How to Live Simply in the Modern World

If I am told once more that paying a bill online is easier and faster, I'm going to lose it.  I'm not talking about monthly bills you can set up to be paid automatically – I mean those random medical bills, charitable donations, and the like.  Since when did writing a check and putting a stamp on an envelope become hard?  (Especially if you know exactly where your checkbook and stamps are, because they have a place to belong.)  Going online, creating and/or signing into an account, and entering payment information takes just as long, and you still have to write the transaction in your bank book.  There's nothing wrong with paying online, but it is not easier and faster.  (Although it does benefit the company you're paying – they get their money faster and can hire fewer people to process accounts receivable.)

There are other modern amenities that make simple things more complicated or more expensive, such as a smart refrigerator to tell you you're out of milk or eggs.  If you're unable to open the door and see that, then using a refrigerator at all may be difficult for you.  Otherwise, it just seems intrusive and a waste of money, since you can just make a shopping list on an index card.

I promised myself I wouldn't rant, so I'll simply say that I am not the only person who longs for a simpler life.  Plenty of people wish for a slower, more organic life with periods for solitude and for deep connection with others.

Moving to a cabin in the woods isn't possible for all of us, and that might not be easier anyway.  But there are ways to stay in the modern urban or suburban world and still live more simply.

6 Steps to a Simpler Life

1.  Become cell phone minimal.

Pay phones have disappeared, so it probably isn't possible to live without a cell phone.  But you can put your phone in "do not disturb" mode and let people know that you check your email and messages four or five times a day.  You can designate a specific list of people whose calls and texts get through so that you can be reached in an emergency (say your spouse, your mom, and/or your kids' school).  Other people can learn that you will respond to their call or text within a couple of hours, so you're still available, just not constantly interruptible.

At the same time, remove time-destroying games and apps, or at the very least put them in a folder on another page in the menu so they aren't a temptation every time you check your phone.

2.  Don't click "like."

While you might at first feel that your social network is shrinking if you stop participating in Facebook, Twitter, and the rest, I think you'll find that you make more time and effort for the relationships that really matter to you.  A hundred likes, heart emojis, and "aww" comments about your friend's new baby will never mean as much as if you visit her, bring a casserole for her freezer, and actually hold and cuddle that child!  Instead of maintaining a tenuous connection to someone you knew briefly in high school 20 years ago or an acquaintance from a 2019 Zumba class, you'll enrich your life with deeper, more meaningful friendships.

For more inspiration in this area, I highly recommend Cal Newport's Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World (paid link).

3.  Declutter.

You knew I was going to say this!  For more peace and calm, greater efficiency, faster and easier cleaning, and so much more, get your belongings down to the essential.  Find more reasons and inspiration here, here, here, and here.

4.  Stop using credit cards and build a savings account.

My husband and I have been held hostage by five-figure credit card debt, and we know for sure that life is freer and more fun without it.  Yes, we were able to acquire a lot of stuff we couldn't otherwise afford... and that's the problem.  It was stuff we couldn't afford, and we stole from future earnings to pay for it.  Restaurant meals, clothing, and gifts were the stupidest purchases to pay for over time, but so were concerts, vacations, and other experiences.  Because of credit card bills, we had zero margin in our budget.  All income above basic necessities went to pay for our excesses of the past.

Without debt, we use our income for some items and experiences today and save for fun and emergencies in the future.  We have never had as much disposable income as we have now, not because we earn so much more, but because we have no debts.

Obviously, if you are disciplined enough to use a credit card to earn air miles or cash rebates while paying off the balance every month, good for you!

5.  Learn to say no.

Our society encourages us to ignore limits.  Buy more, do more, be more is the constant message.  Yet we are finite human beings, and limits are the reality.  That doesn't mean we can't learn, grow, and stretch our capabilities, but it does mean that we can't have it all or do it all.  And why should we?  When we focus, our true abilities have a chance to develop.  When we set boundaries, we become more creative.

Saying no can be hard at first, but you will be happier if you have enough time and energy for what really matters to you.

6.  Keep some old-fashioned independence.

Before you buy into the latest and greatest, decide whether the old way that has worked for decades will work for you.  I've already mentioned the smart refrigerator, but really this goes for all smart appliances.  Do you need a blender you can control with your phone?  Do you need a $100 smart mug?  An automatic pot stirrer?  A microwave you can talk to?  (These are real products available today.)  Soon you'll need a live-in robot to handle every job in the kitchen, because apparently making some toast and coffee will be beyond your capabilities.

Our grandparents never needed gym memberships because they actually used their bodies to do things like sweep, vacuum, weed the yard, push a lawn mower, rake, wash windows, knead dough, walk or bicycle to errands, and more.  They had lifelong friends because they knew their neighbors, visited each other's houses, went to church or a service club together, and wrote letters or made phone calls.  Their interactions weren't reduced to the quick click of a like button.

I'm not suggesting we go back to using a washboard, telegraph, or horse and buggy – just that we think about where our choices may lead.  Instead of mindlessly buying into the hype, let's keep our independence and be more intentional about creating a simpler life.

Photo by Elena Kloppenburg on Unsplash


  1. Hi Karen, love your blog. I won't tell you bill paying online is faster and easier....even if it's true! What I like about it is it's PAPERLESS. So clutter-free and sustainable. I pay all my bills with a cash back credit card then pay one bill a month from my checking account. Make a little money and makes for super quick and easy registry balance. I still do a paper registry too. I am definitely a cell phone minimalist...still use a flip phone. Talk and text, dirt cheap. I frankly am not interested in smart anything, appliance or car wise. Network hacked? Can't start your Tesla. Had a young mom with2 kids sitting in my car in the freezing cold because her keyless fob wouldn't let her into her car. Husband came and got her going eventually. Prefer a key!

    1. Hi Kris! Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment.

      You'll see by rereading my first paragraph that I have no problem with automating those monthly bills like the car or house payment, insurance, phone bill, etc. Once those accounts are set up, that IS an easy way to pay the same amount each and every month, and the method certainly saves time and paper. It's a great idea for everyone. I'm talking about those once-in-awhile non-recurring bills. Paying online takes just as much time and effort as simply writing a check, in spite of the hype. It is, however, the best option for the company you're paying, for the reasons I indicate.

      The keyless fob thing happened to my daughter too. I much prefer a key. Do the car manufacturers think we all have a problem with losing keys? Minimalism can help with that issue too -- there's only one bag where my keys live.

      When we all become dependent on "smart" everything and no longer think or pay attention to what we're doing -- that's when there will really be some problems.


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