As a ten year old child living in Ireland in the late seventies, I was obsessed with a British sitcom called The Good Life. The show followed the adventures of Tom and Barbara as they transformed their fancy suburban London home into a simple and self-sustainable farm. From that moment I was hooked with simple living.
Everything about their new life resonated deeply with my young and impressionable mind. As a child, not only did material things not matter to me – they actually stressed me out. In fact, very few toys or possessions held my attention as a child.
The one thing that did matter was travel. I loved everything about a long road trip or flying to far away places. My parents were similarly wired, and as a result our family moved back and forth across the pond between America and Ireland. I was happiest living in Dublin, and spent my days in America daydreaming and planning on ways to get back to my favorite place.
At twenty one, I moved back to Ireland with a suitcase, my passport and a Walkman. I rented a small modestly furnished efficiency apartment, and happily lived on broiled tomatoes, grilled cheese sandwiches and pasta. Life in my favorite city was wonderful – tons of things to do outside, live music and so many fabulous pubs. Dublin in the eighties was simple living at its finest.
After spending a couple years of solo travel and living abroad, I returned to the States to study journalism at Marymount University. I had a streamlined wardrobe of a dozen or so truly loved items, and my worldly possessions fit inside one box. My college friends decided to look upon my simple living habits as charming.
When a friend invited me to go out of town for the weekend, I put some clothes and a toothbrush in a paper grocery bag, and tucked some cash into my passport. My friend, a business savvy economics major, laughed hard at my makeshift luggage and wallet.
When I found out I was expecting twins several years later, that same girlfriend made me a baby shower gift of staples – a tree of diapers, surrounded by an assortment of newborn necessities. The best part about her gift was that she acknowledged my need for keeping things simple. Even in the nineties, the ads for consumer goods aimed at new parents struck me as stupid, opportunistic and obnoxious.
Transitioning from a couple living off a double income to a family of four getting by on a single income took some seriously creative budgeting. So we passed on setting up a nursery, and chose instead to co-sleep, opted to breastfeed over buying formula and bought baby necessities at a consignment store.
Within a decade, our family of four became a family of six. And while raising four kids on one salary was financially tough at times, maintaining a simple lifestyle made all the difference in the world. We prioritized experiences over things – so hiking, rollerblading and beach days over closets overstuffed with toys and stuff.
My lifestyle has certainly changed (hello babies, bye bye fabulous pubs) significantly since becoming a parent, but the things I value have stayed the same. A “less is more” attitude works well when single, but is an absolute lifesaver when parenting. Because a life of joy calls for very few things.