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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Are you possessed? Part 3: How to go about a simpler life

Simple things can be very beautiful when you notice them.
Point Pleasant Park, 2013

Based on the comments I received on the previous posts, I was preaching to the choir when I put forward a simplified way of life.

Those are great news, when you consider that a simpler life usually makes one happier, while helping our precious planet thrive.

That being said, we all know that between ideas and actions, there is a bridge that isn't crossed by all. What about you? Have you crossed the bridge to a simpler life?

To make the journey easier, I put together a list of possible approaches to a simpler life. 

Tell us which ones appeal to you, and which ones you already apply.


1) Question your relationship with money 

How do you feel about the amount of money you have? Why? What would you do with more money? What would you gain from it? Knowing that money doesn't grow on tress and that you would have to work more/make sacrifices in order to have more of it, would it be worth it? Why? What would you do with less money? How would it affect your life? What if it meant working less? Would it be worth it? Why?

2) Question your relationship with richness, success and freedom

What does it mean to be rich and/or successful and/or free? Are there alternative definitions? Can you have the 3? Can you have the 3 in all areas of your life at the same time?

3) Question stuff

Question what stuff provides youWhat are you trying to fulfill by consuming, whether it's material goods in general, or any addiction in particular? Don't you resent all the expenses and maintenance stuff requires? Don't you find, no matter what you get, that you always want more and more? Where does that dissatisfaction come from? Are you influenced by the media, by comparisons with other people? What real needs of yours are you actually fulfilling?

I suggest we solve the problem at its source and cultivate detachment from the material sphere altogether!

Trees are enough.
Point Pleasant Park, 2013

Question each purchase: Do I really need this? Do I appreciate it enough to justify its price? (e.g. if you buy $5 worth of coffee every workday at a coffee shop, then you are spending over $1000 a year in coffee. Would you rather be using that money toward something else, or are you truly happy that way?) When you want to get something, ask yourself: Will I really use it or enjoy it fully and for all the time it lasts? Is it worth the money (and thus the work and the sacrifices)? 

Question your dwellingD and I sometimes dream of a bigger, more luxurious house, but we are very aware that this is purely an aesthetic yearning, NOT a functional one: our current house is big enough. To say the truth, sometimes we also fantasize on a smaller house!

Question your relationship to electronics. They are supposed to provide freedom, and instead most of us become a slave to them. Have that honest conversation with yourself: Do I really need this piece of electronics, and how is it running my life? 

Question your vice. We all have one (mine is sweets/chocolate). What do you buy/consume/feel the need for when you're bored, tired, stressed, sad or angry? Why does the solution have to be something that needs to be bought and/or consumed? Is there any other alternative, that would be healthier for yourself, your wallet, and the planet? And how about actually addressing the underlying problem? E.g. No one needs a snack at 10 pm. Just go to bed.

4) Question your leisure time and hobbies

And those of your kids, if you have any. How is your time (and theirs) used? What are you trying to achieve? Are structured activities the only way to achieve this? Is all that structured time stressing everyone out more than anything else?


1) Declutter

Better still, get rid of stuff altogether. Putting it away in a drawer, bin, closet, garage or worse... in storage elsewhere will make you feel better temporarily. But it does NOT solve the problem. Haven't used it in years? Gathers dust? Takes up space? Just get rid of it. Take a deep breath and say farewell.

From experience, once you get started getting rid of stuff, you realize it feels as good as acquiring stuff... without the side effects. The more I get rid of, the more I want to get rid of. Isn't that wonderful?

2) Get rid of financial burden

First things first. As heard recently on the radio: "If you have to wait for your paycheck to go out, then you can't afford to go out". Does it mean you will never go out again? No. What it means is you have to reconsider your earning, spending, and sources of entertainment. I have also heard that nothing else but a house and a car should be financed. Anything else should be purchased with money you actually have (debit or cash. NOT line of credit.)

3) Downsize

Speaking of houses and cars, go for what you really need and can afford. Don't become house poor. Depending on where you live and on your occupation, own only 1 car, or none.

4) Acquire less

Instead of acquiring, and depending on your abilities, grow, make and barter/trade the things you need. If you do buy, buy second hand. Personally, I'm not very good with anything manual, but I've been making my own muffins and granola bars - super easy, super healthy (sometimes it's not only about the money: I like to know precisely what I'm eating). These days, my neighbors and I trade the products of our gardens. We also trade clothes, toys and books. Is that because we're poor, cheap, or lazy? No. It's because we would be stupid not to!

