3-Step Approach to Simplifying Your Life
You've heard of the wisdom of crowds but, let's be honest, one traffic-clogged commute or toxic online comment thread can start to convince you that groups of humans are not always fonts of wisdom. And then sometimes something reverses your thinking and shows that, given the right platform, people are both full of ingenuity and generous with their good ideas.
Take this recent Quora thread for example. The conversation kicks off with someone confessing to a common problem among busy business owners: “Recently, I find myself overwhelmed with work, trivial tasks, clutter and filing. I'd like to simplify my life so that I can get back to more of the things that I enjoy. I'm not even sure where to find the time to begin.”
Given how common an issue this is, you might suspect that most folks would be too busy with their own complicated lives to help one frazzled questioner simplify hers, but you’d be wrong. A mix of wisdom, compassion and practical suggestions poured in, with responses ranging from the uber-practical -- "Whenever I cook anything I make two (if applicable) and freeze one, there is always something tasty and healthy in my freezer" -- to the deeply philosophical.
If simplicity is something you’re personally struggling with, peruse the answers to find ideas that work best for you, but here are a few of the best suggestions to get you started.
The Three-Step Approach
Lawyer turned writer Cristina Hartmann confirms what you probably already noticed, noting that "simplicity isn't easy," before offering her own home-baked three-step solution. Her method boils down to:
Develop a life philosophy. Before you make any major (or even minor) changes, you need to know why you're changing your life. You need a purpose. You need a prioritization system. You need a life philosophy, a distilled set of principles that reflect your values.
Divide up your tasks into must-dos and want-dos, and eliminate everything else. You have to do some things even if it doesn't fit into your life philosophy, like pay taxes, eat and sleep. These are necessary things that you can't avoid (without suffering horrible consequences, at least). On the other hand, you have your want-dos, the things that you love doing when you're not paying your taxes, calling your mom, and fixing the garbage disposal. This is the fun stuff that advance your life philosophy. Everything else? Junk them.
Reduce clutter, both physical and mental. Clutter is more than untidiness. It's superfluity. It's excess. With unnecessary things piling up in our homes, offices and minds, simplicity becomes impossible.
Does this program seem like something that’s right up your alley, check out the thread for a much more detailed explanation of the steps.
List and Destroy
If you’re less of the life philosophy type and more likely to face nagging worry about day-to-day things, Will Newton has a suggestion. "When overwhelmed, quickly write a point form list entitled ‘Things Bothering Me’ and then process each item in the list,” he writes, adding, “this will reduce your feelings of being overwhelmed and give you a clearer sense of what you need to do."
Include "things to do, things people said, things you don't like," he instructs, offering examples from nasty comments that rubbed you wrong to the stain on the rug or that thing you keep meaning to schedule. Once you’ve made this quick inventory of stressors, "go through the list and make decisions about what you have to do about each thing. Focus on just one of the items at a time and ask yourself, 'what is the very next thing I should do about this item?'" It’s a super effective five-minute way to bust that feeling of being overwhelmed, he claims.
Back to the Present
Some people’s sense of clutter and confusion won’t be remedied by trip to The Container Store of calling the dentist to finally schedule that filling, web developer and entrepreneur Gabriel Harper suggests. According to him, the last thing simplicity seekers need is more programs or tips. Instead they need to learn satisfaction with the present.
"Everyone simplifies by trying to change their past. Throw things away, organize your belongings, donate some clothes, ditch some friends, voilá. I'm not sure about that. I hold on to what I have, and don't allow myself to be controlled by that constant need for newness," he writes.
"Chances are, your life is over-complicated by all the years spent trying to fill a non-existent hole in your life. We all seek out new things - they feel good. It's especially appealing when you're feeling down or overwhelmed by life. It's new and different, clean and untainted; eventually though, it's just part of the mess like everything else," he continues, concluding, "instead of seeking more lists and more plans, new clothes and new friends, perhaps look around and consider that you probably already have all the things that you really care about. Cherish the friends you have and wear your favorite shirt to tatters."
Still haven’t found a simplification plan that’s likely to work for you? Check out the thread for dozens more suggestions.
Do you feel your life could be with some simplifying?
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.