Simplify Your Life: How Much is Enough?

As you may know I studied Philosophy at university and the love of learning, questioning and wondering never leaves you. It’s for this reason that I still read a lot of philosophy, whether it’s the ancient Greeks, something more modern, or eastern philosophies. Recently I read the ancient Chinese text the Tao Te Ching and one particular part struck a chord with me:

There is no greater calamity than not knowing what is enough…
therefore knowing that enough is enough is always enough.

tao te ching

It struck a chord because it’s something I’d already been thinking about lately, especially with becoming self-employed and not wishing to work in a conventional way anymore. Last year I started wondered what I valued most, and I came to realise I value time, learning and creating, none of which are easy if you’re working 40 hours a week doing the same kind of thing day in day out. There’s nothing wrong with that if it’s what you want, and the security suits a lot of people (not to mention that you may thoroughly enjoy what you do), but I’m just starting to think that life would be calmer and more enjoyable if I stuck only to what I needed – to what is enough.

So, how much is enough? Start asking…

Do I really need it?

Firstly, decide what your ideal living conditions will be.
What do you really need? A kitchen to cook? A bed and a desk? Decent housemates? Good transport links? Close to friends or family? Do you need much else?

Then work out the rent, bills and travel costs.
These can be high if wishing to live in the city like I do.

Calculate essential food costs.
Food costs can be lowered by shopping at supermarkets in the evenings when the bargain shelf is added to. Buy meat, fish and veg cheaply this way and cook simply at home. Avoid ready meals and junk.

Plan out miscellaneous costs.
Phone, Laundry etc.

How much will you need to spend on going out? Take into account frequency of seeing friends, the entertainent you need to live the life you want. Do you wish to save some money each month for holidays, retirement, mortgage, contingency? How much? Work out a balance.

Finally, calculate how much you need to work to achieve a simple lifestyle. You may discover it’s less than you thought. And think what you could do with that spare time!

A poem by Kurt Vonnegut about his friend Joe Heller:

JOE HELLER by Kurt Vonnegut

True story, Word of Honor:
Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer
now dead,
and I were at a party given by a billionaire
on Shelter Island.

I said, “Joe, how does it make you feel
to know that our host only yesterday
may have made more money
than your novel ‘Catch-22′
has earned in its entire history?”
And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”
And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”
And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”
Not bad! Rest in peace!”

What do you think about simplifying life in this way? Do you believe it’s a good thing to only have what you need or do you think we should always strive for more?


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