SLT065: Strategic Simple Living

When it comes to making long-term plans for our lives, we all go through a “dream stage”…where we just kind of day dream about what our life might be like. Seriously, we’ve all, at some point in our life, thought about what it would be like to win the lottery or be super rich…and you kind of lose yourself in the dream. While I’m sure there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it’s really more productive to do some systematic ideation. By dreaming systematically, you’ll likely improve your chances for success. For us, this is strategic simplicity.

By going through a process of systematic ideation, you may come up with more questions than answers initially. But in the end, you’ll probably be a lot closer to what you want and be able to formulate a real plan of action. Yes, truly strategic simple living!   Read more…


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Topic:  Strategic Simple Living

Ok, so what is “systematic ideation” and how can you use it? Well, I’m sure there’s lots of different ways to systematically come up with ideas. I’m a bit of a tinkerer…kind of a MacGyver type and enjoy product design. I even recently had a company put one of my ideas into production and they’re getting ready to release it. But years ago, I read a book (I can’t for the life of me remember or find the title) that sparked my interest in systematic ideation.

But today we’re going to share one ideation tool with you that you might be able to use on your simplicity journey. We adapted this from a post we saw on that had absolutely nothing to do with strategic simple living. Still, the tool was intriguing, so we adapted it for our use.

The 4 Direction Ideation Tool

So here you go: A good way to be more systematic about your ideation is by looking in all four “directions”. By that we mean, Outward, Inward, Backward and Forward. It’ll help if we give an example, so we’ll show you how we used this tool in our search for the “perfect” town or place for us to live. Of course, you can use it for any ideation exercise you wish!

  • So first we have Look Outward: We’re going to look at the local, regional, and national possibilities. We could even look internationally if we wanted.
  • Next we have Look Inward: What do we really want? What are our “must haves”, and what are the “deal breakers?” Vanessa will break this down a bit in a minute and share some things we consider.
  • Look Backward: Doing a candid review of what has and hasn’t worked in the past. What did we like about it, what did we dislike.
  • Finally, we have Look Forward: What do we want it to look like, feel like, be like?

Our Search for the Perfect Place to Live

Back in Episode 49, Live the Life of Your Dreams, we talked about our “Freedoms From” and our “Freedoms To.” One of those freedoms to was “Freedom To Choose Where & How We Live.” So, again, just to give you an example of using the tool on our quest for strategic simple living, let’s look at our search for the “ideal” place for us to live.

So, before we start the 4 directions, here are some qualities we know our dream location will have:

  • A quality grocery store within walking distance
  • Close to downtown shops; coffee shops, bookstores, diners, local shops, etc…oh and free wi-fi is always nice…
  • We’d like to live near water. Not ocean…preferably a creek or river…or even a lake
  • Small acreage to maintain; ¼ – 1 acre max!
  • Good schools…or good home-school co-ops if needed
  • We’d prefer an empty lot to build to our exact liking
  • No size restrictions on home…for us that means small, not big
  • No Home Owner’s Association (HOA) would be ideal
  • If HOA…hopefully open to green/sustainable building techniques or upgrades
  • Reasonable tax rates…Military retirement not taxed…state taxes
  • Local farmers markets
  • Outdoor activities easily accessible…fishing, camping, hiking, biking, etc.
  • Local attitudes and atmosphere…not too stuffy…easy going where the community cares about taking care of and maintaining a safe and healthy place to live.

So Looking Outward:

    • We’re not tied to a specific geographic location like where our families live.
    • Visiting family and friends is already a part of our plan, and one of the main reasons we want to live small is so we can travel large!
    • Although we could live internationally if we desired, at this point we are more grounded here in the US. Again, we’ll scratch our international itch through travels abroad.
    • We want 4 seasons…with relatively mild winters ;o)

Looking Inward:

    • Keeping our 5 pillars in mind (Faith, Family, Fitness, Finances, and Freedom), we want a place and lifestyle that can support all of them in fair balance. For example, we don’t want to live in a place with a high cost of living that would restrict our freedom to travel and visit/spend time with family.
    • Additional must haves…safe environment, access to the recreational activities we love, the outdoors, ability to live small, high walkability rating ( and 4 mild seasons. The reason these things are so important to us is because these things fulfill us.
    • Deal breakers…restricting our freedom to live in a small, environmentally conscious home….too much traffic…high taxes, intolerance, etc!
    • Bottom line, we want a place with personality!

