12 of the best books about simple living to inspire a quiet life
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In one of Tove Jansson’s iconic Moomin stories, Moomintroll loudly exclaims, “I only want to live in peace, plant potatoes, and dream!”
That’s a philosophy I follow (maybe a bit too closely) in my own life. And it’s the vibe we’re going for with the books about simple living I share in this post.
Some of them are fiction books about characters who live simple lives, but most are non-fiction books and memoirs by people who decided to live more simply.
Some of these authors left the city for the countryside, while others created a more simple life where they already were.
Like my list of the best books about slowing down, these books are all about taking time for the small pleasures in life. And most of them celebrate the satisfaction of living close to nature, be it towering mountains or a green local park.
Read on and find the best books about simple living to inspire your dreams of living in peace (and maybe planting potatoes)…
The best simple living books to inspire a quiet and peaceful life
Down to Earth: A Guide to Simple Living by Rhonda Hetzel
Rhonda Hetzel is like your friendly neighbour who knows all of the secrets about slow, simple living. With Down to Earth, she shares a wonderfully calming yet instructional guide to living simply.
I love reading her lessons about how to mend your clothes, grow some of your own food, make your home more sustainable, and spend less at the store. You can think of this book as half-celebration of the joys of living simply, half-guide to the practicalities.
“I was pulled into simple living before I knew what it was. It crept up on me using the smallest of steps and didn’t reveal its true beauty and real power until I was totally hooked. I was searching for a way to live well while spending very little money. What I found was a way of life that also gave me independence, opportunity and freedom.”Rhonda Hetzel, Down to Earth
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
The Summer Book is a blissfully peaceful and summery novel about simple living by Tove Jansson. It’s the fictional story of a child’s summer visit with her grandmother to a cottage by the Gulf of Finland, inspired by Tove’s own annual pilgrimage for over twenty summers. (For more about this, read her stunning book Notes from an Island.)
Timeless Simplicity: Creating Living in a Consumer Society by John Lane
If you’re interested in the intersection between simplicity and creativity, read Timeless Simplicity: Creating Living in a Consumer Society for a book about having less and enjoying more.
Maybe for you that means having time to do the work you love or relax with your family, finding the energy to pursue creative projects, or enjoying time to just be.
This book is an excellent choice to read after Goodbye, Things: On Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki. While Fumio Sasaki offers a guide to a more minimalist way of living, John Lane helps you figure out how you want to be spending your time after freeing up your schedule and possessions.
A Very Small Farm by William Paul Winchester
Over in a Reddit thread about the best simple living books, one reader named A Very Small Farm as their favourite. Here’s their lovely description of the book:
“I read A Very Small Farm a while ago and it totally fits the bill. It is a memoir of sorts about one man who lives on a small farm alone and is written very beautifully and focuses on being mindful. I had to go back to the bookstore after to buy a book about clouds.”
The Abundance of Less: Lessons in Simple Living from Rural Japan by Andy Couturier
The Abundance of Less is a wonderful reminder of the luxury to be found in simplicity: the luxuries of nature, art, friends, delicious food, and an abundance of time.
In this beautifully calming book about simple living, Andy Couturier follows ten people living in rural Japan who left behind urban Japan to enjoy a quieter way of life.
The Art of Frugal Hedonism: A Guide to Spending Less While Enjoying Everything More by Annie Raser-Rowland and Adam Grubb
Written as a collection of conversational ponderings, The Art of Frugal Hedonism is about letting go of consumerism and FOMO to rediscover the most simple, joyful, and low-cost (or zero-cost) pleasures in life.
As one reader on Reddit shares, “It’s like a book about how to live like a character in a very chill Studio Ghibli film.”
Under The Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
If you love the philosophy of simple living and daydream about sunny days in Italy, read Under the Tuscan Sun. This gorgeous memoir is about the author’s decision to take a bold leap, buy and renovate a home in Italy, and learn to live slowly and contentedly in a small town.
The Feast Nearby by Robin Mather
The Feast Nearby is similar to Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Mineral as another book about self-sufficiency, fresh starts, and simplicity on a budget.
After Robin Mather lost her job and her marriage, she stepped onto a new and simpler path: one that included chickens, foraging, preserving, and a lot of local food.
A Psalm for the Wild Built by Becky Chambers
For a wonderfully unique fiction book about simple living, read A Psalm for the Wild-Built. This hopeful sci-fi book is about Dex, a tea monk who isn’t quite sure what to do with their life.
So they head towards the wilderness with their bike-powered wagon that holds everything they need to survive. However, soon they’re startled by a robot asking an impossible question: “what do people need?”
It’s a wonderfully uplifting and utopian book about living simply and sustainably, but also friendship, hope, and acceptance of our differences.
The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living by Wendy Jehanara Tremayne
The Good Life Lab is Wendy Jehanara Tremayne’s story of how she and her husband relocated to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, away from their high-pressure life in New York City.
This quirky memoir charts their off-the-grid adventures as they built, invented, foraged, and grew everything they needed. It’s a wonderfully inspiring personal story about simple living, but also provides practical advice to chase your own dreams of self-sufficiency.
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
For some of the best imaginings of simple living in fiction, read Haruki Murakami. He creates such immersive portraits of people escaping to the mountains, sipping whisky, spending more time than necessary cooking dinner, listening to jazz, and pondering the world around them.
In 1Q84, one character is a freelance writer working part-time as a teacher, while in Norwegian Wood the main characters seek answers and solitude in a cabin by the mountains.
But it’s his modern classic, Kafka on the Shore, which I think has the best depiction of simple living (one that admittedly requires freedom, courage, and savings to turn into a reality). The main character runs away from home, spends some time in a library, and then retreats to a cabin in the woods.
A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle
Madeleine L’Engle is best known for her award-winning novel A Wrinkle in Time, whereas A Circle of Quiet is her quiet, lesser-known memoir. Written like a journal, it’s a graceful and peaceful story about her search for meaning, purpose, and simplicity.
Prompted by a visit to her personal retreat near her country home, this book from 1972 reads like a laid-back conversation on a lazy summer afternoon, full of beautiful musings on being a good, happy human at peace with the world and yourself.
P.S. Other honourary mentions of great simple living books:
- The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry
- Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
- Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucia by Chris Stewart
- Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life by Beth Kempton
- A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Clean Mind by Shoukei Matsumoto
- Living on the Earth by Alicia Bay Laurel
- Animal Vegetable Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver
- Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
- The Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing’s Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living by Helen and Scott Nearing
- Caroline – A Little House Revisited By Sarah Miller
- Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors
- Building a Better World in Your Backyard – Instead of Being Angry at Bad Guys by Paul Wheaton and Shawn Klassen-Koop
For more like this, you might also like my collection of the best books like Walden and the best books about slowing down to escape the hustle.2 Enjoy this article?