The most common response I’ve had from people when they hear about The Year of Simplicity has been, “Shut up! I’m so jealous. I wish I could do that.” Well, sister (or brother as the case may be), I’m here to tell you that you can.
As I mentioned in my last post, the dream to discover a simpler life has been over five years in the making, but it hasn’t been simple, in fact we discovered it was surprisingly difficult and emotionally taxing. Every move is exhausting and feels chaotic, let alone when you’re trying to fit the entire contents of your life into a van and a smallish trailer. Overall, I’m pretty proud of Carl and I for how we handled it. In the past, moving has led to a breaking point for me (on one occasion a literal one, resulting in Carl and I breaking up when we were first dating). I find the stress and logistical complexity extremely overwhelming and it’s difficult to maintain the self-care practices that allow me to keep my mental health in balance.
This time we had a clear game plan (a backwards map of the move) that allowed us to keep on track even though I had a lot of client work going on. It wasn’t easy to maintain a sense of calm in the midst of the chaos – as I’ve mentioned, we spent about a month and a half with the entire contents of our lives out on the lounge room floor as we watched our belongings gradually dwindle away (we sold our couch and dining table back in February so we were basically camping out in our apartment after that).
But after going through a tough period of mental health last year – which wreaked havoc on our lives and our relationship – I was pretty determined not to let things slip. I carved out what I referred to as my ‘Calm Corner’; a Turkish rug (the one we got married on), two velvet arm chairs, a vintage sideboard and a giant agave. This helped me to compartmentalise so I could cope with the chaos. I also spent Wednesdays (and this is Sydney’s best kept secret) working at Wylie Baths in Coogee where you can get free wifi with an ocean view (#WylieWednesdays).
We were still exhausted when we arrived in Tassie, but the move went as well as could be expected. Now that the fog has started to clear, here are my six tips to start simplifying:
- Consider whether you really need to live in the city.
Admittedly some of us do have jobs that require us to live in Australia’s biggest cities, but he reality for most of us is we are just, well, stuck. We live the way we do because we think we have to live that way – largely because it’s the way everyone around us lives. We work in our corporate jobs, pay rent (or a mortgage for the lucky few who can afford it) on our two-income home and find that we have to escape on weekends or expensive holidays in order to survive our lives.
If you can relate to what I’ve just written, I encourage you to start asking some questions. Many of those roles that we think are city-based are actually transferable to smaller urban hubs (and if they’re not maybe you could consider a career change). Even if you can’t earn as much in smaller town, you’ll probably discover that you don’t need to. Which brings me to tip #2.
- Find ways to lower your cost of living so you can work less.
This doesn’t just have to mean moving into a van like we have. We have lots of friends who have found ways to make Sydney more liveable. Some of our close friends have renovated a garage into a beautifully designed tiny house, which has allowed them to make major career changes towards more creative pursuits. Another couple we know house-sat for two years to save money and a third family has started Inner-West Housing Co-op in a bid to make housing more affordable with the help of creative pooling of funds.
Of course, the most straightforward way to do this is to get out of the big smoke to somewhere where the cost of living is lower and where life is more liveable (so you don’t have to buy stuff or go to expensive events to counteract the effects of your Monday-Friday survival mode or live off takeaway and eating out because you’re too tired to cook).
The reality is that lowering your cost of living means you have to earn less and can therefore work less. Simples.
- Start getting rid of your crap. (Do it. Do it now).
I read a great quote this week that said,
“For the longest time, I thought I needed to be more organised. Now I know I just need less stuff.”
Minimalism (or essentialism as some people call it) isn’t a movement for privileged hippie-types. It’s actually just the way the majority of the world lives. Even though Carl and I lived a (relatively, by Sydney standards) low cost life in a small apartment (the second bedroom serving as Carl’s jewellery studio), we still discovered we had an obscene amount of stuff.
I wish that we started going through our stuff sooner. In the five years we lived together (and three years prior to that for me as a single lady) our bountiful built-ins really just meant we had ample space to store all our crap. I can’t tell you how many things we pulled out of the cupboard that we hadn’t touched in five years. I won’t harp on too much on this (there’s plenty of resources out there to get you going like the Netflix documentary, Minimalism; best-selling book The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up; and the Project 333 clothing challenge to name a few).
One tip I found helpful was the advice from the KonMari method to “discard by category not location in this order: Clothing; books; paperwork; miscellaneous items; and sentimental items.” (that last one definitely needs to be left ‘til last because, as someone wise advised me, it takes bloody ages to get through your sentimental stuff). Take everything out its storage place, dump it out in a pile, go through it item by item and (as naff as it sounds) ask yourself whether this thing you’re holding brings value or joy into your life. If not, donate it so someone else can find use for it. We found we had a lot of stuff that was “valuable”, but if we never touched it, it doesn’t actually hold value (at least not to us).
The point is, don’t wait ‘til you’re making a life-changing move to start decluttering. Do it now.
- Reconnect yourself to nature.
I don’t know about you, but I feel most ‘me’ when I’m connected to nature. Even coming to the Bay of Fires this past week has allowed me to relax, settle into my body and let my racing mind come to rest. Sydney is surrounded by beautiful beaches and bushwalks but most of us spend our weekends inside recovering from the week or rushing from one social event to the next. Instead of planning your calendar around so-and-so’s birthday dinner, try blocking out one weekend or one day a month to get yourself into the natural world. Plan it ahead and then politely decline that invitation to that Saturday brunch.
You don’t even need to leave the city to make it happen. Towards the end of my time in Sydney, I discovered the Two-Valley Trail along Wolli Creek. Do yourself a favour and check it out – you will be amazed by this pristine patch of bush in the middle of Australia’s biggest city.
- Find ways to love yourself that don’t involve money.
Going for an ocean swim, a walk on the river or taking twenty minutes in a local park on your lunch break to notice the feeling of the sun on your face, the breeze on your skin or the ground beneath your bum can be what you need to restore yourself. When I worked in Sydney’s CBD I used to spend my lunchbreak on a 50minute walk through Hyde Park, past The Domain, across the Botanic Gardens and down to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair. Carl loves freediving and spearfishing and finds those activities to be acts of self-care. Even taking five minutes to mindfully notice what you can see, hear, touch and smell around you can make a difference.
- Move to Tasmania (I’m looking at you, Lucinda Spencer).
We’re not 100% sure where we’re going to land when we finish up our year in transit, but we suspect it will probably be Tasmania. The cost of living is SO much lower down here than on the mainland and the people really do seem to have the whole simple living thing figured out. But more on that later…
Do you have any tips for simplifying your life? What do you find challenging about the notion? Tell me in the comments below (and then check your junk for my reply because I do respond to every comment. Promise).