USA Today: Simple living ‘trendy’

According to an article in this week’s USA Today newspaper, if you want to keep up with the Joneses, you’d better start living simply:

Trends guru Faith Popcorn puts it this way: “It’s cooler not to spend.”

The article suggests that the slowing economy has something to do with excess being out of fashion, but that the economy is not the only motivating factor behind people wanting to live with less stuff. Personally, I don’t know if it’s a trend. If there is a trend, I just think a good chunk of people are starting to notice that not everyone is on the over-consumption bandwagon, and that a few of their neighbors, family, and friends are happy — truly happy — living simply. What are your thoughts? I’d love to read your reactions to the article in the comments.

36 Comments for “USA Today: Simple living ‘trendy’”

  1. posted by Pixel kid on

    Maybe people are starting to see the more=better/happier mentality for what it is, but I doubt it.

  2. posted by Connie on

    About time!! But truely, in this area the malls & 2-block-strip-shops are full on even Saturday nights. San Jose, CA

  3. posted by Sarah on

    I started to wonder why I was so frugal at the grocery store if I was spending $3.50 on a mocha at the beginning of each trip. That could buy nearly two pounds of ground turkey or a whole chicken.
    My husband and I have a grinder for coffee beans and spices, and now it gets a lot more use. I buy beans on sale.
    I mix two tablespoons of hot cocoa (usually Ghirardelli)with a splash of water to make a syrup. A double-shot of freshly-brewed espresso, a cup of steamed (or just hot) milk, mix it, spray a little store-brand whipped cream on top … voila!
    I like mine better than Starbucks’, and I look forward to it every afternoon.
    For the cost of three or four cups of Starbucks mocha, I get a mocha every day for about a month.
    Bonus: I’m not wasting paper and plastic; I use my own coffee cup.

  4. posted by Lolo on

    Some of the items featured on this site aren’t exactly inexpensive though. Just pointing out that I think living simply isn’t exactly living *cheaply*. As a matter of fact, it’s the poorer people I know who are often more cluttered; they’re afraid to get rid of something because they can’t afford the cost of replacing it if they ever do need it.

    This isn’t a criticism – just some thoughts.

  5. posted by Jo Paoletti on

    For me, it’s been a lifestyle for thirty years or more, a by-product of my mother’s “waste not, want not” mentality. Once, it was just personal philosophy; now, it sounds like the key to our survival.

    As for the cost of living simply, sometimes it means paying more for something that last longer or that is more nourishing to the body or soul. It means spending the same amount of money on three or four really wonderful, versatile sweaters that will last for years, instead of eight cheap, trendy sweaters that will be full of pills and ready for the trash in a year.

  6. posted by Patia on

    “Simplicity is the ultimate luxury.”

    Somebody said that.

  7. posted by Michele on

    I’m glad to see simplicity and conscious spending getting more press. It’s encouraging.

  8. posted by Erin Doland on

    I think that Jo said it well above, living simply means making good decisions about what you buy. It’s wise consumption, not over consumption or no consumption.

    Sorry, I probably could have said that better in my initial post …

  9. posted by Heidi on

    Excellent question! I posted a link to this discussion and the USA today article in my weekly roundup earlier today.

    I think that people are beginning to realize that keeping up with the Joneses doesn’t make any sense if the Joneses are leveraged (mortgaged) to the hilt.

    If simplifying is trendy and cool – great. But I think that the real reason people are embracing this “movement” is that it just makes sense.

  10. posted by Anne on

    We began our simplification knowing we were going to be moving to a smaller(uhaul comes tomorrow) home in a more expensive state(from nm to ca). My kids love it…my house stays clean, and now my friends want help in decluttering and simplifing their lives…it is not a trend, it is a life style…and I for one love it! everything has it’s place and use or it goes!!!! Love to hear others simplifing…but I blush…I grind my starbucks and it is a big habit…no drive thrus for fraps, but I budget $40 a month for coffee!!

  11. posted by Mary on

    We live very simply and rarely spend much. We do go to dinner and vacation, but do not buy too much clothing and our house & cars are relatively small for our area. Anyway, there are probably extremes. We should actually spend more and live better. Going simple is not the answer to it all, but excess isn’t good if one can’t afford it. As two people who live very simply, it is not the way to go. Bigger would be better for us; we just need to break the simple habit.

  12. posted by Mary on

    Oh, and a smaller house is a little tougher to keep clean, actually, because there is less space to put things. We pretty much get rid of clutter and try to be pretty organized, and our house is okay on the neatness scale, but it is hard when one has less room for storage.

  13. posted by patty on

    Where I am gas is a main concern. Since I have to travel into the city everyday for work I make sure that if I have to do errands that I do it all in one trip. I also now check sales on food items, and have cut going into the city on the weekends to visit my local yarn store. A bunch of us have now hosting knitting days at one another’s house. We trade yarn, patterns or whatever. I also put off buying new shoes, (resole the current pair for the second time I think) looking to find a less expensive makeup and I truly haven’t been to the malls in years. I avoid them like the plague. As far as living simply, no new clothes for a couple of years now, re-reading books I enjoy, and knitting sweaters to keep warm. I want to simplify further but being a graphic designer there is only so much I can simplify. (You need to have printed material to show potential clients.)