5) Offer time instead of things

Spend more time with your children, partner, family members and friends. (That's all they really want anyways.) Help out. Volunteer. We all have a talent that could benefit someone.

6) Learn to linger

Use the 30-day rule before you buy something. Because of the cognitive dissonance phenomenon, we actually appreciate things more when we had to wait (and work hard) for them.

7) Pick your luxuries

Being frugal doesn't mean being cheap all over. For example, you might want to invest in good quality shoes... but own fewer pairs. On the other hand, you might realize that in some areas, you don't need higher quality/price. For example, during my travels I have tried the whole spectrum of possible lodging options, from the cheapest youth hostel to the most high end hotel. And you know what? I'm not happier either way. As long as I have a bed in a safe (and clean enough) place, I'm content! Travelling is not about the hotel anyways!

8) Free yourself from modernity

Try to live without your electronics for a set period of time, and see how that goes. 

9) Free yourself from closet anxiety

Try project 333: for 3 months, use only 33 pieces of clothing (excluding underwear, sleepwear, workout clothes and bathing suits).

10) Have free (and healthy) fun

One does not have to empty his/her wallet or to pollute (all consumption is pollution) in order to have fun. You can take a hike. Go to the beach. Invite friends over for a potluck. Take books and movies from the library. Listen to music. Play a game with your children. Give a massage to a loved one. Enjoy some intimate time with your partner. That's all free!

11) Do things one at a time

Single task... slowly. You will be amazed when you realize you actually get MORE done this way!

12) Work an optimal amount of time, ideally at something you really like

So many of my friends have actively chosen to either work from home or to work part-time (or both). Those who haven't are looking for a way to do it. One friend in particular just told me today that she was downgrading to 20 hours a week.

13) Do more of what is good for you

The examples are innumerable: 
- Less eating, more sleeping
- Less time baking dessert, more time prepping veggies
- Etc.

14) Pick your battles

On the first day of school, everyone wears their nicest outfit, right? Well, not my kids. They both had their mind set on something that, personally, I would have reserved for the weekend. Is that a big deal? NO. I'll be on them for so many, more important things... I can certainly let them wear what they want as long as it's clean and "sorta" matches together. 

For more on simplifying parenthood, read this: 


15) Keep what works for you

... even if some people say it's no good. For example, in my case, Facebook. Don't take me wrong, I HAVE wasted time on Facebook in the past. But I have built a healthier relationship with it, and fully appreciate its presence in my life. Here is an example of things I did using Facebook in the past couple of days:

- Put together a running schedule with my running partner;
- Made plans for dining out in a Vietnamese restaurant with my favorite half-Indian, half-Malaysian friend, who likes me even if I'm kinda boring with my half-French, half-Canadian heritage;
- Made plans for at least 2 other "girls nights out" with my group of "mommy friends";
- Exchanged pleasantries with some more friends;
- Exchanged info with a client;
- Found a babysitter for when D and I run a 10K race next weekend;
- Followed links to and read fascinating articles;
- Discussed the relative importance, for intelligence, of a) absolute size of the brain; b) relative size of the brain (ratio to body size); c) presence of convolutions; d) presence of neocortex.

Does that thing have a neocortex?
And is s/he happy anyways?


Simplicity is NOT about sitting on your a** all day long, doing nothing. Simplicity is about doing less of the meaningless, and more of the MEANINGFUL.

Simplicity is NOT about being cheap. Simplicity is about knowing exactly what role money and stuff have, retaking control over them, and keeping them in their place.

Simplicity is NOT about slowing down the economy. After all, what prompted the latest crisis, if it's not OVERspending?




  1. I loved the series, I can’t say I am a 100% living a simple life but I am definitely keen on working towards it, I have always given more importance to family, spending time with loved ones than materialistic things I guess that was just the way I was brought up. My dad would always take a day off on special occasions, mom would make good food, All my special memories are connected with people and things we did rather than new gadgets or gifts
    For me money is more about security for my family, it’s about being able to have enough for medical emergencies and education, so I always choose a job that lets be happy at the end of the day, that means I usually avoid the big firms with loads of competition and that also means I am usually the only one amongst my friends who can’t boast about working in a big firm I must admit sometimes I doubt my decisions but when I hear them complain and when I see how much more I can do in my life I am usually happy 
    I started questioning my purchases sometime back basically I was planning to give away a few clothes and I realised there were so many clothes which I had barely worn once and surprisingly I was never satisfied,the main reason for most of those purchases was because I was not happy with the way I felt about myself and I hoped with each purchase I would be happy finally I realised if I was not happy I had to make a change not my clothes (Declutter and questioning purchase points tried & tested – worked wonders for me)
    Now moving on to your other points :)
    (So sorry my comment is this long, this was for all 3 posts :))

    1. Hi Tanvee!
      Glad you enjoyed those posts. :-)
      You seem to have your priorities in the right place.
      Money is inevitable, but if you use it toward the right things, it won't become your master. Medical emergencies and education are a must.
      I fully agree with your views on buying clothes. Once you like who you are, you don't need that many clothes anymore.

