What does it mean to live simply? It sounds easy, doesn’t it? I mean, ‘simple’ is right there in the name. Yes please, give me a simple, easy life.
But what does that look like to actually live it out- to change your lifestyle and pursue simplicity? Is it minimalism? Is it ethical purchases and responsible choices? Is it mindfulness? Is it reducing waste and eating organically? Is it homesteading and sustainability? Is it all of these?
Is there really even an correct answer at all?
The lack of a solid definition behind this otherwise easy phrase has been bothering me lately. I mean, yes – according to Instagram and bloggers living simply is living a slow, intention-filled life. But even that answer seems vague, especially when you write out just a few of the possibilities any person could explore. Can you truly live simply without doing all the things right? Or is it just the pursuit of simplicity that makes a life ‘simple?’ Last time I checked, life is anything BUT easily understood or done. There’s always some form of difficulty, some extent of trial and error. But maybe simple living is just meant to convey a life in pursuit of a slower lifestyle, of more meaning in one’s day.
I identify with ‘living simply’, but lately have been distracted by what exactly that means. What am I saying I even identify with? Of course, I have my own ideas of what simple living means, but do they fit what it actually entails? If I don’t check off certain boxes, am I really living simply or do I just look foolish? Living simply is more then minimalism or tiny homes, but what exactly does it look like and why are there so many possibilities? Since I’m the queen of over analyzing words, I looked up the definition of ‘simple’.
After reading through ten (ten!!) different definitions of what the word simple really means, it actually brought more clarity to my own journey of simplicity and why I make the decisions and choices I do. Did it define the entire movement for me? No. But I feel like there is actually a lot of great advice in these defining qualities of the word simple that can actually help and encourage pursuit of that lifestyle. Doesn’t it make sense that the explanation of a word would both liberate it and contain it?
Let’s really dig in, okay? Here’s some what Merriam Webster had to say;
I’m surprised just how many different ways ‘simple’ can be defined! Even just skimming through the definitions made me think of different ways each of these could relate to life without the label of simple living. Obviously, Merriam-Webster didn’t write out these definitions to explain ‘simple living’ as a whole, but it might be interesting to look into just a few of these definitions and how they can impact or influence what simple living means to us. Let’s unpack this, shall we?
2: Free from vanity: modest
Doesn’t life sometimes feel like one big popularity contest? That to get ahead you have to have the biggest following, the nicest things, the best jobs, etc. We know in our hearts it’s not true- life isn’t solely the pursuit of success. We know that the things that matter most are family and relationships and the state of our health, but still it’s easy to fall into comparison traps and try to keep up with the expectations society has for us.
Isn’t playing for show and collecting things to get ahead a form of vanity? Obviously, not all of life’s complications are rooted in vanity and some people genuinely don’t care how others perceive them (in a good way!). But isn’t it freeing to think that life can be lived without the addition of power struggles and collecting things? A simple life is pursuing freedom from the struggle of appearance and comparison.
5: b. Free of Secondary Complications
Stay with me! There’s literally five separate sub-definitions for ‘sheer’ and ‘unmixed’, but the one I want to focus on is b – ‘free of secondary complications’.
Life is complicated. Honestly, I don’t think there’s any way that life could become un-complicated. Between relationships and finances life is just a messy journey by nature. But sometimes we add complications to the mix, don’t we? Adding unnessceary possessions we just don’t need, maxing out our credit cards, or sticking our noses in other people’s business (it happens, right?), etc. We can foil ourselves when it comes to living a bit more within our financial, emotional, and health means. Simple living is the pursuit of a basic purpose or goal – a focused path to living free. This definition is a great reminder to step back and take things slower. Take some time to think about what’s important to your life. Is it necessary to add _____ to it? Will it benefit or add complications?
6: Free from Elaboration or Figuration
Our day-to-day can be slow and boring. I don’t speak for everyone here, but when you are in the routine of life (with a job, and a home, and responsibilities) often you can fall into a rut of the same actions every day. As many of you know, I’m a photographer by trade. The job is super awesome, and we love what we do. But when you own your own business, it’s especially tempting to think you don’t have it all together and fail in many ways. I read somewhere the other day that a photographer’s life is boring – and I breathed a sigh of relief. I always knew my day to day was boring, but having it confirmed that it was okay to not always be non-stop adventuring and generally being super hip all the time. Between editing and paperwork and sitting in front of a computer all day, even our dream jobs can feel like they are lacking life and wear us down.
Often, it’s tempting to start daydreaming our ordinary away, elaborating in our minds a different life or becoming dissatisfied with just how normal and routine everything is. Whether it’s owning your own business, or staying home which your children and following the routine every day. Part of living simply is slowly down and enjoy the moments that happen every day – yes, even the simple, dull, and repetitive ones.
9: Readily Understood or Preformed
Okay, I understand this entire post came about because the concept of ‘simple living’ can sometimes be over whelming or seem not so simple (I’m not the only one, right?). The important thing here is that living simply is readily understood to YOU. Ultimately, we are the ones who decide how we live as families and individuals, and the path we set for ourselves has to be clear to be followed. Is the way you pursue a simpler life clear? Or are you researching articles and throwing everything away just hoping to find that sweet spot of ‘simplicity?’
For simple living to really work for a person or family, you have to know what you’re doing. Are you trying to homestead? Giving minimalism a shot? Working on simplifying your schedule and commitments? Whatever that ‘simple living’ ideal is for you – pursue that. Not what the internet tells you is ‘simple living’, because can we agree that easily gets over complicated and results in in-achievable expectations. But strive for the lifestyle that brings more peace and practical simplicity to your family.
And, hey – if you discover along the way more ways to live simple, more power to you! One of the reasons I started to wonder about what simple living even means is because I started becoming more interested in other aspects of simple living in addition to a slower, minimalistic lifestyle – such as reducing waste and ethical purchases. I started to stress that adding more ‘things’ to my own path would distract me from a simpler ideal of life. I was identifying with a movement I didn’t fully grasp.
Normally, I don’t go through the dictionary and really tear into the word and meanings. There are some people who this probably won’t resonate with at all- that’s absolutely okay. But the intent of this post was to give anyone else who struggles with what simple living means a starting point to find where it starts within ourselves. Because, truly – it is a personal decision and a intentional lifestyle, right?
So – what does it mean to live simply?
This answer will be different for everyone, with different focuses and different lifestyles. But there will be some aspects that will look the same – the pursuit of practical, focused lifestyle. The removing of unnecessary complications and things. The intent of enjoying your ordinary every day because there is beauty in these little moments.
Find what living simply means to you – and pursue it. Carve out time to write what you want to focus on, what would simplify your life (meal planning? Supporting your local economy? Minimalism?) and the why you want to pursue it. Really, it’s as simple as what are you passionate about and how can you be a part of it.
What does simple living mean to you? How do you pursue and explore it?