Simplifying one’s life can seem complicated. It can feel overwhelming, especially if you own a lot of stuff and your calendar is crammed with commitments.
Where do you start? What the heck do you exactly do? What does simplifying even really look like?
At its core, simplifying is making more time for the things that truly matter to us, said Rachel Jonat, who writes about simplicity and minimalism on her website The Minimalist Mom. “That means realigning how you spend your time, money, energy and even the space in your home to reflect what’s really important to you.”
Simplifying leaves space for “creative thoughts, imagination and playfulness,” said KJ Landis, a life coach and creator of the Superior Self series.
And, thankfully, simplifying can be small and gradual, and well, simple. Below, you’ll find a variety of practical, totally doable suggestions.
Write down your reasons for simplifying your life. Delve deeper and think about why you’d like to simplify, said Courtney Carver, author of the blog Be More with Less, and the book Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More.
What’s the point? How will your life and day to day improve?
For instance, maybe you’re in debt. Maybe you’re overwhelmed with all the stuff around your home, and can’t find what you need. Maybe you constantly feel stressed and overcommitted. Remind yourself of these big “whys” to help you keep simplifying.
Examine your time. Write out your ideal week, including your work schedule, commitments, chores, hobbies and downtime, said Jonat, author of several books, including her latest title The Joy of Doing Nothing. Next keep track of your time for a week. Then compare the two. “What are you spending time on that keeps you from the things you really want to do? How can you change that?” she said.
Say no to a few things. “A simpler life starts with setting boundaries around your time,” Jonat said. Saying no without any explanation is especially vital if you’re chronically overcommitted, she said.
Megan Murphy, founder of The Kindness Rocks Project, and author of A Pebble for Your Thoughts: How One Kindness Rock At the Right Moment Can Change Your Life, used to say yes to many things because she felt obligated. She used to say yes to gatherings that included friends of friends who regularly gossiped, and made her feel uncomfortable. She used to say yes to any opportunity without thinking about whether it aligned with her intentions. She noted “rather than saying ‘yes’ to things that you think you should do, begin to say ‘no” and honor the things you wish to do instead.”
Leave your wallet at home. This is particularly helpful if you tend to overspend or buy impulsively. Jonat suggested having just enough to get around, which might be a transit pass and $20. “Building that pause into your life, having to think about going home for your wallet and coming back out to buy something, is an easy way to curb your shopping habit.”
Meditate for 2 minutes. Meditation helps to simplify the mind and create calm, said Landis, author of four books, including Happy Healthy You: Your Total Wellness Toolkit for Renewing Body, Soul, and Mind. For example, she began meditating by closing her eyes and imagining the digits 1 to 10 floating by, and then reversing back to 1 several times, as slowly as possible.
Another practice, she said, is to focus on the breath, a candle or a sound, which “can allow a ‘shelf’ to open up inside where there is nothing on it.”
Discard duplicates. Carver suggested getting out a box, and filling it with any duplicates you have inside your home. Which might be anything from two sets of measuring cups to several copies of the same book or DVD.
“Once you fill the box, label it ‘Duplicates,’ and put it out of sight for 30 days. If you don’t need anything or don’t remember what was in the box, donate it.”
Create simple routines. Having to make many decisions can lead to overwhelm. This is when having simple routines—around behaviors such as eating and sleeping—can be especially powerful. As Jonat said, “If every Friday is pizza and a movie night, you have two fewer decisions to make each week.”
Setting simple routines also opens up “more time and energy to focus on the things that normally get ignored, like long lingering lunches, walks in nature (without a focus), conversations with no agendas,” said Tamsin Astor, PhD, a coach and author of the book Force of Habit: Unleash Your Power by Developing Great Habits. What can you create a routine around?
Pay attention to small moments. After selling her business, Murphy began paying attention to what brings her true joy. Which turned out to be the simple, small moments in her days: “Breathing in the salty air, searching for heart-shaped rocks along the shore, and uncovering the sense of peace felt only in solitude.”
Today, she uses her curiosity and wonder to focus on these kinds of moments. What simple moments can you point out and savor?
Schedule meaningful activities. Think about what is important to you, and put that on the calendar first for the entire week, if possible. For instance, if moving your body regularly is important to you, according to Astor, you might create this schedule: a swim on Mondays; weights on Tuesdays and Thursdays; a yoga class with a friend on Wednesdays; and a walk around your neighborhood on Saturday.
Have a clutter-free zone. “This area could be a kitchen table, your nightstand, a countertop or a drawer in your kitchen,” Carver said. “Use that clutter-free zone as inspiration to live with less.” That is, you might expand the zone a bit each day. One drawer might turn into a clutter-free dresser, which turns into a clutter-free bedroom.
Declutter monthly. Landis cleans out her closet and trinkets every month. She lets “only the most memorable items remain” (which helps her home remain a sanctuary). You might do the same, or pick another space that tends to get cluttered quickly, and declutter it monthly (e.g., your fridge, bathroom drawers, pantry).
Replace unhelpful habits with small actions. What habits aren’t serving or supporting you? What is making you overwhelmed and stressed? Replace these habits with healthy ones.
Astor shared these examples: Replace your evening glass of wine, social media scrolling or cigarette-smoking with a bath, walk around the block, or a book and cup of tea.
Get rid of 10 pieces of clothing you no longer wear. Or set a timer for 20 minutes, and see how much clothing you can toss in a donation bin. Or participate in Carver’s minimalist fashion challenge Project 333, which involves dressing with 33 items or less for 3 months.
Automate one repetitive task. Think about a task you do regularly, and consider if you can automate it. For instance, you might create a template for an email you often send to your colleagues or clients. You might sign up for auto-pay for your mortgage and water and electric bills.
Use tiny steps. Going slow and steady can create lasting change. For instance, Carver wanted to create a meaningful morning routine. These are the tiny steps she took to get there: Instead of pushing snooze another time, she did 5 minutes of yoga. A week later, she replaced another 5 minutes of snoozing with writing. The week after that, she added 5 minutes of meditating. For the next 5 weeks, every week, she added 1 minute to each activity.
Simplifying your life may sometimes require making difficult decisions and big changes. But often there are many things you can do that are small and simple. Which is critical when you’re already feeling harried and overwhelmed. So pick a tip that resonates with you, and go ahead, and get started.
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