Why Is Simple Living So Hard? 5 Tips for Simplifying Your Life (From Someone Who’s Done It)

why is simple living so hardLast year, I did a no-spend challenge. For an entire year, I didn’t buy anything except food.

It doesn’t get much more “simple living” than living in a tiny house and spending nothing for a whole year, but even after I got into the groove of buying nothing, I still felt the pull of the busy world around me. So, throughout my no-buy year, I kept a list of all the items I wanted to buy when the year was over.

Ryan living simply in a tiny houseI live in a 150 square foot tiny house. I follow a minimalist lifestyle and own less than 1000 items to my name, but at the end of my no-spend year, there were 30 items on my wish list! However, as I went through my list and prioritized, I realized there was only ONE item I truly wanted. Despite my commitment to simple living, even I get tripped up by advertising traps and marketing. We live in a world where we’re constantly told that we need more things to feel happy.

It’s no wonder the simple life has so much appeal. Most people are stressed out, overloaded, and working themselves to the bone. If you look at the way American society has changed in the last 50 years or so, it becomes obvious. When I was growing up, I was told you go to school and get a degree. From there, you get a good job, do a good job, and build job security. You add money to your 401(k), buy a lovely little house with a picket fence. You’ll meet your future wife and create a family, living out the American dream lifestyle. Eventually, you retire fat and happy at age 65.

But in 2009, I graduated with my masters. I got a job and the company I was working for folded six months in. The rug was completely pulled out from under me. I realized the narrative I had been living wasn’t realistic, something had to change.

what's right for you, question to ask when you want to live a simple lifeNow, society is really good at pulling you back on the conventional path. For example, when I was looking for flexible employment I could do anywhere, I saw hundreds of options for jobs that would have tied me to a 9-5 corporate ball and chain. It was daunting to realize I had to create my dream job for myself. It would have been easier to follow society’s path.

What you should ask is what’s right for you…and also, what’s wrong for you? Simple living means different things to different people. Those definitions don’t work for everyone. Often, it’s easier to define what you don’t want. Most people hesitate to say exactly what they want, but they can quickly pinpoint EXACTLY what they don’t. “I don’t want to work for this jerk anymore,” or, “I don’t want to trip over clutter around my house,” or, “I don’t ever want to hear from a debt collector again.” Then, what you want is the opposite.

What You Need To Know BEFORE You Try Simple Living

what you need to know before you try simple living

Do you think you’re ready to rise to the challenge of simple living?

Before you try simple living, you must explore your reasons. People are often hoping to leave their old life behind but embracing a simpler life won’t magically erase your past. Simple living isn’t the ultimate solution to every problem in your life.

It’s important to unpack your baggage and deal with it. When people see others in tiny houses, they often say, “Look at that person, they look so happy! Tiny houses are the secret to happiness.”

Honestly, happiness doesn’t have anything to do with a smaller home. It’s because the person in the tiny house has decided, “these things are important to me” and “these other things aren’t.” When you see people living a simple life happily, it’s because they’ve gone through the pain of unpacking their emotional baggage.

simple living requires introspection

Simple living requires introspection. One affliction in America is the busyness culture. We are so afraid to slow down because we would be left alone with our thoughts and for most people, that is terrifying. So we put a screen in front of our face. We jam-pack our schedules. We keep our homes filled to the brim. We don’t allow ourselves to slow down and think. We can’t enjoy the experience because we’re too busy taking a selfie to show others how much “fun” we are having, so much so, we haven’t had a substantive conversation with the people we are with that would make a memory, but later that week we’d tell our therapist we don’t feel connected.

In my experience, the best investment I’ve made is time alone with myself. It was the most productive time I’ve spent, and it pays dividends every day.

One saying I follow is: people are happy because they’re happy people. It’s not because of the stuff we own, the house we live in, the place we travel to, or the job we do. We’re happy because we choose to be that way despite the bad things in life that inventibly come up.

The Pros and Cons of Simple Living Like A Pro

pros and cons of simple living

After my company folded, I did a lot of soul-searching. I realized I wanted a different, less-traditional job—basically, a job that I had to create for myself. Could I have taken the cube farm route? Sure! But I know I wouldn’t have been as happy or satisfied.

