“This is the real secret of life – to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” – Alan Watts.
In today’s world of busyness and stress, the idea of simple life can seem like a dream. Many of us dream of leaving behind our daily responsibilities, to sit on a beach with a coconut in hand and soak up some sun, or live in the mountains and grow our own food, off the grid and away from worldly distractions.
Don’t assume that to simplify your life; you have to go live in the mountains or renounce all your physical possessions. You can simplify your life from where you are right now. You can simplify your life at any stage, regardless of your age, your job, or your responsibilities.
In this article, we’ll explore the power of simplicity in achieving health and happiness in life. We’ll explore the life-changing magic of minimalism – how to make life easier by removing unnecessary clutter from your life (physically and emotionally) – and offer some tips on how to live a simple life, starting today.
What does it mean to live a simple life?
You might think that to live a simple life is about having fewer things – fewer possessions, fewer people, fewer responsibilities. While that’s true to some degree, simple living is not about loss. It’s more about making the best of what you already have and learning how to get by without excess. It’s about finding happiness and meaning within yourself in this busy modern world, rather than through external sources like material possessions and striving for more all the time.
Is simplicity the key to happiness?
Let’s start with a quick discourse on happiness. Many of us assume that happiness is some final destination, something to achieve through a life of hard work and continuous success. We dream that if we work and suffer now, we will finally be happy someday in the future. That someday in the future is just an illusion.
At other times we equate happiness with having more, whether that’s more possessions, more money, more friends. The problem with wanting more is that when you get what you want, you might find that now you want something else and then something else again. This way of living creates a cycle of temporary gratification followed by a sense of dissatisfaction and craving.
Understand that happiness is not a destination and is not permanent when achieved. It’s a state, a feeling, and just like any other, it comes and goes. Similar to happiness, but something far more worth aiming for, is contentment and fulfillment. These feelings are much longer-lasting than happiness and make happiness itself easier to find on a daily basis.
What is minimalism?
Minimalism is a lifestyle in which one chooses to let go of the need for more, an affliction many of us struggle with, in favor of finding peace and happiness through meeting one’s basic needs and not cluttering one’s physical or mental space through excessive consumption and acquisition.
You don’t have to be a monk in the Himalayas or become an ascetic to practice minimalism. It’s not about giving up the life you have now. It’s about ridding it of the unnecessary things in it so that you don’t have to worry about it as much. You can find freedom from stress and worry through a minimalist lifestyle.
“He who knows he has enough is rich.”- Francine Jay, author of The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life.
Simplicity and the power of a healthy lifestyle
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), lifestyle is associated with up to 60 percent of factors relating to a person’s overall health and quality of life. Yet the fact is that so many people in the world today lead a relatively unhealthy lifestyle, and as a result, are prone to illness and disease, including stress-related conditions such as cardiovascular disease, inflammation, and mental health issues, as well as illness related to a poor diet and a lack of regular exercise.
“Lifestyle has a significant influence on the physical and mental health of human beings,” writes researcher Dariush Farhad in Impact of Lifestyle on Health published in the Iranian Journal of Health. According to the report, stress, poor diet, and substance misuse are not the only factors responsible for the global prevalence of unhealthy lifestyles.
Another common factor for poor physical and mental health is the exponential advancement of internet use and technological communication. Social media, for example, has highly addictive qualities and has been found by researchers to act on the brain’s dopamine reward center, similar to the mechanism of addictive drugs.
Given the global prevalence of poor health and unhealthy lifestyles, there is a lot to be said for taking a step back, reassessing how we spend our time, and choosing to redesign our lifestyle for better health. Among the many changes one could make to live healthier, and therefore happier, including dietary changes, increased exercise frequency, and less social media usage, a practical and effective approach is to choose to simplify one’s life.
Below we’ll define exactly what that means, but remember that you know yourself best. You know the areas of your life in which things are unnecessarily complicated or stressful, and you know what you need to get by. Still, it helps to be reminded every once in a while.
The nature of life and the world we live in today is that we tend to forget our deeper selves in favor of a more immediate, larger-than-life, productive, and modern person. So, let’s take a look at how to reconnect with yourself for simpler living.
