Simplicity isn’t easy.
Two years ago, amidst a crisis and a career change, I decided to simplify my life, get rid of the junk and focus on what I wanted to do. I’m not all the way there yet, but I’m heading in the right direction.
In the end, it just took three simple, but difficult, steps.
1. Develop a life philosophy.
Before you make any major (or even minor) changes, you need to know why you’re changing your life. You need a purpose. You need a prioritization system.
You need a life philosophy, a distilled set of principles that reflect your values.
To understand your values is to understand how you want to spend your time. Different people have different life philosophies. Some value family and quality time with their spouses and children. Others prefer friends or work. Unless your value system involves mass murders, your values aren’t any better or worse than others.
Your life philosophy is a statement of what makes you happy and gives you purpose in life. It’s not something to be taken lightly.
Personally, my purpose in life is to connect with others through my stories. That’s my first priority. That’s my life philosophy. I also care about my friends, family and the world, but whenever I must make a choice, I’ll usually choose writing.
2. Divide up your tasks into must-dos and want-dos, and eliminate everything else.
You have to do some things even if it doesn’t fit into your life philosophy, like pay taxes, eat and sleep. These are necessary things that you can’t avoid (without suffering horrible consequences, at least).
On the other hand, you have your want-dos, the things that you love doing when you’re not paying your taxes, calling your mom, and fixing the garbage disposal. Accomplishing the must-dos makes it possible for you to have time and space to achieve your want-dos. After all, it’s hard to write that novel you’ve alway wanted to write if you’re constantly fighting the IRS and a roach infestation.
Everything else? Junk them. They’re a waste of your time. Yes, I’m talking about looking at LOLCat pictures! (Unless, of course, you want your life purpose to be ‘looking at LOLCats and giggling … unless, of course that is part of your life philosophy and you want some levity.)
2a. For the must–dos, automate or outsource as much as possible.
I hate chores, but without them, I’d starve to death covered in grime and other unmentionables. As much as I love writing, I’m not willing to risk death for it.
To ease the burden of chores, I use Amazon to send me rice, soap, shampoo–all these boring essentials of life–regularly so I don’t have to think about it. I set up automatic payments for my bills. And so on.
Of course, not everyone can afford a housekeeper, accountant, personal assistant and all these groovy services. To solve this problem, I automated myself. I set up a daily routine of vacuuming and cleaning. 15 minutes of tidying up a day reduced my overall stress level and kept my home clutter-free…without a housekeeper.
You can’t do everything, so don’t try to.
3. Reduce clutter, both physical and mental.
Clutter is more than untidiness. It’s superfluity. It’s excess. With unnecessary things piling up in our homes, offices and minds, simplicity becomes impossible.
3a. Reduce your environment to the essentials and the wanted.
Three years ago, when I moved 2,000 miles across the country. I had to get rid of a good 2/3 of my crap. I had shoes that I never wore. I had jackets that I loathed. I had gifts that were useless, but felt too guilty to donate or throw away. It took me nearly a month, dozens of CraigList postings (plus some skeevy requests) and a big dumpster, but I did it. It hurt, but I did it.
Getting rid of things is easy; staying simple isn’t easy.
Getting new and better things isn’t a bad thing. Staying simple doesn’t mean that you revert to a 1800s lifestyle. It just means that you need to think before you rush to the cash register at Costco: Do I need or want this? Does this fit my life philosophy?
Of course, you’ll be faced with tough choices: that snazzy new TV with 3-D and Wi-Fi connection or your old, perfectly usable TV. Choose wisely, young one.
3b. Go on an information diet.
We live in a wonderful world where information is no longer the exclusive domain of the wealthy, the educated and the privileged. That Internet has democratized information to such a degree that anyone with an Internet connection can look up almost anything. But that doesn’t mean that we should look up everything.
The sheer amount of information available has led to data bloat. Information is presented in such a way where the unimportant is equally accessible (and trumpeted) as the important. It’s easy to forget that it takes time to consume the information, time that could be better spent elsewhere.
This is where your life philosophy becomes crucial. Think about what kind of information will advance your life philosophy (will it make you a better parent? A better friend? A better thinker? A better worker?) If the answer is no, don’t read it. Turn off the monitor or phone and do something more useful.
Two years ago, I used to read all of the political and news outlets. I knew what was going on in Sudan as well as I knew what was going on down the street. I felt like I needed to be up-to-date with world affairs to be a good person. Except…well, the data didn’t help me achieve my goal of writing a book. In fact, it distracted me from my goal. So, I simply stopped reading news outlets, perusing blogs and watching news programs.
You know what? I’m far happier now. I focus on what I care about–writing and storytelling. Now that my mind isn’t occupied by yet another scandal, I have time to read and write. Yes, I’m not the most well-informed person, but now I have time and energy to create, not just consume. Some people’s values will drive them to consume news. That’s cool, but it’s just not my value system. (I do hope, however, that these people let me know if the apocalypse is coming.)
3c. Be friends with people whom you want to be friends with.
Sounds deceptively easy and simple, right? It’s not. Unsuitable friends can clutter up your life just like shoes and TMZ can.
Most friendships are formed through convenience. You two happened to go to the same school, work at the same place, et cetera. That’s great, but it does not make for lasting friendships.
Look hard at your friends and think, do I really value my time with them? If the answer is yes, have fun hanging out with them. If the answer is no, then don’t go clubbing and drinking with them just because they’re a warm, willing body.
Make real friends.
4. Remember that a simple life isn’t easy.
Simplicity on your own terms requires constant discipline. You have to say no often, and you may make others angry or sad when you demur.
It’s your life, live it on your own terms.
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