Living The Simplest Life

There is a secret I have learned over the course of the last few years of living on a very low or non-existent income and it is this - that living the simplest, most basic life, pared down to essentials - this is the best life I have ever lived and I want to live like this always. A small, quiet life meets all of my needs and also all of my wants. I am sitting at my kitchen bench writing and gazing over the unwashed dishes at the sun shining through the crimson leaves of the grapevine I planted last summer. Next summer I think it will have covered over the whole of the pergola and one day I will be able to pick the grapes, sitting in the shade of this grapevine that I have nurtured since it was a tiny stick, and I will be sitting on the garden chairs that my friend was going to put out on hard rubbish day, drinking tea that I grew in the garden and I will be so happy, just as I am today, that the sun is shining and I have a roof to sleep under and people who love me.

A roof over our heads, enough to cover bills and food. That's all we need, and not another single thing. Not fancy takeaway coffee or new clothes or a garden gadget or a kitchen widget or potted colour from the nursery to jazz up the porch. These things are nice, and so are all the other razzamatazz bells and whistles of consumerism. But truthfully, we do not need them. They are lovely to have but I believe the secret to true contentment is to be able to sit quietly, breathe deeply and say, I have enough.

Knowing the value of enough is a secret superpower. It means I can live on almost nothing. It means that things don't have a hold on me. It means I don't have to strive all the time to earn anything beyond the most basic income so I have time instead to potter in the garden and read and lie in the hammock. I also know that I am enough, right here, right now. I don't need to achieve to impress anyone, don't have to go out and seek experiences or travel to prove anything to myself or anyone else. The adventures I have in my garden and neighbourhood are all I want or need.

When we slow down, stop running around all over the place and just settle quietly in the space where we live, we learn to really see and really listen. We learn the value of tiny things. The values of every plant in the garden down to the tiniest weed. We make connections with the creatures, the birds, the skinks, the insects. If you have time you can watch the flight path of a bumblebee. I think I could spend a lifetime just sitting with the two big trees in my garden, watching them, listening to them, finding all the life that thrives in them and tracing all the relationships they have to everything else in the garden.

This time of pandemic has shown us many things. It has shone a light on our fragility as human beings. It has revealed to us that our deepest longings and needs are the connections we have with those we love. It has showed us how quickly our financial position can change and that living the simplest life might be a necessity for many, many folk who never imagined this would be their reality in 2020. If that is you, let me reassure you. If you have a roof over your head still and are able to pay your bills and eat, then that is enough. The rest is only advertising and fluff.

I think that I might be writing a little over the coming weeks and months about living the simplest life. This is not for everyone. Maybe you still have income and can live beyond bare bones. That is wonderful. The cafes, musicians, artists, local farmers and small businesses of the world will be needing you. I have a dear friend who visited me in Tasmania in the summer. She and her husband are still both working full time and during the pandemic she has dedicated some of her income to spending intentionally at small businesses and ordering from creative makers. She sent me a lovely care package that she had ordered from a small Tasmanian business, and I think that is a fine way to go along in these times if you can. If you are doing well, these posts may not be for you, but do read along and join in, and add your mite of advice and experience.

One of the great difficulties, I think, of moving from one level of lifestyle to another is not realising that there is another valid and perfectly comfortable way of living that is much lighter on resources. I think that I live a very reasonable and lovely life which encompasses all my needs and pretty much all of my wants and all of it on very little income. I move in a circle of friends who mostly live like I do. A lot of them make do and mend, buy second hand, garden, preserve their harvests, use their kitchens to cook in, walk and bike, and most of them do this because they think it is an excellent way to live rather than because they need to for financial reasons. Of course, this means that they can put their incomes toward paying off mortgages and interesting travel and putting solar panels on their roofs, or simply working less. I live like I do mainly because I want to, and I have been able to adjust how much I work to my much lower levels of expenditure. It is a virtuous circle, the best kind:)

My friend Tanya's garden shed, made out of pallet wood.

