Over the years, I've found that change is best made gradually and in small chunks. You don't have to necessarily take change one step at a time, but you do need to focus on only a few things at once, preferably things which have some relationship to one another.
That's the game plan behind the 30 Simple Steps in 30 Days idea: take a topic, like simplifying your life, and think of 30 relatively simple changes or adjustments you can make that, at the end of that month (or any other block of time), will have radically changed your situation in the chosen area.
The areas I've made the most radical changes in are the areas which I've taken aside and focused my energy on for a time, building small change on top of small change. Like nurturing a small child, you point your complete focus on to one thing, putting all of your energy, creativity, and resources into it to help it grow and develop.
This is why, I believe, you can make the most profound life changes by simplifying your efforts down to a few important things in life. Later, once those things have developed, you can shift your focus. But only focus on a few things at once.
And that brings us to our list. Ultimately, what I mentioned in the last paragraph is the point of this entire article. Simple living isn't just about making things easier or less of a mental burden, more importantly, it's about knowing what's most important to you and structuring your life in a way that gives you the most time possible to be with, to nurture, and to nourish those things.
So see this list as a way to shed the unnecessary. Imagine precious gems sitting at the bottom of a pile of crystals. Common and identical in appearance, when you first start out these crystals may look exactly the same as the precious gems.
Your job is to closely analyze your life as a whole and sift through it all to find what's most important to you. If it is (or supports in some way) what's most important to you then it has use. If it doesn't, the likelihood is it can be gotten rid of. This isn't always going to be easy, but using this benchmark makes the process as simple as can be.
If this is difficult to do for now, you can always do things in reverse: jump into this list and see it as a way to gradually remove distraction after distraction to get to the heart of your life and what matters most to you.
How to Simplify Your Life from Start to Finish in 30 Days
When deciding how to simplify your life, several categories can come to mind. So to make this article as easy to use as possible I've decided to organize the points based on these categories: food, money, entertainment and technology, mental, goals/work, possessions, other for single points with no others like it, and a beginning and an end point made to start you off in the right direction and end the process in the best way possible. You can choose to tackle these by category or mix it up, whatever works best for you.
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1. Put things in perspective: It can be really hard to see the value in doing just about anything when your problems are overwhelming you. During such times, your problems are bigger than the world itself.
Put things in perspective in order to reduce the chaos in your mind and clarify your vision. If you don't take a moment to put your life, most notably your problems, in perspective then you'll have a difficult time navigating many of the other 29 days.
2. Start asking questions: Do I need this? Do I have to do this? Is this necessary? Is this worth my time? What's more important? Where is my time best spent? What do I really want to spend the majority of my time doing? Questions are powerful forces for positive change.
By learning how to utilize questions in difficult moments you can bring clarity to a confusing and complicated situation. It's useful to use questions such as these throughout the rest of the points on this list to find clarity.
3. Make a recipe list: List out every single thing you know how to make (as well as every place you typically buy food from). Once you're done, list out the ingredients needed to make the dishes and the amount of each ingredient per serving (based on what you, and possibly your family, usually eat).
You can use this time to also make adjustments to your diet if you want by looking up some new recipes, but if you do that, I'd suggest only adding 1-2 new recipes to your list at a time (and/or removing 1-2 unhealthy recipes).
4. Set up a meal plan: Take your recipe list and make a meal plan sheet in Microsoft Excel, Word, or whatever you prefer to use. The point of this is to take a sheet out at the beginning of each week and plan out each of your meals with your recipe list.
As an added bonus, you can make larger quantities of something and eat it two to three times. That way you cut down on one to two cooking sessions that week. Doing this will save you a lot of time and headache.
Once you have your list, go to the store at the beginning of that week and buy everything at once. This can often cut down on store trips during the week.
5. Cut down on eating out and focus on eating at home: This is where the recipe list and meal plan you made comes in handy. The purpose of this is to fully automate, as much as you desire, the process of preparing meals.
I do love eating out from time to time, going to new and interesting places, and just being spontaneous. But, for the most part, figuring out breakfast, lunch, and then dinner can be a real hassle, especially if you have a family. And I prefer to keep my eating habits rather simple to not encourage overindulgence. It's easy to become obsessed with food in our modern fast food culture and not even know it, and this can affect our mental well-being.
This also makes it easier to eat healthy because it's essentially the polar opposite of binge eating.
6. Set up automated direct accounts: This means both direct deposit at work (if possible) and savings accounts that automatically take portions of your paycheck.