  2. It's no shame to be poor...it's no great honor either:)

    I grew up poor. Not third world poor, but poor enough as the 4th child of 7 in a small 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom home. I was in the 5th grade when I discovered my mom bought my school clothes at the thrift store. It was at recess playing tetherball and the tag on the neck of my shirt was sticking out. A taller boy reach over and read the tag. Some previous mom had written her son's name on the tag. Dan!?! Marc's wearing someone else's shirt!?! he shouted. I have one sister and one brother that were greatly motivated by our childhood to never experience life like that again.

    The brother gained great financial success many times. Unfortunately for him, he also experienced great financial failure. He is working on a comeback.

    My sister that gained great financial success recently turned 50 years old. She is very accomplished and recognized as an authority in her field of study, as is her husband. He speaks five languages, (will remain anonymous) has been on Oprah more than once, Dateline NBC, The Today Show, Al Jazeera, PBS, and others to numerous to mention, and has written best sellers in his field of study. Together they have been all over the world many times and currently live out of country with their children. They have great financial success and fame in their specialties.

    Would they trade down for a simpler lifestyle? I highly doubt it, though according to their two youngest children that came to visit Uncle Marc last summer, mom likes to drink wine by the bottle when she comes home, and Dad is off again in another country accepting an award. Success has it's own cost.

    1. Hi Marc!
      Thanks for your long and insightful comment!

      I like your saying about being poor (1st line). I also like that you relativize with third world poor. I have lived in a third world country, and what I saw there remains with me. I was 7-10 years old at the time, and part of the "privileged crowd" (everything being relative of course : we were leading a rather simple life). If you have enough to eat, and if your clothes are not full of big holes, in that perspective, you're rich. :-)

      If you look at the picture of my 2 daughters, everything they wear on it is second hand. I have a friend whose daughters are slightly older, so we get a big bag of "goodies" on a regular basis. My kids don't mind it at all... for now. :-) Because we live in a small community, people are not obsessed with appearances here. Much less pressure.

      I would not say fame, success and money make people miserable, and of course no one wants to be poor to the point of not making ends meet. But the wealthiest of my acquaintances/friends/family members are NOT the happiest, it's very obvious. And personally, I really like my quiet little life... with its occasional luxury. :-)

      It's all about finding a happy middle ground.

  3. Just catching up after being away! Love everything about this post and was nodding my head in agreement as I read through it. Since I work from a home office, I can honestly say the 333 challenge would be no problem whatsoever for me. I think I could even do it including my running clothes (with the girls, I do a lot of laundry!). My husband and I have been accused of being cheap many, many times by other family members, but we look at is as being smart, living within our means, not having debt, and being able to save our money for travel & family trips that create lifelong memories.

    1. Welcome back Nicole! :-)

      I'll share a secret: running clothes are a weakness of mine. I was relieved when I read that workout clothes were not included in the 33 pieces maximum.

      Why would people call you cheap?!?

      Living within one's means, not having debt, and saving for travels: I say Amen to that. :-)

    2. Thanks for sharing your secret. I have the same addiction to workout and outdoor apparel!! Thankfully I can wear it when I'm working from home, so it makes up the majority of my wardrobe. It's only a problem when I have to travel for work and realize I don't have a week's worth of office-appropriate attire in my closet!

  4. Hopefully many more people read your stuff than those choir members that comment.

    I can't say much on this topic.

  5. Though this is a wonderful list, my favorite is #6 learn to linger. It's so easy to buy these days. Amazon is my go to, Target sucks you in and though I'm pretty good at thinking if we really need something or not- I love the waiting period on something! Thanks for the post :-)

    1. Thanks Rebecca! The waiting period can save you lots of $$$, and what you do end up getting, you will appreciate it all the more. :-)

  6. It can be so hard to live a simpler life. It really takes dedication and planning in order to achieve the goal. Thanks for so much great information and informative links!

    1. You're right, Diane, it's hard. If it was easy I wouldn't be writing 3 posts about it. :-)
      But it's so good for you, and for the planet... it's totally worth it.

