In 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
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.
Downsize 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?