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 Spud.com 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.