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wundayatta's avatar

What is a simple life?

Asked by wundayatta (58599points) April 12th, 2010

On this question, we were asked what we could do to simplify our lives. I thought and thought, and I couldn’t come up with anything, and then I began to wonder what simplification meant.

I was thinking about the resources we use—car, electricity, water, etc, etc. I thought about dumping cable and stopping fluther. I thought about moving out to a rural area and becoming a subsistence farmer. Then I began to wonder how these things could be a simpler life.

If I were a farmer, I’d be working much longer hours with much harder, physical labor, and I’d probably be living hand to mouth, while trying to eek a living from the earth. If I stopped using cable and the internet, I might have to entertain myself with books, games and friends, but would that be simpler? Finding friends seems to take an enormous amount of time and energy.

If I cut out electricity and water, and if I gave up the car, where would that leave me? I’d have to move to a rural area, but then I’d be spending even more time gathering wood for energy and schlepping water and traveling on foot or bicycle.

Perhaps urban living is the most efficient and simplest form of living although most wouldn’t think of it that way. With public transportation and an efficient water delivery system, and… well, on and on… urban living is the lightest living on the planet. And funny, it’s also the most comfortable living on the planet.

Anyway, what do you think simplification of life means? What is simplicity? What is a simple life? Is it better or worse than the alternative?

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27 Answers

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

A simple life simply doesn’t exist.

Response moderated
gemiwing's avatar

There was an interesting program on History the other day about hippie communes and how seeking a ‘simple life’ proved to be much more difficult than they anticipated.

Personally, I feel that a simple life isn’t about what you have or whether you live on the grid or not. It’s about culling out things that don’t add to the quality of your life and experiences. For some that could mean internet connectivity while to someone else the internet is a source of joy.

My own version involves saying no to things/people/situations that I feel don’t add to my life; allowing myself to enjoy what I do enjoy and seeking it out; not allowing abusive/manipulative people in my life; giving myself the freedom to acknowledge what I enjoy, feel, need and want.

kenmc's avatar


To me, it’s about making your life easier and removing (unwanted) distractions. And all things should be in moderation. Even moderation should be in moderation.

Going all out and becoming a subsistence farmer in rural BFE would be a complicated mess, which is NOT a simple existence. This would increase my worry-load by a thousandfold.

kevbo's avatar

I’m in the middle of reading this book, and while my response might not directly answer your question, I think part of the ideal is the absence of physical and mental clutter—clutter being a wholly subjective phenomenon comprised of anything that impedes your ___ (vision?). Anyway, things and thoughts that occupy you beyond or beneath their utility impede a simple life.

nailpolishfanatic's avatar

For me a simple life is a life when you don’t have to do anything….just eat, sleep, pop. For example you aren’t studying or anything, aren’t working, just be home the whole day. Go shopping with the money u haven’t even worked for, always in nice and expensive designer clothes.
hope that answered your question.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@boots What’s BFE?

Coloma's avatar

Yes, I think a simple life is about revoking unnecessary ‘stuff’, including mind clutter.

Beyond material possessions it is also about a shift in consciousness, knowing that peace and happiness is already abundant from within and that there is nothing that needs to be added to ‘you’ for you to experience your joy and inner contentment.

When one ‘achieves,’ ’ gets’, whatever it is one feels they must have to gain a deeper sense of self, it is never about that ‘thing’, object, relationship, promotion…it is about the sense of relief that the mind experiences. For a brief moment the grinding wanting has been squelched and a sense of peace descends.

Living simply means wanting what you have, not having what you want!

DominicX's avatar

To me, a simple life is one that has removed all or most stressors and distractions. Obviously, this is extremely difficult for most people and people who remove some of them are doing pretty well in my opinion. A simple life doesn’t necessarily mean one with few possessions as many people seem to think it does (this is just my personal definition of it). A person can live simply with LCD TVs and MacBooks. As long as they are at peace and have little stress in their lives and have time for what they consider to be important. Again, I know this goes against most people’s definition of a “simple life”. Another commonly understood definition of one is simply one with few possessions.

