It’s unfathomable that next summer will be my 20th high school reunion. Last I checked, I’m still living in an apartment with three other girls, drinking a daily dose of Dr. Pepper and listening to The Cranberries while stressing over that geology final.

Apparently not, according to the three people calling me Mom every thirty seconds along with certain items on my daily to-do list like, “Talk to kid’s speech therapist” and “Schedule Skype meeting with that editor.” I blinked and became a grown-up.

This is one reason I have a soft spot for this email from Rebecca, a reader who asks a question you might relate to:

Hi Tsh,
What do you wish you had known in college (and in your first few years post-college) about the art of simple living? Were there things you wish you had done with your time, your money, your energy? Or things you wish you hadn’t bothered with? I am a college senior, graduating in a year’s time, and I really love the idea of a simple life that allows you to spend time and resources on the things you really want to do, and I’d love some advice on how to try to live that way now.
Thanks, Rebecca

My answer:

I don’t have a lot of regrets, but I do have one… I didn’t pay off my school loans as fast I could. I bought in to the idea that they’re no big deal, so I let them linger, and linger, and linger. In fact, I didn’t pay them off in full until ten years later, which is also not a big deal, but looking back, I could have done it sooner.

I am glad, however, that I traveled soon after graduation, working for a non-profit in Kosovo (where I ultimately met Kyle, so that worked out). There is hardly ever another time in your life when you have the most freedom and fewest responsibilities, so I highly recommend getting out there and serving in some capacity. Not escaping—serving. You’ll learn more than you imagine about the world, and by proxy, about yourself.

Also, learn to cook simple, whole meals using real food. Don’t rely on the processed boxed stuff. Your health and the environment will thank you.

What would you tell a 20-something about simple living?

And finally, don’t sweat about finding that perfect job right out of college. Most people do quite a few things anyway, so just do something. Earn some money to pay off those loans (if you have them), learn what it means to have a solid work ethic, and find a mentor who could answer your questions and model a life you’d like.

In a nutshell: be debt-free, work, cook real food, find a mentor, travel. Your early twenties are meant for exploration—how you’re made, what the world is like, what your community needs from you. It’s okay if you don’t know those things yet… go and find them.

I wish I had better known that money management matters and that there’s real freedom in being debt-free. I’m glad I had personal experience in learning how the globe at large lives and works. I wish I learned sooner the art of slow, local food, and how it’s better for both me and my community. I’m glad I served others. I wish I didn’t spend so much energy searching for the perfect job, and instead focused on contentment with the work ethic I was learning by waitressing, gift-wrapping, and teaching English abroad. I didn’t really discover my passion for writing until my thirties, and that’s okay.

The art of simple living means living holistically with your life’s purpose. Use this time to discover that purpose, and align the parts of your life with that. It’ll come together.