I’m thrilled to share with you this interview with Julia Watkins, author of Simply Living Well. You may already know Julia from her dreamy Instagram profile, @Simply.Living.Well. If you didn’t know that she also has a book, I’d definitely recommend picking up a copy. I promise you’ll return to it over and and over again.
For people who are new to you and your work, can you give us a little introduction?
Sure! Most people know me through my Instagram account @simply.living.well, where I share about living simply, slowly, and sustainably. I also write on my blog at www.simplylivingwell.com and contribute to various publications like Willow and Sage and Mind Body Green.
Before starting my Instagram and blog, I was a stay-at-home mom for 8 years and before that I studied and worked for 14 years in biodiversity conservation, natural resource management, and environmental education. In 2016, when my children started school, my husband Scott and I launched a nonprofit called Lookfar Conservation, which supports conservation and restoration work in Latin American and Africa.
For fun, I love learning about plants, creating with my hands, working in my garden, and riding bikes along the Green Bay Trail with my family here in Chicago.
Your book is a wealth of information, from DIYs to food preservation tips, to recipes. How did you learn everything that you know?
I started learning a lot of what I share on social media when my first child was born about 12 years ago, in part because I wanted to raise my children as naturally as possible, but also because my oldest had a lot of health issues that led me down a rabbit hole of learning everything I could about nutrition, health, and healing.
My initiation into slow living happened in the kitchen, where I learned to cook whole foods from scratch, using all sorts of traditional methods for preparing and processing foods. My oldest had lots of gut issues and food sensitivities, so instead of buying conveniently packaged foods, I took the slow route and learned to make everything myself. I learned to soak nuts, beans, and grains, and make rich bone broths, homemade flour, nut milk, coconut yogurt, ghee, and a variety of fermented foods. Once I mastered cooking from scratch, I started making my own natural cleaning supplies and bath and body products. I also studied herbalism on the side and learned to make all sorts of natural remedies to support my family’s health.
At the same time I was learning about nutrition and wellness, I was also interested in living as sustainably as possible. I’d always been careful about the types of products we brought into our house. I also cloth-diapered my babies and took care in how and what we consumed. I had a garden and made sure to get the kids out in nature as much as possible. But when it came to waste, we were guilty of creating as much as the next person, and I was so consumed with the demands of motherhood I didn’t feel I had the bandwidth to figure out how to do better.
In 2014, we moved to Berkeley, California for two years. While we were there, I met a few families who were actively practicing zero-waste at home. Some of them were car-free, several grew their own food, and one of them had reduced waste to the point of being able to cancel their trash and recycling services. I read Bea Johnson’s book Zero Waste Home around the same time and slowly started to make changes to reduce our household waste.
In September 2017, we moved to the Midwest to live closer to family. The kids also started school around the same time, which left me with the space and time to take on new projects and interests. I went on a juice cleanse to try to tackle some lingering health issues of my own and noticed our fridge looked like something out of Bea Johnson’s book. On whim, I took a photo, decided to try going zero-waste, and created an Instagram account to track my journey. I think going zero-waste really brought out the DIYer in me and inspired me to think about natural and slow living in a more holistic way.
In terms of resources, I learned wherever I could– from books, blogs, friends, family, chefs, herbalists, and folks in the zero-waste community. I list a lot of my favorite resources at the end of the book, but I should say that a lot of my knowledge of plants and herbs came from studying Rosemary Gladstar’s work and taking courses at The Herbal Academy.
Along with being informative, your book is absolutely gorgeous! Were you very involved in its design? (I think I read that you photographed it all?)
Yes! I got really lucky with my publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I wrote and photographed the book myself and they helped with editing and design. The process was extremely collaborative – they used my proposal to inspire the book’s layout, color scheme, and design and consulted with me every step of the way before making any final decisions.
Do you have a favourite DIY, or favourite recipe, in the book?
I really love the juice pulp crackers from the chapter on low-waste kitchen. I juice a lot and have always felt guilty composting the pulp, so that recipe is particularly invaluable to me. I also love the shiitake immune-boosting soup because it’s delicious but also because it was passed down to our family from our beloved pediatrician. The immune-boosting tonic is another favorite – I make it every single day, the same way some people brew a cup of coffee or pour themselves a glass of wine. It’s definitely my feel-good drink.
What would you say to those just starting out in and feeling overwhelmed?
I would say living simply, slowly, and sustainably is a process and not an event and that you’ve got to find your sweet spot, where living sustainably feels sustainable for you. I don’t do all of the things in my book all at once; I do what I can and cut myself some slack when needed because, at least for me, I’m in it for the long haul and don’t consider it a means for self-improvement as much as a way of life.
What inspires you?
The natural world, definitely. But also simplicity. One reason I keep my life so pared down, both in terms of possessions and activities, is because stripping away the noise helps keep me centered and in my flow. For me, it’s less about following a trend and more about creating space for the things I value and enjoy (like creating and gardening!).
Thank you again for chatting with me, Julia! It was a pleasure.
Photo of Julia Watkins courtesy of Julia Watkins.