By Robin Howard
The pandemic forced many of us to slow down and listen, rethink what we consider normal, and question what’s essential. What would it mean to live life on your terms? To have the time and energy to pursue what interests you?
Living a simplified life still requires us to be engaged with the world and our communities, but removing nonessential elements—including the extravagances that aren’t all that satisfying—can help us focus resources on what matters most.
Of course, not everyone has the luxury of making changes right now, but here are eight suggestions to inspire you to embrace simplicity where you can:
Psychologist Seth Meyers writes that many people had more time to slow down last year—although for others, it was the opposite. Whether you permitted yourself to sleep because there was nowhere to go, indulged a little more, or binge-watched Netflix, you may have learned to value a slower pace. If you find yourself in that camp, you can maintain a simpler life by letting go of the time commitments that don’t line up with what you value most.
Naturalist Henry David Thoreau is famous for living simply in a small, spare cabin on Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. “A lady once offered me a mat, but as I had no room to spare within the house, nor time to spare within or without to shake it, I declined it, preferring to wipe my feet on the sod before my door. It is best to avoid the beginnings of evil.”
Having a doormat isn’t evil, but too much stuff makes life complicated. Thoreau’s point in not accepting a free rug is that he would have to make a time commitment to cleaning it. Whatever we own demands we pay attention to it at some point. We have to store, clean, repair, and move around our things. Declutter your stuff, or pare down to only what you need, and you’ll instantly have a simpler life.
Having goals can help us intentionally direct our actions toward achievements and experiences that make us happier. However, having a mile-long list of goals you are trying to achieve at once can be exhausting and end in frustration. Psychologist Catherine Moore writes the trick to achieving goals is not to get overwhelmed by having too many at once. She suggests writing down all of your goals, ranking them by importance on a scale of 1 to 5, then tackling them in order. The most important thing to realize is every goal represents a measure of energy you will have to expend. Simplify your goal list so you can focus your energy and you’ll achieve faster results.
How much time and energy could you reclaim if you weren’t doom-scrolling or arguing with strangers on social media? What could you accomplish if you weren’t stuck in a constant cycle of receiving feedback, posting, or commenting?
The average adult spends 2.5 hours a day on social media, and it’s addictive by design. Posting content that gets interactions boosts self-esteem, creates a sense of belonging, and activates dopamine, the feel-good chemical. The possibility of having that reward just a click away is too hard to resist. However, our search for validation also increases the risk of depression and anxiety.
One of the best ways to truly simplify your life is to cut out digital distractions.
Working hard to get out of debt isn’t fun, but it is satisfying. Simple-living experts advocate having one checking account, one savings account, one zero-interest credit card, and one retirement account.
If you want to invest, use a low-cost robo-advisor such as Vanguard or Fidelity Go that automates investing and manages trades for you. Eliminate as many subscription services as you can, automate bill paying and make a budget.
Simple-living advocates have a secret: Taco Tuesdays. Even if you don’t institute Taco Tuesday or Meatloaf Monday, choose a few recipes you enjoy consistently, plan a week of simple meals, then put them on repeat for the month. This will allow you to make one shopping list, order online for pickup or delivery if you can, then use the same shopping list the following week or month. One of the proven benefits of having a food routine is it can help you reduce calorie intake and lose weight.
Having a capsule wardrobe or a “uniform” helps eliminate decisions about what to wear every day, reduces clothing expenses, and takes the stress out of the morning rush. A capsule wardrobe is a limited selection of interchangeable pieces you can mix and match.
The uniform approach can help you simplify even further. Find the outfit you feel most confident and comfortable in, then buy it in exact multiples or slight variations. Celebrities who are masters of the uniform include Vera Wang, Adele, Kanye West, Ellen DeGeneres, Mark Zuckerberg, and the late Karl Lagerfeld.
One of the main reasons we get sucked into spending time and money on things—and people—that don’t truly make us happy is we don’t want to be alone with our thoughts.
Decluttering your mind can clear the way for everything else to fall into place.
Set boundaries with toxic people, notice when you feel resentment, jealousy, judgment, or other negative emotions, and replace them with positive thoughts. If you have past trauma you need to process, find someone to talk to who can help you let go of it for good.
Simplifying life is essential because everything takes up space. Whether it is physical, mental or calendar space, you only have so much room to spare. Having less stuff, more time and fewer obligations gives you the freedom to create a more rewarding life than being an overworked, over-scheduled custodian of things.