When it Comes to Simple Living, Less Really Is More
Writer Charlie Brown explores a more intentional, minimalistic lifestyle.
In 2020, at age thirty-five, British writer Charlie Brown and her husband sold their house and wine shop in Essex, England, and gave away most of their possessions.
They wanted a simpler life — or at least a life with fewer “things,” but one filled with more and better experiences.
More travel, more good food and wine, more unusual encounters with different people.
Now Brown writes a newsletter, Simple and Straightforward, documenting her own personal journey, and also exploring the increasingly popular concepts of “simple living” and “minimalism.”
“It’s about championing simplicity, sustainability, and intention in a complex, modern world,” Charlie tells me from Romania, where she and her husband are currently traveling.
Specifically, that means writing about travel, culture, food, and life in 2023, which is increasingly digital — the opposite of minimalist living.
“I’ve always been someone to question what society says to me is normal,” she says. “Get a job, get a house, and just buy stuff because it feels nice, and that’s what’s ‘normal.’ That never sat well with me.”
Charlie’s childhood wasn’t especially “normal” either. After the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, her mother and father moved the family to Romania to help take care of children left in orphanages after the chaotic collapse of the government.
The experience had a huge impact on Charlie. “I was only five, and I really see that as the formative experience that started my love for travel. I don’t just [want] to go on vacation, but travel and learn, get a little bit deeper into the places that we go.”
Later, as an adult, Charlie tried living a conventional life.
“In my twenties, I tried really, really hard to get an office job and do the normal things. I did get married, and that bit worked really well,” she says with a laugh.
But the office job? Not so much.
“When I reached my late 20s, I quit my job, and my husband and I decided to run a wine shop,” she says.
Starting a new business was ridiculously difficult work — a fact that helped push Charlie toward a more minimalist lifestyle.
“We had no money,” she says, pointing out that, after paying for rent and other expenses, they only made a couple of hundred pounds their first year.
“I thought, ‘This just sucks,’” says Charlie. “How are we going to be able to do this? Which is when I heard the saying, ‘The easiest way to get a pay raise is to spend less money.’ And I thought, ‘Well, I need a pay raise right now, so we'll try that.’ We did, and we kind of got hooked.”
Charlie and her husband also began getting rid of “stuff.”
“It got to the point where we ended up saying, ‘Well, do we really need any of the rest of this stuff if we want to spend all of our money on food and wine and travel?’” she says.
One other aspect of the wine business inspired her future plans. “Wine is all about travel,” she says. “It’s about being different and learning about other cultures. And I was able to travel a lot with that. But in the end, it just wasn’t enough.”
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In 2016, when the United Kingdom voted for Brexit, Charlie and her husband decided it was time to leave. It took them a few more years to get everything in order, and sell their wine business. Then they hit the road to become full time digital nomads.
Charlie began writing about their new, minimalist lifestyle, first on Medium, then on Substack.
She writes about the practical elements of simple living, but she can be philosophical too, exploring the bigger picture.
“The thing about living simply is not just about living with nothing,” she says. “It’s about living with focus, but you need to know what that focus is.”
For many westerners, simple living involves bucking a lot of societal pressure.
“There’s a lot of stuff that pushes you towards doing things just because it’s what you do,” she says. “Going up the career ladder in order to buy the bigger and bigger house or the bigger car. If you want to stop doing that, you're going to come up against a lot of resistance. You need to be a bit of a ‘fuck you’ kind of character to be able to do this sort of lifestyle, because you get a lot of pushback not just from friends and family, but online too.”
In the end, less really is more, she says.
“Living a little bit more simply gives you so much more freedom,” she says.
Oh, and being a minimalist doesn’t mean having no possessions. When I ask Charlie what her most important belongings are, she doesn’t hesitate.
“My laptop,” she says, chatting to me via Zoom, “because it allows me to work, which is important because I love to work. I’m looking around my room now to see what else I’ve got. There’s just so little that I would be bothered about if I lost it.”
But Charlie does think of one other thing. “Music is really important to me, so definitely my headphones. I’d be really bothered if I lost those!”
How does one begin a life more simply lived?
It isn’t immediately throwing things out, Charlie says. “I think the first thing is to really sit back and think about why they want to live more simply. You have to take stock of what you’re doing and where you want to go with life.”
For more information, Charlie recommends Joshua Becker, who helped popularize minimalism in the U.S. and worldwide through his books and website Becoming Minimalist. She’s also a fan of Melissa Frost, a Norwegian woman living in the U.S. and writing about minimalism from a Scandinavian perspective.
Back in the 70s, the American country singer Dolly Parton wrote a song called “Coat of Many Colors,” in which she sings, “Now I know we had no money, but I was rich as I could be, in my coat of many colors my mama made for me.”
Charlie and her husband might not be millionaires, but they’re also as rich as they can be — in a simpler life now filled with food, more wine, and endlessly fascinating experiences.