So, for those who need it and anyone who wants to live their simplest life come along with me for the next few weeks for very frugal adventures. I am also counting on the vast wealth of experience of the community of readers here to share your wisdom and advice, as I always do. At least once a week I will post a Living the Simplest Life post, maybe interspersed with others as they come to mind, and we will see where it all goes.


Anonymous said…
YES! You so eloquently write what is in my heart. Thank you!
In the past years, several people have tried to encourage me to return to paid work. I am always perplexed by this. I am encouraged to go to work, so I can pay to have someone do my yard work, pay for travel, a new I phone etc. In other words, work so I can buy stuff. I quietly, explain my desire for a simple life, were my needs are met. I think my message might be resonating more during this time.
I appreciate your wisdom, and for providing a place were I can "be." I look forward to more posts.
Anonymous said…
Oh, so looking forward to living simply vicariously through you. For me there's a fear. What if I quit and then need money? Once I jump, I won't be able to return to the same level of income. And I do so want to travel. And I do like razzmatazz and fancy clothes. But then I could while a way a few hours watching a bubble bee and day dreaming under a tree. Lucinda
Jo said…
Patricia, yes, this is where I am. Less stuff, more time. Happy to do my own work so I don't have to do other people's work for them..

Lucinda, you have to do you. As I said, my path isn't for everyone. If you have a job you love and are good at and that contributes to society, why not keep doing it and go with the razzamatazz and fancy clothes? As ethically as you can of course. All those people making beautiful artisanal food and hand-made clothes need someone to buy their wares, and I can't afford them, so it's all up to you, my dear:)
cripplewing said…
I look forward to your writings .....this blog speaks to the heart. Thank you
Meg said…
I have a 'foot' in both worlds but left my very secure, almost full time job to secure more of that precious time you speak of. I now have a 2day a week job I love, that pays me less than half my usual salary, but that has given me back time. I can do so much with all this wonderful time that belongs to me.
I may now fit snugly into the category of a low income earner, someone else's category and not my classification of myself, but this has brought up endless opportunities for finding ways to save and make things and grow things and learn things. Looking forward to reading here and finding even more ideas. Meg
simplelife said…
Yes please, these type of stories of other's lives are just my thing.
I worked in child care before my own children, my eldest will be 26 next month. I took maternity leave knowing I wasn't going to return, I told my husband I wasn't paying someone else to care for my baby while I cared for others. I knew my kids would miss out on me, and it just seemed ridiculous. I haven't been in paid work since then. We made lifestyle choices so I could stay home. We are quite comfortable now. My baby is moving out this weekend, I still won't be returning to paid work, my skills are outdated so I'd be taking a job that a young person needs and I don't. I think I'll volunteer if I feel the need to 'do something'.
I do feel pressure from some people, as though I'm wasting my life by not working for the man! I don't get it, I have enough money, I have more than enough stuff and I have time, the most precious resource of all.
Yet still I often find myself feeling guilty, kind like survivor guilt only enoughness guilt. The only thing I feel I lack is a small friends group with similar ways.
Long way to say yay looking forward to reading all about your life.
Cheers Kate
Beznarf27 said…
Every single word resonated with me Jo. I know that we are very different people (I am a happy country hermit lol) but that simple stoic ethos is the most soul satisfying way to live. Like you, I have never been happier in my whole life as I am right now. That old adage "knowledge is power" is never more pertinent than when you want to opt out of crazy consumerism and go back to keeping in step with the slow rhythmic pace of nature. I hope you don't mind me sharing this post on my Facebook feed Jo. I know that this will resonate deeply with most of my FB friends and family. I have been utilising Mr Google to find all kinds of recipes for how to preserve things and in the process have discovered how amazingly rewarding making your own preserved foods and staple things can be.

Steve and I costed out our jars of lemon and apple marmalade that we made the other day and not adding the cost of gas or sugar (we got the lemons and the apples for free) with our labour costs included they worked out at $37.50 a jar. That's a whole LOT for a few jars of marmalade BUT in the process we learned that if you save and use the lemon pips you don't have to buy and use pectin. We learned how to make our own jam, we discovered that the taste of fresh homemade marmalade is head and shoulders above the taste of supermarket marmalade and we also learned that we can tweak it to make it our own to suit our own personal tastes. That knowledge will allow us to move on and make other preserves to add to our already groaning shelves full of dried collected pine mushrooms, dried fruit etc. so that we no longer have to buy all of these items and can make them ourselves from cheap or free ingredients, in season and living with nature and her cycles.

