Perhaps Cary Grant was correct, “My formula for living is quite simple. I get up in the morning and I go to bed at night. In between, I occupy myself as best I can.”
A simple life has a different meaning and a different value for every person. For me, it means eliminating all but the essential, eschewing chaos for peace, and spending your time doing what’s important to you.
It means getting rid of many of the things you do so you can spend time with people you love and do the things you love. It means getting rid of the clutter so you are left with only that which gives you value.
However, getting to simplicity isn’t always a simple process. It’s a journey, not a destination, and it can often be a journey of two steps forward, and one backward.
If you’re interested in simplifying your life, this is a great starter’s guide (if you’re not interested, move on).
The Short List
For the cynics who say that the list below is too long, there are really only two steps to simplifying:
- Identify what’s most important to you.
- Eliminate everything else.
Of course, that’s not terribly useful unless you can see how to apply that to different areas of your life, so I present to you the Long List.
The Long List
There can be no step-by-step guide to simplifying your life, but I’ve compiled an incomplete list of ideas that should help anyone trying to find the simple life. Not every tip will work for you — choose the ones that appeal and apply to your life.
One important note: this list will be criticized for being too complicated, especially as it provides a bunch of links. Don’t stress out about all of that. Just choose one at a time, and focus on that. When you’re done with that, focus on the next thing.
- Make a list of your top 4-5 important things. What’s most important to you? What do you value most? What 4-5 things do you most want to do in your life? Simplifying starts with these priorities, as you are trying to make room in your life so you have more time for these things.
- Evaluate your commitments. Look at everything you’ve got going on in your life. Everything, from work to home to civic to kids’ activities to hobbies to side businesses to other projects. Think about which of these really gives you value, which ones you love doing. Which of these are in line with the 4-5 most important things you listed above? Drop those that aren’t in line with those things.
- Evaluate your time. How do you spend your day? What things do you do, from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep? Make a list, and evaluate whether they’re in line with your priorities. If not, eliminate the things that aren’t, and focus on what’s important. Redesign your day.
- Simplify work tasks. Our work day is made up of an endless list of work tasks. If you simply try to knock off all the tasks on your to-do list, you’ll never get everything done, and worse yet, you’ll never get the important stuff done. Focus on the essential tasks and eliminate the rest.
- Simplify home tasks. In that vein, think about all the stuff you do at home. Sometimes our home task list is just as long as our work list. And we’ll never get that done either. So focus on the most important, and try to find ways to eliminate the other tasks (automate, eliminate, delegate, or hire help).
- Learn to say no. This is actually one of the key habits for those trying to simplify their lives. If you can’t say no, you will take on too much.
- Limit your communications. Our lives these days are filled with a vast flow of communications: email, IM, cell phones, paper mail, Skype, Twitter, forums, and more. It can take up your whole day if you let it. Instead, put a limit on your communications: only do email at certain times of the day, for a certain number of minutes (I recommend twice a day, but do what works for you). Only do IM once a day, for a limited amount of time. Limit phone calls to certain times too. Same with any other communications. Set a schedule and stick to it.
- Limit your media consumption. This tip won’t be for everyone, so if media consumption is important to you, please skip it (as with any of the other tips). However, I believe that the media in our lives — TV, radio, Internet, magazines, etc. — can come to dominate our lives. Don’t let it. Simplify your life and your information consumption by limiting it. Try a media fast.
- Purge your stuff. If you can devote a weekend to purging the stuff you don’t want, it feels seriously terrific. Get boxes and trash bags for the stuff you want to donate or toss. More on purging below. Read More
- Get rid of the big items. There’s tons of little clutter in our lives, but if you start with the big items, you’ll simplify your life quickly and in a big way.
- Edit your rooms. One room at a time, go around the room and eliminate the unnecessary. Act as a newspaper editor, trying to leave only the minimum, and deleting everything else.
- Edit closets and drawers. Once you’ve gone through the main parts of your rooms, tackle the closets and drawers, one drawer or shelf at a time.
- Simplify your wardrobe. Is your closet bursting full? Are your drawers so stuffed they can’t close (I’m talking about dresser drawers here, not underwear). Simplify your wardrobe by getting rid of anything you don’t actually wear. Try creating a minimal wardrobe by focusing on simple styles and a few solid colors that all match each other.
- Simplify your computing life. If you have trouble with too many files and too much disorganization, consider online computing. It can simplify things greatly.
- Declutter your digital packrattery. If you are a digital packrat, and cannot seem to control your digital clutter, there is still hope for you. Read More
- Create a simplicity statement. What do you want your simple life to look like? Write it out.
- Limit your buying habits. If you are a slave to materialism and consumerism, there are ways to escape it. I was there, and although I haven’t escaped these things entirely, I feel much freer of it all. If you can escape materialism, you can get into the habit of buying less. And that will mean less stuff, less spending, less freneticism.
- Free up time. Find ways to free up time for the important stuff. That means eliminating the stuff you don’t like, cutting back on time wasters, and making room for what you want to do.
- Do what you love. Once you’ve freed up some time, be sure to spend that extra time doing things you love. Go back to your list of 4-5 important things. Do those, and nothing else. Read more.
- Spend time with people you love. Again, the list of 4-5 important things probably contains some of the people you love (if not, you may want to re-evaluate). Whether those people are a spouse, a partner, children, parents, other family, best friends, or whoever, find time to do things with them, talk to them, be intimate with them (not necessarily in sexual ways).
- Spend time alone. Free up time for yourself — to spend in solitude. Alone time is good for you, although some people aren’t comfortable with it. It could take practice getting used to the quiet, and making room for your inner voice. It sounds new-agey, I know, but it’s extremely calming. And this quiet is necessary for finding out what’s important to you. Read more