Modern life can be overwhelming.
We have smartphones, tablets, desktops computers and TVs in our faces all day long. This causes mental dispersion- a sort of chaos of the mind. We're now connected to the rest of the world 24/7. This is great, but it also has its disadvantages.
We spend so much time looking at screens instead of real people, put so much focus on building virtual friends instead of nurturing a small group of close friends in our daily life and technology has made us so fanatical about trying to keep up with a million things at once that our productivity sinks, our minds never rest and we gradually build up stress and anxiety.
This on top of our obsession over material items are the major reasons our lives have become over-complicated. We connect happiness to getting the next new gadget or some other toy or trophy to the point where, unless we get it, our minds are never at peace. And when we do get it, the feeling quickly dissipates like sand sifting through our hands. Then, we're off to acquire something else to get the feeling back.
This cycle of consumption never results in peace. It never brings us true happiness. Only stress, anxiety, anger and frustration.
By shedding our need for more, simplifying our lives and accepting the present moment as it is we cultivate the grounds for true happiness. A happiness not built upon outside forces, but upon our own inner peace.
At its essence, simplifying your life is about removing distractions. It's about finding peace in the breathing room you gain from removing those distractions and mindfully choosing to place your time with that which matters most to you in life: be it your children, wife or husband, mother or father and/or your spiritual practice/faith.
There are many ways to remove distractions and simplify your life if you only take a second to look around. Below is simply a list of the major categories which you can use to jump-start the process of simplifying your life. Feel free to think of your own ways to simplify your life.
Start simplifying, reducing and de-cluttering today and you'll not only have room to breathe but more time to spend doing what's most important to you.
The 10 Most Important Ways to Simplify Your Life
(In no particular order)
Simplify your finances
First, put as many things on autopilot as possible. You do this by setting your paycheck up on direct deposit (if it isn’t already) and setting your bills up to automatically deduct from your account when they’re due.
Also, set up a savings account and have it auto deduct every week when you get your deposit. If you can’t afford to save much right now that’s OK, just start by saving a few dollars a week. Whatever you can afford, what’s most important is that you establish the habit now.
Second, reduce the number of accounts you have. Most importantly, take the shredder to your credit cards. They just waste your money and build bad spending habits. It’s too easy to miss a payment and have your interest rate skyrocket to something crazy and then you’re locked in debt and your credit score takes a hit. The one exception to this would be a prepaid credit card for the purpose of building your credit.
If you’re neck-high in credit card debt and that isn’t an option then you can consolidate your credit. This will take all of your credit card accounts and combine them into one easy to manage monthly payment. It will also take all of those annoying phone calls and letters off your back.
Third, examine your monthly bills. Look to see if there’s any you don’t actually use regularly. Maybe you haven’t watched much TV in the past few months. It could be something small like a TV service such as Netflix or Hulu (with membership) or something larger like your cable bill. I did this a while back and found nearly $120 (aside from reducing our number of monthly bills).
Lastly, pay for weekly expenses with cash. This is something I’ve just started doing so I won’t say much about it. But, it seems to be working great and I’m really excited about it. By doing this you’ll avoid the confusion of trying to look at your online banking and match up what you spent with your available balance. This is a headache.
Each week take out the amount that you’ve pre-decided for each weekly expense category (groceries, gas, diapers?!, fun) and separate them into stacks. You can hold them with money clips, in envelopes or any other way that works for you. This makes your weekly finances extremely clear and simple to work with.
If your email situation is anything like mine was, it can get out of hand without proper maintenance. About 90% of my emails go to one account now, but at one point, I had 5 or so email accounts and was checking my email some 10-15 times a day.
Start by consolidating your email accounts. Closely examine exactly why you use each email account. By doing so you’ll probably find that a few of those are either useless or can be combined with another account.
Next, unsubscribe from email lists you never use or gain any value from. This could be iTunes if you never gain any value from what is on the email list, Target if you don’t shop at Target enough to care what’s on their emails (or if you do and just don’t care to see their emails either way like me) or some other company which you never had any particular interest in receiving emails in the first place.
I know for me there were quite a bit. This should help reduce the number of emails you receive daily and leave the emails of greater importance.
