An Introduction to Simple Living

An introduction to simple living // INTO MIND
An introduction to simple living // INTO MIND

For today's post I wanted to branch out a little and tackle a topic that I get lots and lots of questions about: simple living.

Both curating and simple living are based on the same minimalist root principle of stripping away the superfluous and focusing only on the essence of something, whether that is your style concept, your stuff or your daily routines.

Although you definitely do not need to subscribe to a simpler/minimalist lifestyle to upgrade your wardrobe and refine your personal style, one often leads to the other: Once you have had some success curating your wardrobe you might become curious and wonder what that same principle of simplicity could do, not just to your wardrobe, but your entire lifestyle. You may want to give simple living a shot.

But what exactly is simple living? Focusing on the essentials is hard enough when it comes to decluttering wardrobes and beauty cabinets, but what about our habits, our values and goals? How can we declutter and simplify those? And why should we anyway?

To answer those questions I invited Kali from The Nife en L'Air to give you a little intro to what simple living is all about. If you want to know more about the topic, check out the other posts in the Minimalism & Lifestyle category and Kali's amazingly insightful blog for more thoughts on simplicity in life and in style. Enter Kali:

When Anuschka contacted me about introducing simple living to her audience of wardrobe curators, I was honoured, but it was also a challenge: how can I write about something as wide and subjective as simple living in one clear post?

I have accepted the challenge and thought it would be interesting to start the conversation by presenting you some key ideas to keep in mind if you feel inclined to simplify your life. As a first basis, what is simple living? In my humble definition, a simple life is one that is perfectly tailored to your needs, taste and lifestyle. In other words, engaging in simple living means improving your life to make both daily tasks and long term goals easier, more enjoyable, allowing you to get to know yourself better and grow as a human being.

Why Engage in Simple Living?

I think this is the first question you should ask yourself if you are looking to simplify your life. There are no common rules, because a simple life is one adapted to your personal situation. Why do you want to simplify your life? What is bothering you in your current lifestyle? What are your objectives, motivations, and goals? It is an important first step, as the answer to these questions will serve as an overall guide for the rest of your simplification journey.

The Value of Objects

In a consumerist society, the values of objects mainly depend on how other people consider them: what they mean for your image, social status, identity, self esteem… It is external – the value you put in your objects depends on other people’s views.

Contrarily to what one may think, simple living is not about stripping objects from their value. It is about giving them a different, internal value that depends on your needs and preferences, and not the external image you send to other people.

The value of an object lies in its actual, material properties, how well it fulfils your needs. The object is adapted to you and not the other way around. Therefore, you place value in objects that, thanks to their quality, craftsmanship and aesthetics, make your life easier and more enjoyable.

On Object Adequacy

Since the value you put in objects is based on a new set of criteria, it is logical that you would also choose your items based on a new set of factors. Objects are here to improve your life, not your status or whether they would impress other people. They are also here to make your day-to-day life easier, not to add extra constraints.

In order to do this, your material items need to be adequate. It is the best word I have found to convey this idea, as “practical” or “useful” only take the functional side into consideration. An adequate object has two sides: usefulness & practicality, making your life easier; and enjoyment & aesthetics, making your ordinary moments more enjoyable. It is very similar to what Anuschka calls “form and function” when referring to wardrobe management.

Let me debunk another myth here: simple life is not about white walls and bare shelves; it is not only about function. And it certainly doesn’t mean you should ban any emotional link to your items. On the contrary, you should be picky about what items are allowed to surround you. A beautiful, or sentimental item, may have more reason to be here than super sale cheap meaningless crap.

Buying and Editing

As the Story of Stuff points out, a consumerist society works around a consumption cycle consisting of buying, using, discarding, buying again etc. How does this consumption cycle change when you lead a simple life?

Here is another myth to debunk: leading a simple life doesn’t mean you stop buying or discarding items. The Thoreau days when you could live out of a suitcase and craft most of your items are long gone. In order to be functional in the modern society, even someone leading a simple life has to buy and discard things – the major difference is that the pace will be much slower.

First, the reason to both buy and discard an object are widely different when you lead a simple life. As mentioned above, you only buy objects that are adequate. Contrarily to someone with a consumerist viewpoint who may buy something simply because it’s new, or because it’s on sale, you only buy what you truly need, and only if it fulfils that need. Same for discarding, you would edit an object because it is no longer adequate – not because it is no longer trendy. As a result, you tend to both buy and discard a lot less items overall.

Second, when you lead a simpler life you will naturally want to surround yourself with items of better quality, since they are usually more adequate than their cheaper counterpart. Besides, as part of valuing your curated possessions, you would also take better care of them, clean and maintain them more often, repair them when possible. Therefore, the life span of your objects is usually longer, slowing the consumption cycle further.

On Priorities

A final element I believe to be a cornerstone of simple living is the place of objects in overall life priorities. When an element of your life has a high priority, it means it uses a lot of your time, energy, and money.

In a consumerist society, objects have a high priority in people’s lives: you spend a lot of time working to get the money, maintaining your collection of items, sorting them out etc. You spend a lot of money on material items, getting bigger houses, renting storage units, even contracting debts. And you spend a lot of energy cleaning, sorting, and maintaining your clutter.

In a simple life however, objects are here to make your daily life easier, not to add extra constraints. Therefore, the time, energy and money allocated to objects is much lower. When you have fewer items, you don’t need storage units or a bigger house, so you can spend less money on storing the items, less time organizing them, and less energy maintaining your overall possessions.

As a result, or, in my case, it was actually an objective; you free your time, energy and money to redirect them to other elements that matter to you.

It can be spending time with loved ones, learning a new skill, engaging in enjoyable activities, taking care of your health… When you lead a simple life, your focus shifts from your collection of items to more meaningful pursuits.

In a Nutshell

Here are, in my opinion, the cornerstones of simple living:

  1. The value and purpose of objects are based on internal, subjective criteria: objects are adapted to your lifestyle and preferences, not external rules and standards.
  2. The place of objects in your life is restored to its proper importance: they are a way for you to enjoy your day to day moments, make your life easier, and free your time and energy for more meaningful pursuits. They are enjoyable to use though, because they are carefully chosen.
  3. Your life priorities are non-material: objects are a way to enable and help you reach your goals, and develop yourself and your relations to others. However, they are not a priority or goal in themselves.

This is only an introduction to a very vast subject that is simple living. The journey to simplicity is a long road, paved with trial and error, but it is also a road to self-discovery, growth and contentment. It takes time, as it is a part of growth as a human being, and that is all right, as you may find the journey more enjoyable than the destination itself.

What are your experiences with various degrees of simple living? Tell us in the comments!