Living Simply is a style recommended by Sir David Attenborough if we are to save the planet so we can live on it.  Kate Humble, well known to UK wildlife viewers and bird enthusiasts, must have clicked that idea as an opportunity over a year ago. Well, it’s been around a while, and Covid lockdowns (we’re in another one) have put a new slant on it.

So when Netgalley and the publishers offered me an early release copy of A Year of Living Simply, I jumped at the chance.

A Year of Living Simply

a year of living simplyby Kate Humble

‘Simply wonderful.’ – BEN FOGLE

‘Kate’s book has the warmth and calming effect of a log fire and a glass of wine. Unknit your brow and let go. It’s a treat.’ – GARETH MALONE

‘Kate Humble pours her enviable knowledge into attainable goals. It’s a winning combination and the prize – a life in balance with nature – is definitely worth claiming.’ – LUCY SIEGLE

‘As ever, where Kate leads, I follow. She has made me reassess and reset.’ – DAN SNOW

If there is one thing that most of us aspire to, it is, simply, to be happy. And yet attaining happiness has become, it appears, anything but simple. Having stuff – The Latest, The Newest, The Best Yet – is all too often peddled as the sure fire route to happiness. So why then, in our consumer-driven society, is depression, stress and anxiety ever more common, affecting every strata of society and every age, even, worryingly, the very young? Why is it, when we have so much, that many of us still feel we are missing something and the rush of pleasure when we buy something new turns so quickly into a feeling of emptiness, or purposelessness, or guilt?

So what is the route to real, deep, long lasting happiness? Could it be that our lives have just become overly crowded, that we’ve lost sight of the things – the simple things – that give a sense of achievement, a feeling of joy or excitement? That make us happy. Do we need to take a step back, reprioritise? Do we need to make our lives more simple?

Kate Humble’s fresh and frank exploration of a stripped-back approach to life is uplifting, engaging and inspiring – and will help us all find balance and happiness every day. [goodreads]

My Review

Don’t you just hate blurbs which start with soundbites from celebrity reviewers?  Possibly even colleagues? Fortunately the netgalley blurb put them last, I think.  Or else I was so taken with the idea of Kate Humble living simply and telling us what her inner responses were, that I ignored them.

Ms Humble is a well-known wildlife (Springwatch) and occasionally farming TV presenter (Lambing Live). She’s also done her time as president of the RSPB, the UK’s equivalent of the Audubon Society.  This means she has gravitas while still being bubbly and enthusiastic, with a delightful girl-next-door aura.  She talks well and she writes well.  She captures the countryside and her subject matter so that you accompany her on her journeying.

lots of journeying

In this year of living simply, she does a lot of journeying. I didn’t expect that. So for the first two-thirds of the book I was trying to reconcile her trips to see people doing wonderful things that recycle, or reuse on a grand scale, especially housing.

I was put off somewhat when one solution to her ‘living simply and getting away from it all’ was to rent a cottage in France. It was off the beaten track, and required simple living, but, well, nice if you can afford to do that sort of thing.

I wondered why she had to fly to the Taos community with their recycled housing (using bottles and other reclaimed materials) in New Mexico. There is plenty of information about it, after all it’s been going for over forty years.

The raptures she goes into on the whole ‘arrive in Amsterdam, pick up a bike, and cycle to these really innovative housing projects’ – one of which slips in ‘owned by young professionals who sign up to the ethos’ – really irritated me. These projects and this Amsterdam style are at least twenty-five years old; they just keep improving them. Pick up a book on sustainable housing and you’ll find them all.

vegetables and bread

This year, in lockdown, if we are lucky enough to have some open space, we’ve been vegetable growing. So her efforts in this area have been overtaken by other, better examples. We’ve been swapping bread-making tips like mad. And decluttering aka having a good turnout… This is a matter of timing, nothing she could do about it.  But I did wonder why everything she did had to involve some mentor or guru coming to her cottage in the wilds of Wales to help her out.  Mending clothes, gardening, repairing things, decluttering for a simpler life…

It was only when she got to Frome, a town in Somerset, that I started to understand her purpose.  It was to show that everyone living simply involves community and helping hands.  People sharing their talents or knowledge for the benefit of others, and receiving help with the skills they don’t have in return.  It’s just a shame that so many of the people she cited had either had nervous breakdowns in a high-powered job (and loads of money) and gone back to basics, or had been unemployed for ages.  They had found a new life and a new start with the help of communities who understood the value of personal skills.

living simply doing your normal job

After that I realised I had mistaken some of Ms Humble’s objectives for the book.  She lived simply while doing her normal job – investigative eco-journalism. Hunting out all these examples were her working life, and any of us can add some of the things she did to the ‘living simply’ aspects of our lives, while continuing our normal jobs. She makes some very good points about why we work at all, which brings us back to the need to change our economic basis if we are to survive on our planet.

I’d still like to see any city/suburban working mums with kids under ten who can’t disappear off to the country and home-school them take up any of these ideas (other than an allotment). Now that would be a book worth reading*.

add to goodreads buttonBottom line – an enjoyable read if you know very little about alternative lifestyles/technologies and don’t mind the pipedream that it might all come true for you, too.

PS Some of the recipes sound good.

Kate Humble 'lived simply while doing her normal job - investigative eco-journalism. ... any of us can add some of the things she did to the 'living simply' aspects of our lives' #AYearOfLivingSimply #oneplanetliving Share on X

*Alys Fowler’s Edible Gardening does it in a terraced house back garden.

Book Review | A Year of Living Simply by Kate Humble

One thought on “Book Review | A Year of Living Simply by Kate Humble

  • 15 November, 2020 at 5:38 am

    Well, I think I don’t need to do that one! I’ve read other books on the same idea, and usually run into the same problem: it becomes a full-time job to truly live that “simply.” But mixing their tips into our lives in even small ways can have an impact, I hope.

    In some ways, this goes along with the irony of the amount of gear (some very expensive gear) it takes for me to go hiking into the mountains and camp. I am no John Muir 😀

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