I made Steve an apple crumble yesterday. He wanted one and I had a few apples left over and as I had already turned the last lot of apple peels and cores that were left over from making the marmalade into the start of another batch of apple scrap vinegar (making the vinegar flies very happy in the process) I went hunting for something that I could turn apple peels and scraps into. Earl and I passed a small plant stall in Exeter that sells wonderful cutting and seed started plants, herbs and veggies (in season) and the wonderful lady who owns the stand often puts surplus apples etc. out for people to take. She had put bags of crab apples out for anyone who was interested and I took one home and after hunting for how to make crab apple recipes in Mr Google I settled on a recipe for how to make spiced crab apple butter (that we made yesterday) and a recipe for scrap apple core and skin jelly but I added 500g of the crab apples to the mix as I also learned that crab apples contain a lot of pectin (no more buying pectin for this little black duck!) and I have that dripping overnight to turn into glorious pink jelly (hopefully) today.
Beznarf27 said…
Part 2

I never thought that I would enjoy preserving food but I absolutely love it. I can't wait to read your posts about living simply and making do. That's exactly how Steve and I have been living for years now and it has been the happiest time of my life (I can't speak for him but at least he is well fed lol)

Thank you so much (in advance) for this series of simple living posts that you are about to write and share. I will be sharing every one of them on my Facebook feed as everyone needs to know the simple and most fundamental joy of making do, living within your means and living close to nature. We seem to have lost our way when it comes to simple joys but when you step off that treadmill of consumerism and start learning how to make and do things yourself with what you have, life suddenly becomes so much more rewarding. Sorry I had to cut my comment in half again. Your posts excite me and I can't stop typing lol.
Kathy said…
Great post and a lot of people may have realized that connections with people is far more important than the latest handbag or clothing fads. I'm frugal out of necessity however it's also a lifestyle for me and baking and making home made things and trying to live preservative and addictive free as much as possible is great for our health as well. They all tie in together - know what's in our food and make from home is cheaper and better for you regardless of your income. Have a good week.
Evi said…
Oh yes, well said! I like all the homey pastimes and the simple life and I am happy when doing them...however I must also travel and see new things and experience new places. It's a conundrum! Our solution is to create a home on wheels (converted bus) and using our skills as we travel, make just enough money to allow us to move around as we please.
I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts on living the simplest life.
Jo said…
Cripplewing, thank you, and I know I have lots to learn from all of you as well.

Kate, thank you for sharing your story. In deciding not to work or to work less for whatever reason we are swimming against the current of our society which values paid work above most other good things. When the economy is god, those of us who choose to contribute as little to it as possible are seen as heretics. If we lived in a society that valued family and children's welfare then you'd be seen as heroic:)
As for the guilt of having enough, I hear you. However, do you have enough because wealth was dumped in your lap, or do you have enough because for 26 years you have worked hard to bring up your family simply and carefully on one income? I'm just going to take a stab and guess the latter and remind you that you have earned your enough and also assume that you share your enough with others..

Fran, I am always wary of using labour costs to factor in the price of the things we make at home. I mean really, did you or Steve take a couple of hours off work to make jam? Would you have worked an extra couple of hours instead of making jam? No, you did it in time that wouldn't have had work on anyway. And if you are working out whether it is possible to stay home more instead of working then you add up the cost of what you can't make at home to determine how much you have to work. That is, of course, if you would prefer to stay home and make jam than go out to work..

Kathy, that is exactly what I have found, that the lifestyle I prefer also happens to be the cheapest way to live. Such serendipity!

