What does it mean to live simply? Surely different things to different people.

For some it is choosing to go for a drive in the BM rather than the Jag and for others it is eating the same meal day in day out because it’s all you can afford.

I live in South Africa and I recently came across some statistics that suggest that in my home nation the income from white households on average is around 4.8 times that of black households.

That blows my mind and obviously it is averages which can be skewed by the very rich and the very poor, but still it is indicative of a greater plight.


I do think this is an area that each one of us would do well to look at individually. Because our context might define some of what that simply looks like.

If you are a lawyer, for example, you may have to spend more on clothing than if you were a freelance writer (where pajamas are king!) If you are a musician or a photographer then your instruments and work tools will carry a certain cost that other people might not have.

Also most decisions affect other decisions, so if you choose to only travel by public transport and not have a car, then you are typically going to increase the time it takes you to get places. So, in this case the decision to own a car might enable you to live more simply by giving you the time to achieve other things of importance. Wheels within wheels (as if this stuff is ever simple, right?)


One of the easiest examples to look at is where you choose to live. Some people don’t really have much choice on that one but this article is more directed at the people with the money.

One way of living simply is to live in an area with lower rent. When Val and I were looking for a place to stay in Cape Town, one of our priorities was that we didn’t want to live in an area of just white people. Which actually helped in terms of the kinds of rent we were then looking at. We spent six months trying to find a place to rent so we didn’t necessarily land up in a place of diversity that would be our number one pick, but having it as a key priority helped us shift our mindset in terms of areas we looked at.

If you are spending a whole lot of money on rent, then consider moving to a different area where you will pay less, probably have a greater diversity of people around you and free up money to do other things.


Food is another one that we tend to spend a lot of money on and food prices seem to be rising all the time. We try to shop at cheaper stores and typically go with no-name brands and are intentional most of the time with what we do and don’t buy.

We won’t get the cheapest coffee necessarily cos there is some sense of taste in that, but we definitely will ┬ánot get the most expensive. Our cheap will be someone else’s luxury and our expensive will be someone else’s scrimping.

We have also started growing some of our own food (my wife predominantly is the one proving she has that gift!) and are using food clubs where food has been locally sourced for much of it. Again, decisions like choosing organic or free range or locally produced might be trading one value (cheapest) for another (good products) and so it is constantly a juggle between what you can, and what you want to do.


I guess for most people, the tell is when change happens in some way. If you get an increase in money, does your standard of life dramatically change? Are you buying those things because you now can, or do you buy the things you have chosen to buy because they fit in with your values or needs?

Questions about insurance and health insurance (we don’t have either) can become quite key here and a stronger sense of community and safety net is going to have to come into play if you don’t have or can’t afford those.

Being part of a gym or exercising on the street could be another question. But in some cases you might have to factor safety in there as well and for some people, the gym option becomes more attractive from that way of looking at it.


The point of this article is not for me to give you a list of what living simply does and doesn’t mean. But it is to challenge you to give it some thought. To not be changed simply because you have more funds available. To decide on values as a person or couple or family and then strive to live those out.

A big part of our money situation is making sure that we are supporting others (and we have people who give generously to us at the same time). We support an individual and a family and an organisation in different ways. The more money you free up by living simply within your context, hopefully the more money this frees up to stand behind other people in theirs.

Maybe it is helping a student get their university degree or get out of debt. Perhaps it is giving an amount to a newly married couple to pay for them to have a date night once a week or month. Maybe it is a decision about the kind of work you do that frees up some time to be able to volunteer somewhere or give extra lessons to a learner.

There are so many opportunities for us to really live well together, but we need to start in front of the mirror. What are the luxuries that I am embracing which mean that other people are not being helped and supported?

I think if everyone took these questions seriously, then we would soon be seeing serious change in the lives and communities around us.

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