Heather White

Life Story Recorder, Family Echoes


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Do you "live simply"?

For economic, environmental or personal philosophical reasons, do you live differently from your materialist, competitive and consuming neighbours?

You may live in a town, city or rural area, but do you live differently?

Has the global economic crisis had an impact on how you live, or have you always lived a thrifty life?

How has living simply effected your happiness (mental and emotional health) and physical health?

Have you given up driving a car, or perhaps you’ve downshifted to a smaller home. Do you grow your own food, buy second-hand goods, make your own clothes. Perhaps you’ve moved away to a rural area or into a city to take advantage of public services. Have you changed your job, work fewer hours or lost your job. Have you always lived this way, or has “living simply” been forced upon you?

What is your one luxury item - your exception to living simply?

Please tell us how you "live simply" - why and for how long you have lived this way and if you live in an urban or rural area.

I’m a fan of two books that inspired me to simplify my life, they are:

“Choosing Simplicity” by Linda Breen Pierce

This is a US book detailing the results of a study of “down shifters” undertaken by the author between 1996 - 98. The book details some of the respondents stories with comment from Linda.

“How to Be Free” by Tom Hodgkinson

A light-hearted British book providing the historical, rational and philosophic reasons why living a materialistic consumer life is bad for our health, wealth and happiness. We have all been brainwashed by our capitalist masters and need to wake up! Available as an e-book.

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    Jun 24 2012: I'll start things off myself... I was a teenager in the early 1980's in the UK. Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minster and "greed was good".

    I began working in a bank - I hated it (but my parents insisted it was a secure job). After four years I packed it in to go travelling. On my return I got a part-time job and attended university. For the next 15 years I worked hard in my career - getting promoted, moving jobs to secure higher pay and status. Then I experience work place bullying and I eventually lost my career just as the financial crisis was biting heard in 2010.

    I was unemployed for many months so "living simply" was forced on me, but gradually I’ve grown to enjoy simplicity. I haven't moved so I still live in a large town near London. I run a small car and I have a fast internet connection - these are my luxuries. I grow some of my own veg and have the time to make my food from scratch - I can only afford to eat meat twice a week, but I’m enjoying my veg diet. I’m less tired in the evenings so I often baby sit for friends.

    I no longer dine out, buy many new clothes or take expensive vacations. I think twice before turning the heating on!

    I visit free art galleries, museums and universities for free events or public lectures. I have a dog and we enjoy long walks. I work in a low status job for 25 hours a week as a Housekeeper (cook / cleaner) at a small local school. My daily commute takes 15 minutes - I fill the car with petrol once a month - previously I had to fill up twice a week.

    I'm financially poorer, but time rich. I'm happy, healthier, fitter, less stressed and less tired - but life on low pay is difficult and living simply can be just as complex.
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    Jul 7 2012: I think I fade in and out of living simply but my heart is usualy there so I am pursuing most of the above incrementally. Life is more complicated in some ways since the surgery which injured me but these thoughts are all very valid ways of living to me.

    My major comfort item in life is a deep bath tub. Maybe not so simple.
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      Jul 7 2012: Yes, it can be complicated to live simply! Especially if money is tight or you're trying to be green minded. The big, deep bath tub is a lovely luxury - just recycle the water on the house plants or garden.

      I hope you're on the mend now - I'm aware that you've been very ill recently. Wishing you well
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    Jul 3 2012: This is a matter of perspective. Simple in one country may be high society in another. We are T shirt and jeans people but also have many creature comforts. So I guess that we are simply extravant. Now I am depressed.

    All the best. Bob.
  • Jun 25 2012: This is a great and important topic. I am trying to live simply because I think the most important in your life is your family and friends not possessions.

    Interestingly today I am meting my boss to discuss lowering my work hours by 10% (with 10% pay cut). That way I will have more time to do what is important in my life.

    I found these guys very inspirational and insightful:
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      Jun 25 2012: This is a big decision for you, but I think you'll be pleased you made the shift. When I think about rich people the one thing they have in common with each other is that they have plenty of time to do as they please. We may never be "super rich" but, if we can afford it, taking our own time back is an amazing first step in liberating our selves.

      Your family and friends will notice the difference and you will get to know your kids better - it'll be great. It should also have a very positive environmental benefit because you'll think twice before wasting money on non-essential or trendy items or energy use.

      ALL FOR ONLY 10% - you'll easily make that up through the saving you'll make in living a thrifty life.

      Look up the books I recommended - both are e-books via Amazon.

      Best of luck and please email me to let me know how things are going.
      • Jun 26 2012: Thank you for your support. It is not easy to do so because the whole society and companies expect you to work 40 hours a week and many times even longer.

        It is sad that more people don't realize that they can spend less and work less. It is also unfortunate that the productivity improvements due to better technology yet didn't translate into more free time.

        Perhaps one day I drop another 10% in order to have 4 days week =)

        Yes I will have look at the books. thank you

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      Jun 25 2012: A lot of my professional life, I worked 80% time. I might actually work more hours than that, but I had either Friday off or shorter days at the workplace. Work did come home.
      Shorter days were beneficial for getting home to my children after school so that we didn't need to use after school daycare.
      Not using daycare is not simpler than using it, but it gave my children more of the life of children whose mother was at home, since I was at home when they were. There was a definite career penalty for the decisions I made about time, but I have no regrets for the choice I made.
      • Jun 26 2012: Thank you for sharing. It is nice to hear your story. The thing is that your children will be children only one time while you can always start a new career in the future.

