The Importance of Simplifying Your LifeNov 05, 2020
Take a good look at your lifestyle. I think it is safe to say that most of us live under such a cloud clutter that we have long forgotten what it is like to live a simple life. In fact, we are so far down that path that we no longer even think about simplifying our life.
There are also many things that clutter our lives and yet produce no value. Our homes are cluttered with possessions. Our business lives are cluttered with busy work and meetings. Our personal time is cluttered with endless emails, voicemails, text messages, and phone calls. Furthermore, our personal and family lives are cluttered with an endless list of obligations. To make matters even more stressful, our financial lives are buried under a crushing load of debt.
There are so many things in our lives that cost us money every month and yet do not truly enrich us. Most people never even realize how much this clutter and the long list of meaningless obligations eats away our time and our back accounts.
The point being, it is time to think about simplifying your life. That is the point of this post.
Table of Contents
Simplifying Your Life is a Journey
There is a lot of value in having a simple life. But for most people the road to getting there is not easy. The process of producing a simple life is more akin to a journey than setting a simple short-term goal to get to a destination.
The value in having a simple life is different for each person. For me it means getting rid of the clutter so that I am left with only the things that bring me value. It means getting rid of the unnecessary so that I spend time doing the things I love. It means having more time to spend with the people I love. But, as I said, for many people just getting there is a journey. Allow me to share something from my personal experience.
How I Simplified My Life
There was a time in my life when I was neck deep in student loans, automobile loans, credit cards, and a mortgage. It was the result of nine years of school, purchasing a large tract of land one year out of school, followed by some unexpected moderate to severe financial difficulties.
Eventually, as if I needed another challenge, I paid off one property and bought another. I wanted a snow bird lifestyle. My work week averaged somewhere between 60 and 80 hours. I was living only to work and make as much money as I could. Like so many others, I thought this was the road to getting ahead. Consequently I kept working harder and harder and harder. All the while only wanting simplicity.
After a 14 month stint of working between 80 to 120 hours a week, I reached such a point of burnout that I literally walked away from everything I was doing. I took 9 weeks off. I returned to the cabin and spent much of my time hiking, sitting on the mountainside, and completely avoiding humanity. It was during this time that I realized if I ever wanted the simple life I longed for that I was going to have to make significant changes.
I systematically paid off one debt at a time. I first took all of the extra money I made over the previous year and a half and paid off the land mortgage. I then focused on my higher interest debt. When I got to the point that one debt was paid off, I took what I was paying on that debt and applied it to another debt on top of my normal payment. After about two years things began to snowball. I was paying enormous amounts of money on a single debt and digging out of my financial hole at an accelerated rate.
Since I had purchased the second home just before the big market crash in 2008, I had to hang onto that house for a few years. I spent that time doing some updating on the house that truly cost me very little money. In the end, those improvements made all the difference in selling the property.
Eventually I sold my second home at a $10,000 loss. However, the result of that decision was that I was finally debt free for the first time in my adult life. Since I was moving cross country and back into a much smaller place, I donated half of the contents of that home to a local charity. Because I was now debt free, I was able to recover the financial loss on the home in less than 6 months by working a little extra. I considered this a very small price to pay for downsizing my life and producing a huge increase in personal freedom.
After that I took my extra money, from working very part-time, and paid cash for massive improvements on the cabin property that was already paid off. My intention was to develop a functional off-grid homestead, be as self sufficient as possible, and live as simple as possible. It took me about three years of work to accomplish just that.
All of these changes were a very difficult process for me, even painful at times. It took a tremendous amount of discipline, sacrifice and commitment to reach my goal. But I now know from personal experience that you have to focus and stay committed to your goal of simplicity. It truly is a journey, not a destination.
The Value of Simplifying Your Life
There is a lot of value in having a simple life. Yet the journey toward simplicity is not an easy road. It will require some sacrifice, you will have to let go of certain things, disconnect yourself in certain ways, and learn to say no. It may in fact require you to limit the number of people in your life. But, I can tell you from personal experience, it is worth the effort.
Ultimately I think the value in simplifying your life is different for each person.For me it means getting rid of the clutter so that I am left with only the things that bring me value. It means getting rid of all the extra things that I do that waste my time. Consequently, I can spend time doing the things that I love and spend time with the people I love. However, getting there is not necessarily a simple process. It is more akin to a journey.
The End Result of Simplifying Your Life
The end result is that you will have increased personal time, increased financial freedom, and the assurance that everything in your life is there for a reason and everything in your life actually produces tangible benefits.
One of the most important steps you can take toward simplifying your life is getting rid of debt. Being debt free is a necessity in order to relieve the economic pressure that most people live with everyday.
