Our lives have too many moving parts.
First, there are all the things you should be doing. Work hard. Pay attention to your family. Exercise regularly. Volunteer.
Then there is the myriad of distractions around us. Social media. Video games. Netflix. Online porn. Consumerism.
Between duties and time wasters, we have no space to ourselves. It makes us yearn for a life of simplicity.
Learn what factors complicate our lives, why minimalism is not an exercise in asceticism, and how to go about de-stressing your life.
How I Got Started On Simple Living
Around 2010, a thought started forming in my head — “What if I got rid of it all?”
I had noticed that whenever I simplified my life, my happiness levels would increase. For example, whenever I decluttered my apartment, I would feel elated afterward.
But I was irrationally afraid. I somehow felt that getting rid of it all my stuff was an irreversible decision.
I carried this idea around for several years, until in late 2014, I finally made the cut. I sold almost everything I owned — all furniture, houseware items, most of my clothes. I was now living in a virtually empty apartment.
The breakdown I had feared didn’t happen. On the contrary, I felt like a massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
This later provided the basis for traveling the world as a digital nomad, something I had always dreamed of. Since all my stuff was already gone, letting go of my apartment was not that big of a deal anymore.
But I also soon realized that getting rid of my material belongings was only the first step. To indeed arrive at a life of simplicity, I had to extend the idea of “Less but better” to all other areas of my life.
Digital clutter was next. I thought I was already pretty organized, but upon closer inspection, I realized I had accumulated a massive digital archive.
Over the course of several weeks, I deleted thousands of files on my computer, most of which I had never even opened.
I also applied a minimalist mindset to my life goals. Specifically, I took stock of all the open loops in my life — business ideas I had, activities I wanted to try, places I longed to visit, unfulfilled sexual fantasies, etc. What I came up with was a long list.
Then, I crossed out most items on that list.
It was painful. Deciding that I wouldn’t do X or pursue Y felt like I was burying a part of myself. I only kept a handful of goals, those things I knew I absolutely had to try before I die.
But when I came out on the other side, I again experienced a massive wave of relief. Another weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
For me, this is what a life of simplicity comes down to. In every area of my life, you should cut the fat. What you will be left with in the end is freedom.
Simplicity is always the secret, to a profound truth, to doing things, to writing, to painting. Life is profound in its simplicity.Charles Bukowski
A life of simplicity comes with numerous benefits.
The fewer time commitments you have, the more you can act spontaneously. If a friend calls, you can meet up with them. If you feel like going on a trip, you just do.
A simple life leads to clarity. With more mental bandwidth, it becomes easier to make decisions.
More Financial Reserves
The less you consume, the more money you can save up. This will result in more financial wriggle room.
The fewer moving parts your life has, the less stressed out you will feel. Tranquility will be your new normal.
By cutting back on consumerism, you will leave a smaller ecological footprint.
Less Mental Issues
A life of simplicity acts as an antidote to anxiety, burnout, and depression.
When you experience less stress, you will fall asleep faster and get deeper, restoring sleep.
The less stuff you own, the more geographically mobile you become. You can easily travel or move cities.
What Affects Complexity in Life?
There are three factors that are responsible for most of the complexity in our lives:
- The stuff you own
- Your personal finances
- Your time commitments
1. The Stuff You Own
Each of us owns thousands of different items — clothes, books, household items, electronics, cars, etc. And we constantly buy more stuff.
This stuff increases complexity:
- We need to create space for all the things we own, e.g., by renting storage space.
- We need to maintain our things, e.g., take the car to the garage.
- We need to clean our stuff, e.g., dust off our Blu-ray collection.
- We need to sort our things, e.g., clear out our wardrobe.
- As buyers, we need to do research, e.g., compare different laptop models online.
2. Your Personal Finances
If you are constantly wondering how you are going to pay the bills this month, this will stress you out.
Being in debt will make matters even worse. As long as you have your student loan or your credit card debt looming over your head, you will never have peace of mind.
3. Your Time Commitments
We spend half our time awake working. The other half is filled with family commitments and chores.
The more of these obligations you have, the more complicated your life gets. You are constantly juggling appointments to make other people happy. Simplicity will elude you.
How These 3 Factors Work Together
These three factors — property, finances, and time commitments — are all connected. They form an almost inescapable net.
For starters, our financial situation is directly related to how much we consume.
The more things we buy, the more we get into financial deep water. To keep up with the Joneses, we take out mortgages, we get loans, we max out our credit cards, etc.
This, in turn, chains us to our 9-to-5 job. To fix our finances, we need to make more money.
So, we work even longer hours to impress our bosses and get that raise. We are now constantly pressed for time.
Understandably, when we finally get off work, we want nothing more but decompress. Hence, we go to a chic restaurant or buy a new pair of designer shoes.
And so, we are back to consuming. The vicious circle starts over.
How To Start Your Life of Simplicity
Here are 14 strategies to radically simplify your life.
1. Quit Your 9 to 5
For most people, the primary source of stress is their miserable 9 to 5. If you really want to live a simple life, you need to get out of the rat race.
There are different ways to accomplish that:
- Find a minimalist job that causes considerably less stress than your current job.
- Start a passion business, as you will now be doing something you are excited about.