  14. posted by Sue on

    I have always relied on our public library as a great source for fiction books, DVDs, CDs, nonfiction books I want to read first to see if they are worthy of adding to my library. No clutter when you have to return it in 14 days!

    I buy fewer, better clothes than I did years ago, and use accessories to change things up. I can’t justify daily Starbucks, when I can make my own specialty coffee drinks at home or at work.

    One of the proudest moments I had with DS was when he (under his own initiative) spent 2 days of his Christmas vacation decluttering his room of the stuff he’d outgrown. He divided items up and we blessed GoodWill with some, some went to a friend whose son is 9 years younger than DS and WORSHIPS him–LOL!

  15. posted by Jan on

    Have loved the idea of simple and sustainable living since reading “Your Money or Your Life” years ago. The link it made for me as to the actual cost in work/life hours of the things I buy was eye-opening. I use Freecycle, CraigsList,, the library for books/audiotapes/DVDs, and rarely buy new clothes since I have cared well for quality stuff bought years ago. It feels great not to spend time on shopping, buying stuff. Instead, I LIVE life, enjoy travel, my family, friends … what a relief!

  16. posted by lantzilla on

    Seems kind of empty. Most of these people seem to be “reacting” to bad economic times rather than really understanding the benefits of a simple life. Sure, some people learn to appreciate over time, but it seems be be out of necessity rather than preference.

    Additionally, I’m not sure that this is proof enough that it’s a trend yet. I still see people consuming like there’s no tomorrow. Perhaps it’s just the people I know, but I see no evidence of it being a trend yet.

  17. posted by Patrick on

    Not sure how this ties in, but one realization I’ve had over the last few years is this… You can spend a modest amount of money on an item that will serve you adequately for a reasonable amount of time. However, if you save up a little longer and spend a bit more on a similar item of higher quality, it will serve you extremely well and possibly for a much longer time. It’s the difference between buying a $20 blender and an $80 one; between going to KFC or buying your own free-range chicken at a farmer’s market; between buying some Ding Dongs or making a batch of your own cookies. In the end, the extra expense/time is always worth it for your health and happiness even if it means you have to make sacrifices in other areas. As a result, I find I’m buying less stuff, but of a better quality.

  18. posted by molly on

    I think the US consumer is tapped out. I think this trend will be here for a while if housing remains in a slump (which I don’t see coming back until 2011) and credit is tight. Everyone who is living paycheck to paycheck and barely paying their credit card minimums is in for some hard times ahead. They have bought all this stuff and now it is time to pay for it….because at one point credit must be paid back.

  19. posted by Dan on

    Trends are inherently temporary. Simplicity is something that isn’t very effective as a temporary lifestyle. While it’s interesting that simplicity is “trendy,” and its status as a trend will hopefully inspire some people who commit to lifelong habits to keep life simple and joyful, I’m not sure it’s really important. Those who find real value in the ideas of simplicity will continue their lifestyle, and those who are doing it just because other people are will revert back to other lifestyles as the trend fades.

  20. posted by M.R. on

    After my parents had to rent a storage unit to keep some of their things off site, I made a promise to myself. Everytime I buy something non-perishable, I ask myself, “Where am I going to keep this? Will it fit there? Will I really use/love this?” It’s going well so far. I told my family about it and for Christmas last year I got a museum membership and a donation to the Heifer Project in my name. It was AWESOME not to have to deal with more stuff!

  21. posted by Gayle on

    Funny–my boyfriend and I were just having a similar conversation this weekend. It’s funny, really, because as much as people (including me) gripe about consumerism run rampant in the US, this “new simplicity trend” is growing along the same line as the equating bigger with better, or more, more, more as better trend. I’m all for living simple and being satisfied with what I have, for making choices based on quality rather than quantity, but the advertising and marketing machines have completely twisted what simple living means.

    Living near Berkeley CA I see this everyday. Folks here will brag about being eco-friendly, going organic, or their bohemian “simple” lifestyle. I’m sorry, but their “simple life” is just as expensive and (quite often) nearly as wasteful as the Gimme More class. It’s name-dropping (think Prius/Hummer), it’s brand-name driven (think Anya Hindmarch/Tommy Hilfinger). Check out this article in Time, “Paper, Plastic, or Prada?” Plastic,9171,1649301,00.html to see more of what I mean.

    They’ve made “simple” into another trend to separate people from their money.

  22. posted by Erika on

    Having been a fan of Apartment Therapy for some months now, I’ve come to the conclusion that simplicity is the new status symbol. Social climbers are now more concerned with design. Clutter is anathema to good design.

  23. posted by Mer on

    @Gayle – you are right on

  24. posted by Monica Ricci on

    What I love about the simplicity trend is that A) I started my organizing business ten years ago, which makes me officially AHEAD OF MY TIME (LOL) and B) I think it’s good for people to start paying attention to how they’re living, and where they are allocating their resources: Time, Money, Energy.

