I hope this list has introduced you to some new ideas and ways of thinking about simple living in a city. I’ve learned that no matter where you are there are small changes you can make to embrace a slower and simpler life.

If you’re interested in additional tips for slow and simple living check out some of my other posts:


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