Evi, I am reading a book you might enjoy - Shantyboat by Harlan Hubbard. In the late 1940s Harlan and his wife Anna built a houseboat and sailed down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans for eight years before building a house on a little piece of wilderness in Kentucky. They lived a life of gardening and preserving, even beekeeping on board their houseboat. It is a lovely read, and so is the next book, Payne Hollow, about their life on the land.
The simplest life can be lived any way you want to, and I look forward to reading your further adventures on the road when that becomes possible again:)
Jo said…
Meg, sorry I skipped you! I am so glad you are enjoying lots of time to live a different life, or more of what you love. Yes, I am classed as a low income earner as well, which, while perfectly accurate, doesn't reflect the fact that I am perfectly content and have everything I need.
Deborah said…

Grew up on a farm and ate fresh fruit and veg plus our own meat which was also swapped with a friend for fish. Then away to school,uni, a career I loved, marriage ( to a remarkable man I love even more after 37 years)and this was followed by a luxurious ex-pat life.

Back home eventually and time to decide what really resonated with my family. We are so lucky in this country to have the resources, support and time to live comfortable lives with great nutrition, security, weather and opportunities.

Living simply works for us, I've always grown herbs and fruit and veg and grow my own flowers. I make so many things and we're at the discard rather than acquire stage of life. I've made our own sourdough and other bread for years.

We also buy quality over quantity. The car we have just replaced was 14 years old and in excellent condition. I inherited furniture, some beautiful linens, china and silver, which we use. I have encouraged our son to buy second hand furniture and the best quality he can afford to set up his home. Buy once and keep forever.

Your blog this week has made me reflect on so many aspects of how we live....and I am very happy! Thankyou.

Jo said…
Deborah, reflection on the life we live is key, isn't it? To know what is important, what to take with us as we move on, what to leave behind, both possessions and ideas. I like your thoughts about buying secondhand and buying to last. I have a nice small dining room table where I write everyday. I swapped it for my former very large dining table, but I like this better. It is a lovely friendly size and it is solid and will last me as long as I live.
Treaders said…
I'm really looking forward to your simplicity posts. While I don't live "simply", I'm living very much "simpler" than before. I also hesitated to give up an excellent-paying job with loads of benefits in order to retire early and haven't regretted it one bit. As I sit in my garden reading and looking at the beautiful view I got to thinking how I rarely did this before because I was always so busy. In the 18 months since I've been retired one thing I haven't missed at all is the 3-4 hour daily commute, sitting on the bus at the end of the day with a load of zombies (and being one of them) because people were so worn out. And yep I'm on only about one-third of the money I was making before but you know what? It's more than enough. I know I still want to travel when this madness is over but I'm prepared to do without many other things in order to do that. Looking forward to your next posts Jo.
Anonymous said…
I am looking forward to these posts so much. It has taken me far too many years to achieve any real sort of simplicity in my life, and there are still more compromises than I would like, but I'm content with what I have.
I love this blog and its community, because I don't actually know anyone else who lives this way, and you and your readers feel like friends.
That quilt is so lovely!

Linda in NZ
simplelife said…
Linda you can be my friend. I feel the same about the people who comment here and Jo being part of my tribe.
Cheers Kate
Anonymous said…
Jo, this is very well timed for me. For reasons other than COVID! I am interested in what you do to make your income, but maintain such a lifestyle? My line of work requires me to be travelling around the state for various things, and this is how I make my income - but it does leave me significantly less time at home to tend to the garden etc. would love any advice on alternative income options that allow me to be at home more, and still make enough for bills etc!
Anonymous said…
Thank you, Kate :)
Linda in NZ
Jo said…
Anna, living on one third of your former income is epic and sounds like you are living simply to me. I like that when you mention travel you know how you will have to arrange your life and finances to achieve that. In order to get what you want you pay a price, and that is something we all have to come to terms with.

Linda, 'content with what I have' - that is gold! Re the quilt - my friend Tanya owns an antique shop and when I visit her place I get to admire all the things she has bought at auction as they are en route to the shop. This <100 year old quilt I just loved so much I took many photos. It is very obviously made from the old clothes of an entire family but so elegantly arranged with that red stripe running throughout.

