Simple living myths


I feel almost like a fraud writing about the simple life. These last two months have been very hectic due to circumstances we had not planned and I've been living life at the edge of chaos. Granted my edge is probably different from most and even at the point of teetering our days are filled with the basic routines of cooking, eating, home care and learning.

It's when we attempt, by choice or circumstance, to heap too much onto these basics that life runs in the crazy lane, even at home. But this is not the vision I have for life at home; what I desire is a place of peace and comforting rhythms. (keeping this real: I just booted my kids outdoors in a less-than-lovely mommy voice)

I'm happy to say we're working our way back to peaceful routines and barring any major life disruptions September looks to be a good month, but I usually start all months with this sense of optimism! To get life back on the simple road I'm using my two favorite strategies: lowering my expectations and implementing a realistic weekly schedule. But just because I do these things doesn't mean life becomes easy.

That is one of the myths of simple living. And as I see it there's a few more, so I'd like to take a few moments to de-bunk the Simplicity Myths.

1. Simple is different for each individual and family.

My own flavor of simple includes making a home, educating my children (on our schedule not someone else's), cooking healthy whole foods, hanging laundry, composting, making soap and otherwise doing my best to wisely use available resources. I tend a small garden of mostly flowers but have chosen to pay a local farmer to grow a lot of our summer vegetables so I don't have to. "Growing my own" is not part of my simple definition during this life season. What's your definition of simple living? Don't chase after another person's version of the good life, live your own.


2. Simple isn't easy.

As Damien explained to a friend once, simple living isn't less work, it's just concentrated work spent on fewer things (or something like that). When it comes right down to it simple living, whatever your definition happens to be, is good ol' fashioned hard work. For example making your food from scratch is work to be sure but it is fairly straight forward and un-complicated: cook, eat, clean and do it all again in a few hours.

3. Simple means hard choices.

Everyone only has so much time. If you're trying to simplify your life you have to say no to good things. We choose to spend a lot of time outdoors as a family, sounds simple enough but this means we can't do other things - like regular Saturday morning thrifting or summer backyard bbqs. This is our choice and I'm not suggesting it for others but we are clear in our values and goals which helps greatly with decision making.


4. Simple is the means not the end.

We don't try to simplify our lives just to sit around and say "my, my don't we have simple lives". We pare down our lives so we are freed up financially, emotionally, physically, spiritually to focus on the life values most important to us. So we can be ready with very little notice to host someone overnight or to be packed up and out the door for an adventure with as minimal fuss as possible.

5. Simple takes time, both daily and long term.

We are still so far from where we want to be in the long term with our desire for simple living. Children tend to complicate matters with all their... stuff. Creating the home life, community and world we want to live in takes time. It takes our lives in fact. So make sure you're putting your time into what you really value because this, right now, is the life you are making.

In the end I don't think simple is really very simple at all. What do you think?

{There's been a lot of posts about this very topic in the blogosphere lately, at least in my blog world. I didn't steal these ideas - honest. I've been writing this post for months and finally got it published. I'm hoping to scour my google reader favorites a bit more and maybe put together a compiled "simple living isn't so simple" linky love post someday.}

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  • Jamie

    Jamie on Sept. 1, 2009, 11:41 p.m.

    Living the simple life is anything but simple! But it's also the only way I feel right about living. It's a daily balancing act around our house for sure (and we don't even have kids!). Truly though, I wouldn't have it any other way.

    Jamie's last blog post... Pickles | Things I've Been Doing Since I Left My Desk Job

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  • Kika

    Kika on Sept. 2, 2009, 1:21 a.m.

    I think you do a great job of illustrating to others what a simple/balanced life-in-the-making looks like. I wholeheartedly agree that simple is not synonomous with easy. Homeschooling is part of our simpler-life but it isn't always easy (although I can't imagine wanting it any other way). Living without consumer-debt, likewise, is a wonderful element of a simpler life but it sure doesn't feel easy when surrounded by people- often family- making different (sometimes appealing) choices. Time to live creatively - baking, sewing, repurposing items in the home... they are all part of my vision for a simple life and yet, it would be "easier" to run to a store and buy stuff... easier but not nearly so satisfactory in the long-run. Other must-have elements of a simple life for me include lots of time to read aloud and cuddle/talk with my kids, time for reading and reflecting and coffees with friends, hand-in-hand walks with my husband. We continue working toward debt-free living (we have a mortgage and a rental property) and lowering our standard (but not quality) of living so that we can include more travel experiences in our life. We love good, healthy food and enjoy farmer's markets and preparing meals together at home. We also believe in volunteering in the church/community so are willing to expend time on this but work at not over-commiting (very hard!). I know this is getting super long but one more thing: I recently bought myself a bodum coffee maker (been wanting one for years). I love that it looks so simple. Hee! Hee! I discovered it is far quicker/easier to use a normal drip machine but there is still this simple beauty in it for me. It was a concrete (albiet simplistic) example for me of how the "simple" choice isn't always the easy one.

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  • 5 orange potatoes

    5 orange potatoes on Sept. 2, 2009, 1:36 a.m.

    You know I really needed this post! I think simplicity is also about a good balance, which I am really struggling with lately. I am off balance with the cooking, schooling, cleaning, sewing and blogging. Actually, I think the blogging has thrown me off track a little. Now I need to find a way to balance it in without taking away too much of the other important things. I started by subscribing to your blog so it says, "Hello Lisa, new FIMBY post." So easy to pull it up, click and I'm here reading your next post of brilliance! Thank you Renee for all you do!

    Lisa :)

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  • Spring

    Spring on Sept. 2, 2009, 2:02 a.m.

    We were just having this conversation before drifting off to sleep last night... what would "simple" look like for us... are we brave enough, motivated enough, to work toward the changes we SAY we want. Such good food for thought in this post!

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  • kyndale

    kyndale on Sept. 2, 2009, 2:33 a.m.

    Perfect! I couldn't have said it all better myself. I think you got all the angles. What I find is that projects complicate my life and too much stuff(and I don't have a lot!) really complicate things. I feel like purging my kids' toys again!! I usually feel this way because I know the holidays are coming up.

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  • Andie

    Andie on Sept. 2, 2009, 3:18 a.m.

    You know how much I love that laundry on the line pic. Love.It.

    I think simple living is just different. Not harder or easier. We all have the same number of hours in a day...it's just where you decide to spend that time.

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    • renee

      renee on Sept. 2, 2009, 11:17 a.m.

      I thought of you as I posted it (smile).

      I think some people have this notion of simple living being swinging in a hammock or sipping tea all afternoon. At least that's the way I've seen it portrayed. I agree we all have the same number of hours in a day. I remind myself of this when I see others apparently accomplishing so much more than myself.

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  • nicola

    nicola on Sept. 2, 2009, 4 a.m.

    yes yes yes and yes. (you and i are on the same brain roller coaster aren't we?) honestly, i think simple living is different for everyone. i think simple living is NOT the same as back-to-basics living, although there certainly can be/is overlap for many people. nicola http://whichname.blogspot.com

    nicola's last blog post... fall yard work

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  • Jody

    Jody on Sept. 2, 2009, 12:23 p.m.

    Hey Renee ~ This has NOTHING to do with your above BLOG (in fact, I have to admit....I haven't even read the above blog -- YET. But, I just HAVE to share this new found restaurant with you. I ate in Portland last night with Jodi & Paul. They took me to this little place called the Miyake Food Factory……..Oh my gosh, you & Damien have GOT to try it out! I don’t normally ‘do sushi’ of any type…..but the food there was outstanding! Paul did all the ordering ~ so I have no idea the strange names of what we had -- we ordered a 7 course meal and a few other things between the 3 of us. Fabulous food! Even for someone who doesn't like RAW fish....they have a few cooked entrees as well. Everything I had, I enjoyed. You can even bring you own wine or beverage with you. Jodi & I had an unfiltered Saki wine (from Whole Foods)-- Delicious! I know you like Sushi....Have you ever been to the Miyake Food Factory? (it's very small...not many tables, so you want to get there early if you want table choice. Seriously -- maybe 15 tables. It's not a big place.) Service & food were fabulous!! Happy Eating! Check it out: http://www.oneforthetable.com/oftt/stories/food-factory-miyake.html

    Food Factory Miyake 129 Spring St Portland, ME 04101 (207) 871-9170

    ** there! NOW I can go back & read your BLOG :>)
    Hugs, J.

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  • Jody

    Jody on Sept. 2, 2009, 12:57 p.m.

    OK.....there....NOW, I have slowed down, taken a deep breath...and a sip of my coffee.....and thoroughly 'read & digested' your above BLOG, "with leisure" I might add :>)

    I LOVE reading your blog -- it reminds me of what's important. It's funny how sometimes we can get so caught up in all the whirl-wind around us....that we forget that all we need to do, is CHOOSE to remove ourselves from it; to shift our minds and body to the left or right, 'just a little bit', and suddenly the perspective is different. There is a saying that I really like, it is on a card I found actually. It's a photo of a little girl, with tossled hair and beautiful brown eyes,kind of a child-like mischievous smile on her face... The card reads: "It's not how we LOOK, it's how we SEE."

    I have it hanging on the wall beside my desk. Renee ~ I love the way you 'see' life. It's refreshingly real and you capture it in your photos so beautifully.
    Hugs ~ j.

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  • Jenn

    Jenn on Sept. 3, 2009, 4:47 p.m.

    Hey, your "simplicity" post is long too!! :0)

    Simple can be hard I guess. It doesn't really feel hard for me, but I've been doing this so long, it comes naturally to me. The hardest thing, I would say, has been sticking to a good healthy diet. (without chocolate, that's my downfall!)

    My son grew our garden this year and done all the work...one of the benefits of having a hard-working, willing teenager, I guess. :0) I really love our life here...wouldn't change it for the world. I guess that is why it doesn't feel hard to me, I don't know...I am thankful and happy. Being as how the past two years have been really hard for my family, I think we are just happy that the dysfunction and pain has stopped for us and we are relishing our quiet, "simple" life...

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  • exhale. return to center.

    exhale. return to center. on Sept. 5, 2009, 10:09 a.m.

    just found you via steady mom and wanted to thank you for this post. it resonated with me on a number of levels and i really appreciate your honesty.

    looking forward to reading more of your posts. it seems we we have quite a bit in common...

    ~erin

    exhale. return to center.'s last blog post... breathing space :: hauling water

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  • suzy

    suzy on Sept. 27, 2009, 2:35 p.m.

    Just wanted to say. I just found your blog and absolutly love it! We have been going through such similar changes, thoughts, ideas etc as a family in regards to simple living and homeschooling. I see so many of my own thoughts here! :)

    suzy's last blog post... ...as little green shoots emerge from the cinders .... childhood, adolesence, homeschooling , and the space to become.

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