In my mind, stress = not simple. If you are stressed frequently, no matter what the cause of the stress is, be it the desire to constantly have more possessions or the desire to constantly be great and better than others (I’m starting to sound like a Buddhist here), love life, family issues, work life, school life, etc. lessening stress is the goal.

So, to simplify means to remove stressors and distractions, whatever they may be. It depends on the person (and sometimes it may not be all that easy to identify them). In many cases, this does involve material goods, but that isn’t the only thing and isn’t necessarily the focus for some people. As @boots pointed out, living on a farm alone isn’t necessarily “simple” for everyone. It’s an individual matter.

ZEPHYRA's avatar

No great expectations and huge requirements.

nebule's avatar

being grateful for whatever you have, whether that’s a little or a lot

free_fallin's avatar

@Dr_Dredd BFE=bum fuck Egypt…..just means in the middle of nowhere.

I don’t know if a simple life exists anymore in this world. With all the technology around us, how can one truly achieve the sort of simple life the Transcendentalists spoke of in the past? Can one live like Thoreau in today’s world?

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@free_fallin Ah. I know it as BFN = Butt-fuck, Nowhere. :-)

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I agree with @ItalianPrincess1217 – there is no such thing but I do think one can always simplify their lives by cutting out negative people, spending less money on themselves and giving to others (this provides meaning, I hope) and doing whatever their heart actually tells them to do rather than doing what others tell them to do.

Chongalicious's avatar

@free_fallin I actually think Thoreau made his life more compicated than it has to be, because of all the fighting with nature that he spoke of, and how she would be very harsh…but I do think he had the right idea when he said something along the lines of “A man’s affairs should be able to be counted on his one hand.”, stating that we have entirely too many things to worry about and take care of in this life.

Coloma's avatar


Damn close! lol

While I won’t claim Walden Pond in the literal sense, yep..I live very near to that description.

Of course I have my obligations to the great ‘out there’, but they are minimal.

I live on a beautiful 5 acres that is rival to some of the most beautiful spots in the world.

I love the spaciousness and peace of a, while not secluded to the extreme, pretty damn obscure little place in the woods.

I am social but can equally embrace long stretches of nothing but my space and wandering around in nature with my animals.

My very own Walden Pond!

kenmc's avatar

@Dr_Dredd bum fuck egypt. It means in the middle of no where.

Coloma's avatar

The middle of nowhere is always in the middle of somewhere!

We are always in the middle of somebodys somewhere! lol

kittybee's avatar

I think your right. The simplist life is spent watching tv etc. Taking whatever comes.

cak's avatar

I look at the way I used to live, compared to now and between the two I live a much more simplified manner. Nothing is simple about my life, I crave it at every turn.

I used to have a job that had me working, flying and going all the time. I made a bunch of money. Some say I had the golden ticket, when it came to work. I was completely miserable. As I sat on yet another red-eye flight, wondering if my daughter was okay and thankful for my parents help, it occurred to me that I was not happy. See, I like being a mom and not a mogul. I don’t dream of wanting to run the world or to make so much damn money that I wouldn’t know what to do with all of it…that’s just not me.

I came home, thought about it for quite some time and told my parents that I was going to quit my job. I turned in my notice, shocked everyone and didn’t work for several months. Then, when I did – I temped. Eventually, I took on another job and wound up moving up the ladder, again. Heading into the same direction. By this time, I was married again – he’s a mechanic. We don’t rake in the cash, by any means. I left that job and started my own business. I make money, but nothing like I did. I spend most of my time being a mom and fighting cancer. Being a wife, too.

Wife, mother and cancer fighter – that’s my role. Work? Sure, when I feel like it. My job is to be a hands on mom. It means we cut coupons, don’t buy unnecessary luxury items and when we need something fixed, we do it ourselves. It means we cook at home and raise our veggies and really look out for bargains.

