Copyright 2000, Linda Breen Pierce. You may reprint this article, provided you include the byline at the end of the article.
"Simplify, Simplify…" More than a century after Henry David Thoreau uttered these words, his plea for simplicity has more significance now than ever before. We work hard and play hard, filling nearly every moment with activity. Most families believe they need two incomes to pay for a standard of living that has doubled in the last 50 years. But do we? Based on my three-year study of over 200 people who have simplified their lives, I found that we can work less, want less, and spend less, and be happier and more fulfilled in the process. Here are ten suggestions to simplify your life. Don't try to simplify your life in a few weeks or months; most people need an initial period of three to five years to complete this transition. Small, gradual steps are best.
1. Don't let any material thing come into your home unless you absolutely love it and want to keep it until it is beyond repair. Too much stuff - it's suffocating us. Purchasing, maintaining, insuring, storing and eventually disposing of our stuff sucks up our precious life energy.
2. Live in a home with only those rooms that you or someone in your family use every day. Create a cozy home environment that fits your family. You will find this is much more satisfying than living in a museum designed to impress your friends. Spending time and money to maintain a home that is larger than you truly need diverts these resources from more fulfilling endeavors.
3. Limit your work (outside of the home) to 30 hours a week, 20 if you are a parent. To live a balanced life, we need "down" time - time to daydream, to relax, to prepare a leisurely meal, to take a walk. If we surround our structured activities with empty spaces, those activities will become more productive and meaningful.
4. Select a home and place of employment no more than 30 minutes away from each other. Commuting time is dead time. It nourishes not the body, the mind, nor the soul. Preserve your energy and money for more rewarding life experiences.
5. Limit your children's extracurricular activities to one to three a week, depending on age. Otherwise, you will exhaust yourself and your children will grow up addicted to constant stimulation.
6. Take three to four months off every few years and go live in a foreign country. Living in a different culture fascinates, excites, and vitalizes us. It teaches us to live in the present, a core practice of simple living. We gain perspective when we experience a foreign culture. We learn how much we have to be grateful for.
7. Spend at least an hour a week in a natural setting, away from crowds of people, traffic, and buildings. Three to four hours of nature time each week is even better. There is nothing more basic, more simple, than the natural world.
8. Do whatever you need to do to connect with a sense of spirit in your life, whether it be prayer, religious services, journal writing, meditation, or spiritually-related reading. Simplicity leads to spirituality; spirituality leads to simplicity. Cultivate a practice of silence and solitude, even for 15 to 30 minutes a day. Your spirituality will evolve naturally.
9. Seek the support of others who want to simplify their lives. Join or start a simplicity circle if you enjoy group interaction. Living simply in our culture can be a lonely journey. Your friends and family may still be on the work-and-spend treadmill and are unlikely to give you support. Participating in a study group will give you support and validation for your choices.
10. Practice saying no. Say no to those things that don't bring you inner peace and fulfillment, whether it be more material things, greater career responsibility, or added social activities. Be vigilant with your time and energy; they are limited resources. If you say yes to one thing (like a job promotion), recognize that you are saying no to something else (perhaps more time with family). Live consciously and deliberately.
Linda Breen Pierce is the author of Choosing Simplicity: Real People Finding Peace and Fulfillment in a Complex World and Simplicity Lessons: A 12-Step Guide to Living Simply. She can be reached via email or at (831) 626-8486 (Pacific time).And our own addition:
11. Surround yourself with great music and art.