    The part that sorta bugs me about it is the sanctimonious “Simpler-Than-Thou” folks who think THEIR version of simple is the only right one. They self-righteously look down their noses at those who are not “AS green” or “AS simple” or who make different choices than they do, as if they were somehow wrong.

    Simple means different things to different people, and people need to do *what works for them in their own lives*. Otherwise, we’ve just traded “keeping up with the Joneses” for a different kind of competition called “one-upping the Joneses simplicity”. And who needs that kind of pressure?

    So if you’re inspired to live simply, greenly, frugally, and more deliberately, GOOD FOR YOU! But for Pete’s sake, don’t be judging others whose simplicity choices might look a bit different than yours.

    ~Monica Ricci

  25. posted by chinoy on

    Well I agree with the article. I’ve always been a minimalist when it comes to spending… As far as big gadgets and toys there’s always 4 rules that I follow…

    1. Do I need/want it?
    2. Is it cheap?
    3. Do I have to have it now (basically will I survive without it for the mean time)?

    If the answer to 2 of the questions are yes, then I buy the item, otherwise I pass it up. I personally don’t like a lot of things in the house. My mother tries to put a lot of stuff and decoration in the house when she visits, but I put them all away once she goes back home. Space is beauty!

  26. posted by chinoy on

    I only put 3 rules, that’s what I meant to put.

  27. posted by Steve on

    simple bohemian living means buying Tommy Hilfiger and Hummer? are you joking? i don’t ever see either in Berkeley. and i live there.

  28. posted by Bill Ferris on


    I think the point Gayle was trying to make is not that Hummers and Hilfiger are simple, but rather that simplicity is becoming just another status symbol. Instead of bragging about their new SUV, they’re crowing about how progressive they are for buying a Prius.

    It’s the same old elitist smugness, but now it’s tied to who can out-simplify everyone else.

  29. posted by Steve on

    Thanks! It makes sense. I spoke too soon.

  30. posted by Ethel on

    I ran into something from 1977 that I found FASCINATING today, and it ties in.

    So the answer?

    Yes, it’s a trend, and some people see it as a movement. No, it’s not new – although I think it is resurfacing as the same ideas resound even more strongly now, a generation later.

  31. posted by Luanne on

    I think you have to develop mental strength to “just say no” at the store. We’re a consumer society. We are constantly fed messages that some product is going to help us live better, be smarter, more hip, etc. Most of us just swallow that message because we’re too busy to question it. Each of us needs to figure out what REALLY matters and start living that way. It’s a very personal thing.

    I clip coupons on Sundays and will drive out of my way to save 4 cents a gallon on gas, but I don’t bat an eye at spending $7 or more (usually more) for a nice glass of wine when I’m out with a friend. That’s something I value and I’ll continue that way.

    But I also disdain the idea that I need to have a flat screen TV or a DVR (video tapes still work fine, thank you!). We all make our choices…

  32. posted by Earth Girl on

    I think simple living (along with green living) is a more prevalent lifestyle choice these days. It’s easier to do than it was as little as 5 years ago. Trendy as it may seem, we are now educated consumers and make better choices as a way of life. Our planet needs it, and humans need it for their well being. As the pain of the Great Depression moves further into our past, the influence of those that lived through it has less of a hold on our thinking. My father grew up in the 1930’s and my mother in wartime Japan. After they passed away it was my responsibility to clear their house and deal with their life’s possessions. It was a window into their collective psyche to see what they saved (especially my father) — small rusting hardware stored in plastic tops from spray cans, wire, knobs, pieces and parts of various mechanical and electrical things. He was truly a “waste not want not” devotee. It helped me understand why I rarely throw anything away, and eventually allowed me — finally — to let the stuff go. The grieving process took years. All the while I carted the stuff around, paying storage fees, mover fees and living in clutter. Freedom from the “stuff” is a great feeling!

  33. posted by Chris on

    If you need some motivation to live more simply, go to this website:

  34. posted by Amanda on

    To me living simply means living more thoughtfully.

    So I will still buy a DSLR camera because I will use it every day, and I will still go to the spa because those things are important TO ME. But I will not spend money on a big TV or an expensive handphone because those things are not important TO ME.

    Having lived abroad for the past couple of years, I’ve realized that a) I don’t need as much as I thought I did to live comfortably, b) simplicity as it’s being practiced in America is still often very much about being in a privileged position, about having the choice to live that way rather than living that way out of necessity.

  35. posted by Brynn on

    i love this. recently after climbing out of a massive debt hole, i’m looking to simplify and find more money. with advice taken from this and other blogs i’ve got an account and i use it heavily to sell stuff that i don’t either use or love. my home feels cleaner and i have more money and i feel more content.

    my single regret in life – i wish my 16-year-old self had not been a total yard sale / curbside / craigslist junkie. i wish i could start again with zero, and work my way up from there. much easier than looking at your possessions and realizing you’re in a much bigger house than you need because of all this stuff you don’t love.

  36. posted by A year later, still making do with less - Simpler Living - - Albany NY on

    […] noticed this link on Unclutterer to a year-old USA Today story on the virtues of spending […]

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