If you read my blog regularly you’ll know I am a fan of the simple life now which is the culmination of a few years of scaling back from living in London, the biggest of big UK cities. I now live in a rural setting- not too far from York (in the North of England for any of my lovely international readers who haven’t heard of it) with all it’s amenities but in a little village surrounded by fields, and you can hear the cows mooing in the morning, and the swallows or bats swoop over your head depending on the time of day. It could be argued it’s easy to live a simple life in a village that has just one shop and one pub. You might say ‘It’s all very well for you. You’ve got very little to occupy your busy mind with, so yes of course you can lead a simple life, but for busy city dwellers, it’s not so simple, in fact it’s mighty difficult and it’s more likely you will fail’. Right? Well I would argue that. Actually with unlimited access to technology you can live just as much of a cluttered and stressful life in the country, where you might never switch off. Living simply is about the person and about the lifestyle itself rather than the location, although your environment is so so important. I want to use this post to help you to look at how you can simplify your life even if you do live in a big city, or an urban space crowded in with many other people.
So firstly back to environment.
Even if you live in a really small space, in a really crowded bit of the world, you can still make that space a calm, peaceful environment. Firstly get rid of the clutter. Keep only what you need, and only what brings you joy. Ask yourself if you really need the items you’ve accumulated over the years, and work on bringing yourself to a place where you have a clear space to live in. If you’ve ever decluttered you’ll know it really does bring a sense of calm, wellbeing and happiness that you can’t get in a cluttered space. By doing this you’re already on the road to a simpler life. The less you need, the less you want, the less you’re going to have to strive to pay for it all. Create light. Bring in plants. Take out crap you don’t use; old books and CDs, clothes you don’t wear, any duplicates, things that you’ve been sold into believing you need.
Next it’s the digital declutter
if you have an app for everything, rationalise what you don’t need. Remove the ones you never, or hardly use. Use the website instead for the one time every six months you do use it. Unsubscribe from emails you’re not interested in, or that encourage you to spend what you don’t have. Give yourself phone breaks where you do something else other than watch TV (I realise this might send a shiver of fear. I use to think what will I do with myself before I stopped owning a TV) In a city there are so many possibilities that are free, or low cost. Or you can just read a book, take a bath, listen to the hum of the air conditioning and day dream, meditate, play an old fashioned board game, go for a walk, listen to music, cook, talk to your roommates/family.
Make a spending plan
If you’re like me then the temptation all around you to spend, spend, spend can consume you. When you’re bombarded by bus stop ads, posters , billboards, flyers, adverts in train stations, or on the Tube telling you what you must have it can be easy to buy it without thinking, even when that buying has to go on a credit card. So take a breath, and make a plan. If you need to cut your spending, leave your cards at home and give yourself a cash budget. Cut up your credit card if you can, give yourself a monthly allowance for the things you do want to buy like clothes, or music or eating out. Create a budget. Simplify your finances so that the freedom to live as you want is within your reach.
Get into the outdoors
If you live in a small space even with the simplest of belongings, it can feel like the walls are closing in sometimes. So make friends with your neighbourhood – know where your green spaces and public squares are. Find your parks and ponds, and how you can get further afield out into open space if you want to. Make the time to see a sunrise, or watch a sunset every now and again. Revel in the marvel of the sea, or the roll and dip of hills and mountains occasionally. I know I do bang on about being outside and in nature, and believe me 10 years ago there’s no way I would have had the same opinion, but being in nature and surrounded by the natural environment brings a space, and a peace you can’t get from anything else.
Rationalise your friends and acquaintances
If you’re keeping up with the Jones, or trying to see lots of people all of the time, ask yourself why? Why do you make time to listen to the woman from admin who never asks you how you are? Why do you still have a friendship with the college friend from 10 years ago who always borrows money and never gives it back? Be choosy in who you spend your precious time with. Cut back on people that don’t bring you joy, and spend more time with those who do. If you have good family relationships, invest in those. Be totally present when you are with good friends. Ask yourself these questions and if that leaves you with a really, really small circle of friends and you’re not comfortable with that, make new ones doing the things you love to do so you can share passions together.
Be choosy in your entertainment
When you live in a city you’re blasted by entertainment sometimes 24/7; restaurants, theatre, cinema, casinos, concerts, bars and clubs, shopping malls, and special events all crowd for your attention. You can find yourself at a different place (or two) every night which can leave you feeling exhausted and depleted. You might even find that you seem to be on autopilot when you’re out, stuck in the revolving wheel of activities you’ve always done. Stop! Start using awareness when you go to an entertainment venue or activity. Explore how you feel. Are you enjoying the theatre? Do you feel moved by a concert? Do you squirm uncomfortably in a cinema for two hours when you’d rather be at home watching Netflix? Are you trying to relive your youth in a club when you’d rather be eating Thai food and having a conversation? (No, just me then!!)
Find your core passions and spend time doing just those. Sure you might want to break out every now and then, but the key to simplicity is doing just what you love and that brings you joy and as humans when we take on any more than a couple of things we tend to stress and feel burdened.
Make room for silence
This can be a hard one if you live in the middle of a city, but there is something so blissful at the end of a busy and stressful day to sit in absolute silence and let it wash over you. If this is nigh on impossible and you get the tuneful orchestra of traffic horns and sirens, try some noise cancelling headphones. OK you’re going to look a bit weird with headphones on and nothing playing, but you know what? No-one is going to notice. No-one is actually probably going to care even if they do notice. Try a cup of tea, or a 15 minute sit in your favourite (or only depending on how much of a minimalist you are) chair, in silence. Let thoughts come and go without dwelling on them. Don’t beat yourself up if this is hard at first. We’ve come a long way from the days where this was the human norm. I guarantee if you keep practicing this you’re going to feel calmer, and find that you actually want to simplify.
So what do you think? Are you a big city liver? Have you ever tried any of these? Do you have other simple living tips that you can share? Does this even seem achievable to you in the environment you live in. Let me know, your comments mean so much to me.