Simple Living – Does it Have to be All or Nothing?

Simple Living - It Doesn't Have to be All or Nothing

So, I have a friend. And this friend is working to simplify her life, has been for years.

She has purged her family’s belongings, simplified their calendar, got out of debt, adopted green cleaning, got rid of all but her most wearable clothes and, more recently, started trying natural body products.

She’s doing OK.

But she feels bad because, well, there’s more to change.

There’s always more to change.

She still drinks coffee from her (gasp!) Nespresso machine.

She still gets her hair coloured.

She enjoys travelling to far-flung places.

She buys organic denim.

She eats non-organic food.

She is a fan of a gutsy shiraz.

And she feels bad about some of these things.

Not so much because there is anything wrong with buying quality jeans or drinking red wine (there’s a First World sentence right there) but because she feels that, in her quest to live simply, she should be all or nothing. That something worth doing is worth doing right.

And to me her, I say – nope.

What is “doing simplicity right” anyway? What does that look like?

To some people it’s living in an RV or a tiny house, while to others it’s living in the country and creating a self-sustaining home.

To some people it’s going digital and using technology to remove as much physical stuff as possible, while to others it’s completely eschewing modern gadgetry in place of old-fashioned pen, paper and ink.

To some people it’s DIY everything, while to others it’s fair-trade, locally-grown, support the farmers/growers/brewers/makers/roasters.

To many more, however, simplicity lies somewhere in the middle.

It’s cutting back our belongings, growing some tomatoes and line-drying our clothes.

It’s getting our bills and statements delivered via email, digitising our photos, signing up to Spotify and keeping a journal.

It’s mending our clothes, making our own laundry detergent, shopping locally, buying secondhand.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It’s enough just to do what you can.

I really believe that this idea of all or nothing – we need to be super-crunchy/ultra-minimalist/hardcore homeschoolers/insert your stereotype here in order to do simple living right – is harming our ability to step up and try something new.

For me, it’s all about baby steps. Often those baby steps will lead to bigger things. But sometimes they won’t. And that’s OK.

What’s not OK is sitting by and doing nothing when what you crave is a simpler, slower, more contented life. If that’s what you want, then ignore the voice that tells you it needs to be all or nothing, and take a step.

Just one, tiny, baby step.

  • Clean out your car
  • Buy your fruit and vegetables at the farmers market
  • Check the op shop before buying that thing you need from a big box store
  • Opt to receive your bank statements via email
  • Use white vinegar to clean your kitchen benchtops
  • Declutter the utensil drawer
  • Say no to a plastic bag
  • Eat a meat-free meal
  • Smile at a stranger
  • Go do some colouring with your kids
  • Say no to a social engagement

Every one of these baby steps has an impact on the life you live. And while it’s not the same as upping sticks and moving to the country, or selling your home and travelling in an RV, these steps matter.

Each change, each step, each little shift in the way we do things makes a difference. And – not to sound too Pollyanna here – but I do believe that if each of us made small changes where possible, we could actually start to shift the world.

You can do something. We can do something.

It doesn’t need to be all or nothing.

31 Responses to Simple Living – Does it Have to be All or Nothing?

  1. This is an incredible point. It describes me exactly. I agree to do what’s important for you and not what you “should do” thank you.

  2. This post is amazing…summaries perfectly how I feel most of the time! I feel like I have to be all or nothing, but you are completely right – at least I am starting to do something!!! :-)

  3. Funny, in Germany we Minimalists as this discussion although sometimes. Last Month we had a meeting and had been talking about: what is minimalism? what means it? and where it beginn an where does it end?
    I really like your sentence “Each change, each step, each little shift in the way we do things makes a difference.”
    I do small steps since two years and my life has changed incredible good!

  4. A post we all need to read (and reread). It’s easy to fall in to the habits of how far there is to go instead of looking at how far we’ve come. Thanks- I’m so glad you blog!

