Living Simply: Some Initial Steps to Discovering What Really Matters

Written by Andrew Morrison

The importance of living simply cannot be overstated. This is a rather personal blog entry and I hope that you can “hear” it without your filters on. You may agree or disagree with me and that’s fine. I am not trying to convince you of anything nor am I trying to change your mind about anything you currently hold as true. What I do hope is that you will ask yourselves some questions and that you will look deeply in what is true FOR YOU.

hand blocking out the sunThe last few months for me have been an incredible experience. As many of you know, my wife, 12-year-old daughter and I have been living the simple life in Mexico. In fact, most of that time has been spent living on a beach in a small (very small) tent trailer. In that time, we have come to see what things are important in life and which are simply not. The most obvious things of importance are family, health, happiness, food, clean water, and safe shelter. I think we can all agree that those things are important. Are there other things that land on your “important list?” There certainly could be. Here’s my list as it stands today (keep in mind that some may be doubles or subsets of previous items) and I’m keenly aware that this list changes almost daily as new joys enter my life.

That Which Is Important

  • Love
  • Family
  • Health
  • Joy
  • Clean Water
  • Safe Shelter
  • Healthy Food
  • Freedom (define this as you may as it means many things to me)
  • An Open Heart
  • An Open Mind
  • A Sense of Humor
  • A Willingness to Forgive and Be Forgiven
  • Compassion
  • Quiet (inside and out)
  • Peace (inside and out)
  • Clean Air
  • Laughing
  • Crying
  • Listening
  • Connection With Nature
  • Money (This can be on either list depending on your relationship with it)

So what about the things we don’t need? As I mentioned at the end of my list, the M word can potentially find itself listed as something of importance or something that we don’t need. How do you relate to money? Do you see it as the root of all evil or something to help spread joy? Perhaps it’s somewhere in between for you. Like everything else on your lists (assuming you decide to take some time to create lists like these) I would hope that you really look at the truths underneath, in between, and around all of your beliefs. I use money as a trigger point here because it is so often surrounded by story and beliefs that come from generations past, the “norm” of community around us, or some other outside influence. So look at what’s true for you with regard to all things “important” and “not important.”

That Which Is Not Important

  • TV
  • A Big House
  • Video Games
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Stuff (the things that commercials tell us we need)
  • More than 2 or 3 Pairs of Shoes
  • A Huge Wardrobe
  • Double Master Suite Sinks
  • A “Great Room”
  • A Big Refrigerator (the extra food will only end up rotting)
  • Anything you can’t actually use to make your life better (I mean truly better)

It’s actually really funny that as I write the list of things that are not important, I find that I can’t seem to describe the items I want to list. I wonder why. Perhaps it’s because I really don’t focus on those things anymore? I don’t know. The phrase that keeps coming to mind is “all the junk that our society says we need…when in fact, we really don’t need it.” I had an “aha” moment the other day when we spent a night at a hotel and watched TV. I was so disturbed by all of the commercials (not to mention the programming itself…what a waste of energy) as it seemed that everybody was trying to sell me something. My wife pointed out that this was of course true, as that is the purpose of commercials.

I know it seems silly, but somehow I had not really noticed that I was being bombarded with sales pitches all day long via TV, billboards, radio ads, and more. It had become part of my landscape. Now having been away from it for so long, it was painfully obvious. I bet that if you spent a month without any TV whatsoever, you too would have a similar experience. In fact, many of you may have just taken a deep breath of discomfort just in hearing the suggestion of not watching TV for a month. It has become such a part of so many people’s lives, that living without it seems scary. Why? What will you miss? What might happen to you if you don’t watch TV?

If you are inspired to ask yourself some tough questions, I hope that you will take the time and courage to do just that. Finding out for yourself what things are truly important is a first step to living a simple life. After all, if you don’t know what things really matter, it’s easy to lose focus and spread your attention to all kinds of things. That weakens your energy and your ability to create what you want in your life in the same way that spreading a tiny piece of butter over toast seems to make the butter simply disappear, not increase the flavor of the bread.

So, where to start? I offer this suggestion again: disconnect your TV for a month. Experience your life without it and see what happens. I think you’ll be amazed at how much time you have, especially in the evenings, to do things that inspire you. Read a book, learn a language, play with your family, or discover some other place to find joy in your life. With the TV gone, you’ll have lots of time to really explore other important questions. Maybe make yourself lists of your own. What’s really important? When you know the answer to that question, you can start lining up the details of your life to support those things and to let go of those that are not important and serve only as a distraction from that which really matters.

