Remote work and the sharing economy make downshifting life easier than ever. Where are the best places to live for simple living?
“The only reason a great many American families don’t own an elephant is that they have never been offered an elephant for a dollar down and easy weekly payments.” –Mad Magazine
True, the average size of US homes has been increasing and an elephant would feel right at home. Plus, the Jones’ would have trouble keeping up with you; bragging rights for days. But at what price the double volume foyer and quirky bragging rights? For downshifters, there is more sense to be found in staying somewhere smaller, easier and economical to maintain. Downsizing is not just about the size of your home. Rather it is about leaving consumerism behind; having fewer bills to pay and spending less time in the office.
I love reading inspiring books. One of my all-time favourites being Alex Steffen’s book, Worldchanging: A User’s guide for the 21st Century, based on sustainability topics from his discontinued Webby nominated blog. If you were to press me on my what my life mantra is, I would paraphrase Steffen; “Wealth through experiences, not stuff”.
To illustrate how much sense the sharing economy makes; Steffen asks you to consider that portable drilling machine in your closet that you use once a year at most. Far better, he argues, for the planet and your budget, if neighbours were to make their drill available to share. For the planet; fewer manufactured items means less pressure on our natural resources.
ZipCar, the North American and European car-sharing company, already has over a million users. They claim that each car in their fleet takes 15 personally-owned cars off the road. That is a big deal for the planet: It should lead to more pedestrian friendly cities, with fewer ugly parking lots and it is good for users’ pockets too. Plus, there is more: this car-free million is likely to walk more, be healthier and happier than car owners.
Quitting that high-pressure job and sleep-depriving commute for a simpler life, will likely be better for your health, provided you don’t replace work stress with financial stress from your life-changing move. The same multiple income stream principles as covered in “How to make it as Digital Nomad and earning enough money on the road”, also apply to downshifters, of course. But, unlike digital nomads, the emphasis for downshifters is more on working less and creating free time to enjoy life, rather than finding remote working sources of income to replace your current corporate salary.
An extreme version of downshifting-wellness can be found in the yoga schools of Mysore. This city near Bangalore, is known to be the yoga capital of India. You could get a long-term “Yoga Visa” for the duration of your schooling and spend some blissful years meditating and stretching.
For those over 55, your best stretching days may be behind you (Not you. You nimble chandelier-swinging cougar you). A more practical option will be to get a retirement visa. Relocating to a more affordable country could mean no compromise on your quality of live at all. Maintaining a similar home compared to your native city, dining at foodie-worthy restaurants and the odd spa treatment or two.
If you are younger than 55 and your bank balance is as high as your anxiety levels, then why not consider a retired person permit backed up with proof of your financial independence? This South African knows one thing for sure: A downshifting life in Cape Town with perfect beaches and picturesque wine farms is crazy to turn down if your bank balance allows. If you meet the income threshold, currently ZAR37,000 or $2650 per month, a retirement visa can be yours without any age restrictions.
Emerging market currency collapses can make luxury expat living a painless downshifting option. But, in the absence of a collapse in the Rand or if you merely prefer staying in a quieter corner of your home country, then simple living could be the option for you.
Digital nomads benefit from the convenience of big city living; fast internet, an efficient metro, a well-served airport and co-working spaces. But, for downshifters, being a bit further off the beaten track works well. Functionality over touristy. A cottage by the sea. A cabin in the woods. A dorm room in yoga city.
You could still write that steamy romance from your cottage (Don’t forget the shirtless stud on the cover. More important than the plot). Being an author means no fast internet required and flexible working hours to enjoy the beach when the wind subsides.
The perk of having that cheaper downshifting budget is more free time, especially if you have some steady residual income flowing in. Time to read the classics. Time to binge-watch Suits. Siesta time. Chandelier swinging time… The media has conditioned society to value the new, the trendy, the exclusive and expensive. Instead, downshifters value time.
Not the most fun you can have with your clothes on, but putting aside some time for budgeting will help make that downshifting lifestyle a sustainable one. It’s up to you whether you go off-grid and radically shrink those expenses, or only cut some luxuries here and there.
Before taking the downshifting leap; going debt-free is worth a shot. Those bond-free cabin homeowners know all about being debt-free and seem happy enough despite their crash-courses in minimalism. If you have a hoarding husband, then minimalism may be a battle too far. Start out simple. Cut the cards, sell some things in the attic and consider turning that hobby into an income earner.
It’s all about trade-offs in the end. More time to play can be achieved by downsizing your household budget. Remote work may mean less hours at your desk if you move somewhere cheap in the world. Your budget and health can improve by going car-free. But ultimately, you don’t need the elephant-enveloping home: Alex Steffen is right, it’s all about experiences rather than stuff.