Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. -Leonardo DaVinci
Lots of us feel that our day-to-day is driven by chaos, jumping from task to task with a seemingly endless list of things to do. How can we take a moment and enjoy life? How can we eliminate the extraneous from what’s actually important?
Simplifying your life means ridding yourself of those extra things that you do, instead focusing on doing those things that you love, and spending time with those other beings in the world you find most precious. It means taking an axe and flame thrower to all the clutter of your life so that you are left only with what gives you real value.
But how does one accomplish this? It seems like a pretty daunting task, especially if you’re really collapsing under the weight of all the clutter that we tend to pick up over time. To bring up a quote:
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. -Lao-tzu
Recently, Maya and I began the process of simplifying our lives. We’re trimming back the fat, and getting rid of everything we don’t find absolutely important. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to determine what’s important so that we can just get rid of everything else. So, I’ve come up with a list of what I feel are the most important tips to help you simplify your life.
1) CHOOSE YOUR TOP 5
This may seem difficult, but choose 5 things that you find the most important. Take a minute, or five, or an hour, and just meditate on what you value most. Perhaps you can think of what you most want to do with your life. I recommend writing this list down, and pinning it up. By choosing what’s most important, and reminding yourself of that every day, you will make time for these things on a conscious and subconscious level. Make sure to include the people you love in this list. Also, don’t be afraid to re-evaluate this list as you grow and change. Your priorities are not going to stay the same throughout your life.
2) TURN OFF THE TV (AND INTERNET)
I feel like this is stating the obvious, but so many of us waste hour upon hour watching TV, then stop, go to bed, and feel anxiety or regret because we didn’t have enough time to paint, or read a book, or exercise. The television is sucking the life out of you, quite literally.
Attempt to limit your consumption of TV and the internet. I would recommend cutting them out completely for a week, and see how it goes. It might be tough at first, and I know the thought of missing your favourite shows seems impossible, but make a commitment to it, and try it. You’ll be amazed at the amount of time you’ll save to then spend with those people and things that you love.
3) LEARN TO SAY NO
In order to simplify your life, you’re going to need to learn how to not take on extra tasks. If you can’t say no, you will end up right back where you started. Saying no to yourself is just as important as saying it to others. If you have problems with this, I recommend learning 7 simple ways of saying no.
4) GET RID OF EXCESS “STUFF”
Almost all of us have experienced the awe of having to move after living at a location for a long time. It seems that the longer we live somewhere, the more stuff we accumulate. Personally, I used to hold on to things because I believed the memories associated with them would somehow disappear after I threw them out. Once I realized this was simply making my current life overwhelming and chaotic, I learned that the memories were better left in my head and in pictures on my computer.
So, how do we purge our stuff? There are a number of techniques, and so I’m going to make a short, sub-list for this one:
- Start with the big items. If you start big, you’ll make a big difference very quickly.
- Go room by room. For each room in your house, eliminate everything that you don’t absolutely need. Make a list of rooms in your house, post it somewhere. Work through that list, checking them off as you go.
- Go through closets and drawers. Go through one drawer and closet at a time. Even if you can only do one today, do it. Again, use a list to go through one room at a time.
- Donate old clothes, shoes, etc. Look through your closet and dresser. What clothes are you actually going to wear? Anything you haven’t worn recently, donate.
Take all the stuff you don’t need and sell or donate it. When in doubt, use the “one year” rule: if you haven’t used it in the past year, get rid of it.
5) SIMPLIFY YOUR PAPERS
Scan in your tax forms, receipts, and other papers you need. Store them in the cloud where they’re backed up, and get rid of the originals. It’ll save you a lot of space and there’s less to keep organized.
6) GET ORGANIZED
Now that you’ve purged yourself of the excess, it’s time to organize what you do have. Find a place for everything, and if necessary, buy some organizing bins, and make sure everything has a clear place in your home.
7) CREATE A SYSTEM FOR CLEANING
Rather than letting the mess build up and spending large amounts of time cleaning up, create a more advanced system for keeping your home clean. Zen Habits has a great system of cleaning as you go with an added burst cleaning, every so often.
