It was hard to miss how many simple living and minimalist blogs were suggested to me during my recent request for ideas on what to read. Over the past 29 months of Satisfying Retirement blogging I have addressed that subject as it relates to retirement several times. It is a subject that I am comfortable returning to now and again because my life has moved in that direction over the past several years.
There are some simple living blogs that I stumble across that strike me as too extreme for most of us. Living with a total of 20 items of clothing, or in a 100 square foot box without electricity isn't going to attract many of us. Getting rid of one item you own every week until everything is gone is an interesting psychological experiment, but not a recipe for long term happiness for most.
With all that said, at least for me I have found the right mix of convenience and simplicity. A blog that I have just started reading, Midway Simplicity, strikes me as a good description of what my wife and I are striving for. We like heating and cooling. We enjoy having computers that keep us connected to the world and allow our creativity to be expressed. I live where a car (or two) is essential because of the lack of public transportation and the climate. Movies are our major form of entertainment but theaters rarely show anything we like. So a service like Netflix and high speed Internet are important.
Our home is comfortable and welcoming, though small and old by Scottsdale standards. We have had a slightly raised expansion crack under the living room rug for a few years. The rug probably should have been replaced four or five years ago but it is serviceable and kept clean. We have decided to use our financial resources for other things. So, until the carpet is replaced that slight bump will stay. We have learned to live with it.
We spend about $100 a week on food for the two of us. According to many simplicity blogs that is wildly excessive. True, we could probably cut that by quite a bit if we gave up several things we enjoy. But to us that defeats the purpose of a happy retirement. Unlike many of our friends who dine out a lot, we go out to dinner once a week, usually with a coupon or for happy hour specials. Many of our dinners are leftovers, sandwiches and soups, or spaghetti: simple to make and simple to clean up. Our kitchen is tiny and over-crowded with more than one person. We are best with simple, healthy, and quick meals.
One of our cars is 10 years old, with some rattles, but only 88,000 miles and kept in good mechanical shape. It needs to last another few years. Our "new" car is almost 5 years old, has 60,000 miles, and a few small dents and scrapes. We expect it to last at least 4 or 5 more years. By then, I hope to simplify to become a one car family.
I spend no more than $300 a year on clothes. I am a jeans (or shorts in the summer) and T-shirt kind of guy. Yes, I can clean up and look rather spiffy when I have to, but that is not my normal choice. Betty is a very untypical female: she doesn't care a lot about clothing and certainly little about fashion. While she has nice things and can mix and match like a master, she is also happiest in casual, low maintenance clothing, too. She never goes to a beauty salon but is just fine with a Good Cuts type of haircut.
We have eliminated all newspapers and catalogs, most magazines, and all cable except for the basic 20 channel "starter" package. My CDs are stored in two large "jukebox" players that hold 300 discs each. They are 12 years old and will be kept until they die. I have no intention of dubbing all that music onto an ipod or similar device. Our TV is a 37" HD unit that is small by todays' standards. Guess what….until it breaks it is not going anywhere.
Our investments are straightforward, simple, and low to moderate risk only. My adviser has been watching out for me for 15 years. He calls with options but otherwise leaves me alone. I check where we stand a few times a month but don't worry much about finances, except for the possible RV expenditure!
We use Groupon, Living Social, Deal Chicken, and other e-mail discount coupons when they make sense. But, most are deleted because we don't need what is being offered. Even at an 80% discount I don't need a waxing and pedicure (nor does Betty)!
The library is my friend. I am there so much I have my own parking space. If I have to wait a month to read Killing Kennedy that is much better than paying $15 for the Kindle download or $20-something for a hardcover copy. In 2010 I donated over 300 books to various charities or for credit at a used book store. They were taking up space, collecting dust, and were not going to be re-read. Having them gone simplifies housecleaning and clutter.
Over 36 years of marriage we have collected several different sets of everything: china, flatware, glasses, table cloths, knick-knacks, and seasonal stuff. Most of it is stored away rather than on display. Then, when we want a fresh look out comes all the pewter stuff, for example, that has been in boxes for a few years. Suddenly, it looks new again. Twice a year we change the settings on the dining room table to reflect the seasonal change, but not by heading off to Crate and Barrel. We just pull the appropriate stuff from the storage unit, add maybe a few new candles and flowers, and we look fresh.
Over the last few years dozens of boxes of toys, games, and clothing for young children that we have been stored since Betty stopped preschool teaching have found their way to my daughter's house for her children to use. Suddenly our backyard storage shed has room to hold some things we'd like out of our home for now. Both Betty and I dislike a cluttered look and are happiest when things are neat and orderly.
I could cite more examples, but I've made my point. A simplified lifestyle is not difficult. It is not about giving up things you like, and it is not about depriving yourself of basics. It is not about buying something inexpensive that breaks every few years when spending more money on quality makes sense.
It is about structuring your life so what is important to you is what you live with. It is about getting rid of things that are no longer contributing to your happiness. It is simply being satisfied with what you have or making adjustments until you are.
What steps have you taken to live a simpler, more satisfying life? What have you eliminated that you don't miss? What have you added that now is important to your happiness?