The average person spends the best years of their life paying off a huge debt load. Then they try to have some reasonable lifestyle in their retirement. You do not have to do this. With a little forethought and planning, the debt that you have can be easily managed. It does not have to be a deciding factor in how you live. Allow me to share something from my personal experience.
There was a time in my life when I was neck deep in student loans, automobile loans, credit cards, and a mortgage. As if I needed another challenge, I paid off one property and bought another. My work week averaged somewhere between 80 and 120 hours. I was living only to work and make as much money as I could.
Obviously, a change was necessary. I systematically paid off one debt at a time, starting first with the higher interest debt. When one debt was paid off, I took what I was paying on that debt and applied it to another debt on top of my normal payment. After about two years things really began to snowball. I was paying enormous amounts of money on a single debt and digging out of my financial hole at an accelerated rate.
I eventually sold my second home at a small loss. I then donated half of the contents of that home to a local charity. I was finally debt free. Because of that I was able to recover the money I lost on the house in less than 6 months by working a little extra. I considered this a very small price to pay for downsizing my life and producing a huge increase in personal freedom. I then took my extra money, from working very part-time, and paid cash for massive improvements on my other property that was already paid off. Not to mention that this property is 100% off grid.
All of these changes were a very difficult process for me, even painful at times. I know from personal experience that you have to focus and stay committed to your goal of simplicity. It truly is a journey, not a destination.
The Short Version of Achieving Simplicity
There are many resources available to help you reach your goal of simplicity. I reviewed a lot of articles and even read several books in order to find the best ways to make my life as simple as possible. Some of which I will refer to below.
If you truly want to distill this process down to something that is as simple as possible, then do the following two things:
- Identify what is truly important to you, the things that bring you value, give you happiness, and produce the kind of life you really want.
- Eliminate everything else.
20 Tips for Simplifying Your Life
For a little more indepth information, continue reading. The following 20 tips are a great place to start and will provide some direction for simplifying your life. I have personally done everyone of these things.
1) Make a list of the things that are most important to you.
It only needs to be a list of the top 4-5 things. Simplifying begins with determining your priorities. You then have to make room in your life for these 4-5 things.
2) Evaluate your possessions and de-clutter your life.
As you can see from my personal example above, too many material possessions complicate your life far more than you think. They drain your energy, time, attention, and money. If it does not bring you value, get rid of it. A great technique for decluttering your life is to pack things away in a box and tape it closed. Store it away for a year. If you have not needed it for that amount of time, get rid of it.
3) Limit your spending
Learn when enough is enough. Our present economy is built on consumerism, constant spending, and constant growth. No one, not even our government, accepts the fact that this is not sustainable.
Get off the spending treadmill and stop trying to keep up with everyone else. Limit what you purchase to things that you will have and use on a long-term basis. Learn to fix things instead of buying something new. Your bank account will be much better for it.
4) Limit your personal commitments
Your first priority should be to set up a life that is in line with your personal values. If you find that your days are filled with various activities from beginning to end, it is time to reassess your situation. If your time commitments to work, home, community events, religious endeavors, neighbors, friends, etc, are not in line with what you truly value, you obviously need to make some changes.
Spend some time thinking about all of the commitments you have in your life. How many of those commitments actually bring you value? How many of those things are actually in line with your list of the top 4 to 5 things that are most important?
The simple fact is that most of us feel a lot of social pressure to “get involved”. To help do something about all the things that are wrong in the world. But, the bottom line is that you are only responsible for you!!! You are only responsible for your own happiness. You are only responsible for your own life.
I spent about 15 years traveling to various countries doing volunteer work in medical clinics. I truly feel that I made a difference for literally hundreds of lives during that time. But, I realized one day that I was growing tired of always doing things for other people. I stopped doing volunteer work and started doing things for myself instead. I started traveling for fun instead of work. I enjoyed hiking in different countries. I also became a certified scuba diving and started making numerous new friends.
My point being, think carefully about your commitments. Be certain those commitments are in line with what brings you value.
5) Learn to say no
This is directly related to the point above. It is a key point in simplifying your life. Learn to say no to commitments that suck time away from the things that bring you value. The challenge can be that if everyone around you is accustomed to you saying “yes”, once you start saying “no” it will likely come as a shock to them. They may suddenly view you as being anti-social.
If it helps, sit down and type up a list of great excuses you can have ready to blurt out at a seconds notice. This way you are always prepared. It may take some time for people to get accustomed to your new demeanor. But, it has worked well for me.
Most of my friends have been in my life for many years. I like keeping a small group of close friends and family. It limits my social commitments and I always know that the time needed to maintain these relationships is well spent. These people are also accustomed to my need for a certain amount of solitude. Consequently, when I disappear for days, or even weeks, they never think much about it nor do they get offended.
6) Limit your communications and your connections to the world.