8) SET DAILY GOALS
Every morning, pick a small number (say 3-4) of important things that you want to accomplish. Pick things that will make you feel good having completed at the end of the day. Tackle the hardest one first!
9) CREATE A WEEKLY DINNER MENU
Spend some time and create a menu of things you enjoy eating but are simple to make. Each day of the week can have its meal. This will make shopping easier, and lessen the headache of choosing what to make, especially if you’ve had a long day at work. It’s easy enough to choose something new during the week, if you’re up for it. You can also spend one night a month recreating this list, to keep things fresh.
It may seem like a complicated task to do, but it will pay off by greatly simplifying your dinner routine.
10) WATCH YOUR SPENDING
Anytime you want to buy a non-consumable product, think if it’s something you really need. If not, reconsider your purchase. If you can manage to escape from the materialistic mentality, you will end up buying less, saving more, and have a happier, simpler life. Remember, materialism comes at a high price.
11) FREE UP SOME TIME
If you’ve managed to carry out a lot of the items above, you’re probably looking at a lot of extra time in your day. But, let’s see if we can do better.
Look at how you spend your day. What commitments have you made? Take a look at your hobbies and your side projects (both for business and at home). Take a moment and reflect on the things that are in line with your values. Which ones do you love doing? Which tasks reflect your top 5 most important things in life? It’s time to simplify here. Drop those things that aren’t in line with what’s important to you.
12) DO WHAT YOU LOVE
Now that you’ve reflected on what’s important to you, and freed up some of your time, it’s time to spend that extra time doing what you love. Take a look at your top 5. Take the extra time to do those things, and nothing else.
13) GET FOCUSED
Simplify the number of life goals that you have. Find one main goal, and stick to it. By focusing, you’re not only simplifying your life, you’re also increasing your chances of success! Even better, pursue your passion and make that your life’s goal!
14) DON’T MULTI-TASK
It’s more stressful, complicated, and generally less productive. Simplify, and just do one thing at a time, being sure to focus entirely on that one thing. If you have too many things going on, you need to re-evaluate your daily goals and commitments, and try to trim there instead.
15) CREATE SOMETHING
We all have a need for self-expression. Now that you’ve removed a lot of the busy-work you used to have, replace it with something that cleanses the soul. Whether it’s writing, painting, singing, dancing, acting, or whatever, find some time to express yourself.
16) LEARN TO RELAX AND DO NOTHING
Sometimes, it can be very difficult to just sit, and be. I would say it’s almost an art. Try to bring a bit of “nothing” into your everyday life.
17) EAT HEALTHY AND EXERCISE
Although it may seem like this complicates your life, it simplifies it in the long run. If you don’t take care of your health, you’ll end up having to pay the price eventually.
18) BE PRESENT, HERE AND NOW
Of all the techniques listed, this is perhaps the most important and it has the greatest potential to make a huge difference in your life. By remaining present, you are not worrying about the future, you are not feeling depressed about the past, you are living here and now, and completely in the moment. Here are a few tips on being present.
19) USE A SMALL NOTEPAD
Buy a small, pocket-sized notepad that you can write down random thoughts, ideas, dreams, goals, and to-dos. Keep it on you at all times, and place it beside your bed at night. Each morning (and evening, if you like), read over your list. This will save you from worrying about remembering something, and help you make up your goals for each day. (Remember to keep the number of goals to a minimum – say 3-4)
20) MEDITATE EVERY DAY
You’ve freed up a lot of time, so spend 15 minutes meditating every day. It will do to your mind what you have done to your home and life. It will de-clutter it, help it focus, and give you a greater feeling of happiness and control. Read Meditation: A Guide for Everyone for more information.
The list may seem long and complicated, but I don’t recommend trying everything at once. Pick a few ideas and start with those. Keep it simple while you try to adopt a new routine. I would definitely recommend doing #1 right away, and building from there. Once you start to simplify things for yourself, you’ll love what it does for you. Life just becomes… well, simpler.
You have succeeded in life when all you really
want is only what you really need. -Vernon Howard