In return, we have a lot of happiness. No more rat race. We’re happy. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

jeanmay's avatar

Yes, it’s about simply enjoying all the aspects of the life already available to you, and avoiding longing for things that you may never have or cannot possibly achieve. It’s about keeping your standards of luxury low: if a good cup of tea is your idea of luxury, how can you fail to be happy? It’s about not comparing your life to others’, and if you have to, compare down. Think of those less fortunate than you and truly count your blessings.

mattbrowne's avatar

A life that is too simple can be boring. A cluttered life can be overwhelming. I like the book ‘How to Simplify Your Life : Seven Practical Steps to Letting Go of Your Burdens and Living a Happier Life’.

The book explains, in seven steps, how to get rid of unnecessary stuff and unload the burdens of modern life and points the way back to what we know is important but have forgotten. Readers will learn to organize their time (and their desks), change the way they think about money, improve their health and relationships, and find meaning in their lives.

The book shows readers how to eliminate chaos in the workplace, cut back on activities and slow down, get rid of money hang-ups and get out of debt, balance private life with career life and make room for relationships.

It also defines simplicity. I find it very helpful.

wundayatta's avatar

@cak I was thinking about @DominicX answer, which is compelling—the idea of reducing stress. Then I thought about health issues, which, of course, you are a great example of. Illness is a stressor that we don’t ask for and have little control over. It can add fear and pain and work to a person’s life.

You say that dropping out of the rat race, generally because of your illness, it sounds like, has made things much simpler. It has also brought you happiness, despite your struggle to regain good health. I’m glad about that. I’m sorry that’s the route your found to that happiness. It seems like a very difficult way to get there.

I guess what I’m heading for is some idea that maybe it isn’t the stressor, but your attitude toward the stressor that causes the need for simplification. Does this make any sense? Can anyone fill it out more fully or add ammendations?

Coloma's avatar

All suffering is born from the egos need to resist what is.

The suffering comes in the form of a mind made story that say’s ’ This should not be happening to me! ’ ‘This is not fair, this is wrong!’

Instead of asking ‘why me?’ the attitude ‘should’ be one of, ‘why NOT me?’

Ego believes it’s story and pain is the WORST story ever to be told! lol

Um… no.

It is just one of billions of similar stories and everyone has one, it is ALL the SAME story with slight shifts in detail.

No one gets out of this life alive! lol

Life, by it’s very nature, brings loss, change, illness, death.
It is the egos need to be seen as special and therefore mistreated, cheated, that causes all suffering.

Look to the animals acceptance of what is, they have no story attached to their suffering, they just are, until they are not.

cak's avatar

Well, the notion came to me before I got sick. I just wasn’t happy. Sure, I was moving up the ladder, making the money and didn’t worry about money issues, but I was miserable. I knew I had to make a change. When I got back into the rat race, we had just purchased a major fixer-up, which we did most of the renovations – but we needed a fair amount of money to do the work. His job paid the bills and kept us afloat, my job paid for the renovations and we could bank the rest.

I knew that I had to simplify my life. I wasn’t happy and doomed for another failed marriage if I continued on that path. He would have hung in there; however, it was me, all along, that needed the change. Sure, illness changed our path, but making the choice to step off the perpetual treadmill was mine, before I got too sick.

It’s choices. I realized that deep down inside me, I was meant to be a mom, not a master of the universe. I removed my stressor before it wore me down, completely. I left the golden ticket behind and found my real self and my real life.

Smashley's avatar

Yeah, it’s been suggested before that cities are more efficient that other forms of living, but it’s also been shown to be absolute bullshit. Though there is an efficiency to transportation, for example, this is wholly overshadowed by the fact that the nature of cities has always been towards larger and larger consumption of everything. When you live in a city, you need more, in a sense.

nebule's avatar

Today I’d say it’s just being happy with today, it wasn’t great but it wasn’t tragic and that’s ok with me.

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