Direct deposit is straightforward, it's one less thing to worry about. Direct withdrawal set up on savings accounts helps develop the habit of saving money even if you don't have much you can save right now.
You can easily set up just about any bank account to take $5 from every paycheck and transfer it to a simple savings account. Whatever the amount, it not only automates the savings process but it encourages and develops a savings habit.
7. Align bills on one day a month: I got this one from Leo Babauta at Zen Habits. Take every bill you have and, if possible, schedule it for the same day in the month. This allows you to make keeping up with bills a cinch. They're all on the same day, and you can add up the total amount due and simply place that into an account each month (a little each check or all at once).
This makes it so much easier to handle your monthly bills.
8. Cut off useless spending: The first time you analyze your monthly spending you're likely to find at least a few things which you can save money on. The first time I did this I found a few minor expenses that saved me somewhere around $75 right off the bat.
These needless expenses can take up your time, your money, and just overall make handling your expenses more complicated than it needs to be. Closely examine what you spend money on and ask yourself if you really need to have each thing.
9. Make weekly accounts: The purpose of this point is to automate your weekly spending. Take your regular paycheck combined with a breakdown of your monthly expenses and figure out how much you need from each check for each category. Categories can be: gas, groceries, bills, and a reserve account for all those irregular expenses like oil changes and birthdays.
For the reserve account, sit down and estimate the amount you'll spend for the year then break it down per week. You might have to adjust this as the best you can do is estimate, but this account will really help keep up with your expenses and make the process of paying for irregular expenses as easy as your regular ones. You can choose to track spending online, in an app, or pull out cash if you want to work more hands-on.
Entertainment & Technology:
10. Cut down and simplify apps: At one point I had about 5 pages of apps on my iPhone. I had so many apps that were useless and provided little to no value to my life.
If you're phone or tablet is like mine was then these are all possible distractions that can take you away from what really matters most. Look through your phone and really question if you need each and every app you have. Then, once you're down to one or two pages, if possible (I do this with my iPhone) organize the apps into folders to make yourself have to click a second time to get to them. This utilizes something we'll talk about later, the path of least resistance, to further reduce distractions.
You can also choose to place some apps on a separate page so that, while you need them occasionally, they never distract you because you forget they're there most of the time.
11. Cut down and simplify email: This includes cleaning your inbox, archiving old emails, deleting useless folders, making new folders to organize your email into, and most importantly consolidating your email accounts.
I used to have a bunch of email accounts and most of them only got a few emails. By switching your email over on those services to one or two master emails you'll greatly simplify the entire email process. This is really important because email can easily take up a huge amount of your time if you don't keep it in check.
12. Unsubscribe from useless newsletters you get no value from: I used to be on a whole lot of emails lists that I got no value from whatsoever. And worst of all, I had this thing about having unopened emails in my inbox, so I had to click each email so that it wouldn't show the little red iPhone notification icon anymore. That meant clicking through all of these useless emails.
Do yourself a favor and only subscribe to email lists whose purpose is to provide you value. There are all kinds of different types of value that newsletters can give you, so you'll ultimately be the judge of this.
13. Get all your news and updates from one place: Read the news often? Maybe just about a specific topic? Like to read tabloids? Between the internet, TV, apps, and radio we can take in a lot of information in a day. This won't apply to everyone, but a lot of people don't notice that they're just checking on and reading about the rest of the world for a good portion of every day.
You should probably stop watching the news on TV (unless it's a half-way reputable news channel/program) and reading tabloids almost entirely.
But most importantly, I'd suggest finding a more positive news source and one that can bring everything together at once in order to save you time and sanity. For this, I use Flipboard.
On Flipboard, you can get the latest updates for literally anything organized in one area and in an easy to digest format. To take it a step further, you can even add social accounts to Flipboard, so if you only use Facebook because of two or three people, for instance, you can omit your use of Facebook almost altogether by adding their Facebook pages on Flipboard. There's also a lot of magazines on spirituality and personal development of all kinds. I highly suggest it.
I also run two magazines: the official Buddhaimonia magazine, where I repost my articles, and Zen Buddhaimonia, a magazine all about Buddhism which I add some of my favorite reads from the week to (usually a few articles a week).
14. Unfollow, unfriend, and subtract: Cut down on useless and time-wasting social media follows, friends, posts, etc.
Nothing against these people, but you know who they are for you. They might post useless things constantly on Facebook that don't serve you, spam you on Twitter 30 times a day, or a forum you often visit might have a number of bad seeds that cause arguments or generally make a positive or pleasant experience negative. These can waste A LOT of your time, your mental energy, and your sanity.
