“Simple Living” Student Writing Lesson

If you simplified your life, what things would you get rid of or use less?


The YES! Magazine article, “Growing Up in a Kenyan Slum Taught Me the Real Value of Stuff,” by Simon Okelo, is a story about learning to live with less in the midst of abundance.

Students will use Simon’s story to write about how they might live simply, and what it would mean if society did this too.

Download this lesson as a PDF

Explore more student writing lessons

YES! Article and Writing Prompt

Read the article: “Growing Up in a Kenyan Slum Taught Me the Real Value of Stuff” by Simone Okelo.

Writing Prompt: Simon Okelo, who grew up in Kenya, had to relearn what “enough” means. He came to appreciate the volume of options at Costco, but practiced restraint to purchase just what he needed. Imagine that you simplified your life. What things would you choose to pare down or get rid of? What might change for you? What might change for society if other people did this?

Writing Guidelines

The writing guidelines below are intended to be just that—a guide. Please adapt to fit your curriculum.

    • Provide an original essay title
    • Reference the article
    • Limit the essay to no more than 700 words
    • Pay attention to grammar and organization
    • Be original, provide personal examples and insights.
    • Demonstrate clarity of content and ideas

This writing exercise meets several Common Core State Standards for grades 6-12, including W.9-10.3 and W. 9-10.14 for Writing, and RI.9-10 and RI.9-10.2 for Reading: Informational Text.*

*This standard applies to other grade levels. “9-10” is used as an example.

Evaluation Rubric

Sample Essays

The essays below were selected as winners for the Fall 2013 Student Writing Competition. Please use them as sample essays or mentor text. The ideas, structure, and writing style of these essays may provide inspiration for your own students’ writing—and an excellent platform for analysis and discussion. 

Trophies and Goodie Bags by Annika Holliday, Grade 6

Read Annika’s essay about the uselessness of stuff—like trophies and goodie bags.

Doing Without by Spencer Reed, Grade 12

Read Spencer’s essay about his desire to level the economic playing field so that more people can have more—and then choose less.

Need or Want by Sana Naz, Whatcom Community College

Read Sana’s essay about how her consumption habits shifted when she moved from Pakistan to the United States.

A Simpler Life by Nick Young, Grade 6

Read Nick’s essay about how giving up his iPhone4 and his beloved dog Lucas would greatly affect his life.

Response from author Simon Okelo to essay winners agrees that our generation needs to consume a lot less, and reminds them that there is abundance in consuming less.

We Want to Hear From You!

How do you see this lesson fitting in your curriculum? Already tried it? Share with us—and other teachers—how the lesson worked for you and your students.

Please leave your comments below, including what grade you teach.

Inspiration in Your Inbox

Get the free daily newsletter from YES! Magazine:
Stories of people creating a better world to inspire you and your students.

Sign Up