  7. I retired early from a very stressful job in order to live a more simple life. I got rid of a lot of 'stuff' and my wardrobe is certainly less than 33 pieces. Funny thing though, I just came into a bit of money and my first impulse was to SPEND!! I was almost in a frenzy. So much for my non-materialistic persona. I did end up buying a couch to replace my old, too small one. It was an extravagance, and I already wished I'd saved my money and lived with the old one. It was a good lesson though, and all those harried thoughts of buying new clothes, luggage, you name it, have gone away. I look forward to saving my little windfall, and using it for emergencies and future travel experiences.

  8. I know, Tara, the spending monster never completely leaves us! Lately I went to a store for something very specific, but I was almost hypnotized by the "On Sale" section. I had to talk to myself "Don't even go there. You don't even need anything".

    There are so many beautiful things, no wonder we find it hard to resist. My trick is to not go into stores, or if I do, to walk straight to what I need, not looking around! LOL

    A good couch is something I would invest in. For comfort. However, my kitchen table and chairs are very basic. :-)

  9. I think this is a great post. I'd like to share it on my blog if that's okay with you.

    1. Sure Missy, as long as you give the link back. Thanks! :-)

  10. For acquiring less / luxury, my girlfriend has a strategy that works very well for her: whenever she feels like buying something, she waits one day. When on the next day she feels she still needs it, she buys it.

    1. Great strategy, and it works for many things! I like to wait before I eat some more... just in case it's not hunger... :-)

  11. I'm irked. Mostly because simplicity and minimal living are in vogue now. They are trendy in the way CrossFit is trendy. Followers are following, but do they really know why they are following. Cynical me.

    First key to simplicity, in my opinion, is to be debt free. Amazing how well that works. So your idea of losing the financial burden is HUGE!

    Turning one's back on modernity is another one, though this is a challenge. I did it for a month once, and it was heaven http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/new_york/mixed_media_lessons_unplugging That is now my ultimate goal, to live 95% off the grid, and minimal need for all technologies. I aim to be there within four years.

    Downsizing. This I can speak to. Five years ago I gave away a house full of furniture, my jeep, and most of my clothing. I just never bought into the “dream” and felt I was living a lie. I had felt that way for some time.

    Rather than scale back, I just let the pendulum swing the other way. I was partially able to get away with this because I had no debt — and that is where the real freedom is.

    Five years later things haven’t changed too much. I live in one small room of my fitness studio (which also has a full kitchen), and I am walking or bike riding distance from anything I need in the small town I live in.

    I miss certain things, but I don’t lose sleep over my lack of anything. When I visit friends though, with large houses, fancy cars, and all the “toys”, in truth I get a little ill — it just seems to much, and all those trappings come with a price.

    I get capitalism, and understand economics fairly well. But somehow, at some point capitalism and economics became false pseudonyms for success, and that I will never understand.

    As a young man I was made aware the story of Dorian Paskowitz. He remains a formative figure in my life… (use the google)

    Pardon the redundancy of previous comments ;-)

    1. Thanks for that long insightful comment! :-)

      You seem to have explored this question a lot, and I think that's what we should all do: at least explore the question. Most of us just "buy" the whole consumerist society without ever questioning it.

  12. I love this post! Love the questions, because it is easy to say I want to live simply or I believe in living simply, but asking those questions really makes you more accountable!!!! I really need to improve on doing this, I know I'm heaps better than I was a few years ago but there is definitely a long way I could go to improve this!

    1. Thank you Jess. I'm glad you were brave enough to ask yourself the questions.

      We can all improve on this. Hopefully many of us are moving in the right direction. :-)

  13. Great post, and the comments are fascinating as well!

    My battle right now is with the internet and social media and virtual communication like email etc. It is so central to my life, and so rewarding in some ways, yet it's the area I feel least like I'm consciously choosing and most like I'm beholden to in an unhealthy way. I'd like to be more mindful and less driven by habits, false urgency, and cloudy reasoning.

    And thanks for all the resources and insights!

    1. You're aware of your battle, and that is the first step Crabby! :-) I have the same issue, to be honest. I have been scaling down, and even if it was painful in the beginning, I feel much lighter now. Let me know how it goes!

  14. LOVE IT!!! I posted earlier this year about how we had simplified once in our move 4 years ago and did again with this recent move. I just feel better with less things, however it seems like they keep creeping back up so these are great tips!

    1. Yep, they do keep creeping back up. Let's keep them in check. :-)