I remember the day we began to live simply.
After spending half of the summer cruising with our daughter on a 29-foot sailboat, my husband and I were overwhelmed by the amount of clutter in our four bedroom house. We went through the house, room-by-room, questioning anything that had not been necessary while living on the boat. We filled our station wagon, making twice-daily trips to Goodwill for a week.
The end result was a lifestyle that was immediately calmer. We had more time to spend together, and we noticed that our daughter, who has autism, made marked improvements across the board. We were happy, our communication improved, and we began to talk about the next steps our life would take.
In our case, those next steps involved emptying our house completely, moving across the country, and living aboard a sailboat full time. We might be called “extreme minimalists,” but it is possible to experience the benefits of a simpler lifestyle without having to take such drastic measures.
More and more studies are showing the benefits of taking small steps to simplify your life. A little less screen time, a few less toys, and a slight decrease in stimulation can reap great rewards.
Here are some ways in which a simpler lifestyle can benefit you, physically and emotionally:
1. Less television will improve your brain function.
In her article, Electronic Sunset: What Overstimulation Does to Our Days and Nights, published on Huffington Post, Tracy Marks, MD, explains that studies have shown that fast-paced television impairs executive functioning in children and adults. What is executive functioning? It is a set of skills, including planning, working memory, problem solving, and impulse inhibition. While executive functioning is more impaired in children who watch fast-paced programs, adults are also affected.
As we’ve had less “noise” in our lives, I noticed that I remember names and other details much better. My mind feels less cluttered. I used to have to write everything down, and I am needing to do this less now.
2. Simplifying will help you sleep better.
According to Marks, multi-tasking leads to stress and burn-out. Being constantly “plugged in” and trying to complete too many tasks at once greatly increases stress levels. Difficulty sleeping is often one of the first signs that the mind and body are over-stressed. She reports that children and adults who spend too much time trying to do many things at once often end up suffering from a lack of sleep as a result.
This is a benefit of simplicity that my husband and daughter both have noticed. He used to have insomnia nearly every night, and now he has fewer sleepless nights. Our daughter used to throw a tantrum at bedtime, because she was unable to fall asleep. Since we’ve moved onto the boat, she has started putting herself to bed at a reasonable hour. The decrease in stimulation has helped to regulate her sleep-wake cycles.
3. Having less stimulation will help you concentrate better.
In The Negative Effects of Too Many Toys and What to Do About It, published on A Perfect Playroom, Natalie reports that a study funded by the U.S. government found that when children have too many toys, they become overstimulated and cannot concentrate on playing with just one thing. According to Natalie, “They just shut down.”
We have noticed a difference in our daughter’s play since paring down. When her room was filled with toys, she would get them all out and play with none of them, leading to a constant, unused mess. She is not the only one who has noticed this benefit. I have found that I am much more focused on my writing and on building my website now that I have fewer distractions.
4. Having less clutter will help you become more creative.
According to Natalie of A Perfect Playroom, a study in Europe found that children played much more creatively when their toys were taken away, and all they had to work with were school supplies. The children also learned to communicate better and work better in groups.
My whole family has noticed an increase in creativity since simplifying our life. My husband is more able to problem-solve and gets less overwhelmed when faced with a challenging situation. My daughter will create villages out of the flatware and has begun creating books for her stuffed animals to read. I have noticed that I have more ideas for my writing and have been able to develop my website in ways I would have not considered before.
5. Less technology may decrease the symptoms of ADD and high sensitivity.
In High Sensitivity is Everyone’s Problem–Reduce Overstimulation and Increase Self-Respect, Susan Meindl states that the increase in ADD and high sensitivity is due, in part, to the increase in stimulation from technology and multi-tasking. With technology, there is more pressure to work and process faster, and this is very overwhelming.
My husband has ADD and noticed that his symptoms have all but disappeared since we have pared down. He also used to suffer from paralyzing anxiety attacks, and those have significantly lessened. Our daughter has decreased her sensory seeking and avoiding behaviors and is performing better in school as a result.
6. Less stimulation will help you to feel better physically.
Meindl also reports that overstimulation causes chronic stress, which takes a toll on the body physically. As energy is depleted, a person will seek to feel better through physical means–avoiding chemicals in food, taking supplements, and so on. While these measures may help, they do not address the core issue–that the person’s body is simply overstimulated and over-stressed.
For years, I lived with a effects of having a body in a chronic state of stress-induced fight-or-flight. As we simplified, I found that I had time to relax and calm this physiological response to stress. I have noticed an increase in energy, improved health, and less muscle pain and tension.
7. Having fewer possessions can help you grow spiritually.
In his article entitled What is Voluntary Simplicity?, Nagarja Jade states that living simply can help a person find meaning and grow spiritually, because it takes the focus off of material possessions and helps the person to look inwardly. When a person can no longer use possessions to find meaning and inner peace, they are more likely to find it.
In my case, questioning all of the possessions we are expected to own led to questioning other expectations that society has. And that led to questioning the assumptions I held about myself and my potential. As assumption after assumption fell away, I began to experience a freedom from the restraints of fear.
8. Living simply can help protect the environment.
Jade also reports that having fewer possessions helps to decrease the amount of waste that a person produces. As people become more mindful about what they purchase, they also become more aware of the product’s impact on the environment. Simple living and sustainable living go hand-in-hand, and having a healthier environment will lead to better health for generations to come.
It has amazed me how much less waste we produce, now that we own less. We spend our time and money on experiences, which leave nothing behind in the garbage can.
9. Living simply can decrease chronic stress.
In the article Voluntary Simplicity: Characterization, Select Psychological Implications, and Societal Consequences, Amitai Etzioli states that living a simple lifestyle can decrease the chances that a person will suffer from chronic stress. Having fewer possessions and not worrying about “keeping up with the Jones'” can lead to experiencing fewer stress-related symptoms.
By having fewer possessions to maintain, we found that we spend less time on our jobs. Simplifying has led us to experience a huge increase in our free time. We have time to go to the gym, to pursue our passions, and to go on outings with our daughter. This increase in time has led to a large decrease in stress for all of us.
10. Having a simpler lifestyle can improve relationships.
Etzioli also states that when the focus is no longer on accumulating material possessions, people are more likely to focus on relationships. Owning fewer possessions means spending less time managing them, so more time is available to spend with friends and family.
We also noticed that owning less means that we go out into the community more often. We are no longer “walled in” by our possessions. By sharing resources rather than having our own of everything, we have strengthened our friendships and our feeling of belonging to the community.
Voluntary simplicity does not mean giving up your hobbies or the possessions you enjoy. It means only owning what you need, use, and treasure, rather than blindly accumulating possessions because society says you should. It is living intentionally, on your own terms, and every family can benefit from it.
Featured photo credit: Simple/Bethany Rosselit via myjourneytoithaca.files.wordpress.com