Anon, the short answer is - after a divorce I sold a large house and bought a small one. I now have no mortgage and a bit of savings. I started a tiny gardening business which was doing well and paying my bills, but now arthritis in my hands won't let me continue that line of work much. I am spending this year writing, mainly living on my little savings. I realise that writing novels is not a really foolproof approach to making a living but I enjoy living on the edge! Until covid I was working one garden a week which made me $100/week income. I will probably be able to continue with that later in the year. I make a minute amount writing for Earth Garden magazine.
That is me but I have toyed with many other income producing ideas which I will cover in a later post, and I have friends who have proved you can do all sorts of weird things to make a living. Stay tuned, and I would also love to know how you make your life work. Staying home and tending a garden is not the only way to live, but if it is one you want to pursue then make it your goal and you will find a way to make it work xx
Anonymous said…
Looking forward to reading the forthcoming posts Jo. This one was beautiful.

I started off living frugally by necessity. I wanted to stay home with my kids full-time so my husband was happy to be the breadwinner. We had a small house and small mortgage in the city and paid it off in 10 years. I did a lot of op shopping for furniture and clothing and cooked from scratch, and fortunately had a great group of mainly stay at home mums who I got to hang out with during the day with our kids for walks, picnics, visits to markets and libraries and galleries, and art and craft days at home. It was simple and frugal, but not *easy* as a lot of effort and energy went into my days as my parents needed help as well.
Now the kids are grown (but still living at home) I am thinking about how I want my life to be. We moved to the country (double the house and land for 1/2 the price - I almost feel guilty for being able to do that - so we have a good cushion/nest egg). My husband quit his job and started working for himself and it has taken several years to start reaping the monetary rewards. Luckily he is a homebody and loves pottering around the house and garden too. I started temping here and there and really enjoy the different skills and work environments and being able to meet a wide variety of people, but not being tied to any workplace, nor having to deal with office politics or nasty, bitchy people. So plenty of time to read, do yoga, walk on the beach, garden, look after chooks, preserve fruit and yes, sleep in when I feel like it:-) Weirdly, there aren't as many like-minded people here: most women work full-time or already have their long-standing friends or lots of family to hang out with. Your little space here is a haven:-) Loretta
Evi said…
I think I will have to read that book Jo. Sounds interesting. And I have been considering what I could grow on the bus whilst travelling...parsley and chives comes to mind but I'm sure there'd be more that could be successful. I watched a YT vid about a family that had a worm farm on board their bus, eating all their scraps (and maybe toilet solids?) and in turn they used the castings and juice for their plants. It was fascinating.
Jo said…
Loretta, I am so glad to see that you and your husband have worked out how to make your life work how you want it to. It must be good to look back and be able to say, "Hey, we did that!" It is not easy to go out on a limb and start a new business, especially when you have a family to provide for. I am also glad that like minded souls are finding this a good place to find each other. I sometimes feel very self-indulgent as I witter on about my life here, but it is the community of people who come together here that makes it special.

Evi, Anna and Harlan sailed their shantyboat through the winters then stopped every summer on some little patch of wasteland where they grew their garden, preserved the harvest then set off again down the river.
I have seen an actual RV here in town with a little herb garden built on top of the dash board. Also, you could become an expert forager of wild weeds, wayside fruit, mushrooms, roadkill and fish:) Can't remember if you are vegetarian. If so, scrub those last two!
Jo said…
Evi, there's also WOOFing and HelpX which would gain you a lot of organic veg without having a garden!
Anonymous said…
Jo, I don't comment on many blogs but it's time I took the time to say how beautifully you write, I enjoy every word. Like you I have pared my life back to the basics and work as little as possible for money. I hope to reduce that even further! I am looking forward to your next set of posts and also the comments from your readers. It reminds us that not everyone wants to stay in the fast lane with it's terrible consequences for our beautiful earth home. I needed that reminder today!

Jo said…
Madeleine, thank you so much for commenting, and I too am looking forward to all the life experience and wonderful advice that happens here in this space. I like your phrase of paring back your life to the basics. That is exactly what the process has been like for me in deciding what is important and what isn't.

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