Caring Currents

Money-Saving Lessons from the Simple Living Movement

Last updated:

April 20, 2009
simplicity
Image by TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³ used under the creative commons attribution share alike license.

Never heard of the "voluntary simplicity" movement? Neither had I until I started offering money advice to my fellow caregivers at Caring.com. Some of the helpful folks who commented told me about their simple living ideas, and I got intrigued. Turns out there's a wealth of information and helpful tips out there from folks who've been happily learning to live with less -- even before the current economic crisis hit.

The expert of experts is Duane Elgin, who published a book called Voluntary Simplicity back in 1981, when it wasn't exactly fashionable. His group, The Simple Living Network, has a great deal of useful information (so much that it's a bit overwhelming, actually) including long lists of books, resources, and links. It's very useful for those who are serious about their pursuit of simplicity.

Another amazingly helpful expert is Linda Breen Pierce, who chronicles the choices of families choosing a simpler lifestyle in her popular books Choosing Simplicity and Simplicity Lessons.

Many of us, facing job loss, mortgages beyond our means, and other difficult circumstances, are facing the need to make big lifestyle changes. And I found Linda's recipe for a simpler, more affordable life incredibly helpful -- and comforting.

Here are a few things she suggests that resonated for me:

  1. Avoid buying new material goods (clothes, furniture, household items, etc.) unless you absolutely love it and want to keep it until it is beyond repair. Purchasing, maintaining, insuring, storing and eventually disposing of our stuff sucks up much more energy than we realize when we're caught up in the thrill of buying it.

  2. When choosing a home, look for one with only the number of rooms that you or someone in your family will use every day. Think in terms of creating a cozy home environment that fits your family, rather than thinking of a home as a display for others. Spending time and money to maintain a home that's larger than you truly need diverts resources you could use in better ways.

  3. Try to choose a home or a job so that the two are no more than 30 minutes away from each other. Since commuting time is useless time, designing your life around a short commute preserves your energy and money for more rewarding life experiences.

  4. Limit your work as much as possible; Pierce recommends 30 hours a week or 20 if you are a parent. Of course, this isn't the least bit realistic for many of us, but we can dream. (And, in her defense I have found that as I downsize, I have to work less to support my family. But I'm lucky enough to have flexible employment.)

  5. Do whatever you need to do to connect with a sense of spirit in your life, whether that's prayer, religious services, journal writing, meditation, or reading about spirituality. Pierce says: "Simplicity leads to spirituality; spirituality leads to simplicity."

  6. Practice saying no. Say no to those things that don't bring you inner peace and fulfillment, whether it be more material things, greater career responsibility, or added social activities. Be vigilant with your time and energy; they are limited resources. Keep in mind that saying yes to one thing (like a job promotion), usually means you'll have to say no to something else (perhaps more time with family).

  7. Get support from other "simple living" believers. Find friends who feel the same way to talk your choices over with, or join or start a "simplicity circle" if you enjoy being part of a group. It can be lonely trying to make these kinds of choices in a vacuum, especially if friends and family don't understand. Participating in a group will give you support and validation for your choices -- and will also lead to many new ideas for future cost-cutting and simplifying.