How to live a simple life and focus on making life easier for yourself
We live in an age where busyness is praised and valued, and slowing down is something we associate with poor productivity, laziness, or wasted time. Understand that life slowed down is by no means wasted time. By slowing down, not pushing ourselves to achieve monumental tasks, and being productive all day every day, we give ourselves the time and space to actually enjoy life.
Enjoying your own life doesn’t necessarily mean being happy all the time – it’s more about experiencing life as fully and wholeheartedly as possible, including happiness but also including things like sadness, heartbreak, contemplation, and the experience of living in our bodies.
When we rush every day, when we’re not mindful of each and every thought and action but instead rushing to the next place, the next task, the next coffee, the next meal, then back home after work and busy with thoughts of tomorrow, we’re bound to feel stressed and overwhelmed by life. In such a hurried and heightened approach to life, it’s hard to see the little things, the little joys, the beauty, and the power of simplicity.
How to slow down
Now, you might be reading this thinking, ‘I can’t slow down, I have too much to do!” or ‘Oh, wouldn’t that be nice!’. That’s fair. Life today can be hectic, especially if you have young children or others in your care, and you need to make sure you and those you love are safe and sound. Still, slowing down does not mean stopping. It doesn’t even mean being less productive at work or not being there as much for others.
To slow down is to take a minute to yourself throughout the day to breathe, clear your mind, release recent stress, and return to whatever is you were doing with a clearer, calmer mind. There are most certainly times in the day when you’re not 100 percent active and engaged with work or caring for others.
Perhaps you are sitting down for lunch, having your morning coffee, or taking the train back home. In those moments, if you were to drop into your awareness and check in with your body, you’d probably notice that you’re feeling stressed, full of thoughts and ideas, and even worried about the near future. It’s in those moments that you can slow down, take a breather, and let it all go.
It sounds almost too good to be true, but taking even just a couple of minutes throughout the day to let go of stress and tension has a profound effect on our mood and well-being.
Think before you buy
How many times have you bought a new shirt, coffee table, or rug and found yourself less than a week later looking at it, wondering why you made such a strange choice? How many times have you gone to the supermarket and bought too much food, so that it stays in your fridge or cupboard for so long that you have to eventually throw it out? Taking some time to deliberate before purchasing items can help keep us from buying things that we don’t end up needing or even wanting.
Organize your time
Life gets incredibly complex when we try to do everything at once. If you want a simple life, then try to make a schedule for your days. You don’t always have to be strict with your schedule, but having one makes it easy to stay focused on each task you’ve given yourself.
Your schedule or to-do-list doesn’t always need to be busy either. Don’t get hung up on the perceived notions that a life well-lived is one in which you’re busy all the time. Add time to rest and relax into your schedule and prioritize it.
Without taking time to wind down, relax, and unwind, you actually make yourself less productive. However, by doing so, you end up saving time – you’ll have more energy and focus and complete tasks with less stress, allowing you to save time for other things you enjoy.
The work/life balance
Many of us suffer from a poor work-life balance. We spend a lot of time working because we want to make more money and seek to obtain a high paying job, but the reality is that when we’re not working, we’re still focused on our job. We either worry that we’re not making enough money at work, not working enough, or simply carrying the work day’s stress around with us even after we clock out. The problem is that his need for more usually just ends up creating more stress.
When you live life like this, it soon becomes hard to stay focused and motivated at work. You might even lead yourself into burnout, a state of stress, and heightened anxiety as a result of over-working.
It’s crucial for your physical and mental health to get that work-life balance in check. We’re supposed to work to live, not live to work. At your next opportunity (ideally after reading this article), take out a notebook and a pen and write about how you spend your time each day. This exercise is simple but offers a lot of insight into your lifestyle and also lets you look at things objectively, from which place you can see where changes could be made to pursue a simple lifestyle.
Write down how much you work, how much time you intentionally spend with family or friends, how much time you allow yourself to eat, exercise, watch tv, gaming, nature, and how much time you allow yourself simply relax and do nothing. If the scales seem to be leaning more left or right regarding work and life, then see what you can do to regain balance.
