Updated: Jan 13
“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”
When Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, was interviewed by WebMD, she passed along excellent advice on living simply. Gilbert said, “My friend Suzanne once told me, ‘Remember this forever, Liz: Just because you can do anything does not mean you can do everything.’ I have never forgotten it. I think it’s something every woman needs to hear. It’s time to back off from the crazymaking expectation that we should be able to do 7,000 things at once. Back off. Drop most of it. Let it go. It’s an inhumane pace at which most of us live, and it will make you sick—and make everyone around you sick, too.”
Of course, this advice applies to everyone in today’s society—a society that puts a premium on everyone being busy: man, woman, and child. The mentality seems to be, “The busier; the better.” In other words, “The busier one is; the better person one is: More productive; more important; more whatever.” So, we rush around but we miss the boat (what’s important in life).
Leo Babauta, an expert on finding simplicity in the daily chaos of our lives, has written several books on this topic and also blogs about it at ZenHabits.net. He believes that living a simple life means doing what’s important—and that differs from person to person.
In Babauta’s post, Simple Living Manifesto: 72 Ideas to Simplify Your Life, he says, “It 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.” Babauta believes there are two steps to simplifying:
Identify what’s most important to you.
Eliminate everything else.
In order to do this, he offers 72 tips in his Simple Living Manifesto post.
Here’s a sampling:
MAKE A LIST OF YOUR TOP 4-5 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.
EVALUATE YOUR COMMITMENTS
Look at everything you’ve got going on in your life. Everything, from work to home to civic to kids’ activities to hobbies to side businesses to other projects. Think about which of these really gives you value, which ones you love doing. Which of these are in line with the 4-5 most important things you listed above? Drop those that aren’t in line with those things.
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.
SIMPLIFY WORK TASKS
Our workday 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.
SIMPLIFY HOME TASKS
In that vein, think about all the stuff you do at home. Sometimes our home tasks list is just as long as our work list. And we’ll never get that done either. So focus on the most important, and try to find ways to eliminate the other tasks (automate, eliminate, delegate, or hire help).
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.
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. For example, only do email at certain times of the day, for a certain number of minutes. Set a schedule and stick to it.
LIMIT YOUR MEDIA CONSUMPTION
I believe the media—TV, radio, Internet, magazines, Netflix, etc. dominates our lives. Don’t let it. Simplify your life and your information consumption by limiting it.
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.
LIMIT YOUR BUYING HABITS
If you are a slave to materialism and consumerism, there are ways to escape it. And that will mean less stuff, less spending, less freneticism.
These two words can make a huge difference in simplifying 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.
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.
The key to keeping your life simple is to create simple routines.
Will this simplify my life? If the answer is no, reconsider.
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.