- Keep your job, but save 70 percent of your income. This will allow you to retire early.
- Radically cut your costs to the point where you only need to work odd jobs.
2. Do What You Love
Our lives have too many moving parts.
But when you do what you love, this changes. You might have a lot of items on your to-do list, but since they are all related to your passion in life, you don’t view them as bothersome.
Go for what you love. Start that yoga studio. Create that YouTubue channel. Buy that horse ranch.
3. Focus On One Thing
We want it all — the perfect body, a great relationship, a high-paying job, exciting hobbies, adventurous travels, etc.
But this is not realistic.
You only have a limited amount of energy. Instead of spreading yourself thin over 10 different projects, pick one thing and go all in.
Not only is this a great way to simplify your life, but it’s also a guarantee of success. If you give one thing all you got, it will virtually become impossible to fail.
4. Choose Quality Over Quantity
Quantity leads to complexity. Quality leads to clarity.
So, go for less but better.
Instead of owning many things, own only a few high-quality items.
Instead of having many acquaintances, have a handful of close friends.
Instead of juggling many business projects, zoom in on one venture.
5. Plan for a Buffer
Whatever you are about to do, plan for a 50-percent buffer.
If you have a sales call that should take one hour, plan for one and a half. If you need to buy groceries and think it should take you 30 minutes, plan for 45.
This way, when things take longer — which they often do — you won’t get stressed out.
6. Consider Moving
The place we live in directly influences our anxiety levels. It makes a big difference if you are living in downtown Manhattan or residing in a Tuscan fishing village.
If you are serious about a life of simplicity, move somewhere serene. Or at least consider getting a second home in such a location.
7. Let Go of FOMO
I have a friend who suffers from massive fear of missing out. He must go to every party, attend every event, and meet every person. Even when he is sick, he can’t stay home, imagining something great might pass him by.
But by being everywhere, you are being nowhere.
Pick one thing and enjoy the heck out of it. Stop wondering about the alternatives.
8. Try Monk Mode
In monk mode, you cut out all distractions. This includes:
- All social media
- TV and Netflix
- Internet porn
- Mindless socializing
- Dating around
Instead, you focus on your one thing, your most important project in life.
You typically do this for a specified amount of time, e.g., for three months.
What sounds restrictive is actually liberating. Suddenly, your days will be wide open. You will get lots of meaningful work done but still have time to keep fit and be outside.
8. Minimize Digital Distractions
If you don’t want to go full monk mode, at least minimize digital distractions:
- Unfollow most people online, especially people that make you feel bad.
- Delete all apps that you haven’t used in the last four weeks.
- Turn off all notifications on your phone.
- Only check your messages once a day.
- Unsubscribe from all email lists.
- Put your phone in silent mode throughout the day.
- Two hours before bedtime, turn off your phone completely.
- Install a monitoring app to understand how much time we waste online.
9. Spend Time Outside
Few things will de-stress you like spending time in nature. Make this a daily habit, and you will soon experience more peace.
Here are some ideas:
- Right after waking up, get outside and sit in the sun for 15 minutes. Take off as many clothes as possible to maximize vitamin D production.
- Every morning, pack your food for your lunch break. Then, during lunch break, go outside, find a patch of grass, and eat your lunch there.
- Every day after work, drive to a nearby park and walk for an hour. If the weather allows, take off your shoes and walk around barefoot.
- Every weekend, go for an extensive hike. Drive to a forest or a mountain, leave your car, and switch to explorer mode.
10. Learn To Say “No”
It is imperative that you learn to say “No.” If you keep trying to please everybody, you will lose yourself.
There are several ways to say “No” politely:
- You could point the other person to another, better resource.
- You could buy yourself time by responding, “Let me get back to you by email.”
- You could excuse yourself by saying, “Unfortunately, I’m busy with work.”
It’s good to know these options. But sometimes, you just have to be blunt, for someone to get the message. Practice that as well.
In any case, make “No” your default answer. Be polite or direct about it, but make yourself understood. This is how you protect your focus.
11. Buy Less Stuff
The less stuff you own, the less complexity you will experience. No complicated buying decisions, no maintenance, no repairs.
What is not there cannot bother you.
Hence, every time you feel the impulse to purchase something, ask yourself first:
- Do I really need this item? Will I not make do without it?
- Will this purchase save me time? Or will it encourage me to waste time?
- Will this item bring me lasting joy? Or will I just get a quick high from buying it?
12. Learn To Meditate
Meditation allows you to step out of your busy mind. It’s like taking a vacation from yourself.
Don’t overcomplicate this. Go somewhere quiet, sit down, and close your eyes. Now observe yourself.
If you are feeling anxious, observe yourself being anxious — your rapid breath, your high heart rate, the negative self-talk. If you are excited, watch yourself being excited. If you are bored, behold all the signs of boredom.
Don’t try to suppress anything, just watch. Do this for long enough, and a wonderful, deep contentedness will set in.
13. Practice Gratitude
Again, keep it simple. Sit down for 10 minutes at night with a journal and reflect on what you are thankful for in life. Pen three or four sentences, done.
Alternatively, if you don’t feel weird doing so, talk to yourself. I like to do so during my daily walk. I will discuss with myself all that is going well at the moment; it lifts my mood like nothing else.