Want to pursue simple living in your 20s? Here are 20 smart ways to live simply and intentionally in your 20s that will set the foundation for the rest of your life.
This is what I discovered about simple living in my 20s: Our culture doesn’t make it easy to live simply. As emerging adults, we enter a tangled thicket of societal norms, expectations, and pressures. These things don’t go away when we leave our 20s, but if we can learn to navigate them then simple living may get easier the older we get.
That’s my hope at least, now that I’m 30! I want to build on the foundations I’ve established in the last decade, and pursue simple living with more clarity and intentionality in my 30s.
Looking back, here are 20 takeaways I’ve learned about simple living in your 20s. Some of these points overlap, but each offer a slightly different piece of wisdom, so I didn’t consolidate. I hope you’ll use the Comments section to share what you’ve learned about simple living, no matter the decade you’re in!
How to Live Simply in Your 20s
1. Define simple living for yourself
The way you define and pursue simple living may change over the years, but give yourself a starting point. I quickly learned that for some people, “simple living” basically means homesteading—growing most of your food, canning and preserving, sewing clothes, building chicken coops. This didn’t fully match with what I considered simple living, or with the activities I wanted to pursue.
What simple living means for me is things like this: not crowding my home with stuff, reducing waste, being intentional with life choices, and enjoying an unassuming and low-maintenance lifestyle.
Now think about what a simple life looks like for you.
2. Live below your means
This is a simple living principle to follow throughout your life, even if the dollar amount of your means fluctuates. When you live below your means, you can always be moving towards long-term financial goals, whether that means paying off loans early or having savings for the future.
3. Don’t stress about finding the “perfect” job
Once you graduate high school or college, you get slammed with the question: what are you going to DO?! It feels like you have to make the most of your degree and do something on point, especially when all of your peers seem to be landing impressive-sounding jobs. But the thing is, it can take time to find your niche. What’s more important at this stage is to cultivate your work ethic and your work outlook. If you can’t do what you love, yet, you can work on loving what you do.
4. Resist the pull to accumulate All The Things
With an adult income and adult freedoms, it’s easy to become a spender. You might buy expensive items or you might just buy little things but frequently. Either way, spending can become a habit before you know it! It’s tough when you’re just starting out and feel like there’s so many things you need, not to mention want.
The best way I’ve found to staunch the flow of stuff is to delay your spending. (See #5.) Putting time between yourself and a purchase will give you a better vantage point on an item’s value to you.
5. Declutter what you already have
Besides the new stuff you acquire as an adult, you’ve probably already got boxes and boxes of belongings from your childhood and college days. Do some serious decluttering now so you won’t be lugging this stuff around with you every time you switch housing or jobs. I think it’s fine to keep some kid stuff that you want to give your own kids, just be thoughtful about what’s most significant or valuable. You can also pare down your wardrobe using the Rule of 10, and tackle your paper piles (they’ll get crazy overwhelming if you wait).
6. If you’re married, practice living on one income
This is a practical and easily-definable way to live below your means. If both spouses have a job, great! Use one income for savings or loan repayment. Later if you have children and want to be a stay-at-home mom, it will be easier to make it work financially because you’re already accustomed to frugality.
7. Learn to cook from scratch
Cooking from scratch makes you more self-reliant, saves you a bushel of money, and puts you in charge of your health. And, it’s a skill you’ll be able to pass on to your children so they can one day reap those benefits, too. Here’s more on the lost art of cooking from scratch.
8. Live small while you can
I never wanted to live in a tiny house forever, but living in small apartments and our little cabin absolutely had its benefits. Small living kept our expenses low and our options open. It was perfect for those first several years of our marriage. If you can get away with not owning a car, that would be another great way to live small!
9. Pursue hobbies that are cost-friendly and experience-based
The start of adulthood brings new interests and new opportunities, and oftentimes a little more cash. Most people don’t think about this, but if you can be intentional with your hobbies, collections, and activities now, you’ll thank yourself later. Veer towards hobbies that don’t cost much, and are experience-based rather than object-based. Consider quitting hobbies that aren’t financially sustainable. A time is going to come when you want that money for other things and wish you hadn’t spent so heavily before.
