In search of a simple life: how to live more and stress less

simple lifeIn my fantasy world, I live a simple life. My contented existence sees me earn enough working part time to cover the bills with plenty left over. I spend hours in the garden and we have lots of weekends away exploring new places.

In reality, I have to work full time and spend weekends cleaning, shopping and cooking. I am always on the lookout for opportunities to earn more money. It is a priority to get some cash in an emergency fund, so every little helps.

This means the garden is looking forlorn and weekend trips away are a rare treat.

Busy, busy, busy

Now the weather is better we must find time to get out in the garden and make up for its current sad state of neglect. I need to book friends in for dinner – it’s my turn to cook. I am walking 14 miles for charity in a few weeks and want to get out and do more walking in readiness. I have a couple of French students coming too so need to prepare the rooms and plan suitable meals. Everything has to be crammed into my weekends or a few hours in the evenings.

When did life become so complicated? It’s always so busy. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.

I know from talking to friends and colleagues that many feel the same. So how can you simplify your life to make time for the people and pastimes that are important to you?

Working towards a simple life

Here is what I do already to save time and keep life simple:

Stick to the budget and don’t get into debt. If we spend less, we don’t need to earn more and more just to keep going.

Don’t iron – most things are OK with a shake before they are dried.

Shop once a week for food and never shop for fun (apart from charity shops and boot sales because we all love a bargain).

Batch cook as often as possible to save time during the week.

We don’t have a wild social life. Seeing friends is fun, but you won’t find us in the pub or a restaurant every night. Too expensive!

Shrubs are now our plants of choice in the flower beds as they look after themselves.

We don’t attempt to keep up with the Joneses.

We aren’t ridiculously house proud. As long as the house is clean, it doesn’t have to look like a scene from Ideal Home magazine.

We appreciate simple pleasures – a walk in the sunshine, a look around a lovely garden, a glass of wine watching a film, quiet time with a book or magazine or a good yoga session.

By saving time and money whenever we can, we can make sure we have at least one day a week for leisure and can afford some holidays!

A love of stuff

It seems to me that many of the complications and stresses in our lives come from a love of ‘stuff’. In order to chase this materialistic lifestyle we have to earn more money. To earn more money most of us need to work longer hours. The more we have, the more we need. You buy a great new car, then hanker after a better one. Having your own place is initially exciting, but soon your house is either too small or ‘needs’ expensive renovations. A holiday to the English coast pales into insignificance next to your neighbour’s trip to the Maldives.

We are never satisfied! If you keep in mind that 1.4 billion people around the world live on less than US$1.25 a day, our endlessly materialistic lifestyle seems obscene. But we can live a happier, more simple life without living in dire poverty, I am convinced.

Actions you can take towards a simple life

simple lifeIdentify what is important to you and focus your time and attention on that – don’t allow this to be a long list! Maybe four or five things.

Learn to say no – to your kids when they want toys and clothes they don’t need; to friends and family asking you to events you can’t afford; to yourself when you are tempted by an expensive gizmo or gadget that you will stick in a drawer and forget about; to your partner when they are trying to convince you to take out a loan on a beautiful new kitchen.

Manage your time better.

Go tiny

simple lifeDownsize your accommodation – do you need all your space? Are you paying to run a huge house when the family have all left home? Or are you paying a huge mortgage or rent on a big, fancy house that you can’t afford? To get a different perspective, take a look at the tiny house movement.

I am fascinated by the concept of tiny houses. With the ridiculous cost of buying and renting in the UK now, I can foresee three of them parked in our garden for my daughters to live in! (Joking, Mr Shoestring)

Declutter. I am not exactly a minimalist, but I find lots of clutter disturbing. We have been determinedly decluttering for a while now, although we have some way to go. Having less stuff to clean and look after is liberating! We have donated some items and sold others, with the money going towards our emergency fund.

Regain financial control

Pay off your debts. When you are free of debt a huge weight is lifted. Sticking to a simple life helps to keep you debt free. Don’t spend money you don’t have. Being debt free gives you more money day to day as you have no repayments to keep up with.