I am old enough to remember when most people did not even have a phone in their house. If you really needed to talk to them, you had to go to their house. Presently every corner of our lives is invaded by a vast flow of communications: instant messaging, email, text messaging, cell phones, Skype, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
Relationships are a very good and healthy thing. But constant distraction is the modern technological form of Attention Deficit Disorder. This constant stream of communication with others makes many people feel important and needed. However, it makes it impossible to focus on anything.
There are certain people in my life that are on my “short list”. That means if someone on my short list attempts to communicate with me, I will respond in a very short period of time. Everyone else can wait. I recommend you do the same.Eliminate the constant interruption. PUT DOWN YOUR CELL PHONE!! Check messages, email, etc, only once or twice a day.
Did you know that a significant amount of research has been done by psychologist regarding how to best illicit an emotional response from someone? That research has been incorporated into the software for many of the apps on your computer, iPad, cell phone, and many other devices. The goal is to illicit a specific response from you so that you spend even more time online, perhaps even spending money. The point being, even when you use your smart phones and laptops to spend time online, you are being manipulated to a certain degree. Why not make the choice to limit that altogether.
Technology enables us to have instant communication with every corner of our lives, and perhaps every corner of the planet. Even though such ability to communicate adds a level of convenience, once you have that convenience you become convinced that you actually need it in order to make life work. But the reality is the exact opposite!
I would venture to say that the average person can count on one hand the number of times in their lives in the last 10 years that they actually had an emergency that needed IMMEDIATE attention. The point being, most things in our lives never need immediate attention and can be put on hold. So why put yourself under the stress that comes with the attitude that everything needs immediate attention NOW.
For me, 99% of the time the sound on my phone is turned off. When I am driving, it is put away where I cannot see it. When I am working on my computer, the phone is either on the desk and turned face down or it is simply put away. Notifications on my computer and iPad are turned off. When I am at work, I check my phone once or twice daily. Many times when I am at home, the phone is completely turned off and the internet modem is disconnected.
Do I miss some things occasionally? Yes! Does missing a few things make a huge difference in my life? No!
7) Limit your screen time and media consumption
Too much media has a profound affect on your values, as well as your attitude and outlook on life. The constant barrage of advertising convinces you to spend money on things that you really don’t need. The constant negative news coverage of various events convinces you that the entire world is a bad, dangerous place. Do you really need to know about some horrible disaster that happened on the other side of the planet 30 minutes ago? Do you really think the constant exposure to crime and violence adds value to your life?
When you are exposed to such things repeatedly it affects you more than you think. For a number of reasons I stopped watching television over 25 years ago. For the first 10 years of that time I actually did not even use the internet regularly. Needless to say, I was oblivious to so many things that went on in the world.
These days, I use the internet regularly and try to be a bit more aware of world events. I will cruise through news pages a couple of times a month to get some idea of major world events. The main reason for this is that I like to travel and want to keep a big picture of what’s going on. These days most of my pleasure reading via the internet focusing on travel, science, National Geographic, outdoor activities, sustainable and off grid living. In other words, I get to learn about some really interesting things.
To this day, I feel my quality of life is greatly improved by eliminating the constant barrage of crime, violence, bad news, gloom and doom. I am not constantly harassed with phone calls, messages, or other distractions that interrupt my peace and quiet when I am not working.
I HIGHLY recommend giving it a try.
8) Learn to live frugally
Most of us can live on far less than what we do. This goes back to decluttering your life. Take a good look at the things in your life that produce value. Excessive materialism not only makes you a slave to your possessions but it also keeps you in debt. When you reach to purchase something, ask yourself if it produces any real value in your life. If it does not, reevaluate. Wait two weeks, or even a month, to make that purchase and then decide if you really need it.
9) Start saving money
Did you know that 69% of all Americans do not even have $1000 in their savings account? Additionally, 50% of American do not even have a spare $400 to take care of an unexpected expense.
It is extremely important to save money on a regular basis. If something unexpected happens, it is easier and a lot less stressful to fix the problem.
I highly recommend always having an emergency fund. I started doing this years ago because I have been self employed for so long. Start with having enough in savings to pay your bills for three months without having to work. Then extend that to 6 months. The end goal is for one year of savings. This will take some time to accomplish, as it did with me. But it truly is a nice security blanket to have in your corner.
10) Downsize your life and become a minimalist.
If you clean up your life and rid yourself of all unnecessary possessions and clutter you will quickly find that you need a lot less living space. Move into a smaller residence. It will be much less expensive and time consuming to maintain. Being a minimalist means you only have what you need.
There are two cabins on my homestead. The original log cabin is about 350 square feet. The second I built is about 600 square feet. Everything in these cabins have more than one function. If not, it is in my way and I get rid of it. When you live in such a small space it quickly becomes very evident what is valuable and what needs to go.
