Something funny happens as you get older.
It’s as if unseen hands come out of nowhere just to press the fast-forward button on the movie that is your life.
Days seem shorter. To-do lists seem longer. Responsibilities feel scarier.
Decisions that need to be made feel heavier on your shoulders and less fun to make — “Should I go to that party after work?” or “Where should I travel to next?” morph into “What if the babysitter doesn’t show up?” and “What happens to my family if I die tomorrow?”.
You also become acutely aware that a significant chunk of your life has already been lived.
If you’ve not been living purposefully and meaningfully, this realisation can feel like a huge loss. If you have, you may feel the need to go deeper, to step up your ‘life’ game to get more out of it while you still can.
It almost feels like a glitch in the continuum of your life that actor, musician and activist Henry Rollins describes most accurately: “Last week I was 20, now I’m 56”.
It’s over and done with and there’s nothing you can do to get that time back or live it differently even if you wanted to.
Suddenly the fun, carefree parts of life that you took for granted throughout your 20s and 30s are forced to take a back seat so that you can focus most of your limited energy on being a ladder-climbing, money-earning, child-rearing, home-making, aesthetically-pleasing, society-conforming adult.
Once the panic has worn off and you get to work laying the groundwork for your ‘Act 2’ (or Act 1, Part 2, depending on where you are in life), a handful of needs that were once a slow, quiet hum in the background become increasingly urgent in their calls to you.
- Living in sync with your identity, goals, deepest values and priorities.
- Paying more attention to your physical and mental health.
- Finding a place in the world where you feel safe, secure and like the best version of yourself.
- Having the financial habits that will allow you to live life on your own terms.
- Being present in your pursuits and relationships.
- Creating more space in your life to stop and smell the flowers.
- Getting rid of the chronic stress that’s been eating away at your peace of mind.
- Checking off that big personal project or bucket list that you’ve been putting off.
In my own pursuit of calm living, creativity and peace of mind, there’s one thing that’s been helping to drive me forward: Simplicity.
IT TAKES COURAGE TO LIVE A SIMPLE LIFE
My own simple living journey began six years ago when I found myself drowning in work, stuff and drama.
I simplified ruthlessly to lighten the load on my shoulders and came out of that situation with a very important lesson: That as cliched as it sounds, less is more.
Getting rid of the excesses, noise and clutter freed up precious energy and gave me the mental space I needed to do, create and learn more.
But ironically, it turns out that the act of simplifying my life wasn’t so…simple.
Even though I started out by decluttering my home and buying less ‘stuff’ as most people do, I quickly realised that living a simple life would require me to apply the same ‘less is more’ principle to every other area of my life.
If I didn’t go beyond the material things in my life, then all I’d really have is a tidy and uncluttered home with all my other problem still intact.
Here’s where it gets hard: It takes courage to go against the grain and not want what everyone else wants or says is important.
It’s hard to face the things in your life that aren’t working so you can make things better.
It hurts to let things and people that you once thought were important to you, go.
It’s agonising to realise that no matter how hard you try, some painful circumstances in your life are beyond your control and can never be ‘simplified’ or ‘fixed’.
This is why six years later, I’m still a simple-living work-in-progress.
As I refine my simple-living approach, I’m constantly asking the following questions that I encourage you to consider too:
1. WHAT KIND OF LIFE DO YOU WANT?
Before you sell everything you own and move into an RV or tiny home (you don’t have to do this to be a minimalist, by the way), the first thing you need to ask yourself is this: How do you want to live?
Do you long to live at a slower, more intentional pace surrounded by the simple things in life or do you love the busy, million-miles-a-minute pace you’re currently at complete with the luxuries that bring you joy?
Do you dream of living in a little cottage surrounded by greenery or can’t wait to move to a big city?
Are you rearing to give climbing the corporate ladder a go or would you rather work on your own terms while taking a series of mini retirements in-between gigs?
There’s no cookie cutter picture or ‘template’ of what simple living should look like nor should there be because we’re all so complex and different.
But once you start digging deeper, you’ll find that your answer to this question will offer an insight into the areas to consider ‘minimising’ so you can shift your energy to creating the reality you’re after.
2. WHAT’S WEIGHING YOU DOWN?
If you’re feeling heavy physically, emotionally and spiritually the way I did when I embarked on my own simple living journey, it’s probably time to face what’s weighing you down.
Maybe your home is filled with stuff because you’ve developed a shopping habit to cope with life.
Maybe you’ve been feeling uneasy in your own skin because eating makes you feel good when you’re down.
Maybe something you thought you wanted isn’t what you want anymore.
Or maybe you’ve been following everyone else’s rules for so long that not following your own is gnawing away at your soul.
Whatever the case may be, your first steps to simplifying your life should involve addressing the crux of why you want to do it in the first place.
3. WHAT DOES YOUR MENTAL SPACE LOOK LIKE?
What’s your mental state like most of the time?
Is it cool as a cucumber, calm and collected in there? Or it is a fiery, anxiety-ridden highway to nowhere like mine can be?
Maybe you’re somewhere in the middle on most days, but you want to spend more time in the cool zone.
What if you’ve been SO cool to the point of feeling sluggish and could use a little more energy? If that’s the case, you’d need to figure out how to create more excitement, inspiration and drive in your daily routine.