Of course, we need to work to get a paycheck and keep ourselves and our loved ones alive and well. Still, too much work makes life stressful and complex. Without quality time for ourselves to unwind, engage in our personal interests, and get sufficient rest and implement self-care strategies, we put our physical and mental health at risk.
Organize your space
One of the keys to simple living is to organize your living space in such a way that it’s functional. Take a look around your home and consider if what you can see actually serves a purpose or just exists in your space because you think you might use it eventually. Lots of us have a tendency to hoard material things. We think they’ll serve some purpose, but they really don’t and end up stressing us out when we see them.
‘The greatest wealth is to live content with little.’ – Plato.
A simple way to have a more organized space is to reduce the number of things you own. For example, if you have lots of clothes, consider if you really need all of them. Are there items that never leave your wardrobe that you bought on a whim but rarely wear? Could you give those clothes to a friend or donate them?
How about the feng shui in your house or apartment? Your bed, your table, chairs, sofas, desks – do they complement the space, or do they make it busy and stressful? Can you rearrange your furniture so that it creates more open space in your home? By orienting your furniture to create space rather than occupy it, you make your home more enjoyable to live in. Not only does air and movement become easier, but so too does your mind when you’re in that space.
Cut back on social media
By spending excess time scrolling through your social newsfeed, you’re sure to cloud your mind with an overload of information. The way we consume content on social media is a lot for our brains to handle. We see contrasting stories, opinions, themes, and facts that may or not be true, all within seconds of each other. That’s a lot to take in, and we don’t usually give ourselves much time to process each article, post, or image we see. It still needs to be processed, so beneath the surface, we make our brains work unnecessarily hard to get through it all.
According to research, the average person spends over two hours on social media sites every day. Consider how those two hours might be spent in your offline life if you cut back. You don’t need to delete your social media accounts entirely. Just consider visiting them less, perhaps once or twice a day and for a short set amount of time.
Perhaps the king of simple living techniques, and one that will make all the other tips in this article much easier to achieve, is meditation. We carry around with us an awful lot of unnecessary worry, though, and drama in our lives, and rarely do we allow ourselves to let it all go. Meditation is a means of releasing that stress, that emotional baggage and returning our mind, body, and spirit back to its center.
What is meditation?
Many of us hold an image in mind when we hear the word mediation – one of a cross-legged yogi on a mat with eyes closed, fingers touching, and the sound of a gong. Understand that meditation does not have to look like that, and you don’t need to be a yogi or spiritual guru to practice it and reap its benefits.
Meditation is the act of doing nothing. It sounds simple right? Yet, many of us struggle to do nothing. Our minds race at a hundred miles an hour, so even if we sit down and close our eyes, we’re still thinking, worrying, conceptualizing, holding – doing. When you practice mediation, you let go of these things. You don’t have to completely clear your mind – to do that is quite a feat and is something even the highest of yogis aim to achieve – but you can reduce how much mental and physical energy you spend on thinking. Mediation is a great way to embrace a simpler life.
There are a plethora of guided meditation apps, podcasts, and YouTube videos so take some time to look it up and follow along. Even five minutes of guided meditation a day can help you take a step back from the busyness of your life and forge a deeper connection to yourself and the world around you.
Today is probably not the first time you’ve realized that you’d do well to live a simpler life. We all realize that numerous times before we’re finally ready to do something about it. Sometimes you can realize something important a hundred times, but it’s the hundred and the first time that it really sinks in, and you can’t ignore or deny it any longer.
So, if you’re ready for a simple life, start small, make small changes where you can. Try to declutter your space as mentioned above, live with less stuff, or see where in your schedule you could fit in some time to relax or meditate.
Try to be mindful when you go to the grocery store about what you’re buying and bring your attention to how much time and energy you give to social media. These are small steps toward slow and simple living, but bigger steps are complicated and go against the nature of what you’re trying to achieve. Be patient, appreciate the little things, enjoy each moment, and keep taking small steps toward a simpler, healthier, happier life.