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19 Responses

  1. Hey Andrew. Thanks for sharing your experience. Sounds like this trip has really provided a new space to be with yourself and your family. It truly is amazing how sharply our focus can shift when we remove the “noise”. Maya and I have been having a similar experience since we moved from Seattle into our little cabin. One additional item on our “important” list is Community (maybe just an exansion of Family?) Anyways, looking forward to more posts on your journey.

    See you on the range,

  2. Andrew,
    When I lived in Guatemala, I never watched TV. I didn’t own one, and they weren’t the ubiquitous presence that they are now – at least in the USA. I would be blown away when I’d come back to the States! “Bombarded” is a good way to describe it. I couldn’t listen fast enough to understand what they were saying – and it’s not that I’d forgotten how to speak English, either. Here is a question for you: Do you listen to the radio? I have the TV on while I am working on my art. (And you can check out my new website: ) I like your idea of thinking about how we are spending our lives. (Or at least how you are spending your life.)

  3. Andrew,
    SO good to hear that the winter in Mexico caused some deep thinking.
    I am behind you on the no TV. Michael and I haven’t had a tv in 5 years. And the 6 years before that we got one channel when we were out caretaking the ranch. ANd that was the first time we had had a tv.
    TV bores me now. sit coms are not funny, news is depressing and out of touch, dramas only reflect the negative side of society and comercials… well don’t get me started on them. A professor said to me once he believed that TV was our worst polluter. As it filled people’s heads with wants and insecurities keeping them in fear of inadequecies.ANd thereby buying and creating more”stuff” that has to be dug out of the earth, manufactured, and transported and then thrown away.
    I get to do so much in the evenings with out the draw to tv. Of course sometimes the computer sucks some time away from what I like to do. but a t least there are no buy me buy me buy me..
    Tv users do not understand how I get so many things done in a week.
    TV users conversations are most often about what they watched on tv last night.
    Sometimes I can not participate in a conversation because the point of reference is what was on tv.. that is ok. i just go off and take a walk, quilt or plaster my straw bale house.
    If a tv is in the room I tend to be drawn to it like a moth to a flame and always sorry I got sucked in.
    I proudly display my “kill your tv” bumper sticker on my truck as I too think it is the great polluter.

  4. Andrew, Thanks for the transparency in your comments. It’s wonderful to hear people asking themselves these questions. When are you coming back to New Mexico, I have built for 35 years and would enjoy one of your seminars.
    Thanks, Edwin Watters

  5. I have been away from TV for at least 3 years if not more and I find sometimes people don’t know what to talk about. I have found books, and hobbies such as sewing and creating things quite enjoyable. I tell people all the time that I like living without all the negative. If there is something I really want to watch, I can always go to a friends or get it on the internet. I find the internet something I am not quite ready to set aside, but then there are days I don’t even turn it on. It is nice to filter the negative and the sales ads that want you to be unhappy with what you have so you will go buy something new. It is always fun to find new ways of exploring your own boundaries.

  6. This is so great…. heartfelt, true and needed. I have been on a God journey and I have found my faith is all I need. Really.

    We used no electricty for 21 days ( except the necessary Refrig and emailing my sons away from home ). and it was really REFRESHING, and fun. using candles, making faces at each other in the candle light… fun stuff for me and my 2 teens at home. Who does this with teens? What teens would go ‘for it ‘. I am blessed/ and honored by them.

    I too have been ‘out of work’ to raise my children and homeschool them to completion. I save my quarters, dimes and pennies for a bean and cheese burrito ( its fun to find hidden metal in my pockets, purse, or pants ). I love to watch the moon rise from Joshua Tree, CA. My children are fun to be around and we enjoy each other.

    This is freedom, this is life, this is love. Money is fun too, but its like a narcotic. If you start to depend -DEPEND – on it, you then feel you have to work to get it, and all you values turns to ashes. I know now that money is just Paper and Metal. The real value in life is love, family, forgiveness and having a friendship with God.
    I admire you and your courage. and one day dream of building a straw bale B&B Retreat center.

