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What I’ve learnt from experimenting with simple living
I’ve been living simply through necessity, here’s what it has taught me
I’ve been on a journey to living a simpler (or more minimalist) life for a few years now. I’ve made some progress such as decluttering boxes of stuff, limiting what I buy and giving up shopping for pleasure.
After the pandemic, I had the opportunity to shift to working remotely full-time when moving jobs and more recently I chose to step away from social media.
All these steps have so far simplified my life further and improved my wellbeing. But I still feel I’m on a journey. Over the past few years, I have felt that whenever I get on the right track something happens to derail me.
The derailments include dealing with chronic pain and tendonitis since the pandemic began and the fact my neurodivergent brain isn’t set up for simplicity (despite that being exactly what it needs).
It feels like these things added complications and put my life and goals on pause.
So I have felt frustrated that I’m not quite where I want to be. But since February, due to unexpected circumstances, I’ve unintentionally ended up living very simply, albeit on a temporary basis.
I have moved back from the suburbs of Cardiff to my family home in Cambridgeshire to be with and support my family through a difficult time. As I got the train, I brought the bare minimum with me to stay for an undefined amount of time.
I brought my work laptop, a few tops and jumpers, a coat with a hat and scarf, two pairs of trousers and one pair of leggings. A week or so’s worth of underwear and some pyjamas. Trainers and walking boots. My e-reader and phone.
We live in a hamlet that feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere despite Peterborough being only 25 minutes drive away. Initially, I had no car and there hasn't been public transport available here since I was a teenager.
The best thing about being here is the isolation. Everywhere I look there are fields and trees. I am immersed in nature. As I write, a beautiful melody of birdsong plays outside my window. On my daily walks, past fields where skylarks dance, I see barely anyone.
Whilst I am lucky enough to live close to nature where we are on the edge of Cardiff, it’s still a suburban space dominated by humans.
Existing alongside the noise, straight lines and clutter of the human world is exhausting and it feels far removed from the concept of simple living.
Here in the countryside, it is simple. Here is peace. I had forgotten just how much my soul needs this.
Routine is something I have always struggled with. It is something I both crave and feel restricted by. But due to the situation I am in, I have been forced into using my time more effectively. I have to plan my days around work, daily hospital visits and walking and feeding the dog.
Having this routine has simplified my life immensely. I know what is happening every day and at what time. I can follow the sequence of events now without stressing about what I am or should be doing with my time. It has reminded me of the simplifying power of routine.
Having a set routine has also enabled me to add new habits into my day where I have space, with help from the app Streaks. I’m successfully doing stretches, meditations and journaling every day. These are all habits I’ve struggled to stick to previously.
I currently have a limited wardrobe. I only have a few outfits to choose from and it has shown me that I can live comfortably with only a few clothes. I also only packed my favourite clothes which means I’m wearing things every day that spark joy and enable me to truly express myself.
I think a childhood of being around animals and mud instilled in me a habit of only wearing old clothes at home that I didn’t mind getting covered in dirt and dog hair. When I began working from home during Covid, I no longer wore ‘nice’ clothes. Just boring scruffy comfy things.
My favourite clothes hung in the wardrobe unworn and unloved. But I have realised how pointless and wasteful it is to own clothes and rarely wear them for fear of them getting ruined.
Also, being back at my family home, once again surrounded by animals and mud, has dispelled the myth that my clothes will get ruined. They just require the occasional extra trip to the washing machine!
Living far away from a partner is never easy but it is simpler. Being and living with a partner complicates life. There is more stuff, much of it things I would never choose to own (such as a huge TV).
The space you cohabit and how it is used between you is a compromise. How it looks, where things are stored, what items you need and how clutter piles up. This coexistence can be an ongoing battle of conflicting styles of being.
We’ve fallen into routines and habits that we haven’t necessarily chosen. Like watching Netflix every evening when we eat dinner despite running out of shows we actually want to watch.
Being away and outside of this set-up that haphazardly evolved between us has been eye-opening and a chance to re-evaluate.
My sources of entertainment have also changed. Netflix and Youtube are getting far less screen time. As part of the routine I’ve developed, I’m being more intentional with the media I consume.
It’s been an important part of supporting my mental health whilst going through an immensely stressful period of my life.
I’ve been reading more than ever (currently 4 books ahead on my reading challenge instead of lagging behind!). Many of these have been audiobooks I discovered through a free trial with Bookbeat.
Audiobooks are growing on me, especially when I want to curl up in bed in the dark and occupy my mind before sleep.
I’ve also been enjoying getting back into podcasts. I used to be obsessed but I no longer found opportunities to listen once I stopped commuting.
Being here on Substack has also been wonderful. Substack has enabled me to connect with others, especially those in the simple living and nature writing spaces, and I have discovered the words of so many inspiring thought-provoking writers.
Substack has been enriching my mind and soul, such a contrast to the soul-crushing bombardment of social media. And, as you can see, I’ve also been getting back into writing.
There are so many lessons and actions I want to take away from this simple living experience. Here are my priorities:
Move back to the countryside as soon as possible (although this is likely to take a while). In the meantime, make more effort to go out to quiet wild places, not just at weekends when the weather is good, but during the week too and going whatever the weather.
Create a flexible routine that enables me to get more of what I want out of my days. Continue to work on incorporating changes I want into my routine such as exercise.
Be more intentional within my relationship and how my partner and I coexist in the same space. Perhaps eating dinner sat at the table every evening.
Wear clothes I love every day and give up the clothes that no longer give me joy. I should not feel obligated to keep them because of guilt or cost. Create my own capsule wardrobe.
Be more considerate of the media I consume. Read more non-fiction and learn more about the world and others’ experiences.
Have you ever experimented with simple living? Perhaps through travel or changes in circumstances? What did it teach you?