10. Learn to savor the things you can’t put a price on
Life is full of a myriad of simple pleasures, and one of the most accessible and satisfying ways to live simply is simply to notice them. Pay attention to nature. Appreciate the mundane, lovely rituals you take part in each day. Enjoy hanging out on the porch with your family, without worry of your to-do list.
11. Live with the next stage of life in mind
When you’re a young adult, it’s so easy (and in many ways admirable) to get caught up with “living for the moment.” In your 20s, the future is now; you’ve finally reached that time of wished-for adulthood, with all the freedoms and self-determination you craved when you were younger. But while I’m all about making the most of the present, sometimes making the most of the present means planning for the future. The choices you make now about your health, finances, eating habits, etc. will have effects that ripple out decades from now.
12. Learn about simple living from the past
One of the things about the simple living movement that I love is its respect for the past. There’s a lot of wisdom to be uncovered from the decades of our grandparents, great-grands, and even our parents(; In manners, priorities, handling of food, treatment of nature, past eras have a lot to teach us. There’s plenty of not-so-great things stirred in, too, but you know what to do—chew up the meat, spit out the bones! My Lost Arts series explores this more fully.
13. Don’t try to keep up
I used to feel behind the curve because I didn’t know the latest on technology or apps or gadgets. I felt like I had a massive amount of learning and acquiring to do. But soon after college I realised: with the rampant way technology and internet culture grow, I’ll never catch up! There’s freedom in knowing that. Don’t feel like you need the latest phone or watch or
creepy home spying system smart home assistant. Determine what kind of technology use will best serve your deeply-held values, as Cal Newport puts it.
14. Master time management
Time is a huge resource, right? It takes so much discipline and refining of methods, but never stop honing your time management skills. For a succinct, well-put book on this topic, I recommend Tell Your Time by Amy Lynn Andrews.
15. Don’t count on living like your parents right off the bat
A huge misconception among twenty-somethings (I learned this from experience) is that if we don’t have the lifestyle of our parents and grandparents, we’re doing something wrong. We see their mostly-paid for homes, their ability to take vacations, even the fact that their houses actually have landscaping and furniture, and think why aren’t we there yet?
The answer is that you’re in your 20s. Ask your elders for their stories, and chances are you’ll learn that they started out “poor” too. That they lived in cramped quarters and had to work really hard. Choose to see this stage as a rite of passage that will make you a more competent person in the long run.
16. Read all you can
Of course you should be a reader throughout your life, but the twenties are such an important time to be reading because you’re foundation-building for all the adult years to come. Read old books; classic novels; and non-fiction that will challenge you, teach you about a time and place, or spark new ideas. Twenty-somethings are notorious for binge-watching TV shows, but you can quit Netflix and go read a book.
17. Surround yourself with things that reinforce your vision of a simple life
Fill your life with books, ideas, companies, blogs, relationships, and mentors that align with your values and that urge and inspire you to pursue them. You’ll become the things that you see and do and think about, so it pays to be intentional in this area. Don’t surround yourself with things that preach an unrealistic, complicated, consumerist lifestyle.
18. Value people over experiences
It’s standard “simple living” advice to value experiences over things. But I’m afraid experiences are a commodity we tend idolize without realising it. Don’t let your personal experience bucket list eclipse those very low-key, so-important moments you can get with people just by showing up often and being there.
19. Flourish where you are
You might not find yourself in the state or job or adventure that you envisioned, but don’t be afraid to sink your roots down anyway. Go ahead and invest in where you are right now. You don’t know what’s around the corner, and you’ll regret it if you spend your 20s constantly waiting to go somewhere else.
20. Be content
Remember how I said at the very top of this post that simple living isn’t easy? Well, that’s not just because we get pushback from the culture. We get pushback from ourselves. Sometimes we think that to achieve a simple life we need to buy a product. Find a different job. Complete a list of New Year’s resolutions. Those things can help and serve as tools towards living simply. But the headwaters of simple living is your mindset. Are you content with where you are and what you have now? Cultivate contentment, and everything else on this list will come easier.
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