Housing (whether purchasing, building, or renting) is typically life’s greatest single expense, so living simply involves thinking especially carefully about where you live and why. Exactly what kind of shelter do you need to live well and to be free? We must answer this question for ourselves, but the words of Henry Thoreau might give us a moment’s pause: ‘Most people appear never to have considered what a house is, and are actually though needlessly poor all their lives because they think that they must have such a one as their neighbors have.’
- Live in a modest abode: The ostentatious ‘McMansions’ which are so prevalent in many developed nations are extremely resource intensive, energy intensive, and expensive. They are also ugly. The Simpler Way involves embracing smaller, much more modest and energy efficient homes.
- Choose your city, town or rural area carefully: There are many complex factors that come into play when it comes to determining which city, town or rural area you live in. Your family, friends, your job, the weather, cost, etc. all play a role. Nevertheless, so far as you have a choice, think very carefully about where you and your family decide to set up camp. Housing can be very expensive in some cities and this can lock you into a large mortgage, which can lock you into a job you may not like. If possible, live in a place where housing is affordable. Low cost housing could save you years of labour. Think about it.
- Try to live close work or work close to where you live: This isn’t always easy or affordable, but living close to work is an important goal. This will allow you to bike to work easily and it will also mean that you don’t have to waste lots of time commuting. Research shows that commuting is one of the most unpleasant aspects of modern life. Do what you can to avoid it.
- Avoid unnecessary or purely ‘aesthetic’ renovations: Don’t get sucked into the belief that everything about your house has to look ‘brand new.’ So what if your carpet is old or your wallpaper has a little tear in it? When renovations are necessary, consider D.I.Y. and buying second hand materials.
- Co-housing options: There is a growing number of people in the Simple Living Movement and beyond who are exploring co-housing arrangements. This can involve groups of people (a group of friends perhaps, or two or three families, etc) living in the same house. Co-housing can be a very effective way to greatly reduce the cost of housing, and it also increases urban density (rather than contributing to urban sprawl). Taking in a ‘boarder’ is another progressive option for those who have a spare room. These choices also promote community. There can be compromises, but the benefits (especially financial) are huge.
- Eco-design: If you are in a position to design and build a house, take eco-design seriously. It can be more expensive, but often the initial costs of eco-design can pay for themselves over time (e.g. solar panels, quality insulation, double-glazed windows, efficient heaters, etc.). Small is beautiful.
- Explore alternative housing: More radical exponents of the Simpler Way might wish to explore various forms of alternative housing. This might include building a straw bail or mud brick house, or living in renovated shipping containers, or a ‘house bus,’ or an Earthship. Take a look on the internet for some inspiring ideas.