A simple life has a different meaning and a different value for every person. For me, it means eliminating all but the essential, eschewing chaos for peace, and spending your time doing what’s important to you. In order to simplify your life, you have to know where your priorities lie.
“Simplicity is the peak of civilization.” –Jessie Sampter
Simplicity means getting rid of many of the things you do so you can spend time with people you love and do the things you love. It means getting rid of the clutter so you are left with only that which gives you value.
However, getting to simplicity isn’t always a simple process. It’s a journey, not a destination, and it can often be a journey of two steps forward, and one backward.
If you’re interested in simplifying your life, this is a great starter’s guide.
The Short List
For the cynics who say that the list below is too long, there are really only two steps to simplifying:
- Identify what’s most important to you.
- Eliminate everything else.
Of course, that’s not terribly useful unless you can see how to apply that to different areas of your life, so I present to you the Long List.
The Long List
There can be no all-inclusive step-by-step guide to simplify your life, but I’ve compiled an incomplete list of ideas that should help anyone trying to find the simple life. Not every tip will work for you — choose the ones that appeal and apply to your life.
One important note: this list will be criticized for being too complicated, especially as it provides a bunch of links. Don’t stress out about all of that. Just choose one at a time, and focus on that. When you’re done with that, focus on the next thing.
1. Make a List of Your Top 4-5 Most Important Things
What’s most important to you? What do you value most? What 4-5 things do you most want to do in your life? Simplifying starts with these priorities, as you are trying to make room in your life so you have more time for these things.
2. Evaluate Your Commitments
Look at everything you’ve got going on in your life: work, home, kids’ activities, hobbies, side businesses, personal projects, etc. Think about which of these really gives you value, which ones you love doing.
3. Evaluate Your Time
How do you spend your day? What things do you do, from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep?
Make a list, and evaluate whether they’re in line with your priorities. If not, eliminate the things that aren’t, and focus on what’s important. Redesign your day.
4. Simplify Work Tasks
Our work day is made up of an endless list of work tasks. If you simply try to knock off all the tasks on your to-do list, you’ll never get everything done, and worse yet, you’ll never get the important stuff done. Focus on the essential tasks and eliminate the rest.
5. Simplify Home Tasks
In that vein, think about all the stuff you do at home. Sometimes our home task list is just as long as our work list, and we’ll never get that done either. Focus on the most important, and try to find ways to eliminate the other tasks (automate, eliminate, delegate, or hire help).
6. Learn to Say No
This is actually one of the key habits for those trying to simplify their lives. If you can’t say no, you will take on too much.
You can learn how to say no with this article.
7. Limit Your Communications
Our lives these days are filled with a vast flow of communications: email, IM, cell phones, paper mail, Skype, Twitter, forums, and more. It can take up your whole day if you let it.
Instead, put a limit on your communications: only do email at certain times of the day, for a certain number of minutes. Limit phone calls to certain times, too. Set a schedule and stick to it.
8. Limit Media Consumption
The media in our lives — TV, radio, Internet, magazines, etc. — can come to dominate everything else. Don’t let it. Simplify your life and your information consumption by limiting it.
9. Purge Your Stuff
If you can devote a weekend to purging the stuff you don’t want, it feels seriously terrific. Get boxes and trash bags for the stuff you want to donate or toss.
10. Get Rid of the Big Items
There’s tons of little clutter in our lives, but if you start with the big items, you’ll simplify your life quickly and in a big way.
11. Edit Your Rooms
One room at a time, go around the room and eliminate the unnecessary. Act as a newspaper editor, trying to leave only the minimum, and deleting everything else.
12. Edit Closets and Drawers
Once you’ve gone through the main parts of your rooms, tackle the closets and drawers, one drawer or shelf at a time.
13. Simplify Your Wardrobe
Is your closet bursting full? Are your drawers so stuffed they can’t close. Simplify your wardrobe by getting rid of anything you don’t actually wear. Try creating a minimal wardrobe by focusing on simple styles and a few solid colors that all match each other.
14. Simplify Your Computing Life
If you have trouble with too many files and too much disorganization, consider online computing. It can simplify things greatly.
15. Declutter Your Digital Excess
If you are a digital packrat, and cannot seem to control your digital clutter, there is still hope for you.
16. Create a Simplicity Statement
17. Limit Your Buying Habits
If you are a slave to materialism and consumerism, there are ways to escape it in order to simplify your life. If you can escape materialism, you can get into the habit of buying less. And that will mean less stuff, less spending, and less freneticism.
