what does “simple living” really mean?

A few weeks ago a magazine journalist called me to chat about simplicity. She was interested to hear what it meant to me…which I found slightly overwhelming but largely humbling.

I rambled, as I do when I’m on the phone, and in doing so found myself spurting all these thoughts that had been misplaced in my very active, if slightly anxious, pregnant brain.

I explained, as I did here, that this year has been a significant turning point for me. More time, more children, less work, less money and, ultimately, a big shift in priorities.

At the very crux of this shift has been a better understanding – a truer understanding – of simplicity and minimalism…which is not, in any way, related to white walls, linen bedcovers and passionate decluttering. I may be contradicting my former self by saying this, but I’m happy to admit that my practise of simplicity has evolved over time and, thanks to life circumstances, become a whole lot more authentic.

To me, simplicity is not an aesthetic or a trend. It’s a way of living that celebrates resourcefulness and mindfulness – rarely easy but often satisfying.

How ironic that we’re sold simplicity as an expensive, often unattainable, image. The picture of living simply has a lot more to do with magazine-worthy kitchens and their accompanying wooden utensils than it does with mending and making do and using something till it has withered away.

But how incredibly reassuring it is to know that if we dig a little deeper we soon discover that the heroes of this way of living were our grandparents and the generations before them; the pioneers of budgeting and frugality and living within their means.

If you feel the urge to live more simply and tread more lightly but feel overwhelmed by the how, you’re not alone. But know this; simple living is never dependent on your income or your location or the colour of your walls. It’s much more reliant on your mindset, your intentions and your awareness.

Three ways to make simple changes:

  • ditch the takeaway coffee cups : Why? Because Australians use 1 billion a year and despite popular belief, they’re not recyclable. It took me a while to adopt the habit of taking my keepcup everywhere but now it’s second nature (I recommend the glass version). Alternatively, take ten minutes out of your day and sit in at the cafe, drink from a mug and know that you haven’t contributed to landfill.
  • question yourself before you buy anything : buying out of habit is pretty common in our culture but I’ve found over time that mindfully questioning myself before I purchase means that I ultimately buy less (but buy better). Needs take priority over wants and longevity, practicality and quality become paramount. If I need a new vegetable peeler I’ll search the op-shop before I resort to the supermarket. Similarly, if I need a new top for my ever-expanding belly, I’ll look in my wardrobe before I look online. And if something needs mending…I mend it or find someone who can. Instead of buying new boots this winter I spent $60 getting two pairs of well-loved ankle boots re-heeled and re-soled (this was an easy choice considering I loathe shoe shopping).
  • adopt new grocery shopping + cooking habits : food waste is a major environmental concern in Australia (alarming fact sheet over here) and it also has a big impact on our wallets. How to make changes that benefit your budget and the country? Meal plan, shop to a list, cook from the fridge/pantry before you head to the supermarket and get inventive (Simplicious, Frugavore and The Thrifty Kitchen are great cookbooks to get you started).

Inspiring Links

Seek and you’ll find a new wave of simple living inspiration. But where to start?

  • this conversation between Brooke McAlary and Sarah Wilson expands on many of the points I’ve made here. It’s a great introduction to Brooke’s popular blog + podcast, Slow Your Home.
  • ABC’s new doco, War on Waste, is a great way to be shocked into changing your daily living habits.
  • I’m on the library waitlist for this so I can’t offer you a personal review but I have heard brilliant things about The Art of Frugal Hedonism.
  • I often return to Rhonda Hetzel’s blog and books – Down to Earth + The Simple Home – when I’m in need of some back-to-basics advice. Rhonda really does live the simple, good life and her words are wise.
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Showing 18 comments
  • sophie
    Reply

    I like you so much more after reading this…..😊

    All about keeping it real and simple without all the hipster fluff trending nonsense. Onwards and backwards to saner planet.x

    • Jodi
      Reply

      ha! well that’s good to know 😉 x

    • Rachael
      Reply

      Jodi I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time now and although I’m yet to have children, I’m in my late 20s and have lots of thoughts about what I would like that life to look like. In the meantime though, your blog resonated with because it reminded me so much of how my mum raised me and her frugal, simple, but beautiful way of living. I’m the eldest of four and while we were by no means scraping by, I always took note of the way my mum sought out quality in things like school shoes and the food she made from scratch. As I get older I’m interested in preserving this way of living amidst the bubbling ferment of trendy simple living that, as so many others have mentioned, misses the mark in the simplicity department. I love your definition of mindfulness and look forward to exploring all of the resources you shared.