But building my simpler life didn’t happen overnight. It was a slow and steady process. If I had to take away one lesson from the experience, it would be:

it takes time to start to live simply

Simple living requires time to transition, but it’s so worth it!

There were plenty of bumps along the way too. Like, when I told my parents that I was going to take a simpler job, scale back, and blog full-time. I remember my mom was seriously worried (even though she’s incredibly supportive).

Then when I started to build my tiny house, I found that many people were curious and some of them critical. One day as I was working on my place a lady stopped at watched for a while. She started asking me all kinds of questions about my home. I’ll never forget her parting words, “Good luck finding a wife who will want to live in your tiny house.” I remember thinking maybe she was right. Perhaps I was making a mistake. Which brings me to the second point:

You need to question everything when you want to live a simple life

Simple living means people will question and critique your life.

But the truth is, those people are questioning you, because there are aspects of their own life they’re struggling with. That’s when I learned how self-centered people truly are. They may look at how you don’t need as much “stuff” or how you’ve chosen a less-traditional job, or a smaller home. You may hear, “I could never do that!” And the truth is, they probably couldn’t.

simple living isn't for everyone

Simple living isn’t for everyone.

I also discovered this as I started dating. I found out that there are pros and cons of living a simple life. Yes, people question your choices (and maybe even your sanity), but those who stay in your life are really worth keeping. I’ve found the women attracted to the simple life are really grounded. They aren’t hung up on superficial stuff, and they’re aligned with my worldview. Being open and honest about wanting to live simply, attracted women I wanted to date, and dissuaded those who wouldn’t have been a match anyway.

The same is true with friends. I’ve found that as my life has become simpler, I’ve found more time to spend with the people who really matter to me. It helps you narrow your focus and figure out who is truly supportive and needed in your life.

relationships are important when you focus on what's important

Simple living helps you form closer relationships.

Today, my friends sometimes joke I don’t work at a real job. I just “run a blog.” But then they see me headed off to other countries. They look on when I get to spend a few weeks (or months) in Croatia, Australia, Stockholm, or the UK. They ask me how I take morning hikes on a Wednesday when they’re working their 9-5.

The truth is, because I’ve chosen a simple, less traditional path, I’ve been able to accomplish many big goals. I blog for a living. I write books. I spend time with those who mean a lot to me. My time is more valued, and my life feels more meaningful. Although I’m not a trust-fund kid, by any means, I don’t have debt, and I travel often.

to live simply you need to know what your goals are

Simple living helps you achieve a life you design and remove obstacles.

When it comes to simple living, if you want it, it’s achievable. There’s no secret sauce or trick to simple living. It’s about deciding on the goal that’s right for you, figuring out how to align it with your lifestyle, and then pursuing the goal single-mindedly.

You might think, “Being my own boss, living debt-free, eliminating clutter, cutting back stress—those all sound awesome! I want that!”

And indeed, simple living is possible in some form for everyone. But there are a lot of misconceptions about simple living out there. A lot of people get an idyllic notion stuck in their head that isn’t accurate or aligned to their needs.

farm cabin tiny house

I’ve met a lot of people who jump into living in a cabin in the woods, or they go out and buy a full-fledged hobby farm in the country. They haven’t found out what’s right for them. They’re subscribing to someone else’s definition of simple living, which is a dangerous mistake that will only leave you searching for answers.

When you jump into a new lifestyle out of nowhere, you’re basically saying, “I don’t like my life now. I’m going to live a new life.” But what happens is you end up importing all the problems your former life had: all its definitions, labels, and problems.

understand who you are at your core

Simple living doesn’t change who you are at your core.

So, you want to become a homesteader. You go out and buy land and a barn in a spot you’ve never been to. You fill the barn with animals you’ve never raised before. Then you wake up one morning, and your life is not simple at all. In fact, you’re stuck with a pretty big problem. You never leave the farm because you need to milk the goats, tend chickens, and put the cows out to pasture.