18. Free up Time
Find ways to free up time for the important stuff. That means eliminating the stuff you don’t like, cutting back on time wasters, and making room for what you want to do.
19. Do What You Love
Once you’ve freed up some time, be sure to spend that extra time doing things you love. Go back to your list of 4-5 important things. Do those, and nothing else.
20. Spend Time With People You Love
Again, the list of 4-5 important things probably contains some of the people you love (if not, you may want to re-evaluate). Whether those people are a spouse, a partner, children, parents, other family, best friends, or whoever, find time to do things with them, talk to them, or be intimate with them.
21. Spend Time Alone
Alone time is good for you, although some people aren’t comfortable with it. It could take practice getting used to the quiet, and making room for your inner voice. It sounds new-agey, but it’s extremely calming. And this quiet is necessary for finding out what’s important to you.
22. Eat Slowly
23. Drive Slowly
Most people rush through traffic, honking and getting angry and frustrated and stressed out, and endangering themselves and others in the meantime. Driving slower is not only safer, but it is better on your fuel bill, and can be incredibly peaceful.
24. Be Present
These two words can make a huge difference when you want to simplify your life. Living here and now, in the moment, keeps you aware of life, of what is going on around you and within you. It does wonders for your sanity.
25. Streamline Your Life
Many times we live with unplanned, complex systems in our lives because we haven’t given them much thought. Instead, focus on one system at a time (your laundry system, your errands system, your paperwork system, your email system, etc.) and try to make it simplified, efficient, and written. Then, stick to it.
26. Create a Simple Paperwork System
27. Create a Simple System for Housework
Another example of a simple system is clean-as-you-go with a burst.
28. Clear Your Desk
29. Establish Routines
The key to keeping your life simple is to create simple routines.
30. Keep Your Email Inbox Empty
Is your email inbox overflowing with new and read messages? Do the messages just keep piling up? If so, you’re normal — but you could be more efficient, and your email life could be simplified with a few simple steps.
31. Learn to Live Frugally
32. Go Minimalist
A minimalist house has what is necessary, and not much else, so it’s a great place to start to simplify your life. It’s also extremely peaceful (not to mention easy to clean). You can find ways to be minimalist in other areas of your life, as well.
33. Consider a Smaller Home
If you rid your home of stuff, you might find you don’t need so much space. If you can be comfortable in a smaller home, it will not only be less expensive, but easier to maintain, and it will greatly simplify your life.
34. Consider a Smaller Car
This is a big move, but if you have a large car or SUV, you may not really need something that big. It’s more expensive, uses more gas, is harder to maintain, and harder to park. Simplify your life with less car.
You don’t need to go tiny, especially if you have a family, but try to find as small a car as can fit you or your family comfortably.
35. Learn What “Enough” Is
Our materialistic society today is about getting more and more, with no end in sight. Sure, you can get the latest gadget, and more clothes and shoes, but when will you have enough? Most people don’t know, and thus they keep buying more. It’s a never-ending cycle.
Get off the cycle by figuring out how much is enough, and then stop when you get there.
36. Create a Weekly Dinner Menu
If figuring out what’s for dinner is a nightly stressor for you or your family, consider creating a weekly meal plan. Decide on a week’s worth of simple dinners, set a specific dinner for each night of the week, and go grocery shopping for the ingredients.
Now you know what’s for dinner each night, and you have all the ingredients necessary. No need for difficult recipes — find ones that can be done in 10-15 minutes (or less).
37. Eat Healthy
It might not be obvious how eating healthy relates to simplicity, but think about the opposite: if you eat fatty, greasy, salty, sugary, fried foods all the time, you are sure to have higher medical needs over the long term.
We could be talking years from now, but imagine frequent doctor visits, hospitalization, going to the pharmacist, getting therapy, having surgery, taking insulin shots… you get the idea. Being unhealthy is complicated. Eating healthy simplifies all of that greatly over the long term.
This goes along the same lines as eating healthy, as it works to simplify your life in the long run, but it goes even further: exercise helps burn off stress and makes you feel better.
39. Declutter Before Organizing
Many people make the mistake of taking a cluttered desk, filing cabinet or closet, and trying to organize it. Unfortunately, that’s not only hard to do, but it keeps things complicated. Simplify the process by getting rid of as much of the junk as possible, and then organizing. If you declutter enough, you won’t need to organize at all.
