I don't know.
Depending on the web site, blog, or book I look at simple living can mean many different things, depending on who is doing the defining. It could mean getting rid of most of my belongings and keeping only the bare essentials, all while living in 200 square feet of housing. It can also mean having all the modern conveniences, but only buying what I need, not what I want.
Am I living simply if I eliminate meat from my diet and only buy from a farmer's market so most of my food isn't shipped to me from 1500 miles away? Am I part of the movement if I set my thermostat at 85 during a Phoenix summer and buy all my clothes at a thrift store? Can I also be considered living simply if I keep the house temperature at 76 but have invested in super-efficient windows and insulation so that I am using less energy than before? Or, maybe simple living may be nothing more than a mental condition of being more in tune with the natural world and avoiding our consumptive society.
See why I am confused?
To simplify all this (pun intended), here is what living a simple life means to me. Then, I ask you to add your thoughts, opinions, and interpretations. I think I have determined that living simply is not so simple because there are no firm "rules." Each of us takes what works best for us, adds a few ideas or new thoughts from someone else, and builds a satisfying retirement lifestyle that makes us happy. So, here goes.
I own my possessions and not the other way around
I have never been someone who likes to acquire things. I dislike shopping unless I have a specific need that a particular purchase will satisfy, like new sneakers or a few new plants for the pots on the porch. The idea of shopping for fun doesn't compute. I love movies but I don't purchase DVDs when the library or Netflix or Hulu lets me see them for free or for pennies each.
However, I will invest in a new DVD player that allows me to stream movies because that simplifies my life. I will buy a new car when it is easier to do so than continually patch and repair an old clunker. But, in each of these cases my purchase fills a specific need. I don't buy the latest gadget because it is available. I don't turn in my older car just to have a newer model. I attempt to make sure my choices dictated by a need, not a want. It doesn't happen always, but more than it used to.
That being said, we continue to own two cars. Could we get by with one? Yes. But my wife sees the second car as an important symbol of freedom. If she has a meeting, lunch with friends, or an errand to run she "needs" to know she doesn't have to coordinate with my schedule or arrange to be picked up by friends or dropped off by her husband. For her, that second car is a part of her simpler life. Her definition of livingly simply is valid and important to her. The second car stays.
I have no problem getting rid of clothes I don't wear often enough to keep, books I have read but am not likely to read again, and knick-knacks that no longer are interesting or important. I don't get a thrill from having an empty closet or a bookshelf devoid of books. Emptiness just for the sake of emptiness isn't the motivator. But, I see no reason to maintain something that no longer serves a purpose.
Importantly, if I give away 5 shirts I haven't worn in a few years I don't have any urge to replace all five. Like most guys I know, I wear the same handful of shirts, T-shirts, shorts and jeans over and over. I would be perfectly content to have just those items in my closet. Is that simple living?
In a post on her blog from December 2009 Laura Weldon said it well, "Studies have repeatedly found that the more a person focuses on the accumulation and ownership of stuff the less happy they are. They are more likely to suffer from depression, narcissism, low self-esteem, antisocial behavior and substance abuse. They’re also more likely to have health problems including headaches, backaches and digestive disorders."
It is best if my living space is orderly and uncluttered
I require neatness. My wife will tell you I am somewhat compulsive in this regard. I don't line up all my pencils on my desk, but I am physically uncomfortable around clutter. I will go so far as to write something on a to-do list just so I can cross it off (does that sound a bit odd?) Having less stuff lying around makes it easier to be neat. Frankly, over time I have gotten better about tolerating some messiness. I have come to appreciate things that are a better use of my energy and worry than everything always being in its place. Still, a messy environment and I are not close friends.
My idea of entertainment has simplified
I eliminated cable TV several months ago. I dropped both daily newspapers and at least half a dozen magazine subscriptions. This freed up several hours a day for other activities that are more productive and pleasing to me. I love to read and have given myself permission to spend a few hours each day doing just that.
Rare are the nights we go to a symphony or concert. The cost in both money and time are higher than the value they impart to us. My wife and I love movies but almost never go to one in the evening. Movies at night cost 50% more than matinées. During the day parking is easier and theaters are less crowded. It is just simpler to go before 6 PM.
A day spent with the family at a picnic or the zoo beats almost any other entertainment choice. Doesn't get much simpler than that.
My time is worth more to me than it used to be
That means I attempt to eliminate things that I view as a waste of time. As you know from an earlier post, cooking for me is not a sport, or a way to relax. It is a task to be completed as quickly as possible to provide fuel to my body. Leftovers are actually preferred because it means I can spend an extra 30 minutes on the sofa with my wife watching a movie.
To conclude, I like this quote from Frances Mayes, author of Every Day in Tuscany: "Since a large percentage of control over fate doesn't exist, how to go forward? Cultivate interior life as though it were a garden sanctuary. Give away what you can. Squander your love."
That sounds like a simple life to me. How about you?