Lastly, now that you’ve simplified your email accounts, set up a system. Most importantly establish a schedule where you only check your email once or twice a day. Commit to yourself that you won’t open up your email outside of that block of time.
If email is an important part of your day block out however much time you need to get at least the high priority items checked off. Focus on the high priority emails first and get to however many others you can in the rest of that block of time. After that, move on. Don’t let email rule your life and don’t be scared of leaving emails unread.
Reduce screen time
This is a big one. Screens are a major force for distraction and mental dispersion in modern life as I mentioned earlier.
First, reduce your TV time or stop watching it altogether. If you only reduce your TV time then at least watch online where there’s little to no commercials (depending on the platform you use). This will save you time, reduce your commercial exposure and put you in better control of your time. You might not have to catch your favorite show when it’s on anymore, maybe you can just record it, but this way you never even have to do that. And cable is far more expensive than even multiple online viewing platforms at once.
Next, reduce the amount of time you’re on your smartphone. I’d suggest going through your smartphone and deleting any unused apps. When you have way too many possible distractions on your phone you tend to pick it up and look for things to distract yourself with. This is one of the most dangerous distractions in our everyday life because it’s always there with us. By drastically reducing the number of times you pick your phone up in a given day you’ll notice you’ll have a calmer and less dispersed mind.
I did a thorough check-up of my phone and found that I rarely used or had no need for roughly 70% of the apps I had downloaded. I reduced the number of apps on my phone to 1/2 of one page and put any rarely used or undelete-able apps (iPhone…) into their own folder and threw them on the second page where I would never lay eyes on them. This drastically reduced the amount of time I’d waste each day playing around on my phone doing nothing particularly important.
Giveaway unused / unnecessary material possessions
Like most people, you probably have quite a few unused / unnecessary material items which are taking up space and cluttering your life. Most of us don’t notice the effect it has on us. But when you take the time to clear away the material clutter in your life you’ll find yourself with room to breath that you never knew you had. It’s pretty liberating to disconnect yourself from material items.
Depending on whether or not you have kids (a big one), a significant other, a house (another big one), what you do for a living / enjoy doing on your off time and whether or not you’re a pack rat you can have varied amounts of clutter.
I have known some pack rats in my life. Their emotional attachment to material items isn’t healthy. It just keeps you from finding that true, renewable and limitless happiness that exists when you find out that happiness doesn’t exist outside of you in material items. And the worst part is it’s so difficult to notice when you suffer from it.
So how will you know what’s clutter and what isn’t? Use the same benchmark we’ve used for every other category so far: do you ever use it? does it provide any value? No? Trash it. Do you use it but it wastes your time and provides no positive value for you or anyone around you? Trash it. After that gather everything up and look at what’s most important. Then see if anything else comes to mind that’s unnecessary. What’s left are the essentials.
Simplify your actions
We try to handle so many things at once. Both men and women are pressured in different ways from society at large, but, both are expected to do so many things at once, do them all perfectly and all the while keeping a smile on their face. We don’t notice that this affects the way we act.
But we don’t have to follow along with this agenda. In fact, keeping up with the Jones’ only sets you further behind from accomplishing your dreams and goals. To establish the life we desire we need to be willing to be honest with ourselves and those around us. When necessary, you need to be able to tell yourself, and those around you, NO.
To establish the life we desire we also need to be able to focus. This is how I created measurable changes in my own life. I focused on one major thing at a time until my entire life had changed. And I’m still working on things today just the same way.
You’ll still juggle from time to time, that’s an aspect of modern life that’s difficult to get around. But you can greatly reduce this. And, this doesn’t mean you can’t put extra attention towards one of those things. By simplifying your life at large it makes it that much easier to focus on one area and really create measurable improvements.
The bottom line is: don’t spread yourself thin. If you do, you won’t do a good job on any of the things you’re trying to do. Focus on one or a few tasks at a time and give 100% of yourself to them.
Simplify your thoughts
You might not generally consider your thoughts as an aspect of simple living, but it’s one of the most important areas you can simplify your life. Modern life is filled with distractions. These distractions over-complicate life as much as, if not more than, anything else.
This is when we go back to the practice of mindfulness. The easiest way to do this and begin quieting your mind is to start practicing sitting meditation. Sitting meditation is the most concentrated form of mindfulness and therefore will have the greatest effect towards what we’re trying to achieve: a more quiet mind.