You don't need to follow the world or even every acquaintance. Reduce your overall social network connections down to those that really serve you or that you really care about.
Depending on what you do for a living this might be easier said than done, but there's generally always something you can do to simplify this area at least the first time you look at it.
15. Cut down on (or completely get rid of) TV: There are a few things you can do here, but they're all rather simple.
At the very least you should reduce your TV time down to your absolute favorite shows by making a list and picking the top few then shifting (if you haven't already) to watching online, not only to remove commercials (and therefore reduce distractions and save time), but also to put yourself in control of when you watch.
Watching something the day it airs can be fun, especially when you get people together (I did this with LOST...), but when you do it with multiple shows you're just at the whim of the TV schedule. You should be getting out and making your life.
This is the time, there will be no other better time than now. TV can wait until you're ready to watch. Or better yet, not at all...
16. Time your recreational internet time: Put yourself back in control of your life by recording whatever time you spent online just for fun. Whether it's Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, or Yahoo! News, set a time aside if possible and at least record any time you spend online just for fun. You'll likely be surprised with how much time you waste wandering the internet in distraction.
Part of simple living is in learning that we have only 24 hours each day, and by making the best of that time we can stop feeling rushed in other areas we want more time for.
17. Practice mindfulness: The reason simplifying our lives is attractive to us, for the most part, is because every bit of our life we simplify we find a little more peace and joy in each moment of the day.
Also, a big part of simplifying your life comes in reducing the often overwhelming chatter occurring in our minds. Mindfulness is the cure to calming this internal chatter so that our minds can rest in simple peace.
18. Take care of the things you've been putting off: We usually have a few things we've been putting off. And typically, they're the things we could take care of in just a few minutes, if we worked up the courage to do them at least.
These things can really be a mental burden and, whether you notice it or not, eat at you a little each day. Not to mention the longer you put them off the worse they get usually, so taking care of them now will help you avoid a bigger issue later. You can read how to do that here.
19. Keep a weekly focus list: I'm not talking about a daily or weekly to-do list to get locked into, but rather a simple a list of things which are urgent and of relative importance which you either don't want to forget or want to keep from having to remember.
An example of things I place on this list are minor changes to my websites design, something I have to buy, and someone important I have to email. While important, these are things that aren't nearly as important as other things I do.
For this reason, I like writing them down and often placing alarm reminders on them so that I don't have to clutter my mind with them. The reminders will remind me when I need to remember them, or I look at my list once a day and will remember them then, and I don't have to bother thinking about them.
20. Simplify your goals: If you have goals, reevaluate them and consider if each goal is necessary, compelling, and beneficial towards your well-being and the well-being of others.
You can't possibly move towards a dozen goals at once, that just won't work out. You can have all kinds of great goals but you'll have to focus on only a few at a time if you want to get anywhere. In some cases, it might be better to rid yourself of goals altogether. I focus more on intention.
I intend to write every day. I have the goal of finishing my second book by next month. I stay conscious of my goal, but I rarely think about it. I focus on my intention, and I intend to write and to get better at writing every day. That's my focus, my goal is secondary. I have no set goal for this, and it's liberating. I just write, with no deadlines, and my best work comes out.
21. Stop multi-tasking / Start single-tasking: Multi-tasking is all-around bad for our well-being on a number of levels. Simplifying our lives isn't just reducing what we buy, use, and take on, but also reducing intangible factors like calming our minds, focusing our efforts, and reducing distractions.
Replace multi-tasking with single-tasking, do as many things in your day as possible with a single-pointed mind. That is, to do something in a way that nothing else matters in the moment that you're doing it. Put 100% of your focus on that thing and give your entire being to making the best of your presence and attention towards whatever you're doing.
Make it a point to focus on one thing at a time instead of bouncing around, especially at work, the easiest place to fall victim to the myth of multi-tasking.
22. Delegate / Ask for Help: This might sound like "simplify things for me and add more for others", but it's not. This is being smart about how much you can handle. As I mentioned earlier, we need to be aware of the fact that we're not invincible. This doesn't make us weak, it makes us stronger.
When we live and work blindly we, thinking we can handle it all and then some, just end up hurting ourselves and everything we're connected to. By learning to ask for help, especially soliciting the help of those who are better than you at the thing you need help with, you not only do good for yourself but for others as well.
Connecting positively with and helping others makes us happier and healthier, so don't feel bad admitting you could use a helping hand.