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          Jun 26 2012: Thank you, Zdenek. I just want to be upfront that some career paths are not recoverable after one makes the more family friendly decision.
          But what is true is that there are often other valuable things one can do with ones skills.
          Each person has to make the tradeoff his/her own way.But there sometimes-often- is a tradeoff
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      Jul 7 2012: Worthshile link as always, Zdenek!
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    Jun 25 2012: I wish I was living simply, but my life is complicated. Someday I will have an actual reply.
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    Jun 24 2012: i've just had a bottle of la trappe dubbel out of koningshoeven, arguably the best beer on earth. where does this put me?
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    Jun 24 2012: It's wonderful that you are increasingly pleased with your choices. To be fair, I don't know that I would call my neighbors materialist, competitive, and consuming. They have cars, just as I drive a twenty year old little car (though I don't commute or run most errands in it). I don't notice their clothing sufficiently to know how often they wear new. I honestly don't evaluate my choices in life by contrasting it with an image of my neighbors.
    I, like you, am lucky to live close in so that I can go on foot or by bus to places like museum, grocery store, post office, community college, and hospital. I have lived in this house twenty-five years. Many people, I know cannot afford to live close in to such amenities, as living close to things has gotten increasingly expnsive. It isn't that I made the simple choice and they the complex one.
    Like you, I enjoy the luxury of a dog and an internet connection, though I wouldn't say a fast one!
    On the flip side, I have been a great consumer of education and books, as are my three children. What makes my life not so simple is that I work at many projects (some as a volunteer) dear to my heart. Juggling projects is by its nature not simple. Raising three children is not simple either.
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      Jun 24 2012: I hope I didn't come across as smug. I used the term neighbours loosely - implying wider community or society - not your actual next door neighbours - I'm sure they are charming! I’m looking for new examples and experiences rather then comparisons and I‘m not judging people. Up until very recently I could afford the luxuries of modern life. What I’ve learnt is that being rich can mean having more time - it has less to do with the amount of cash in the bank.

      I'm interested in the issue of downshifting - be it forced upon people (like myself) or a conscious decision due to, for example, environmental reasons. How many people out there live with thrift in mind - turning lights off, putting a jumper on instead of turning the central heating on... I’d love to hear their stories.

      In the good economic times there were many professionals who would take early retirement and move out to rural areas - to enjoy the rural good life. Today, I'm noticing many people downshift their lives in towns and cities as services are closer to hand. I'd like to hear form them.

      Many people downshift to see more of their kids - realising that working 12 hours + a day makes their partner into a single parent, and them a stranger to their children. The spread of the internet and the option to work from home has helped many people in this regard - but not all jobs are suitable for this way of working. So what to people do if they want to rebalance their lives?

      Living simply does not mean that life is simple - life is complex even if you choose to live simply.

      You sound like you know where your priorities are - with your family and your kids education.

      Thanks for your input.
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        Jun 24 2012: Oh, I don't think you sounded smug and am very glad you landed on your feet.
        I just notice that this is one of these situations in which poor people with lots of mounths to feed have the least flexibility and those who have some sort of economic buffer have the most flexibility. Examples are that things that last are more expensive than things that need to be replaced quickly, living close to amenities is more expensive than living farther away, wholesome foods are more expensive than junk food, people with low incomes tend to live where the air is worst, people with low-paying jobs tend to get less time off or flexibikity in work schedule...
        I am absolutely with you on the fruitfulness of not worrying about fashion, certainly not worrying about other people's luxuries, and so forth.
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          Jun 24 2012: Thanks! I wouldn't say I've landed on the feet just yet - I still earn way less then half my previous salary! However, I am learning to readjust. It's ironic, I don't come from a wealthy family - money was tight when I was a child - the UK in the 1970's and early 1980's was a difficult time economically - just like now.

          However, over the past 15 years or so, I've earned a good living through my own heard work and I have become accustomed to that lifestyle. I now have to readjust. I want to weep when I think how much I fritted away on smart work clothes, shoes and dining out! But many of us do - so no judgement. Indeed, dressing smartly is often an expectation of employers, as is after office drinking and eating. I save a packet by not having the expenses of having a job! don’t get me started about the price of petrol! In the UK 1 litre currently costs £1.32.

          Does the US have allotments where people can grow their own fruit and veg? They are a great British tradition dating back to the WW1 and WW2 “Dig of Victory” campaigns. I pay a rent of £20 per year for my plot and I'm self sufficient in most veg and some fruit (apples, strawberries and raspberries). I eat less meat as it is comparatively expensive - but I do still enjoy chicken twice a week.

          It's interesting that in the UK the less expensive accommodation is to be found in urban areas. I guess it’s all related to space and the proximity to London (Reading is 40 miles west of London). Venture out into the English countryside and you have to earn a million! It's all stockbroker's and old money within 5 miles of my home. I guess our town and cities are smaller than US cities.
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        Jun 24 2012: The real estate structure is hard to describe compactly. Places in blighted cities without job opportunities are not expensive, but the amenities there tend to run down as well with the tax base.. Cities with good economies are expensive. Rural areas wth the scenery or amenities to be second homes for the affluent are expensive. Places with good public schools are expensive, as the quality of public education in the US varies dramatically even within pretty small geographic areas. Settings with mile after mile of strip mall are less expensive typically. Parts of cities afflicted with frequent violence are not expensive and have less access to enriching urban amenities.
        In the US we have something similar to allotments in some areas and waiting lists to get into them. I believe they are most common, and larger in terms of number of plots of land, in more affluent areas than in less affluent areas, but that may vary city by city.
        I also think that within urban areas, maker activities, or spaces through which people can learn to make things by hand that they cannot learn to make from an aunt or cousin, are more likely to be in located in upper middle class areas.
        I do not have data to support these observations on a broad level. This is just what I have noticed locally.
        All this makes the wholesome life more accessible for more affluent people.