Many of us want to live a simpler lifestyle and yet are trying to figure out how to do that while working full-time. And yet it doesn’t seem like a topic that’s often covered. As if, working and simple living are mutually exclusive.
I promise they are not. It is possible to find a balance that works for you and your individual circumstances. There needs to be some careful thought and planning but we can be employed and live a slow, enjoyable life.
So often, articles on simple living skim over the necessity of work and money. It’s well and good, if we can afford to not work or work less but that is, obviously, not always a viable option for everyone. A simple lifestyle is only really slow and sustainable if we can pay our bills and avoid debt, after all.
How Much Money is Necessary?
This is obviously a very personal and individual question. Living expenses, debt, earning potential, and more vary by location and family. Here are a few questions to help guide the thought process:
How much debt is there? How long to pay it off? Paying it off (and stopping any more debt from accumulating) is of paramount importance to a simple life. There is simply no way around this, in my opinion, debt has to be cancelled out and avoided in the future to have a truly simple life.
What are the minimum required expenses? Rent / housing, taxes, utilities, etc. This has to be covered somehow – there are very few free rides in life.
What are the minimum variable expenses? Food is a necessity but how much we spend on food can be variable and adjusted. How much do you want for things like travel or clothing or books or knitting supplies? Remember you’re trading life hours for money so choose wisely here.
What kind of savings are in place or do you need to put into place? Things happen, unexpected medical expenses, car repairs, home repairs, etc. How will those things be covered without going into debt?
Put an actual dollar amount to these things. Write it all out. The book Your Money or Your Life has some great tips on figuring out these issues.
What is your earning potential? How much are you earning or could you earn an hour? How many hours do you need to work each week to support these things?
It all needs to balance. Money earned needs to cover all the expenses we need or want. If the money earned doesn’t cover it, cuts have to be made or more money needs earned. This is basic money management not so much simple living but without it simple living is hard to achieve.
How Much Work is Necessary?
Now that you’ve assessed how much money is needed, you have to figure out how much work is necessary.
Let’s be clear that work isn’t just the hours spent on the job. It is hours spent commuting to and from work, as well as unpaid lunch breaks. For example, you might work a 40 hour work week, but the drive is a total of an hour a day, and say lunch is only 30 minutes. That’s 9 ½ hours a day or 47 ½ hours a week.
You’re getting paid for 40 hours a week but you’re trading 47 ½ hours of your life for work each week. This doesn’t even begin to include hours you spend thinking about work or shopping for clothes or even answering emails outside of work.
Can you find a job with a shorter commute time? Can you work longer shifts in exchange for more days at home? Can you work less hours and still meet the necessary money requirements discussed above?
Finding Work that Supports a Simple Life
If you really want to have a simple life, you need to find a job that supports the lifestyle you envision. Yes, this means actual cash but it is more than just that money.
And again, this is going to be very personal.
I know, the ideal is always to find a job that we’re passionate about – the whole find a job that doesn’t feel like working thing. That’s awesome if it can happen, but there are times when we simply need money and need to take whatever job we can find.
Find a job that lets you work the minimum hours you need without pressure for working overtime. Work only the hours you need – don’t go in early or stay late. Quit answering emails on weekends and evenings.
Actually take a lunch break and do things that further your simple living goals – read a book, knit or do some other craft that easily travels. Perhaps going for a walk outside is possible during lunch.
Leave the job at the workplace at the end of the day. I know this isn’t always possible and I know it’s going to be easier for some jobs versus others. But find a job that allows you to leave it behind and not think about it during the off hours as much as possible.
Use your vacation and personal days – if you’re blessed enough to have a job that gives you those things. Take the time away from work to travel or stay home – to actually and truly live your simple life. Do not take calls from work or answer work emails during this time. It is yours, take it.
Until we collectively stop working on our off hours, we cannot change this culture of constant connection and work. It’s not healthy nor does it support a simple life.
I understand that in some work/office cultures and environments this kind of thing is frowned upon. If you choose to only work the hours between 8 and 5 without coming in early or answering emails on the weekend, you’ll be a sort of outcast. Find a way to be comfortable in walking to the beat of your own drummer (and ideally find a place where it won’t be so awkward).
Make Simple Living Friends
It helps to have friends or family members that support your simple living goals. These folks, whether at work or completely outside of it, help us stay accountable and focused.
These friends are the ones that will help guide us through awkward work situations, call us out on questionable money choices, and more. Find people you can be real with and practice that authenticity and transparency of being yourself.
A Simple Life Outside of Work
This is where the rubber meets the road so to speak. How are the hours outside of work spent? These are the hours we can make as simple as we desire. And let’s be honest, this takes time and practice.
Are we spending time pursuing hobbies, self-care, time with loved ones, and simplicity? Or are we spending time shopping and accumulating stuff because we work hard and deserve it? Are we spending the hours outside of work living the handmade life we desire? Or are we so burnt out from work that we zone out on social media and games on our phones?
Again, there are no right or wrong answers but it does take examination and brutal honesty with ourselves. Are we working towards our simple living goals or merely giving them lip service?
For me, a simple life outside of work means lots of time outside. That might mean in the garden or going for a walk. It might also mean eating dinner on the porch with my husband. It also means attending to all the things we all have to do – laundry still needs doing, bills still need paid, litter boxes need cleaning, etc.
Because I can’t do it all (no one can), I choose to focus on the things that bring me the most joy. That generally means time in nature, cooking from scratch, crafting, and spending time with my love (we like to watch movies that we borrow from the library several times a week).
Experiment and see what works best for you and your family. Try things and if they don’t work or aren’t what you expected put it aside and try something different. Keep the eyes on the simple life you want and simply keep trying until things become the habits you want to create.
Remember there is no one perfect way to live a simple life. Work and pursue the life you want and disregard the rest. It’s worth doing it and with a little practice, you can have it.