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Ways To Live Simply While Leading A Busy Life


That sounds a bit impossible, doesn’t it?  It’s almost an oxymoron.  Simple living is about stripping away what does not matter to focus on what does.  It’s also about treading lightly by making your own, doing your own, working at home.  Unfortunately, that’s not always easy when we are working 40-60 hours/week, when we’re working hard to be good parents, when we’re taking care of our parents and grandparents, and when we spend time trying to make our communities stronger.

Do you always have time to live simply?  I bet some of us would say that we make time, because it’s important to us.  And truly, it is a lifestyle choice.  Each of us have different priorities and we make conscious choices about what we do.  Living simply does sometimes require working hard at home, which is very healthy, fulfilling, and environmentally sound.

But for many of us, the realities of life make it tough to be healthy, fulfilled, and environmentally sound.  We’re too busy.  However, I believe there is a way for a person who is “busy” to also live simply and sustainably.  So if you find yourself not having enough time to live simply, this post is for you.

My Busy Life

So you know where I am coming from, here is my lifestyle in a nutshell:

For the last 9 months I have been starting a business building online and offline communities that strengthen mission-driven businesses, NGOs, and government organizations.  Our idea is to change the world by providing business solutions that are good for the world.  Since it is a start-up, I pay the bills by writing strategic plans and grant proposals for city, state, and county governments to obtain federal funding for their many community development projects.  These are the HUD funds that pay for most of the community service programs in any municipality – so I help the municipalities get the grants, and figure out where their communities need the most help – where to put their money.

On the side, I write and maintain this website, write articles at the co-op, co-head the gardening committee at our sustainable neighborhood group, and dabble in other neighborhood projects.  I have a family that includes my husband, Raisin (cat), and Ellis (dog).  But I also have a 98-year old grandfather I try to spend time with at least once a week, as well as my parents.  My mom and I have been replanting her front, back, and side yard with fruits and vegetables galore – no small task!  And I have a community garden plot that is – I found out when I actually Googled it – almost 2 miles away.

So needless to say, I am a pretty darn busy person.  But I don’t want to cut back on all of the things I do, because I believe they are extremely important to the world, my family, and myself.  Therefore, I have had to rethink simple and sustainable living to make it more efficient for my own needs.

Moving Toward Efficient Simplicity

Here are some of the things I do to live simply despite having a lot going on in my life:

1.  Find ways to fulfill several needs with one activity. For instance, I need daily exercise, I need to eat healthy and local food, I need some quiet time to myself.  Instead of going to the gym, the farmer’s market, and doing yoga or some other meditative activity, I walk to my community garden plot where I grow my own food.  In an hour or so, I exercise, grow healthy local food, and have my own relaxation time.

2.  Consolidate several days’ intermittent work into one or two days. We all have activities that we do each and every day.  But some of those things can be consolidated and take less time if you do them all at once on one or two days.

For instance, my own writing: I try to post here every day.  But I do much of my writing in one or two days – it takes less time overall because I’m already in the groove of writing and can easily go from writing one idea to the next.  By consolidating time my writing, I have less warm-up time or prep-time overall. For those of you with kids, maybe you can make the bulk of your school lunches in one or two days instead of doing it every day.  Or pay all of your bills in one sitting, or make one big pot of soup for dinner that you can eat over several days….

3.  Get local food delivered and/or shop once a week. We use and love it.  You can also use a CSA, a vegetable delivery service, or some other food delivery service in your area.  If you can’t get good food delivered, try shopping just once a week.  This requires some planning on your part, but it gets easy very fast.  We don’t plan our menus, but you may find that works better for you.

The benefits are wonderful and true to our values: our groceries get a carpool, which reduces our carbon footprint.  We buy from a good company with strong local values that gives back to the community and values me as a customer.  And we easily choose local and seasonal foods – Spud tells you about an item’s origin (you can read about each farmer), how far each item has traveled, and even averages out your total food miles when you check out.

4.  Eat fresh foods. You don’t have to cook every night to eat locally.  We often cut up fresh fruits and vegetables, put them on a plate, and eat them for dinner.  It’s a tasty delight, especially when you’re eating seasonally so that each food is rich in flavor!

Sometimes we make a bit of humus to go with it (easy – throw garbanzo beans in a blender with some oil, lemon juice, and salt) and maybe some toast made from local bread.  Dinner can be made in 5 or 10 minutes, with few dishes to clean in the end.  Yet it’s still very satisfying.


(Also try some of my recipes – most of them are easy, “stick it all in a pot and cook it” type recipes.)

5.  Utilize your community. We can’t do this alone.

For instance, I don’t sew or knit – I’d like to but I just don’t have the time to learn and do it right now (I imagine I will later in my life).  So I don’t make my own clothes.  But, there are lots of people in my neighborhood who resell clothing.  By buying reused clothing, I’m staying true to my values – my clothes may not be homemade, but they still have a low environmental impact.  Plus I’m supporting a local business.

This works in a number of instances.  Why go out and buy a tool for your garden, if you can just knock on your neighbor’s door and borrow it – which saves money, time, and resources, and makes your community stronger?