40. Have a Place for Everything
Age-old advice, but it’s the best advice on keeping things organized after you declutter.
41. Find Inner Simplicity
This could be time praying or communing with God, or time spent meditating or journaling or getting to know yourself, or time spent in nature. However you do it, working on your inner self is worth the time.
42. Decompress From Stress
43. Try Living Without a Car
OK, this isn’t something I’ve done, but many others have. It’s something I would do if I didn’t have kids. Walk, bike, or take public transportation. It reduces expenses and gives you time to think.
A car is also very complicating, needing not only car payments, but insurance, registration, safety inspections, maintenance, repairs, gas, and more.
44. Find a Creative Outlet for Self-Expression
Whether that’s writing, poetry, painting, drawing, creating movies, designing websites, dancing, or skateboarding, we have a need for self-expression, and finding a way to do that makes your life much more fulfilling. Allow this to replace much of the busy-work you’re eliminating from your life.
45. Simplify Your Goals
Instead of having half a dozen goals or more, simplify it to one goal. Not only will this make you less stressed, it will make you more successful. You’ll be able to focus on that One Goal, and give it all of your energy. That gives you much better chances for success.
Multi-tasking is more complicated, more stressful, and generally less productive. Instead, do one task at a time in order to simplify your life.
47. Simplify Your Filing System
Stacking a bunch of papers just doesn’t work. But a filing system doesn’t have to be complicated to be useful.
48. Develop Equanimity
If every little thing that happens to you sends you into anger or stress, your life might never be simple. Learn to detach yourself, and be more at peace.
49. Reduce Your Consumption of Advertising
Advertising makes us want things. That’s what it’s designed to do, and it works. Find ways to reduce your exposure to advertising. You’ll want much less.
50. Live Life More Deliberately
Do every task slowly, with ease, paying full attention to what you’re doing.
51. Make a Most Important Tasks (MITs) List Each Day
Set just 3 very important things you want to accomplish each day. Don’t start with a long list of things you probably won’t get done by the end of the day. Use a simple list of 3 things, ones that would make you feel like you accomplished something.
52. Create Morning and Evening Routines
A great way to simplify your life is to create routines at the start and end of your day.
53. Create a Morning Writing Ritual
If you enjoy writing, like I do, make it a peaceful, productive ritual.
54. Learn to Do Nothing
Doing nothing can be an art form, and it should be a part of every day if you want to simplify your life and eliminate negative thoughts.
55. Read Walden
56. Go for Quality, Not Quantity
Try not to have a ton of stuff in your life. Instead, have just a few possessions, but ones that you really love and that will last for a long time.
57. Read Simplify Your Life
This book by Elaine St. James is another great text on simplicity.
58. Fill Your Day With Simple Pleasures
Make a list of your favorite simple pleasures, and sprinkle them throughout your day.
59. Simplify Your RSS Feeds
If you’ve got dozens of feeds, or more than a hundred (as I once did), you probably have a lot of stress in trying to keep up with them all. Simplify your feed reading.
60. Create an Easy-to-Maintain Yard
Plant clover instead of grass, for example, to cut out the need to mow.
61. Carry Less Stuff
Are your pockets bulging? Consider carrying only the essentials.
62. Strive to Automate Your Income
63. Simplify Your Budget
Many people skip budgeting because it’s too hard or too complicated, but it can ultimately simplify your life by helping you know exactly how much you have to spend and when.
64. Simplify Your Financial Life
Get your debt under control, set up automatic bill paying, and cut it down to one credit card.
65. Learn to Pack Light
Who wants to lug a bunch of luggage around on a trip?
66. Leave Space Around Things in Your Day
Whether they’re appointments, or things you need to do, don’t stack them back-to-back. Leave a little space between things you need to do, so you will have room for contingencies, and you’ll go through your day much more relaxed.
67. Live Closer to Work
This might mean getting a job closer to your home, or moving to a home closer to your work. Either will do a great deal to simplify your life.
The Bottom Line
If you want to learn to simplify your life, just pick a few of the above to get started. Simple living can mean very different things for different people, so find what works for you. Ultimately, a simplified life will mean less stress, more time, and more fulfillment in the end.
More on Simplifying Your Life
- 13 Ways to Simplify Your Life and Be Happier
- 15 Ways To Simplify Your Morning Routine And Have A Great Morning
- How to Declutter Your Life and Reduce Stress (The Ultimate Guide)
Featured photo credit: Bench Accounting via unsplash.com