Steps to Simpler Living, Part 3: How to Start Simplifying
Imagine you're standing in front of a giant mountain of stuff you're expected to take care of-- deadlines, bills, toys, dirty socks, unwashed dishes, unread emails, social invitations, family obligations, social pressures, and a ticking clock to top it all off.
Or maybe you don't have to imagine. Maybe that's an accurate picture of your life right now.
You want to tackle it. You need to tackle it.
You want to cut some things out and streamline others. You crave a life where this mountain no longer exists, where all the little pieces are in their places.
You know simplifying is the answer, but how do you go about doing it?
Last week I talked about determining what simplicity means to you, and creating a mantra or a manifesto to be clear about what a simplified life would look like specifically for you. But you still have to act on it in order for it to make a real difference. So that's the focus today.
ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR SITUATION
Before you get too far, you have to take stock of where you're already at. You can't move forward if you don't know where you're currently standing.
What stage of life are you in? Are you just responsible for yourself, or do you have other people who rely on you to take care of them? Do you have freedom and autonomy, or are you part of an interdependent family? Is this season of your life better characterized by youthful independence or adult responsibility?
What does your current family situation look like? Are you single? Married? Married with little kids? Big kids? An empty nester?
How about your living situation-- what's that like? Is it a calm and quiet place for just you, or do you have a bunch of little kids running around, making messes, adding to the chaos and the clutter? Are you surrounded by stuff that's just yours, or does some of it belong to someone else?
What kind of time and energy do you have to put toward your goals right now? If you have a lot of family commitments and other people to take care of, this is an opportunity for you to acknowledge that not as a burden but as a piece of the puzzle for this time in your life.
I started my journey to simpler living when I was fresh out of college, living with friends, completely independent, and only responsible for myself. It made it easy to begin, but I wasn't accountable to anyone until I sat down and wrote my manifesto with a friend. There are benefits and challenges with each stage of life and specific situation; you just have to know where you're at so you can make the most of your own circumstances!
IDENTIFY OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH
In this season of your life, I want you to take an inventory of how things are really going. Take a moment to be really honest and consider where there might be room for growth and change.
What's working? What isn't working?
I've asked myself that in the past when I felt dissatisfied with how things were going in my life-- namely, when the ache of losing the community I had in college got to be too painful to ignore. I realized living without solid support and without people to live life with wasn't working for me, and I had to do something about it. But if I'd ignored that ache, or not taken the time to figure out what was causing it, I would have gone on feeling like something was missing but not done anything to change it.
What's causing you the most stress right now?
I know there are probably multiple stressors in your life, but what seems to be the most pressing one? Is it financial strain? Time constraints? Too many irons in the fire? An inability to keep your home clean or find any number of lost items amid the chaos? A health struggle?
Shortly after graduating, I felt overwhelmed with my student loan debt. I mean crazy stressed out about paying it back, not just mildly concerned about the length of time it would take. I was thinking about it constantly, worrying about whether I would even be able to pay them off. I knew at that point that I had to make some changes so I could pay it off and get that burden off my shoulders.
Based on the mantra or manifesto that guides your life and decision-making, what needs to change so that your home and life are better aligned with your values and goals?
How can you shift things and make small, incremental changes so that the things you're focusing on and pouring your time, energy, and money into reflect your priorities and values? What do you need to focus more on? What do you need to focus less on? Is there anything that you need to let go of altogether?
These are now your goals, the things you can focus on as you begin to lead a life of greater simplicity.
JUST START SOMEWHERE
When it comes to starting anything, the hardest part is often taking the first step.
If you spend all your time worrying about where to begin tackling the obstacle in front of you, concerned about doing it wrong or messing it up or making mistakes, you'll never make any progress. At some point, you just have to do it!
Just start somewhere! It doesn't matter too much where you choose to begin; it just matters that you make a decision and actually start instead of spending all your time worrying about where to jump in.
You can tackle the biggest obstacle first if you're brave and want a challenge, or you can tackle a smaller obstacle or stressor and through that gain momentum for more. It's up to you!
When I'm facing a lengthy to-do list, I go back and forth in my approach. Some days, I'll tackle the biggest, hardest task first so the rest of the day doesn't loom in front of me like a scary giant. Other days I start with something easy to work my way up to the hard stuff. All that matters is that I start somewhere and choose to keep going.
APPROACH SIMPLICITY WITH SUSTAINABILITY IN MIND
Once you've thought about where to begin, it can be easy to go full steam ahead, but I want to encourage you to pace yourself a bit. I don't want you running out of steam after a few days or a week; simplicity is a journey, a lifestyle, and I want you to be able to keep going long-term.
So consider what you will be able to adopt as a part of a lifestyle, not some passing fad. What will you be able to do without going crazy? If you're simplifying your clutter, you might not be able to devote hours to it every day without losing your mind. But perhaps you could devote half an hour or fifteen minutes to it every day and find that more sustainable.
What do you need to do right now, and what can wait? It's tempting to jump into the deep end and do all the things you can think of right away, but that's not a sustainable solution. Choose what you'll tackle now and what you'll save for later. This is especially helpful when considering what you can afford-- if you're buying staple items for a capsule wardrobe, switching out conventional products with natural ones, or replacing household furniture for better-quality pieces, you might not be able to afford to do it all at once. So choose where to begin, take a step or two, and continue to pace yourself, knowing you don't have to tackle everything at once!
And finally, what routines can you develop to keep yourself going on your journey to a simpler lifestyle? Simplicity is something you have to keep choosing over and over again, so how can you integrate it into your everyday life? How can you simplify your current routines and make your life easier?
I like to simplify my to-do list by breaking it down into just a few things for each day so I don't get overwhelmed and so I have a much higher chance of accomplishing my tasks. I have created a routine of getting up and working out so I can live a healthy life without even having to consciously make the choice everyday-- it's just a normal part of my routine now. I also like to pick out my clothes for the week on Sunday so I don't have to waste valuable time and brain power each morning when I'm still half asleep and just wanting breakfast.
Are there routines you can adopt to make your life simpler and your journey toward simplicity more sustainable? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!
And if you're looking for some inspiration, encouragement, and help in living a simpler life, I'd love to help you with that! You can learn more here.