  7. Andrew, it sounds as tho you have been doing a lot of ‘introspection’. Good for you. I love your post above, inviting your audience to dig a little deeper then they would normally and see what happens. It is crazy how addicted we are to the ‘idiot box’ as I call it (TV). I do, however, watch some TV…. (no more news tho). I find it interesting when I visit friends, who have the TV on in the background constantly and actually have conversations with it blarring! I personally am unable to do that as I find it such and ‘assault’ on my senses when trying to have a conversation with anyone. Anyway, loved your post! Hope you and the family are having a wonderful time in Mexico… living simply!
    All the best
    Kandi Wood
    Eco Straw

  8. Just loved your essay on living simply. Even though we have given up our dream to do a straw bale house (will never have the money or even financing capability), we still subscribe — and love exploring your site. Plus we get helpful hints about building in general (we are building earth-bermed “Hobbit Houses” off-grid for cheap!). Not sure where you are exactly in Mexico, but wonder if you are anywhere near San Miguel de Allende — and the home of — another American living simply in Mexico – building some wild and crazy earth-friendly structures, which I believe also incorporate a lot of straw bale. Just googling hobbit houses (Google Images), has given us wonderful ideas for cheap or free – and doing our own “living simply” thing. Isn’t life wonderful when you do that? I think the best line you wrote was about “the landscape” of being bombarded with commercials, and what society thinks we “should” buy/own/have. What an impact such a thing has on our brains! (Brainwashing?) And such a nice “landscape” without all of that! Good luck in Mexico! Hope you know how lucky you are to be out of the snow!!!

  9. Money is a necessary trading medium; it’s the LOVE of money that is the source of all injurious things (according to Bible Scripture). Personally, the switch from analog to digital transmission ended my dependence on the “tube”. It’s liberated time for other activities. I agree with both your lists. Thanks for the post.

  10. Because my dream for many years (about 15) has been to build my own natural dwelling for when I retire, I have involved myself w/projects relating to cob, earthen floors, natural building, etc; when I discovered strawbale,I knew that was for me…I worked w/CASBA at a workshop just out of Chico,CA a couple of summers ago where the focus was on plastering and window/door placement. It was a great learning experience and fun too! I met some great people as well. I would love to participate in more workshops, but on a single income, can’t afford the full workshops. Are there any partial workshops available? I am a resident of Oregon (Portland) and receive your emails. I share your philosophy about simple living and prioritizing the truly valuable things in life, and very much enjoy following you and your family’s process. Thanks for any info you can provide. Best Regards, Donna

  11. Andrew:

    Two responses–

    1. It’s interesting that you list “TV” as your #1 not important thing. I have not watched it regularly for almost 45 years. My childhood dictator (mother) decided it was taking her family away from her when I was 14 or so, and banned it. Little did I realize how important her dictate would become! Example: I’ve never watched an episode of “Seinfeld”. So what? I do watch the occasional football or basketball game now, but most of TV? An intellectual & moral wasteland… HOWEVER, it’s ironic that I am reading your article (and you choose to communicate through) the “new” TV- the internet. I interact with it constantly- it is the lifeblood of my business. I suppose the difference is that it forces me to be active; I can’t be passive and benefit in the way I need to. Of course, like any powerful tool, it can ruin you as well… but for the self-control to resist that I have two people to thank… my mother and (see 2nd point)

    2. You do not list “faith”. That’s odd, because I know you to be a man of faith. Why? It took faith to step out and buy the land to build an entire strawbale subdivision, did it not? And faith in something (yourself, your family, the strawbale community, ???) to keep going through a very tough recession. Of course, where your faith is – is another subject. Nevertheless, we all have it in some form, do we not?

    Ted T.

  12. Thank you,
    for this
    for what you do
    for what you don’t do
    for inspiration & motivation
    Few people get it. Good hear from those who do.

  13. Hi Ted. Great points. Indeed the Internet is the new TV to some extent; however, I think it is more manageable than TV in terms of what content I view. I use it almost entirely for business, not entertainment, and I have my pop up blocker on so I get very little advertising on my pages showing up. Good point though nonetheless.

    In terms of faith, yes, that is something that is of extreme value. Faith in God for some, Spirit for others, Life for still others. I do consider that to be very important. Thanks for speaking it.

  14. Hi Donna. Thanks for your comment. I will be creating a 2 day design workshop in th next year that will be less expensive and less of a time commitment. Keep an eye out for that on my website. Shy of that, keep an eye out for bale raisings in your local community as Portland definitely has green building going on. I also offer a free workshop to a random winner each month. Perhaps luck will be on your side! Best wishes to you.

  15. I appreciate your focus on that which is important – it is so much more vital to focus on this than on the things which are not. It is amazing how if you focus on those things, everything else falls into place, or falls away.
    Thanks for the reminder to be grateful for all that is good in my life

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