11) Slow down
Eat slowly. Drive slowly. Stop multitasking. Cramming food down your throat, speeding to work, and trying to accomplish several things at once only increases your stress level and is not healthy. Do one thing at a time.
12) Make time for yourself.
Once you de-clutter your life and reduce your debt you will have more free time. Spend that time doing the things you love. Engage in activities that relieve stress. Do the things that make you happy. Engage in activities that lift your spirits. Above all, completely disconnect yourself from the world and spend time alone on a regular basis. Doing this one thing will reduce your stress tremendously.
I often spend time on my deck, which is on the back of the cabin. It over looks the mountains and I cannot see a single house. Nor do I hear a single man made sound. Most frequently this is how I start my day, one full hour of sitting quietly, drinking coffee, pondering things, or not. I sometimes think if we all did this on a regular basis, the world would be a better place.
13) Simplify your work day
A certain portion of our work day is filled with busy work. There always seems to be an endless list of things to do. Not to mention that we get caught up in office politics and gossip that only accomplishes adding more stress to our lives.
Focus only on the things that are most important. Stay away from the gossip and negative conversations. Only spend time with the people in your work place that have a positive outlook.
14) Simply your home life
This goes right along with getting rid of all the excess. With less clutter, cleaning the house and doing other chores will be much easier to accomplish. Not to mention there will be less to do anyway.
Develop a simple routine for doing chores. Turn your yard into something that is quick and easy to maintain. Additionally, thing about purchasing a smaller home or a smaller vehicle.
15) Automate your finances
In today’s digital world, paying bills online is a breeze. Automate this process as much as possible. Most banking institutions offer account services where you can set up recurring payments. Not to mention setting up recurring transfers to your savings account. If your bank does not offer this, then find one that does. By doing so there will be a few less things you have to pay attention to on a month-to-month basis.
16) Opt for free entertainment
How much money do you spend every month on memberships that you never use and on subscriptions that you never read. Instead of paying for those memberships, opt for doing things that are free. With minimal investment you could purchase a small amount of exercise equipment to workout at home. Better yet, do things outside. Additionally, there are numerous free online resources that can provide loads of entertainment.
17) Simply your wardrobe
Did you know that we now spend more time doing laundry than the pioneers did. For that matter, we spend more time doing laundry than what our grandparents used to. If you remember, they had to wash clothes by hand.
Why do we spend so much time doing laundry? One reason is that we have far more clothes than what we ever wear. The other reason is that we have a tendency to wear something only once and it goes in the laundry basket. Before you know it, you spend half of your day off just doing laundry. The answer to the problem is to simplify your wardrobe. Use an article of clothing more than once before putting it in the laundry basket.
I joke about having “city clothes” and “cabin clothes”. But there is actually some truth to that. I have certain clothes I wear when I go to town and go to work because I have to maintain a professional appearance. When I am at home, I spend a lot of time outdoors. Quite often I am wearing some type of work clothing such as Carhartts. The Carhartt outer wear protects my clothes underneath. It keeps them clean and from being destroyed while working outdoors.
My basic wardrobe is extremely limited. It makes my life a lot simpler and I do not spend a tremendous amount of time doing laundry.
18) Create a simply meal plan and cook at home
Meals at home do not need to be complicated. Plan ahead, get organized and make you meals simple and basic. For that matter, cook several large meals per week and eat left overs. This eliminates the necessity to cook every day.
19) Stop eating out
Between 2016 and 2017 Americans spent more money on restaurant food and take out than they actually spent on groceries. The average American spends roughly 45% of their monthly food budget on restaurant food. This means that eating out is becoming the norm, not eating at home. Eating at home can literally save you thousands of dollars per year.
20) Allow extra time for everything
How many times do you find yourself rushing from one thing to the next all day long? Focus only on what is most important. Allow extra time so that you can drive slowly to work. Allow extra time for grocery shopping and running errands. This technique alone will greatly reduce your stress.
In the beginning of my process of simplification I did not have a specific plan. I did not have a list of things to follow that was going to get me where I wanted and needed to go. I just had a tendency to focus on one thing at a time. It was indeed difficult at first. But the rewards of what I did were amazing. I never regret any of my choices because I now have a much better quality of life.
Ultimately the ways in which you simplify your life is a matter of personal choice. The important thing is that you commit to some positive personal change and make it happen.
I spent a reasonable amount of time researching the topic of simplifying your life. The 20 points above are things that I distilled down into what I considered the most important. I also read a couple of books on the topic just for fun. The two books that I found the most enlightening for me are as follows:
How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World by Harry Browne
Simplify Your Life, 100 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Things That Really Matter. by Elaine St. James.
I realize that some of these changes may be a slow process. I know this from personal experience. But you have to focus and stay committed to your goal. Ultimately the ways in which you simplify your life is a matter of personal choice. The important thing is that you commit to some positive personal change and make it happen.
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