Looking Backward:

    • We actually miss apartment-style living! No yard maintenance, small space with a home for everything, little home maintenance and access to fitness and pool facilities.
    • Yet we like having our own home and a yard to chill and play…BBQs, darts, playing catch, gardening, fires, bird-watching ;o)
    • We also like designing and creating our own unique home.
    • Don’t like cookie-cutter “suburbia” homes. Although many are incredibly beautiful and offer tons of amenities, in our experience and the suburban homes we lived in, they lacked a sense of community.

Looking Forward:

    • What will it look, feel, be like?
    • For our example of our ideal location, what does a day there look like?
    • What does a week there look like (routines, shopping, weekend, etc).
    • What do the seasons look like?
    • While these are cyclical, what does it look like in a linear sense, from now to a point in the future?

Major Takeaway

So the major takeaway here is this: By all means, DREAM. Dream Big! But when it comes to getting serious about strategic simple living, be systematic about your ideation. Look Outward, Look Inward, Look Backward, and then look Forward.

By going through this process of ideation, you may come up with more questions than answers initially. But in the end, you’ll probably be a lot closer to what you want and be able to formulate a real plan of action.


So, what is one of your long-term simplicity or other life goals where you could use this ideation process? Is it your home, your career, a business opportunity, a passion, or even a relationship? We’d love to know.

 Be sure to leave a comment below.

Thing Segment

Vanessa: I just turned 40 years old and feel great!

Dan:  Recently we had to do some document faxing. We usually bug Dan’s ex and send faxes from her office, but this time I just used the HelloFax extension for the Chrome browser. HelloFax makes it easy to sign documents and send faxes online. You’ll never need to print, sign and scan documents again! You can get 50 free fax pages each month, for 6 months! If you want to check out Hello Fax just go to

Qs and Comments, iTunes Reviews

We just wanted to say thanks to Genevieve Parker Hill for including us in her post, 9 Websites To Help You Live Simply. She lists some fantastic simplicity blogs and we’re honored to make the cut!

And also to Sheryl and Dave Balthrop for mentioning us in their post The 7 Phases of Your Heroic Journey to Margin and Simplicity.


  • SimpleRev Tickets:

    • Early Bird tickets are now available for SimpleRev! Only 50 tickets will be offered at the Early Bird pricing so make sure you lock yours in today.
    • SimpleRev is being held on Oct 3-4, 2014, in beautiful downtown Minneapolis on the University of St Thomas campus. To get your tickets at the lowest price that will ever be offered, just go to I’ll also put a link in the shownote to the SimpleRev podcast in iTunes, as well. Or just search iTunes for SimpleRev, all one word.


You can download a PDF of our show prep, too.

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 Photo Credit: Marina del Castell

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21 thoughts on “SLT065: Strategic Simple Living

  1. Once again Dan and Vanessa knock it out of the park! I love this! So much of our simplicity journey involves discovering who we are and systematically moving towards our priorities.

  2. I can really relate to your process and criteria! When you find a place that fits, I cannot wait to hear about it. You may just end of the some Simple Life Together listeners as neighbors.

    • Hi, Sara! Glad some folks can relate to our perfect town search….even if it does seem a bit lofty. We’ll be sure to share if and when we do find our perfect place to settle down!

