There many, many articles and books on living simply. Some recommend getting rid of (almost) everything you own. Others focus on frugal living. Still others suggest skipping cell phones and social media, growing your own food, and giving away your car and TV.
Sometimes, we also get the impression that living simply is a sacrifice, according to author and blogger Courtney Carver. Because, well, you love your car, and you love your TV. And maybe you want to have a closet full of clothes, even if you only wear many of them for special occasions. Maybe you want a huge house. Maybe you love your extensive book collection, and cherish every trinket you own because you inherited them from your beloved grandma. Maybe you’re tied to your technology, and you like it that way.
Living simply isn’t about loss. It’s actually a gain—many meaningful gains. When you live simply, you gain time, space, money, energy and attention—precious resources that you can redirect toward what really matters.
Carver, who pens the blog Be More with Less, has spent the last few years removing items from her home, tasks from her to-do list, and activities from her calendar. She’s also spent these years removing needless things from her mind and heart.
“Now I have room for the good stuff, like being healthy, showing up for the people I love, and working on projects I really care about,” she said. Because when you remove what you don’t want, you learn what you do. “In the process we create room to breathe and to remember who we are and what we care about.”
Professional organizer and ADHD coach Debra Michaud, MA, sees living simply as gaining freedom by reducing the excesses in one’s life. “The more stuff you have, the bigger the space you need, the more time you need to manage it, the more you need to work to pay for it all. It’s a never-ending cycle.”
And it’s a detrimental cycle because it distracts us from what we really want: meaning, purpose, connection, she said.
Living simply also is about streamlining systems with one’s wardrobe, finances and home to reduce the time spent on maintaining them, Michaud said. “Ultimately, it’s about experiencing the most out of the essentials in life, and not being bogged down by the inessentials.”
Maybe this resonates deeply with you, but right now living simply doesn’t feel very simple. Because where do you start? Below, Carver and Michaud share concrete suggestions.
List your reasons for living simply. Write them all down—whether you’re sick of debt collectors, upset that you never get any time with your kids, or too stressed to sleep, said Carver, the author of the forthcoming book Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More. “These are your whys and your whys will provide great leverage when you think it’s too hard to keep going. Your whys will help you remember what matters.”
Have routines. “Routines take much less energy than having to figure out moment to moment what should be done,” Michaud said. She suggested creating routines that start and finish the day. For instance, every night, some of her clients prepare their clothes, bag and food, and write out their priorities for the next day. She also suggested having days dedicated to errands, cooking, and exercise.
Use one card to curb overspending. “People often know the categories where they tend to overspend,” Michaud said. She advises clients to put these purchases on one credit card, so they’re easier to track—and then lower.
For instance, for three months, one client put all her restaurant purchases on the same card. “We found that she would eat out whenever she hadn’t cooked in advance, so she started spending a little more time on meal planning and prepping food in advance—and cut her eating out budget by 60 percent.”
Clear clutter by regularly re-evaluating. When assessing belongings, Michaud’s favorite question to ask is: “Would I buy it today?” She also regularly asks her clients: “Do you love it? Do you use it?”
Michaud believes we can learn a lot from the tiny home movement—even if that kind of simple is not your kind of simple. “To shift into a tiny home, people have to assess the usefulness of every single object that goes inside of it.” You can do the same by asking yourself: “What are the bare bone essentials? What do I really need, and what do I want to make room for in my life?”
Take your time. According to Carver, “Your life didn’t get complicated overnight and you probably won’t simplify it overnight either.” Be patient with yourself. Go slowly. Steady changes last longer than fast and furious ones, she said.
Living simply “can’t be defined in one article or Instagram post,” Carver said. “One person’s simplicity looks different [from another’s].” The key is to figure out what simplicity means to you.
Maybe it’s keeping your book and clothes collections, but saying ‘no’ to commitments that don’t excite you (which you previously said ‘yes’ to out of obligation). Maybe it’s donating extra dishes and blankets and shoes to people who need them more than you. Maybe it’s finally working on eliminating your debt, and having a specific place for all the items in your home.
The powerful thing about simplicity is that it’s figuring out what’s essential and not essential to you. When you do that, you’re left with the good stuff.