Find things to do for free (or cheaply). It sounds like a cliché, of course, but there is so much you can do for fun that will cost hardly anything.

Learn to appreciate the simple things in life.

Stop buying stuff! Ask yourself: do I really want it, do I really need it, can I afford it and where will I put it! If you leave it a week the feeling to impulse buy is likely to pass.

An old fashioned concept – saving up

If you have to make a purchase, save up and buy second hand so you don’t accrue more debt.

Cull some of your activities – you can’t do it all. This is especially important if you have kids. I nearly drove myself made when mine were younger in a cycle of after school activities that cost a fortune and took all of our spare time. Focus on one or two maximum. It is very easy to get into the trap of feeling you have to give your children every possible opportunity and forget to give them time to just have fun or be bored.

Stop setting ridiculously high expectations around housework. You don’t have to clean the skirting boards with a toothbrush every week!

Get the family to help with chores. I try not to attempt to be super woman.

Turn it off

Limit your screen time. This includes the TV, mobile phone, laptop and tablet. A kindle is probably OK (although I still prefer an old-fashioned book).

Keep away from glossy magazines and advertising generally, then you won’t fall for the idea that if you buy such and such a product your life will be that much closer to perfect. You don’t actually need to upgrade your phone just because there is a new one in existence.

Don’t watch or listen to the news on repeat. I am with Morrissey on this – ‘The news conspires to frighten you’. It can feel so negative. I listen on to events on the radio on the way to work and then avoid the news!

Consider your wants versus your needs.

Get your priorities straight. Relationships are more important than shopping, so spend time with your loved ones.

I don’t have the simple life sussed yet, but I am working on it! Do you ever feel life is far too complicated and what steps are you taking towards a more simple life?

15 thoughts on “In search of a simple life: how to live more and stress less

  1. Try being a single pensioner. One has to do absolutely everything. Tax and mot car, order oil, organise repairs and property maintenance, put out bins etc. Much as I would love a ‘simpler’ life, for single people it just does not happen. Independence comes at a price.

    • Oh my, Edna. This single pensioner is having a whale of a time. Write annual jobs on the calendar. Find a local garage to service and MOT your car, they will collect and deliver it back. Tax paid at the Post Office. Ring the Oil company when you need a delivery. If you can’t physically put your bins out the Council will do it for you. Don’t go looking for jobs to do on your property. And breath. Nothing is as difficult as you think it is.

  2. My husband and I are retired for the past three months we have been living in the south of Spain in a 6.3 metre motorhome. It take me fifteen minutes to pack up the van and go out for the day. Due to lack of space we both have tablets, for the newspaper books and TV programs. My husband does crosswords so has an electronic dictionary. We have everything we need and do not miss more space.
    We live fugally to enable us to travel we cannot afford five star hotels but we can afford self catering where we can cook thus saving lots.
    We have a wonderful life on not much more than the basic pension and are off to Greece four a month later this year all self catering, and budget airlines.

  3. Hi Jane, a great post as usual and I wholeheartedly agree with all that you say. I am in the process of downsizing, which means getting rid of loads of stuff which we’ve just kept and jammed into the loft, garage or one of the spare bedrooms (there are three of those now that the children have moved out!). I am moving from a large detached with four bedrooms and a 25ft living room to a 3 bedroomed semi. The new house has a much larger garden though, so a bigger vegetable patch is on the cards. This is the next phase in my life and I will be able to sort out some finances, clear some debt and live more cheaply whilst also being closer to the dream that is mortgage free (and therefore freedom!) in sight. This is also an adventure as I am moving to Somerset where, coincidentally, my children live. My daughter is going to move out of her flat, where she is struggling financially, and move back in with me until she has saved some money and learnt to drive. On the face of it, this seems like a backward step but as I am frequently having to lend her money (and she isn’t careless with money) it makes perfect sense for both of us. She will, of course, move out again eventually. In the meantime, I am going to be living in a beautiful area in a comfortable, maintenance free house. It will be clutter free as well, once I have sold clobber on ebay and at car boots, sent some to the charity shops and the rest to the tip. As each weekend passes and more junk is cleared, I am starting to feel lighter mentally and more able to think clearly; I, like you, find clutter creates a fog which I will not miss! I am behind you on the frugal journey, but I certainly aspire to catch up in the future!