For quick 5 minute instructions on how to meditate to reduce distractions and mental dispersion read The Quick Start Guide to Mindfulness Meditation. For a more detailed explanation as well as instruction you can read The Ultimate Guide to Meditation.
Reduce social distractions
Everyone is on social media these days. You might visit Facebook once a week, check Twitter every couple of days or use multiple social accounts on a daily basis. Whatever your frequency or preference it’s hard to escape the pull of digital socializing these days.
However, as great a resource as they can be for staying connected with friends, family, companies and any of your other favorite people, they can become a major distraction. They can, and will, keep you from enjoying life without you even knowing it.
Making friends online is a lot easier to do then in person. And perhaps because of that there’s an addicting quality to it. I know people who have at certain points made it a habit to check their Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts some 20, 30 or more times a day. Work on keeping your social time online to a minimum.
Being social online isn’t bad though. As I mentioned it can be a very good thing. Just make sure you’re careful about what conversations you take part in. Don’t follow people or take part in conversations just for the sake of gossiping or talking negatively about something or someone. that won’t serve you and will just bring bad vibes your way. You don’t need that complicating your life.
Multi-tasking is a myth. There. I said it. OK, sometimes it’s possible. But it doesn’t get us the results we once thought it did. Multi-tasking only makes us less productive, more scattered and reduces the quality of our work.
Multi-tasking also causes us stress and anxiety. We weren’t meant to take on 2-3 things at the same time. We’re most effective when we focus on one activity at a time and give 100% of ourselves to that activity.
So don’t fool yourself. No matter how much more productive you think you are while attempting to multi-task, you’re not. You’re only hurting yourself and forcefully complicating your life.
Pre-plan your meals
When I say menu-fy meal times I’m really talking about simplifying meal time. Whether you’re single or have a family, figuring out what you’re going to eat (especially at dinner) can be a real headache. We live in an age where we’re provided with so many different options that just deciding what to eat for dinner can be a task in itself (and sometimes a debate!).
Unless you’re a robot I’m assuming you eat every single day, probably a few times a day. So do yourself a favor: take some time to list out all the various dishes and foods you eat on a semi-regular basis. Separate this list based on meal time: breakfast, lunch, dinner and any other time you usually eat (after work out, for instance).
Also, list out some things under a snack category. If you take the time to think of some healthy snacks you’ll find yourself snacking on not-so-great things less often.
Second, sub-separate those categories into two sections based on the meals you cook/prepare and restaurants/fast food locations you visit.
Third, take this list and each week plan out your meals. We plan our meals on Sunday but you can do it whenever fits best for you. This method also helps reduce the number of times you eat out each week. And you don’t have to be so specific. You can buy milk & cereal and some berries and figure you’ll have those on various days for breakfast without actually deciding which days specifically.
Lastly, go to the store that same day and buy all of the ingredients you’ll need for the coming week. Let me tell you that from experience you’ll sometimes forget things and still have to run by the store, but it will reduce the number of times you need to do so in a given week. Especially if you have kids…
This method of pre-planning meals has greatly simplified the meal time process for me and my family. It reduces headache, cuts down on time, reduces grocery store runs and gives you that time back to enjoy with your loved ones.
Become a conscious consumer
So you’ve simplified your life in 9 major areas. You’re feeling pretty good. You have breathing room, less clutter, fewer distractions, fewer complications and life in general has just become more enjoyable. Overall, simple living has become a great source of peace and happiness for you.
But you need to maintain this in order for it to continue. You need to become a conscious consumer. Let your mindfulness guide you here. When considering consuming or purchasing something, new ask yourself: “do I need this? Or can I live without it?”, “will this take time away from something else that’s important to me? Am I OK with that?” and “will this contribute to my life in a positive way?”
This includes all 9 categories. When you consider adding an account or a new bill to your financial situation, when you consider taking on a new goal or responsibility, when you consider trying out a new social network because a friend asks you to join her or when you consider buying something new for your home. In all of these scenarios ask yourself the questions I listed above.
I can’t tell you what the right choice is to make, only you can do that. But as long as stay mindful and make a conscious decision you can maintain a simpler and more peaceful lifestyle.