Either way, listening to what’s going inside will help you zero in on the triggers that contribute to your default mental state and decide what to add or subtract from your life.
Often, simplifying could mean bringing more of what’s good for you into your life
4. WHAT BRINGS MEANING INTO YOUR LIFE?
A lot of people associate happiness with meaning, but for me, they’re two completely different things.
Something that brings happiness into your life usually feels well, happy. Something that brings meaning into your life on the other hand can feel happy, but it can also come about from sadness and pain.
And while all of us want to be happy, it’s often meaning that makes the good and bad worth living through, so if you’re considering simplifying your life, it’s probably time to start asking yourself this question: What are the superficial things and situations that you can let go of in order to create more space for what’s not necessarily comfortable or convenient, but is meaningful?
5. HOW MUCH DO YOU NEED?
How much material stuff do you need to live a happy, meaningful life?
And by this, I mean everything that you won’t be able to take with you when you die: Things like your home, furniture, clothes, bags, shoes, phones, computers, books, cars and jewellery as well as money.
At this point, it’s worth nothing that being a minimalist doesn’t necessarily mean having as little stuff as possible so you can live like a monk — if that’s your calling, great, but for everyone else, it’s about having the right things in the right numbers that let you live the way you want to without weighing down your body, mind and spirit.
Will you be content living with the bare necessities or do you want to have more options?
Will you be happy owning and using items from lower-cost, mass-market brands or do you see yourself leaning towards higher-end luxury goods?
How much money do you think you’ll need to earn and spend to support your lifestyle? How much will you need saved up and invested to generate enough income for you to live off once you stop working?
Your answers to all these questions will help you figure out what and how much stuff to bring into your space, keep or eliminate, as well as the role money will play in your life (besides paying for your living essentials, obviously).
6. WHO’S GOING ON THIS JOURNEY WITH YOU?
If you’re just starting out on your minimalism journey, is there someone (or a few someones) that you want walking this path with or alongside you?
Whether it’s your partner, parent, sibling or best friend, you’ll want to tell them about your minimalism goals and intentions before you start transitioning into it, so that:
- They’ll know what to expect from you and why.
- They’ll have time to decide how to best support you as you ease into your new path.
- They’ll have the mental space they need to figure out how your new way of living will mesh with theirs or even consider if they’d like to follow a similar path to yours.
The sooner you have this crucial conversation, the better so that you’ll both be understood and in tune with where each other is headed.
RESOURCES YOU MIGHT FIND HELPFUL
(Disclosure: These suggestions contain affiliate links, which means that I’ll earn a small commission if you decide to buy by clicking on these links. Buying won’t cost you anything extra, but it’ll allow this blog to earn money―thank you if use them! You can read my full affiliate disclosure here.)
1. Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus If you’re a brand-new to minimalism, this documentary is the perfect way to start off your journey. It takes you inside the minimalist worlds of Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, known collectively as The Minimalists, the painful circumstances that led them to this way of life, and the inspiring lives of others from different backgrounds who are doing the same.
2. The More Of Less: Finding The Life You Want Under Everything You Own, Joshua Becker Feeling intimidated by the thought of becoming a ‘minimalist’? Joshua Becker unpacks the concept for you, one bit-sized idea at a time, helping you create a personal approach to getting rid of the clutter in your life to make room for what you truly want. This read isn’t just about how get rid of overwhelm by living with fewer things, it’s also about how to live your best life.
3. Soulful Simplicity: How Living With Less Can Lead To So Much More, Courtney Carver Living a simple, minimalist life doesn’t revolve around throwing out all your stuff or decluttering your home, and Courney Carver makes this refreshingly clear in her heart-centered memoir/how-to. In it, she encourages you to first figure out why you’re considering simplifying your life, starting with a deeply touching account of how she discovered her own ‘big why’s’ and the health crisis that led up to it.
4. Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways To Slow Down And Enjoy The Things That Really Matter by Elaine St. James I got my hands on this treasure over 15 years ago, way before simple living and minimalism became popular, and it was the first resource that introduced me to practical, everyday steps I could take to ‘un-complicate’ my life. I didn’t have enough life experience then to ‘get’ everything that St. James presents in this book, but when I revisit the pages of Simplify Your Life now, they make perfect sense. If you’re just starting out in your simple living journey and are exploring your possibilities, I highly recommend giving this a read first.
5. Inner Simplicity: 100 Ways To Regain Peace And Nourish Your Soul by Elaine St. James Living a simple life asks that you start thinking about doing both the easy, fun and hard stuff. In this delightful extension of Simplify Your Life, Elaine St. James breaks all three down into tiny, baby steps that you can taking right now. Also one my go-tos when I’m feeling overwhelmed.
6. Ikigai: The Japanese Secret To A Long And Happy Life, Héctor García and Francesc Miralles This isn’t a book that addresses simple living explicitly, but its goal, using the Japanese concept of ikigai (which when translated, means ‘reason for being’), is the same: To achieve a happier, healthier and meaningful life. The inspiring setting that the authors use to demonstrate the principles they teach in this book? Okinawa, where the highest concentration of centenarians in the world live.
7. The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art Of Decluttering And Organizing, Marie Kondo If you’ve got stuff in your life, you need to read this book. Chapter by chapter, Marie Kondo teaches you how to whittle your belongings down to the items that bring you joy, as well as organize them in a way that honors their purpose in your life and keeps your home clutter-free.