Meet Lyle Robinson.
Lyle Robinson is a self-employed guitar instructor, performer, web-designer, writer and blogger. For the past twenty years, he has adopted the tenets of voluntary simplicity to live a thrift shop life and has been blogging about such things over at The Joy of Simple.
You’ve been living simply for about 20 years. What do you see as the biggest benefits of the voluntary-simplicity lifestyle?
For me, the biggest benefit of the voluntary-simplicity lifestyle is freedom, pure and simple! Living a simple life allows me to make my own way in this world without succumbing to the pressures of consumerism or social conditioning.
Sure, I work (at a job I love), I pay taxes, I even buy things, but I do all this with a conscious understanding of why, rather than just following the pack.
Another benefit or two of voluntary-simplicity is the peace and contentment I feel living a life I have chosen. It hasn’t always been easy, but what worthwhile practice is?
What, if any, difficulties have you encountered as a result of your decision to live simply?
One of the biggest difficulties I faced early on was self-doubt! Having made a conscious choice to live my life my way, there were days when I would question that choice. Why couldn’t I just be like other people? Why can’t I just be happy doing what everyone else does?
Not surprisingly, these doubts would usually surface when I was having money problems. Being self-employed is a wonderful way to live, but when the money is not coming in, there’s no one to blame but one’s self and that can be a sobering reality.
Fortunately, I had friends and family who understood that I needed to be my own person and they helped me through those moments of self-doubt by lending an ear or a home cooked meal. The Internet also helped in a huge way by introducing me to other folk who felt and lived the same way.
Like I said though, this was at the beginning of my simple life journey and it wasn’t long before I fell into my own groove. I haven’t regretted one day of living simple since!
You’ve written that to you, simple living isn’t so much about having less stuff as it is about people being in control of their own lives. Can you explain what you mean by that?
Well…for me, the power of living a simple life places greater control in one’s own hands. It allows one to be more intentional in their actions, whether that means not buying a bunch of crap, not trying to live up to the Jones’ or not living one’s life on autopilot.
For better or worse we’re taught at an early age to follow a rather strict life design of school, job, marriage, house and retirement with the occasional detour added for good measure (mid-life crisis anyone?). And you know what? For most people that’s what works for them and honestly, more power to them!
But for others, for people like me, and I think, you and/or your readers, we question this life path. And sometimes we don’t even know WHY we question it…it just feels slightly off.
Now for some, this might mean decluttering one’s home, or other areas of life, but for me, it’s not about getting rid of stuff, it’s about reclaiming your life to the point where you don’t need all that other stuff to feel content and fulfilled.
It’s a shift in mind-set and only when you regain control and feel that sense in every fiber of your being, you will be free…regardless of how much or how little stuff you own. Hope that made sense!
If someone who’s overwhelmed asks your advice on how to live more simply, what do you say?
I would say to take things slowly at first. Figure out those issues in your life that you find overwhelming and then see what you can do to begin letting them go. Break things down into small, issue solving chunks.
If you’re overloaded with debt, do what you can to start paying your debt down. Even if it’s paying a few dollars over the minimum amount expected, you’re moving in the right direction.
If you hate your job, start looking at ways to free yourself from your current situation. Many people start side hustles which eventually transition to a full time living. Assess your strengths and weaknesses to see what may be a good fit for you.
Sometimes – or if I can generalize – most of the time, we feel overwhelmed because we aren’t doing anything about what’s troubling us. I remember back in the day, I really wanted to quit this one job I was at. I was really unhappy in this particular environment and one morning on the way to work, I vowed that I would walk straight into my boss’s office and quit!
Suddenly it was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and my mood went from glum to happy in an instant! I ended up not quitting that day, but felt more empowered than I had in a long, long time. Just the idea that I was willing to do something about my situation was enough to change my feelings towards my job for the better. I still hated it, but I wasn’t subjugated by it anymore. And I eventually did leave!
So, my advice…do something, no matter how small to better your situation and keep moving forward one foot at a time. Have a very clear vision of who you want to be and how you want to live, and then start being that person…no matter what others may think!
You haven’t followed a traditional career path. What advice do you have for those still trying to decide what they want to do for a living, whether they be those who haven’t started a career yet or people looking to make a change from a lucrative position to a more fulfilling way of making money?
Not surprisingly, I started out like most folk and followed a traditional career path. I worked for many years in an office environment and did what I was supposed to do. Mind you, throughout all that I felt trapped in a system that I hated but needed to do to live…or so I thought at the time.
