Sick of the corporate world and the 9-5 rat race, I decided to give it all up and don a backpack and go in search of the simple life.
Rather than chasing the materialistic happiness that had left me unfulfilled, I thought I’d try the opposite and see how that worked, and having nothing taught me a lot about having everything.
I lived as a nomad off the land, travelling to ashrams, temples and retreats. My Mum and Dad don’t have a passport and have never left the UK; they are traditional members of the Church so they were slightly concerned I’d given up my well paid job to join a cult. I think they were worried that I might be brainwashed, have my head shaved and be renamed Princess Butterfly.
The environment I found myself in couldn’t have been more different. Immediately I was doing tasks unfamiliar to me: gardening, painting, cooking for 15 people with ingredients I’d never used… But it’s amazing how quickly we adapt to new surroundings and those around us.
I went from putting makeup on before I left the house (well some days when I had important meetings) to not looking in a mirror for three weeks, only to find when I did that birds had nested on top of my head.
It doesn’t matter what you wear or if you’ve done your hair; makeup and perfume become surplus to requirements. I embraced the natural lifestyle and even allowed my underarm hair to grow longer than universally acceptable. After six weeks I half expected a family of refugees to emerge.
The food we ate came from the land and we ate with the seasons. There was no TV, we went to bed and got up with the sun and we learned how to be self sufficient. Living simply is also great for the ego. Nothing puts the ego in its place like going from Five Star hotels to cleaning toilets. I learned there are no menial tasks, only menial attitudes.
I also learned that fresh food tastes good naturally without the need for seasoning or sauce, although I never quite adapted to Kitchari (an ashram staple made of rice and lentils that is cross between porridge and cat litter).
I became healthier and happier but also gained perspective; the pursuit of happiness in the external materialistic things we chase can become a barrier to happiness—we are always left wanting more. I’ve learned that happiness is not about getting what we want, it’s about loving what we have and this also makes us more grateful too.
The locals used their produce like currency, swapping goods and skills, nothing went to waste. My outgoings were nothing, yet I had everything I needed and there was no desire to collect material things we didn’t need; everything had a purpose and was functional.
Being in these places changed my perspective, cleared my mind and gave me the chance to look inward and consider the things that are important. When I consider the power of money both in business and our personal lives it was refreshing that there are places where it has little value.
Your status is irrelevant, your bank balance, car and title don’t really count either. It’s more useful if you can chop wood, make compost and cook dinner, which, let’s face it, is more useful in the scheme of survival than strategic agility and PowerPoint skills. Everyone is equal and everyone helps out, people always had time to stop and chat; it was all about community and giving without expecting in return.
Living the simple life puts things into perspective. You don’t worry about what’s on TV, when the sales are starting or buying a handbag to match your new outfit. But it’s not that easy in the real world, I hear you say. Maybe it is and maybe it should be. We don’t have to live in a cave up in the mountains, but we should harness this knowledge to improve our lives and make small changes to the way we live to make it simpler, but still realistic in the context of today’s modern world. The simple life makes you appreciate things so much more. For me it was family and friends, a warm shower, a comfortable bed, my own room. After a few years on the road these things have never felt so good.
At some point in our lives we are forced to reduce the amount we have, whether it’s financial reasons, divorce, sickness, natural disaster or eventually death. Guess what we won’t take with us when the inevitable happens, everything. Having less stuff does not mean less quality of life and this is clear to me now. It opens more space in our life for the fun stuff, the things that really matter, there’s less to clean, insure and pack each time you move. Spending time living the simple life I realised how little we actually do need and by not having it, how much more room we have for things in our life that really matter.
Author: Jess Stuart
Editor: Travis May