23. Utilize the path of least resistance: Most of us are constantly wrestling with old habit energies. We're trying to establish new positive habits but the old cumbersome ones keep getting in the way.
To combat this and make the process of establishing a better life simpler and easier, start utilizing the path of least resistance. Make whatever you want to do the easiest thing for you to do in the moment you want to do it. And next, make the thing you DON'T want to do as inconvenient as possible.
For example, if you have donuts and fruit at home and rather eat the fruit, put the donuts in the cupboard behind a couple other boxes. Then, place the fruit out on a table or kitchen counter to make it as easy as possible to access it.
This really simplifies the process of developing new positive habits and helps literally everything. Try it, it works.
24. Start pre-planning your days: Plan what you expect, or hope, to get done the night before a given day. Do this roughly, not exactly.
You don't have to be exact, just give yourself guidance so that 1) you don't waste time doing useless or less important things, and 2) so that you have some internal marker as to when you do actually lose your focus.
25. Give away needless physical possessions: This is a pretty common one. It's as straightforward as it sounds, but be careful, it's easily worth more than one day on this list.
Going through one or two rooms can take an entire day depending on how many things you own. When considering what to get rid of (preferably giving away or donating as opposed to throwing away) ask yourself how often you've used it in the last year/month depending on what it is, how much you plan on using it in the future, and whether it contributes positively, negatively, or neutrally to your life in general.
26. Become a more conscious consumer: Start looking deeply into the things you buy and consume. Consider if what you're buying is something you need or want, what purpose the thing fulfills, and if something or a combination of things you already own can fulfill the same purpose.
27. Cut down on time commitments: Many of us over commit. We either don't like telling friends or family members "no" or we think we can handle the weight of the world on our backs and rather break our back before admitting defeat.
But no matter who you are, you're human. And that means you're not invincible. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you can't grow stronger and take an immeasurable amount of responsibility if need-be, but in the long run this will not only be harmful towards your overall well-being but it can inhibit your own success and affect the well-being of those around you if you're not careful.
You need to cut down on time commitments not worth spending your time, and ultimately your life, on and start being a little more conscious of when you're at your limit.
28. Systematize and automate the collection of important information: This means primarily important paperwork, passwords, and account information.
We get bills, offers, notes, notices of changes, statements, copies of all kinds of stuff: birth certificates, medical information, account information, and we have a zillion passwords and logins for all kinds of different things. This can be difficult to keep track of, especially when it comes to things we get on a regular basis like bills and statements.
Most of us barely if at all keep this information organized, and if we end up needing it, go through a lot of hassle to find it again. It's important to set up a reliable system to deal with all the important information you receive. You never know when you'll have to come back to it, and when you do, it's often pretty important that you find it.
You can use a simple scanner to save the files and then organize them on your computer into folders to make it as easy as possible to find. I'd suggest getting something like Evernote to store and organize the information, it's my favorite program/application of any kind and it's super easy to store important information in an organized way.
Also, for physical paperwork you need to keep a hold of like birth certificates and such I'd get one of those multi-file folders (with labels) you can find at any office supply store. This system won't take any time at all and will ultimately simplify a part of modern life that can be a real pain to keep up with.
29. Stop the bleeding: If you have any negative influences or associations in your life, you need to begin moving away from them. This isn't always easy to do, but a truly negative influence, that is someone who absolutely refuses to change some negative behavior, is poisonous to your efforts for positive self-improvement and spiritual development.
You want to cultivate compassion for all people, but a bad influence who doesn't want to change can really hold you back, so you need to separate yourself from them, express compassion and understanding towards them for their situation, and hope that they one day realize their wrong actions and grow the desire to change.
30. Reevaluate everything: At the end of these 30 days, how did everything go? Is there something you want or need to change? Are there further changes to be made? Is there something that didn't turn out well and needs to be adjusted?
Only you know the answer to these questions based on your situation, so I suggest you stay aware of the specific effects each simplifying strategy is having on your life. In many cases, the adjustments can be just as productive and important as the initial action.
31. Move closer to work or work closer to home: This might seem like an odd one, but it's important. Long work commutes have shown in recent studies to have a relatively significant effect on our well-being. They make life more complicated and a lot of situations inconvenient in general.
This, of course, is the one thing on this list that can't easily be done or started in a day. But, you can at least figure out if this is an issue for you, and if so, start thinking about how you can remedy it one way or the other.
Get the 30 Simple Steps to Simple Living in 30 Days PDF
Want to take the 30 Simple Steps to Simple Living in 30 Days guide with you on the go? Download a beautiful PDF version by filling in your name and email below: