Minimalism

3 Hard Truths About Simple Living

March 29, 2018

This is a post I’ve been thinking about writing for a long time but I’ve been putting it off because I haven’t been sure how to approach it—so I’ve finally decided to just tackle it head-on.

As simple living has become mainstream (or at least more popular), there are some myths/misunderstandings that are becoming prevalent. I don’t think anyone in the simple living community is being intentionally misleading or saying anything that’s untrue but without a doubt, many of us (yes—myself included) are contributing to the confusion.

Whether we’re actually selling any real products or not, most of us are “selling” simple living as a solution to many of life’s problems—and while I truly believe it can be life-changing, it’s also important to understand there are limits and that filling a few trash bags with stuff won’t magically change your life overnight.

So with that in mind, I hope this post will offer a balanced view of not just the wonders but also the limitations of simple living.

Title Image: 3 Hard Truths About Simple Living on white background

1. OWNING LESS WON’T MAGICALLY SOLVE ALL YOUR PROBLEMS

A few weeks ago, there was a discussion in the Simply + Fiercely Facebook group about an article in the New York Times that explores some of the challenges people face when trying to apply the principles of minimalism to their daily lives.

You can check out the full article here, but this bit in particular stood out to me:

“Minimalism sure does suck you in,” she said. “Life looks easier. It seems like your skin will be dewier and your hair shinier — a happier, healthier version of yourself.”

It’s tongue in cheek but I understand the point. When I first started to experiment with minimalism and simple living, this is how I felt too. I really wanted to believe that getting rid of my stuff was going to magically solve all my problems.

Of course, deep down we already know this isn’t true, but I think it’s worth addressing because we want to believe it—or at least I did! After all, it was such a neat and tidy solution to my complicated problems.

Unfortunately, the hard truth I learned is you don’t declutter your problems the same way you declutter your old sweatshirts or high school yearbooks.

Owning less does feel good and it can spark real, meaningful change but it doesn’t automatically happen as your things go out the door. You have to be open and willing to take what you learn about “stuff” and apply it to other areas of your life. Decluttering taught me to think about my values and to make more intentional decisions about the things I owned, so when I was faced with big decisions (like ending a long-term relationship) I knew how to think mindfully about what I wanted in my life.

Simple living empowered me but I still had to do the hard work.

The other gift of owning less is having more resources (such as time, energy and money) to tackle your problems head-on but again, there’s work to be done. I was in debt before I started decluttering and I was still in debt afterwards—but becoming comfortable with owning less made additional funds available for extra payments (since I wasn’t shopping every weekend like I used to do!). Owning less also created more time in my schedule—the little things like less cleaning and less time spent deciding what to wear add up—so I was also able to pick up extra hours at work.

I became debt free eventually but there was definitely nothing “magical” about the process!

So in summary, owning less can definitely help you with your problems but only if you’re willing to take the next step. There is a lot of learning, experimenting and growing involved and it’s anything but simple!

RELATED POST: How I Became a Minimalist (Why I Choose to Live with Less)

Quote: "I learned you don't declutter your problems the same way you declutter your old sweatshirts." on white background.

2. SIMPLE LIVING DOESN’T MEAN YOU’RE NEVER STRESSED OR BUSY

Trust me—I wish simple living really did banish stress and busyness from life, but unfortunately, it’s just not the case.

You can declutter, unsubscribe and say “no” all day every day but it doesn’t matter how much you simplify—the hard truth is you’ll still occasionally have busy, stressful days where you’d rather hide in bed than face the world. There will always be dishes to wash, taxes to file, children to feed and hearts to mend; it’s an unavoidable part of the human experience and simple living doesn’t shield you from it.

Or as Susan David puts it in her amazing TED Talk on the power of emotional courage:

Only dead people never get stressed, never get broken hearts, never experience the disappointment that comes with failure. Tough emotions are part of our contract with life. You don’t get to have a meaningful career or raise a family or leave the world a better place without stress and discomfort. Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.

What simple living does mean is that busy and stressed is not my default mode.

Instead, I can recognise that there are seasons in my life. Sometimes I’m doing work that’s important to me and I’m willing to make sacrifices to get it done—but I’ve learned how to be mindful of “busy”. I’m not afraid to press pause regularly or to audit how I spent my time, money and energy to make sure I’m investing in what’s most important to me. Simple living has taught me to step off the treadmill when I need to.

If you want to read a great example of this in action, check out this blog post by Cait Flanders. She talks about being busy after the release of her new book and how she was able to recognise when it was time for a change of pace.

3. THERE IS NEVER A FINISH LINE WITH SIMPLE LIVING

Finally, I often hear people talk about simplifying their lives as if there’s a finish line to cross—an imaginary point in time where simplicity is achieved—but the hard truth is you’ll never be “done” simplifying your life.

Simple living is not a task you can check off of your to-do list. Instead, it’s a way of living where the things we own and do represent our values and priorities. Because we’ll always be presented with new opportunities (and new demands to go with them) there will always be decisions to be made about what does or doesn’t belong in our lives.

The more you practice, the easier it gets to make these decisions but they never go away. And realistically? You’ll make some wrong decisions too. I’ve had a capsule wardrobe since 2013 but I still review it at least once a year—and I almost always realise a few things I shouldn’t own have snuck into my closet. Same goes with my schedule; despite my best efforts, there are still times I realise I’ve said “yes” to something I should have said “no” to.

The other thing to consider is that our values and priorities can shift with time and you may need to rethink what matters most to you. The decisions you made a few years ago may no longer feel right and you’ll have to start all over again.

This isn’t to say that your life won’t get simpler with time! It’s just a reminder that a simple, intentional life is a way of life and not a destination. It’s rarely easy but almost always worth it.

If you’d like to learn more about simple living, then I invite you to get your free copy of Mindful Decluttering by subscribing below. It’s a guide and workbook with practical advice, personal stories, and a troubleshooting guide to help you overcome your decluttering challenges!

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  • Rachel Carpenter

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, YES! All of this and then some!

    When I first became a minimalist, I was going through some very hefty emotional baggage. I read a book that talked about the soul-cleansing that happens in sync with the decluttering process, and I thought it would be the solution to my problems.

    Surprise! When my bedroom was almost empty of things – the heartache was still there. I still had to process and grieve and grow. If anything, getting rid of stuff just made it harder to avoid my emotional issues. It definitely didn’t absolve them.

    I’m still working my way through decluttering my soul/heart – every time I take a step forward, something else sucker punches me. I was just telling a friend on Monday that sometimes I can’t breathe, the ache is so bad. I still have to find my way through the mess of my emotional state. BUT! Thankfully, minimalism and decluttering has, over a very lengthy period of time, taught me how to do just that. Simple and intentional living is not an overnight miracle pill; it’s a supplemental vitamin: great for health, but unable to do all the work.

    • Thank you for sharing this Rachel! I can tell you 100% you’re not alone with this.

      Also that last line is so wise—what a perfect analogy!! You’re a great writer! x

  • Marci

    Fantastic post!!! Each of these points are VERY real in the pursuit of simple living. Thank you for succinctly describing the mindset behind the work, the choices, and the intentions required with this lifestyle.

    • Thank you Marci! For some reason I was really nervous to share this post, so your feedback means a lot to me 🙂

  • Jessica Wendt

    Great post! This is something I’ve been struggling with in the last year after I completed the “stuff” hurdle. It’s almost as if you’ve cleared out the tangible problems to make room from the things that are not tangible like emotions, relationships, stress, passions that need to be sorted out and organized as well. It’s a good thing to keep in mind moving forward in the Simply Living Journey. I appreciate your motivational words and honests truths during this process. Hope the family is doing well!

  • Beautiful, Jen! This is something that does need to be said – I notice many known voices in the simple living sphere are saying it (and so have I in my own little way) but people miss it, I guess, because they’re looking for a solution to all their problems. I often stress minimalism is a tool that might be right for you, but you can get to where you want to go in other ways too. Thank you for spreading the message, so to speak!

    • Hi Daisy! Yes, I think it’s being said but probably not as much as we all champion simple living, so it’s understandably missed. Especially when people are introduced to minimalism/simple living via the mainstream media. It’s hard to find that balance sometimes, don’t you think? Anyway, we can only try our best! Thanks for reading 🙂 x

  • Sarah

    These are such important points to bring awareness to! I really loved reading this.

  • Karla Willimott

    This is exactly what I needed to hear, it filled the void!

  • It is so good to hear people talking about the realities of simple living. It is a journey rather than a destination.

  • It’s definitely true that you never reach a finish line. It felt so good though to get rid of clothes that I honestly never wear and get more open clean spaces! Having a messy house stresses me out haha (not only because it means I haven’t cleaned 😉 ). Decluttering gave me space to think and be more mindful, and although it certainly didn’t solve all my problems I’m in a better mindset now to tackle them.

  • Danielle Clarke

    Thank you <3 I love your message and your courage. I stumbled across this at just the right time.

  • Patricia

    Thank-you Jennifer, you are like a breath of fresh air. No preaching here just good solid advice from someone who has been through and still going through the process.

  • Simone Quintana

    This was a very insightful piece to read. I see the connection you have mad with living a simplier lifestyle and the urge to see as some sort of finish line accomplishment. I must confess that I too have viewed simplifying as some sort of TO DO list. With this tool read added to my perception, I am sure to accomplish a much more meaniful realistic approch to my journey. This has also brought light the levels of stress I was experiencing trying to check off the Simple Life achievment list. Thank You!!