6.  Walk. Many of you know we moved to a walkable neighborhood last year, so that we would not have to drive everywhere. If you live in the city, or live within walking distance of work or stores, take advantage of it.  Overall, my stress level is much lower and I tend to consolidate my trips when I walk places.  So even if it takes a bit longer, it is worth it on a number of levels.  I am healthier, too, because my transportation is my exercise.  And I’m not using any fuel, nor am I releasing any greenhouse gases.

Even if you live in a suburban or rural area, there are opportunities for walking.  If you are at one store and need to go to another nearby store, walk there.  Even if it’s across a large parking lot, or down the street.  It really does not save much time to drive there (time yourself doing both things if you doubt that), plus it’s better for your health and that of the environment to walk.

7.  Consolidate errands. Whether biking, walking, busing, or driving, errands take time.  By consolidating errands into one or two trips – and taking care of them while you’re already going that direction – you can save a great deal of time, and often fuel and money.

8.  Take time to regenerate. I almost always include this step in anything we do, because it is so important.  I am much more efficient if I am refreshed.  So that means I sleep 7-8 hours a night, so that my head is clear when I work and I end up getting more done in less time.

But this is not just about sleep, we also need some personal regeneration time – whether it’s having breakfast in the morning where we sit and read the paper, or taking an evening walk with the dog and/or our partner, or gardening in the yard.  Whatever it is, take that time for yourself so that you are more productive throughout the week.

9.  Find simple solutions to things that have become too complex in your life. A good example of this for me as been going no ‘poo and making my own deodorant and cleaning products.  These have been complicating my life for a long time, as I have searched for environmentally-friendly products that really work, only to find that often they don’t work for me or have some bad ingredient in them or are way too expensive.

But aha! – now I just need baking soda and vinegar for most of my needs.  It takes 30 seconds to mix up the ingredients, and they’re simple and effective to use.  Instead of worrying about buying 10 different products, I just keep vinegar and baking soda on my recurring Spud order (see #3) and don’t worry about it at all!

10.  What else? Alright, I know you all have some great ideas.  Let’s help each other out here, and chime in!  What else do you do to save time while living a simple, sustainable life?

Thanks to Beany and Laura for asking the great questions that sparked this post – more thoughts to come.

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15 comments to Ways To Live Simply While Leading A Busy Life

  • Great post. The secret about simple living is that it is not always simple. It does take longer to do alot of these things so I wholeheartedly agree that the way to do it is to find what works for you. I coordinate my farmers market visit with a drop off at my son’s school which is close. I borrow from my neighbors instead of run to the store when I need just one item. I’ve learned to manage all kinds of substitutions in the kitchen and I’ve found simple recipes that I can use in many ways (e.g., a cobbler recipe that I can use for all kinds of fruit and one that uses few ingredients).

    Carpooling can simplify life with kids as well.

    As for gardening, I’m learning – very slowly :) – to grow those things that grow well in my area. Each year, I narrow that down a little – though I am bravely trying to grow a watermelon this year.

    Nice list, Melinda.

  • We simplify by splitting the costs of many items with friends and neighbors who need the same things. Many things are necessary, but used only once a week or less. Why should everybody own the same things that they rarely use? Anyway, we use a kind of checkout system that works very well. We also pool our money and buy bulk goods and get a nice discount. We save lots of money, and also reduce our clutter and waste this way. Highly recommended. I just started a blog about it, if anybody wants to know more.

  • Angie

    I’m a PhD student and my husband is a systems engineer which means two 60+ hour work weeks plus a big yellow, hyper dog. Here’s some of the things we do:

    We do all of our grocery shopping on Saturday morning: go to the farmer’s market, then grab anything we couldn’t find at the local food co-op across the parking lot. Often we’ll end with a nice stroll around the park. We usually take our dog, so he gets his daily walk in the process. (Our farmer’s market is super dog friendly. Vendors set out water bowls and one vendor specialized in organic dog biscuits:)

    We’re also trying to commute by bike (9 mile trip for me, 7 for DH) which eliminates the need for the gym, helps the environment, and, conveniently, takes less time than the same commute on public transit.

    Like you, gardening is my daily break. My community plot is only about half a mile away but it’s also adjacent to the dog park so often we’ll play fetch for a bit, lounge in/at the creek to cool off, and then hang out at the garden and weed/chew on a stick.

    Lastly, we’ve always cooked in bulk and I’ve started trying to freeze/dehydrate some of the leftovers so that when the deadlines start piling up there’s a quick option that doesn’t compromise our devotion to local/organic food.

    Reading that makes it sound like we’ve really got this figured out but things are often crazy and we’re still trying to figure out how to make it all work. (Especially when work hours edge toward the 80 mark at the end of the semester…) So I’m really looking forward to everyone’s pointers :-)

  • Cooking is one thing I’m passionate about but unfortunately don’t have that much time to indulge in.

    As a compromise, my partner and I spend two hours Sunday night cooking two big meals. This week we cooked a bunch of spaghetti and a big pot of soup. It is enough to last us until Wednesday for all lunches and dinners. The rest of the week we stick to oatmeal/eggs/pb &js/crackers & cheese (my fav.), and we usually go out to eat on Friday and Saturday nights.