It’s all about finding the simple lifestyle that’s livable for you. For example, I would love to own a few cows and goats, but I also love to travel. I can’t commit to animals that need milking twice a day, every day, or they go off milk. I couldn’t even leave for a weekend trip, and it wouldn’t work with my life.

its not a magic bullet

Simple living doesn’t make your life perfect, but it helps you find more meaning.

In fact, sometimes simple living is really challenging—even difficult. But, it’s in that struggle we find the beauty and satisfaction of a simple life. Research has found that when things come easy for us, we don’t derive as much value out of it. Although a life free of stress sounds terrific at first, it’s struggle and adversity that bring us meaning. I’ve found this very accurate for myself. The things I’m most thankful for were the most difficult. Striving and strife make us value it more. Simple living isn’t easy, but it also brings us a great deal of meaning.

The Logistical Challenges of Simple Living

challenges of simple living

Aside from the philosophical pros and cons of simple living, there are a few logistical challenges as well. It’s important to understand these barriers and consider all aspects BEFORE you move toward a simple life.

the space that you live in might not be largeSpace: When people consider moving into tiny homes, they think they have to live in a tiny house of 200-300 square feet when it might not be right for them. The truth is, 200 feet isn’t going to work for some people, particularly if you have a family. You won’t feel happy with five people in a super tiny home. So, maybe instead, you sell your 4,000 square foot house and buy a 1,000 square foot house. Find something for half the mortgage and use the money to travel as a family.

living simply might actaully cost more moneyMoney: It sounds counter intuitive, but even a simple life costs money, there are times where simple living may even cost more than your old life depending on certain factors. If you want to live simply in a city, you still need to earn an income. You still need to understand your budget. On the surface a simpler life may seem cheaper, but you still need to look at your relationship with money. Why do you spend? How can you simplify your finances and still feel satisfied? Is spending X dollars a month in rent or on your mortgage getting you closer or moving you further away? What steps can you take to get your money under control?

understanding why you buy thingsWants: You need to get down to the underlying reason you want an item. After all, no one buys a $100 designer t-shirt because they NEED it. They buy it because they want to show they can afford it. Why? Because they want a girl to like them? Why? Because they really want love and companionship. Many people are addicted to (fleeting) happiness they think they can buy, which doesn’t actually satisfy their needs. We’ve all heard of retail therapy. It’s a hard habit to break.

cutting out toxic relationshipsRelationships: People run into the obstacle of relationships because they don’t know how to prioritize and say no. Simplifying your life doesn’t only mean tossing out belongings you don’t need and downsizing. It means finding ways to get more control over your schedule. You want to spend time with the people who mean the most to you, doing things your love, in a way that is on your own terms. When I simplified, I cut back to only the people who were important to me and who I wanted to invest time in. The others, I cut out.

figure out what you do and don't want to spend your time onTime: Simple living takes time. One of the biggest obstacles I faced when simplifying was realizing I had to go through the process of figuring out what I wanted. I had to get out of debt. I had to figure out how to become location-independent, own my own business, and deal with my own baggage. It took me years from the time I started my blog to quit my job. During that time, I was downsizing possessions, building my tiny house, and navigating my path. What seemed so simple ended up taking me 6 or 7 years to achieve. And guess what, I’m still working at it even today.

simple living means making choices that are hardSacrifice: When I started to simplify, my family announced they were going on a trip to Italy. Now, family time is extremely important to me. But I had set really aggressive financial goals to pay off my student loans. I decided between the goal of paying off my loans or going to Italy with my family. In the end, I didn’t go on the trip. I’ve faced many of these hard choices over the last 6 or 7 years. I had to recommit every single day.

you'll need to redefine who you are in some waysIdentity: Many of us define ourselves by our career. It’s how we earn money. It’s what people pay you to do. When you introduce yourself, you say something like, “I’m a banker.” Well, you might be a banker now, but it doesn’t mean you need to be a banker tomorrow. If living a simple life means finding a fulfilling career path, you may wrestle with your identity. What are other ways to earn money, and what’s holding you back?

When I started living in a tiny house, my rent went from $1,500 to zero. That allowed me to take risks and follow new pursuits. I could start a company. Most of my pals were like, “I can’t do that because I have a mortgage and bills. I must stay in this cubicle.”

