Living Simply or Simply Living

Living Simply or Simply Living

One thing I’ve got to think over  a lot lately is the similarities and contrast between living simply and simply living.

To be clear, lets start with a basic definition but recognize that these concepts are not easy to pin down.

  • Living Simply – Living a simple lifestyle. Think less stuff, not less life.
  • Simply Living – Not getting caught up with life, but enjoying life. Think less worry, not less life.

To me living simply is the idea of having a minimal amount of things, especially things that get in the way of doing/enjoying what really matters. This would definitely include avoiding duplication (such as multiple computers, shoes, whatever) but also paring down those things that we don’t use regularly and even some that we do. To live without some modern amenities in the interest of avoiding the time, cost, and effort in using and maintaining them. It also includes our time, by avoiding activities with little long term value, and maybe even our relationships.

Compare this to simply living which is the idea of enjoying the life your living now, whatever it is. To accept loss or gain of possessions as irrelevant. To live with a focus on priorities. I recognize that simply living may seem to preclude the idea of trying to live simply, but the more I’ve contemplated it, the more I think they actually go hand-in-hand.

Living in a poor part of the Dominican Republic for three months gave me the opportunity to witness both. Although the financial situation forced many of them to live much too simply to be comfortable, it did provide an ample contrast to our North American norm. Then to see these same people, struggling with poverty, have a stronger ability to not get caught up in it, but focus on what they had – good friends, family, community, and free time really challenged me (to be fair I’m sure we saw the rosier side as they put on a good face for visitors but I think the lessons still apply). So I’d like to pass these concepts along to help remind myself, and encourage you of the benefits of both living simply and simply living.

I have come to the conclusion that living simply is absolutely necessary to allow one to get the most out of life. We must get rid of distractions, in many ways. In business we try to focus relentlessly on our priorities and on being effective, but it is so easy in our individual capacity to forget this. We participate in activities without having a reason, buy things without regard for future costs of time and money, keep possessions without considering their maintenance requirements. I wonder how much time many of us could save if we got rid of half our stuff? What about if we dropped half of our planned activities? I challenge you to find one activity you can drop from your schedule, and one area in your house (from a drawer to a room) that you can simplify in the next 24 hours.

Interestingly, my thoughts on living simply have brought me to my second conclusion on experiencing life – we must learn to simply live. By focusing too much on the first (or any other type of life changing activity) we can miss the forest for the trees. Even if the ends is worthy the means is important too. I recognize that this is easy to say, but not always easy to implement. Fortunately, like many other questions in life, sometimes it is the pondering of it that is the most important. To recognize that one wants to start enjoying the things they already do is a big step. The more I have thought about it the more I have found opportunities to enjoy life. To smile at a my kids silly jokes, to enjoy a beam of sunlight peaking through the trees, to relax with good company and let productive time pass. My challenge here is to try recognize three times in one day where you can smile to yourself and say “I’m going to enjoy this moment” when you would normally let it pass unnoticed.

Further challenges:

  • Smile the next time someone damages something of yours and enjoy it – get to know the person, look for how you can help them, or simply not spoil a childs day.
  • Ask a close friend to get rid of three things you have that they think are wasting your time.
  • Try to figure out the relative merits of your typical daily activities.
  • Find one store you can stop shopping at.
  • Identify one activity you can automate or outsource (lawn maintenance, bill payments, cleaning come to mind)
  • Travel outside the tourist zones to see, experience, and learn from another culture.
  • Play with a child.
  • Sit down, take three big breaths, and then genuinely count your blessings.

I’m not sure this adequately captures the two concepts but it is a start.


  1. Comment by Mike King

    SO true Brad. And yes, it likely is just a start really. Simply living is a great term and when I look at the things I’ve written in my someday list (dreams, aspirations, etc) most of them are activities and things to do in life, very few are about the things I have in life. So, to me living in the simply living part is about the things I can do and do with others.

  2. Comment by admin

    I like the term as well – how to you feel it contrasts with the pursuit of personal development?

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