    Knowing when exactly we’re cooking also makes grocery shopping a lot easier. We make lists of all ingredients we need, which ensures we don’t overbuy on things that go bad easily. Vegetables are used up completely, and any fruits on the brink of spoiling are stored in the freezer to use in smoothies.

    Here’s a really easy cooking tip: don’t throw out your vegetables scraps. Keep them in a bag in the freezer, and when the bag is full, boil them for an hour. The strained liquid will give you vegetable broth. Freeze them in an ice cube tray, and viola–you have ready-made broth!

  • I’ve been working on community building for the last 6 months and I actually feel like things are moving along swimmingly well!

    I’m really shy, so breaking out of my shell to become an advocate for bicycling, local food and walkable communities has been extremely painful for me. Some people seem to be inspired by my actions and I’m seeing that things are getting done, so I’ll plod on.

    I used to belong to a CSA that was a bit of a hike to get to, and interfered with another activity and sleeping in. I then joined a CSA that delivers and that just made my life soo much more convenient!

    Thanks for the great tips!

  • Like your post..good ideas…tweeted on it through my compostimyshoe on Twitter…….

  • Some great ideas there thanks. i struggle with the idea of living simply – but being busy every day!

    I’d love to have a truly simple life where I stay at home and have time to do more cooking, cleaning, crafting and just working my way through my ‘eco to do list’. But I have accepted that is just not going to hapen. i love my job and I believe i can contribute more to society on those days i am off at work than when I am at home.

    Some of the things i do to ensure still striving for a sustainable life when busy:
    *Pay a little extra for 100% green energy
    *wash in cold water
    *use no disposable productes (i.e. we use cloth nappies, hankies etc)
    *eat mostly vegetarian meals

    These things all take very little time from me.

    I want to start cycling to work a to fulfill several needs: exercise and getting to work.

  • And don’t forget to add “organize local blogger picnic” :)
    LOL LOL LOL hee hee

  • “No” is a very powerful word that can help simplify your life. So many times we just take on too much stuff and spread ourselves too thin.

  • We make our own compost, which provides everything we need for the garden. For support, we rely on each other and the church. We live well, but feel motivated by Glenn Beck to advance ourselves as individuals. We live simply and prepare for the worst because of people that we didn’t choose to be in power. Living simply allows us to be just us.

  • Great list! The big one for me is really to know and accept that I’ll be tired at the end of the day and to have simple things to eat, or food prepared and ready to go. And to let go of high expectations of a spotless home and weed free garden.

    I read somewhere that people without cars have to become more organized. I think that applies to those trying to live a simpler life too.

  • Balance is something I’m constantly striving for. A lot of the time it feels like I’m doing well at one or two areas, but at the expense of others. So, my health and sleep are good, but my work isn’t getting done as much as I’d like and my apartment is a disaster, or vice versa, for example. But, I’ve been trying to implement some of things you’ve suggested here for awhile now. Rather than taking a 20 minutes bus ride to work, I take a half hour bike ride, which means I get in my exercise and some time to myself in one go. Rather than viewing my chores as troublesome, I try to see them as an exercise in meditation, which drastically improves grocery shopping, doing the dishes, and cleaning the apartment for me (although it has yet to improve doing laundry, unfortunately).

    I’m also making efforts to clear things out of my life. Decluttering my apartment, difficult as it can be, makes it easier to keep tidy. Breaking connections with toxic people makes me feel better and frees up more time in my life. Eating simply and cooking with leftovers in mines cuts down on energy, time in the kitchen, and the effort of deciding what to make for so many different meals. They all seem like little things, but I find that a lot of little things can make a big difference in the end.

  • One of the best ways we have found to not add to our clutter is to rent movies instead of buy them and to use the library instead of buying books. We do still have quite a collection of books, but we rarely buy them anymore. This can work to create community, too, but probably works better in a small town.

    Now, if only there were a toy rental place. :) Then I could cut down on the toy clutter. I think with kids and toys you either wait until they outgrow toys or you just put your foot down and tell all the relatives to buy things like zoo or museum memberships or to just give money. That’s hard to do, though.

    I think that decluttering is so important to living simply and being happier. I really feel burdened by all the stuff we have. It just seems like too much stuff! We have read the Little House on the Prairie books to the kids and that family had one cup and plate for each person and that was it. Sometimes I think that sounds like a great idea, but it I’m not sure how realistic it is. We have too many clothes, toys, appliances, computer stuff, etc. But no matter how hard I try to get rid of things, we end up with more stuff. Just say no to stuff. That’s what Nancy Reagan should have talked about. hehe.

  • I think you need to rename the lifestyle honestly. People keep saying “sustainable living is equivalent to simple living”, but I don’t buy it anymore. The reason people turned to mass-produced food and clothing in the 50s is because it is EASIER. Simpler to just buy something you need than to have to make it. However, I do think that’s less fulfilling. Maybe you could call it a “more fulfilling life”. ;)

  • blessings to you for writting a post on this.

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