  5. SO true!!! I heart you and your expression of simplicity. ;-) It was a revelation to me after reading a certain book on simplicity that the author ATE OUT in order to simplify her life. I was like, “Whoa, wait, no way! Living simply is homemade, garden grown …” But actually, it’s not for her. AND IT’S OKAY. That gave me space to be okay with how I’m living and the practices I’m putting into place that is right for me. It is different for everyone and that is okay. :-)

  6. This is excellent. I keep telling myself that we’ve made some changes, we’ll continue to make changes, and it might be 20 years before we’re “living in the country and creating a self-sustaining home.” It all matters and looks differently for everyone. Great thoughts. Thanks.

  7. Great read. In my book living simply means different things to different people and we its well known the easier it is to fit new changes in to your life, the more likely they are to become good habits.
    Im a bit of a ‘pick and mixer’ when it comes to trying to simplify things as my lovely OH isnt as on board as I would like, so I just work on small changes here and there building up to bigger changes as and when I can. It all counts I reckon.

  8. Oh how I loved reading this! Well said, well written, thank you!

    I’ve been playing with Simplicity on and off for about 20 years. I have always felt so frustrated when I start to try to simplify. Its almost as if my dream is just too great, too big, too far away from my current reality.

    We don’t live in much clutter, but I do find with my love and passion for practising and teaching Yoga that I can accumulate lots of books, notes, mags, etc.

    So, I try to just sit. I’m sitting with what simplicity looks like to me, to my family of two kids, a dog and my hubby.

    I’d love someone to run a course on just starting.



  9. Nicely said! Let’s congratulate ourselves for the things we do achieve not the things we can’t or choose not to.

  10. “Baby steps” – I love it and it’s totally spot on. I’ve been trying to live as simple as possible for a while now, but not at the expense of my own happiness. For example, for me starting with something as small as using home-made cleaners or recycling and reusing some stuff was my first baby step. Now I am trying to grow my own food and to walk more, instead of using my car. So every little helps :)


  11. I so love this. It’s easy to get caught in a loop of defending the bits of your life that don’t fit into the outside world’s view of what simple living/whatever else you’re into, is. We’ve all got different reasons for doing what we do and it’s a great reminder to just let go and do what works.

  12. Thank you for this post. It’s a great reminder that small changes do make a difference. I recently moved, and I got rid of a lot of stuff prior to that move. I still have a lot of stuff, but I feel lighter anyway. I’m going to keep on plugging a long building a life that I enjoy and that makes me happy without worrying so much about what I SHOULD be doing.

  13. Great post and something I think about a lot. The path looks very different for everybody, and being daunted or feeling like you’ll never get there isn’t really helpful. You just have to do what you want to do, to make your life how you want it!

  14. Saw this linked up to via Art of Simple and so glad I came across it this morning. It’s really easy to get down on ourselves about not doing “enough” to simplify . . . and how much of an oxymoron is that?! (working hard in order to simplify) So thank you. I needed this!

  15. “It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It’s enough just to do what you can.”

    So true! Thank you for reminding us that little steps make a difference.

  16. Wow. I just stumbled on your blog when one of your posts was recommended on another blog. And now I can put a name to this guilt that has been consuming me for the last few days. I have a friend that seems so far ahead of me in “naturalising” her life. I started thinking I should give up because I can’t do as much as her. But your post has made me realise there’s no right way. I just have to keep on plugging and striving. Thanks!

  17. Great post. Our goal was to be less stressed and happy. So we decluttered, starting living simple, stop buying or at least shopping family and friends to see if we could find things we needed. But one problem came up a lot. My husband likes his studio messy. He gets stressed if I try to organize it. So we compromised. Everything else I can declutter but I leave his studio alone. We are both happier since I realized that. Another thing is the price of food at our farmers markets. Just through the roof! I try to find fresh when I can but if I buy grocery store, I don’t guilt myself. We are on a fixed income so it is what it is. : )

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