5 Tips To Simplify Your Life (from Someone Who’s Done It)

tips for simple living

No matter where you are with simplifying your life, there are 5 practical tips I recommend that you can apply today. These tips really apply to any new situation or significant lifestyle change you’re considering. If you’re wondering how to destress your life and build a life you love, it starts here.

1
Ask What You Want More Of – Look at your current lifestyle and write a list of all the positive aspects that bring you joy. What do you want more of in your life? Maybe it’s time, family, travel, health, or something else. What makes you the happy and what would you like to expand on?
2
Ask What You Want Less Of – Now it’s time for the flip side. Sometimes it’s hard to nail down what we do want, but people are pretty clear what they don’t want. What are all the aspects you’d like to eliminate from your life? Write down anything that drags you down, makes you unhappy, drains your energy, or causes you stress. It may include debt, your dead-end job, too much clutter, toxic relationships, or something else entirely. What do you want less of in your life?
3
Define Your Ideal Day – This journaling exercise really helps you pinpoint how your perfect life looks. Imagine your ideal day (or even your ideal week); walk through each moment from the time you get up to the time you drift off to sleep. What is your morning like? What’s your routine? Do you work? What type of work? How would it look? Get as specific as possible—what clothes would you wear, what would you eat, what people would you spend time with?
4
Define Your Goals – Behind every single success is a goal. Goals give us a marker to move toward. When you pinpoint your targets, write them as clearly as possible. Set SMART goals and define the parameters. Any time you want to achieve something big (or small), a goal will guide your way.
5

Write Out the Steps – This will look a little different for everyone. There isn’t a clear point A to point B roadmap and sometimes it seems like such an overwhelming task that you don’t even know where to start. The question is, what do you need to do next? Do you need to break down your goals into smaller steps? Do you need to set a budget?

If you ask yourself these questions about your ideal life, your vision will start to come together. You’ll match up your idea of a simple life with the reality of what works for you. Life doesn’t need to be complicated. Many people find the simpler their life gets, the more satisfying it becomes. Make time for the lifestyle that really matters to you.

Your Turn!

  • What does simple living mean to you?
  • What’s your biggest challenge when simplifying?
6 Comments
  1. Good afternoon. Good article. It was very interesting to read your story. Small houses for permanent residence are an excellent construction option. Today, housing is very expensive. Serving it is also a costly process. That is why people are looking for a way out of the situation, giving their preference to small buildings for permanent residence, because a small house is just as functional and comfortable, and much less money is needed for its construction and maintenance. Currently, the architectural direction, which allows you to build a mini-house, is very popular. This is a peculiar style of minimalism, in which the rooms have multifunctionality, there is no corridor or it has been reduced to miniature size. In such a house everything is thought out very carefully. Good luck.

  2. Excellent article. I love reading your down to earth approach to life and the ‘alternativeness’ of small space/simple living. The hints are useful and inspire me to get my own ‘house in order’. I live in a mobile home which I am refurbishing and love it! I feel fantastic achievement as I work through each task – I love recycling, upcycling, freebies and giveaways (both ways). This frees me up to travel the world by house sitting and enjoying a few luxuries along the way and also experiencing other simple living. When you look it is amazing how people are living throughout the world – it’s not all corporate and BS! Keep up the good work Ryan – its fun and inspiring. Karyll

  3. This is the clearest article I have read on Living a simple life. Thank you. While I don’t want to live in a tiny house, I do want to simplify my life. Your map to get there is so concise. I am getting out my journal now to write down your very practical tips.

  4. Great inspiration and clear suggestions for making my own decisions for simplified living. Glad I found your blog!

  5. Another consideration not mentioned is the need to plan for emergencies, or even unexpected events, like the power going out, storms that damage or other contingencies that much be planned for. Alternative income streams that can be developed are a way to live simply and sustainably, and bartering or Timebanking are ways of investing in the sharing economy. (Unfortunately big corporations do their best to prevent consumers from even fixing their own stuff.)

  6. Here’s my idea of a simplified life– no paperwork! The only mail coming to my house would be personal letters and Christmas cards. Right now, I have downsized a lot of stuff, and nothing comes into my house that I don’t want here, except for mail.

    Any suggestions on that front?

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