  4. One thing I would say, Jane, and this is speaking from an older person’s perspective, and as one half of a retired couple, I think that in retirement we need more space, not less. When husband went to work (and I had part-time work) we didn’t spend at much time together as we do now, and while we love each other dearly, it’s lovely having space in which to move around our house (we have the option of our large sitting room, or our bed sitting room upstairs, or the study/library). Friends moved to a bijou 2-bed bungalow with small sitting room and kitchen/breakfast room, and it suits them, but for us, we love to be able to move around our house, from room to room, for all the rooms are in use. So while we can afford to run what is actually a 4-bed detached house (although one bedroom has been transformed into a study/library and another into a bed sitting room) we will continue to enjoy the space. It isn’t huge by any means, but it’s not tiny either. Having only one main living room for two of us, 27/7 as they say, would be rather claustrophobic I think.
    Margaret P

    • I have to agree with this! My husband took early retirement nearly 6 months ago and he is just always around! It’s taking some getting used to as right beforehand he was away for 8 months on business during the week!!
      Although we have 5 bedrooms and a small study we have 5 kids who are all home for the holidays again, so the study is constantly needing to be used as a bedroom, which just leaves the knocked-through living/dining room as the only living space!
      We don’t even have a garage or shed I can put him in!!!

  5. I find getting outside, even if it’s only into the garden, makes a huge difference to my feeling of well-being. This prolonged winter has been very difficult. I’m very much a summer person, in fact sometimes I think I must have chlorophyll instead of blood! 😀

    It always amazes me how much shopping and eating out is pushed as entertainment. I was watching a programme on Ch 4 earlier this week “Thrifty Ways to … Summer Holiday” and it was full of tips on how to avoid the expensive tourist traps abroad, as if shopping was the destination rather than the local scenery, history and culture!
    I feel no need to pick up souvenirs which are soon relegated to the charity shop, instead I prefer to soak up every detail with my eyes and camera to remember it by. And now of course, you don’t need to pay for expensive rolls of film or developing! 😀

    I never feel I’m missing about by holidaying in the UK, because lying on a beach (or shopping!) is not my goal. Dry, and not ridiculously hot, is good enough for me!

  6. I am retired an hubby is semi retired working 2 days a week. I’ve been completely retired for 18 months and don’t miss work at all. Having hubby underfoot 5 days a week can be difficult, I’ve had a routine and he has upset it. Space is important…..downsizing isn’t always as a solution. I’ve simplified my life in lots of other ways. I don’t buy what I consider unnecessary things. We go away regularly and get out and about as much as possible.

  7. I hope my comments didn’t sound like I resent my husband being around 24/7, I love being with him; it’s just that it’s lovely to have the space to move around a house for both of us, to be able to choose a different room to be in occasionally, rather than having only the option of kitchen/sitting room/bedroom which is what you get in what might best be described as an old folk’s bungalow. It’s not that we have lots of hobbies, we just like the space. And we do have a large garage where he has a workshop, and we do have a summerhouse in the garden, too. It’s all put to use.
    Margaret P

  8. Great post! We are in the process of buying a home in Florida, USA to get away from the long , bitter and downright awful winters of the east coast. We chose the smallest home the company is able to build; 1500 sq. feet. It is considered a small house compared to the McMansions most Americans dream of or own. I just want to live in peace and not worry about having hefty utility bills and a huge mortgage. For me, less is more lately.

  9. I recently lived for 2 years in a small 1 bedroomed cottage. It was very squashed! But, I loved having my own space. Now I share a 3 bedroomed house with someone who has tons of “stuff” & I often feel crowded with very little space for myself. In this day & age, space is becoming a luxury. And having a bit of space = less stress, for me, anyway.

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