I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
Henry David Thoreau’s reasons for spending two years, two months, and two days in a second-growth forest near shores of Walden Pond in Massachusetts ring as true today as they did when he wrote them in 1854. Thoreau’s “experiment,” as he called it, helped him identify only four basic necessities of life: food, shelter, clothing and fuel. He believed that since nature provides most of what we require for these needs, we have shackled ourselves by working a lifetime for things that we don’t need.
As someone who is either living off the grid or considering doing so, you may already have the desire to cut back on all the hustle and bustle and all the stuff of modern living. You are choosing to take back your life from the overwhelming array of the activities, appointments, tasks and burdens of modern life. By simplifying your life, you, like Thoreau, are looking for something more basic and more fulfilling than what our society has created as the norm.
In addition to paring down your life to what is really important, a simplified lifestyle offers some other advantages. Some of these benefits you will notice right away and others will come upon you more slowly as you live out your life in this new deliberate way.
Here are some of the advantages of a simplified lifestyle:
1. More time. Time is such an interesting commodity. We all have experienced the phenomenon of how time will drag by when we are bored and rush by when we are having fun. Most Americans today will tell you, however, that time is something they wish they had more of. We waste so much time in our 21st century culture. We wait in traffic. We sit in chairs at doctor’s offices. We watch mindless TV programs and movies. We spent hours trying to keep up with the latest social media.
When you choose to simplify your life and to pull away from all the unnecessary stuff that takes up your time, you will find that you have more time to do what you really enjoy. Whether that is reading or gardening or cooking or just daydreaming, you will discover you will be less tired and more energized to spend time doing what you like.
2. Closer relationships. For most of us, that extra time translates into more time spent with those we love. Many people have been attributed with a variation of this saying: No one says on his deathbed that he wished he had spent more time at the office. That sentence reveals the longing many of us have to slow down so that we can spend more time with our families.
By eliminating the non-essentials of your life, you will have time to re-connect with your spouse and with your children. You will discover the joys of conversation, of playing board games together and of just hanging out, sharing your lives together.
3. Lower stress and anxiety. Modern life is stressful. An estimated 75 percent to 90 percent of visits to America’s primary-care physicians are based upon complaints related to stress. A Harvard University study shows that people under high levels of stress were four and a half times more likely to suffer cardiac arrest than non-anxious individuals.
When we voluntarily opt out of the rat race, we have less to be anxious about. By eliminating many of the sources of stress in our lives – the commute, the overtime, the appointments and the extravagant purchases – we take away most of the sources of the worry.
4. Enhanced creativity. One of the surprising outcomes of a simplified life is that we can focus better. This new way of looking at things can help us to develop a long-lost talent or to discover a new creative interest. Since necessity really is the mother of invention, as the saying goes, you will learn to refine some skills and to learn some new ones as you embark on this new lifestyle. Instead of calling a repairman or a handyman, for instance, you will realize the contentment that comes from making things with your hands and from repairing things in and around your home yourself.
Many people who get down to the basics discover an artistic side of themselves that they never know they had. You may find yourself sketching the beauty around you or enjoying photographing your surroundings, for example. Perhaps you will rekindle a love for baking or for gardening.
5. Financial freedom. Although it may seem you have to work hard in order to get to the point of living with less at first, living simply does cost less. You will save money on so many costs that were draining your bank account before: heating and cooling, transportation, expensive wardrobe and food expenses to name a few. You will also save money by eliminating the things in your life that you had to spend money on to maintain, such as a second car or a storage unit. When you live within your means, you can also eliminate credit card debt and high interest rates.
6. Better appreciation of nature and beauty. Leonardo da Vinci is credited with writing, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” When we simplify our lives, we are able to see the beauty in the everyday more clearly. We can enjoy the colors of a morning sunrise or the smell of an approaching rain. The clutter and the noise and the busyness of modern life can rob us of our enjoyment of the wonder of the world around us.
A simplified lifestyle offers us a new perspective on what is really important. We begin to notice and re-appreciate the details of life –whether it is a butterfly’s wings or a good conversation over a cup of coffee. Whether you are just beginning your journey or have been on the road for years, the advantages of a less-encumbered lifestyle will continue to accrue.