      • I think that it is good that you have lofty criteria when you are choosing a place to live. We enjoy living in California, but man is it expensive! I keep my eyes open for places, and recently Yellow Spring, Ohio caught my attention. It is actually about 40 minutes from where I grew up, so I visited a long time ago. For us, it would be an interesting place to live near family. I like the idea of a small downtown area, parks, and bike trails. The winters are not exactly mild though…

  3. Just wanted to say according to your checklist, my city has everything you are looking for except milder weather. It’s in Owensboro KY and there’s lots of festivals here and the western side is the best to live in, at least I think so. There is everything that you listed in your checklist. And it’s a very good place to raise children and atmosphere is wonderful. People are very nice here. Lots of resources, lots of modes of transportations, lots of outdoor and indoor recreational activities. Lots of shops, restaurants, farmers markets galore. And there is lakes, ponds, parks, lots of various churches, lots of schools and good well known schools like Kentucky Weslyian University. Small homes and large homes, surely enough to fit your fancy. Good maintained yards and lawns. Lots of nice landscaping. Take a drive down Griffith you will surely see what I am talking about. Bookstores and coffee shops and libraries and art galleries and museums. We have 4 seasons in our weather patterns. Highest heat level is 110 degrees (rarely happens), we have winters, harshest winter was in ice store of 2009. There has been Tornadoes here in 2001, but only damaged a portion of the town and neighborhoods. It’s sunny and warm with lots of clear blue skies and flat lands here. There are some rolling hills on the outskirts. Free wi-fi, yes you got it right here. And there is more to explore here and within 35 minutes to nearest largest shopping city just across the river to Indiana. A great place to shop and eat. And lots of thrift shops. And so many hobbies here and pawn shops and fitness. Too much to list to even tell you more. So if anyone is looking for that perfect place. Look no further. Come to north western Kentucky. 🙂

    • Ann…I think we might be taking a slight detour on our road trip this summer to hit up Owensboro, KY! Dan and I spent quite a bit of time checking it out online. It looks beautiful and you can tell the town has really done a lot to make it an attractive place to live or visit. Thanks for sharing!!!

  4. Wow! I had to pause the podcast and write because you two are describing my town. I had to laugh as you were listing all the ideal features you are looking for and mentally checking them off. We even have a military base.
    Not that I’m trying to pitch Meaford Ontario to you. We don’t really want our secret to get out ; ) but boy it feels good hearing you two articulate all the way I feel satisfied with my choice of town.
    We meet just about all your criteria except taxes and weather. We’re in Canada so I’m pretty sure our taxes would shock you (as much as we grumble about them, I’ve always felt I get good return for my money)
    As for weather – well we’re in Ontario so I know Dan is familiar with those “four” seasons. Let’s face it – it’s really winter with a side of summer and a sprinkling of sogginess and autumn.
    Thank you for your thoughtful podcast. Your advice on being intentional about the place in the world you want to be is so wise. I will be thinking about looking inward, outward, behind, and forward in all my decision making from now on.
    Enjoy your searching!

    In case you are curious I put the link to a rather amateur website with photos of the area in the website field.

    • Ok, so you know we had to check out your town right away, Jen and it looks amazing! We’ve heard nothing but great things about Canada…except for the taxes…ha! You’re very fortunate to have a place you love and enjoy. We know we have a long list of “wants” and “must-haves” but we know somewhere out there we’ll find our ideal home…even if it means sacrificing a little from our wish list. Thanks for sharing your little secret with us ;o)

  5. This episode was so helpful for me! As I look backwards and forwards in my life I have begun to realize every bad decision/consequence was a result of coasting through life. I don’t mean life has been so easy I’ve coasted along but more that I have never had a plan. I don’t live in the moment impulsively per se but I’ve never gone through the analysis of “pillars” as you’ve done. This coasting has permeated into all areas of my life from finances to men to career with some serious consequences. At the beginning of 2014 instead of doing resolutions I have been writing in a life journal (there are some pre-printed ones online with writing prompts or you can make your own). Writing in a life journal is completely in line with your concept of life strategy and the exercise is meant for all year, not just at the beginning. It goes through strengths/weaknesses/goals/self-reflection.Writing down pillars and going through this methodology is a perfect activity for my journal. Be sure to let us know when Dan’s product goes live (is it on Quirky or a similar crowd sourcing platform?). Happy birthday Vanessa and there are many good things that come with being in your 40s. I was pleasantly surprised and wouldn’t go back to any earlier decade.