  • Carly
    Reply

    I love Rhonda Hetzel’s books and blog. For me she cuts through the hype to the core of living a truly simple and thrifty life. She reminds us that we can build the life we want and we don’t need to be a slave to consumerism if we don’t want to. She definatley harks back to previous generations tenacity and self reliance, which in a modern world when we are constantly told we need more more more and need to outsource to do it is such a refreshing perspective.

    • Jodi
      Reply

      The very core! I really appreciate her thoughts on money too (live within your means, make your mortgage a priority – as in, pay it off asap! – don’t get caught up in consumerism etc) x

  • Kate
    Reply

    This is the best blog post I’ve read in a long time. So refreshing and such good practical advice. I really enjoyed the slow home podcast with Sarah Wilson and The Frugal Art of Hedonism was a good read too.

    • Jodi
      Reply

      oh, thank you! x

    • Kate
      Reply

      Oops seems I got the title wrong..must not try to chat with kids and comment at the same time 😂

  • Katherine
    Reply

    I’ve read your blog for a while but never commented … but I agree with the others — this is such a great post, and really inspiring rather than overwhelming. As much as I’d love to claim to be a minimalist, I’m not! But I’m definitely going to try to discipline myself (and my time) to make some of these changes. Thanks 🙂

  • Monica
    Reply

    I’ve been trying to live more simply since my husband was injured at work & has had 2 surgeries & hasn’t worked for over 8 months & won’t be returning any time soon. Purse strings need to be tightened more than I ever thought was possible. Meal planning is going to be our saviour I think. I bought The Art of Frugal Hedonism & loved it. I’m happy to send you my copy if you’d like? I’m trying to not hang onto too many books!

    • Jodi
      Reply

      I would love that, if you don’t mind? Happy to contribute towards the initial cost 🙂 x

    • Rae
      Reply

      Monica – this gave me goosebumps! This was my family last year! Husband injured at work – 2 surgeries – year + long rehab/recovery. It was terrifying initially – but it gave us – especially me – perspective. I now have a clearer idea of what we want and what is important. frugality and simplicity are at the core of it for me now.
      I hope your Husband recovers well and very best wishes to you – the support role can be hard at times.

  • Reannon
    Reply

    You are speaking my language Jodi! My life might not ” look ” simple, in fact it can look a bit chaotic to an outsider because it doesn’t fit with the aesthetic that people think simplicity is but I know that simplicity is at the core of everything I do. From my kitchen to my wardrobe to my garden to my shopping habits, simply & Frugal are my core values.
    And The Art of Frugal Hedonism is amazing! One of the best books I’ve read & one I want to buy after borrowing from the library.
    Hope you’re well 🙂 x

  • Laura
    Reply

    One of my fav blog posts – thanks for the inspiration 🙂

  • Eliza
    Reply

    The strong pull of being a SAHM, far from my feminist leaning (and my mum’s expectations) was so strong after my 2nd child. We lived how I’d lived as a child and i was so happy! Back at work now (my choice also) but still living like we did.

    A really wise woman once said 4 gifts at Christmas and birthdays was enough. Something to wear, something to read, someting you want and something you need? I think that’s simplicity and minimalism too!

  • Jess
    Reply

    This is such a BEAUTIFUL post, wise and honest. Thank you!

  • Torrie
    Reply

    I’ve read definitions of simple living for years, but I think I like yours best because it keeps the focus where it should be (I think anyway). Thank you for giving me a fresh perspective and for encouraging me that I’m doing all right when it comes to this simple living pursuit (even if my home’s walls are not all white and even if I still have way too much stuff around!)

  • Khali
    Reply

    I have had this issue on my mind for a while now. To me, living simply was always living with less, needing less and wanting less, but always striving for the highest quality so we could get the maximum out of our possessions. Yet I always felt I could never quite peach my own standard of what this meant. Then I read this post. And I looked around. I realised I already am living simply. Very simply actually. And I felt so proud of myself and my little family. My husband and I have two young daughters, who I care for at home, while he works part time and studies part time. And on this very restricted budget we survive. And do so very happily, without feeling bereft of fun or treats! We are already living the life I was aiming for. So simply that I didn’t even notice. So I just wanted to say thank you for reminding me xx

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