It got so bad that I remember one day walking to work and hating it with every fiber of my being, so much so that I began crying. I felt myself being pulled away from the one true thing that I loved doing…which was playing and practicing my guitar! And I was like 25 or so!!
And as much as people might think I was wimp for not “dealing with it”, if going to work makes one break out in tears, then maybe there’s something not right with the world. Or at least, something not right with my world!
At the age of 32, after being laid off from my last ever job, I decided to never work a “regular” 9 to 5 again and to this day I’ve never looked back. I sat down and figured out how I could make a living that was true to who I was.
The one true constant in my life was music and it finally dawned on me that that’s what I should be doing with my life. And I’m happy to say that after a few years of “working it”, I now earn a comfortable – for me – living playing and teaching guitar. What more could I ask for?
I realize that some folks would stress out quite a bit if they didn’t have the security of a regular job. But for me, it was always the opposite. I would always feel stressed out HAVING a job.
Mind you, it took a while to finally get there, but the important thing was that I DID get there and that I never stopped believing that I COULD get there. And even though there were some “where’s my next meal coming from” moments, I was happy and at peace with myself.
I was also very fortunate to have a network of family and friends who understood that I saw the world a little differently. Their support and encouragement made it a lot easier during the earlier days when self-doubt would creep in unannounced!
If I had one piece of advice to give – and this may sound new-agey – it’s to follow your dreams and not let others influence your true path in life, even when they think their intentions are in your best interest! If you wanna be a lawyer, then do all you can to be one. If you wanna be an artist, then do all you can to become one.
At the end of the day, it is you who has to live your life and it’s your choice whether to live your life in bliss or veiled unhappiness like so many of us do. It’s not easy, but what’s the alternative!
Do you have any tips for small-space living?
While living in a small space can be liberating, small-space living can also be a challenge if you have a ton of stuff! While I don’t think you need to get rid of everything you own, I do think it’s important to surround yourself with the most cherished items you have.
The important thing for me is that you have space to breath and space to move around. You don’t want to be bumping into things as you make your way throughout your home.
For this to happen, the art of letting go is paramount in moving you towards the life you want to live. This is not easy at first, but when you’re ready to keep only those items that give your life meaning, it will then become easier to get rid of the superfluous objects in your life. Of course a comfy chair or couch doesn’t hurt either! Just make sure they fit nicely with your surroundings.
Bottom line…keep what makes you truly happy, and find new homes for the rest.
People living alone are often tempted to eat out a lot. I know you’ve worked on cooking most of your own meals. What are your favorite simple meals for one?
I’m a big fan of whole chickens, brown basmati rice, canned tomatoes, onions, frozen vegetables and eggs. Simple ingredients that you can whip up in a variety of tasty meals and combinations.
One of the greatest things invented for a single guy or gal – at least to me – was the already cooked rotisserie BBQ chicken that one can buy for less than eight dollars…at least in my area.
You can easily get four meals out of one rotisserie chicken alongside such side dishes as rice and veggies, or a simple garden style salad, or even some homemade French fries or skillet potatoes.
You really don’t have to spend a lot of money to eat very well. And the beauty of an already cooked chicken or frozen vegetables is that they are so easy to whip up if you don’t like to cook or even shop for groceries.
To live simply, many people will need to cut back on their expenses. How do you suggest people begin?
I’m a big believer in living way below your means, which for me means not taking on any debt like hefty credit card debt, mortgages, car payments…you know…all the stuff that people seem to want.
Personally I love apartment renting because I find that if need be, I can tailor my living expenses to fit how much or how little I need to work. Plus, all the maintenance expenses are taken care of by the landlord and there’s definitely a certain freedom in that!
I also always buy used items when – and if – I need them. I love thrift shops and can always find what I need. Sometimes though, it takes a little patience, as what you need may not be available at that moment, so an extra trip or two may be necessary.
In that same vein, I also try and make do with what I already have and I find it helps to take an inventory of all that you own as a way to manage expenses. You just may be surprised how many double or triple same-items you own. Downsizing certainly helps get rid of all the extra clutter until you’re left with just the essential items that you need to live a more peaceful life.
Another way to cut done on expenses is to swap your car(s) out for a bicycle if you live in a densely populated urban area. If you live in a more rural setting, then owning one car to get around will be way cheaper than having two or more.
The bottom line in all of this is – and you’ve probably heard this a million times – living a simple life is not about doing without. It’s not about surrendering to a vow of poverty. It’s about living a thoughtful and intentional life. One that is centered around living a peaceful and contented life according to the values that you hold dear, regardless of what others think.
To learn more about Lyle Robinson and his tips for simple living, visit The Joy of Simple.