    • Thanks Tania! I’m totally digging turning 40…so far so good! I love that you started a life journal. Like you, until we really focused on our life pillars and priorities, we were just drifting along. There is so much more clarity when you actually take a look at those things and reflect on what’s working or not working, etc. So great to hear from you Tania!!!!!

  6. I sure do love listening to you folks. My wife and I have lived in 37 places so far. We have only been married 48 years so maybe another move or two.
    We love living in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, and I am afraid we don’t qualify in many of your requirements We live on the ocean and we have lots of winter. People are nice…it is just that some of these New Englanders think you need to be cold and distant until they have known you for about 20 years.
    Anyway, Happy Birthday Vanessa. Life is wonderful at my age–69
    Congrats to you all.

    • Hahahaha, Don! That’s too funny! I’ve moved 27 times in 40 years…but why stop now? So glad you enjoy the show. I’ve never been to Maine but am dying to go! It’s on our travel bucket list for sure. Thanks for the birthday wishes.

  7. LOVED this episode. I listened to it once and then again with my 20 year old college student when we started talking about her life after college next year. I did not know that systematic ideation was a THING! But I followed those exact steps 8 years ago when I was burnt out on my corporate job and discovered personal cheffing. Now when I describe my process to people I’ll know what to call it!


    • That’s so cool Toni! And I love that you are sharing this with your daughter…would have loved to have some of this knowledge and perspective back in my early twenties!

  8. Wow – sounds like y’ all want to be my neighbor!
    I live in Tulsa, Ok – in “Brookside”. I can walk to Whole Foods, local meats, ace hardware and Jimmy’s egg in 5 minutes and if I want to walk 8 minutes more I can make it to great local shopping, dining, bakeries, bars and starbucks. I live right between the river and local hot sites – a half a block from each. So i can ride my bike downtown or around the river thru Turkey Mountain. I haven’t been to a suburban mall in 4 years! Everything I need is around me, unless I need to go to Pets Mart or Lowes and venture out for commercial goods.
    – 4 Seasons – sometimes all in 1 week!
    – Farmer’s market is 3 days a week – locally within 10 minutes drive. 1 in walking distance
    – My neighborhood is average 1,000 – 1,600 square feet. Tiny yards. We push mow.
    – Schools? We don’t have kids yet, so I’m no help in that department.
    – Tax and cost of living – very affordable. We bought a fixer-upper from 1936. And we enjoy working on it together, my husband and I.
    – Every house is different – not a cookie cutter! Big old trees too 🙂
    – Its “booming” with new stuff all the time – people are buying old lots and building new houses.
    -Tulsa has lots of great urban things to do downtown – Guthrie Green (outdoor concerts, food trucks and farmers market every weekend) and its not too far away from lakes and wide open spaces if you need to get away. Lots of outdoor festivals – Dan, there’s a BBQ festival that’s got your meat brain written all over it. Octoberfest is a must.
    -People are friendly in Tulsa, OK. That says a lot.
    Check it out! Love to see you all move here! 🙂

    • Jennifer…you had me at: ” I haven’t been to a suburban mall in 4 years!
      Tulsa sounds so great! I don’t think I’ve ever been there…and I’ve traveled a lot across the US! We definitely need to make a trip, especially since we’re one state south of you. It has all the many things we’re looking for too…farmers markets, unique, charming neighborhoods, walking distance to what you need and more! Thanks so much for sharing and we’ll definitely have to put it on our “Simple Life Together Listener Recommended Places To Live list…ha! ;o)

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