We all have so many possessions now, so many places to go and so many things to do that we wear ourselves out just trying to keep things straight. Not surprisingly, the desire to simplify life has become very important in recent years.
Three forces make life more complicated than it has to be:
- Consumerism. Modern society is shaped by a powerful consumerist drive that makes us want more and more objects that we don’t really need. We work harder to afford them and take up precious time acquiring and using them while they are still novel. Then, it’s hard for us to get rid of them even after we have tired of them.
- Lack of boundaries. We find it easier to say “yes” when offered new objects, experiences and places. And, even when we really want to say “no,” we often say “yes” when others ask for the use of some of our limited resource of time.
- Distractions. Keeping our lives complicated gives us an excuse to avoid serious thinking about our real needs and desires, which might involve uncomfortable changes.
Simple Ways to Simplify
It is compelling to simplify your life drastically overnight, but you can succeed surprisingly quickly by taking one small step at a time.
Set aside some time—a few hours to a few days—to think about your true priorities.
To find time to think:
- Get up an hour earlier,
- stay in the office an hour after work,
- stop watching TV,
- limit social phone calls,
- don’t go shopping except for food.
Find a distraction-free environment and write out the answers to a few simple questions:
- What parts of my life are complicating it right now—and how can I simplify them?
- What are the most important things in my life?
- What can I stop doing so I can focus on my priorities?
One of your toughest tasks may be forcing yourself to pay attention to your answers. You may be hearing things you don’t want to hear. Your inner voice may be telling you that what you need to do is quit your job or find a new career or move on from a relationship that isn’t working.
Getting Rid of Stuff
Your house is probably full of all sorts of things that you don’t need now—if, in fact, you ever did. One incentive to get rid of the clutter is to realize that if you don’t, your children will eventually be left with the task.
How to get started:
- Linen closet. Throw out all the worn-out bed sheets. Give away towels that don’t match your current decor…as well as any table linens you never use. Many people would be happy to have them.
- Kitchen. Clear the shelves of all the pots, pans, appliances and gadgets you have not touched in years.
- Closets. Sell or give away whatever you don’t care about. It’s OK to keep items you are sentimentally attached to—but if they take up a lot of space, consider just photographing them and keeping the pictures to preserve their memory.
Hint #1: Imagine all your possessions had been destroyed in a fire. Keep only things you would feel you absolutely had to replace.
Hint #2: Ask a friend to go through your things with you and help you decide what to get rid of.
Keeping Things Simple
To keep from rebuilding the clutter you have just eliminated, follow two rules:
- Rule #1: Keep a 30-day list. If you are in a store and feel a powerful urge to buy something, write it down on your list together with the date. Decide 30 days later if you still want the object.
- Rule #2: Every time you buy something new, get rid of one thing you already own. Better still: Get rid of two things.
Simplify Your Time
Some simple ways to accomplish routine tasks…
- Household chores. Schedule particular tasks on fixed days each week.
- Meal preparation. Make a weekly menu plan with a standard meal for each day of die week. This simplifies meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking.
- Bill paying. Most companies that send regular monthly bills are happy to arrange an automatic payment schedule with your bank. You only have to fill out a form once—and remember to keep enough money in the bank.
Elaine St. James, lecturer located in Santa Barbara, California, and author of several best-selling books, including Living the Simple Life.