How to Simplify Your Life: 10 Ways to Get Started

I have always been drawn to the simple, but I think what propelled me to begin making changes to simplify my life was in 2000, the first year Real Simple Magazine hit the newsstands. All of a sudden I had a name for the craving I had been feeling: I wanted to simplify! Over the years I have used simplicity as a frame to look at everything in my life, from my possessions to my commitments to my job choice and housing. Of course, since then I have expanded my reference point for simple living to include many inspiring books and websites beyond Real Simple - but the most helpful thing has always been to honestly ask, what can I do to make my day, week, and year simpler, easier, and more joyful? 

How to Simplify Your Life: 10 Ways to Get Started

So if you find yourself craving a simpler life, more time for yourself, your family, and your passions, and less worry, rushing, and overwhelm, here are a few places to begin:

1. Quickly regain some time for yourself. The best way I know for most of us to do this is by choosing to put our screens to bed at least an hour before sleep at night, and savor a first cup of coffee or tea in the morning before checking a device. It never ceases to amaze me (especially since I became a mother) what an immense difference even ten minutes to yourself can make.

2. Don't be afraid to reassess the "big stuff" in your life. Since we moved back to my hometown, our life has naturally become simpler: we now live close enough to my son's school that we can ride our bikes or walk there instead of drive, and walk to coffee shops, a bookstore, markets, and more. With a mild California climate, we can do this most of the year, and my husband's commute has shrunk by more than half, meaning we have more time as a family in the morning, and can sit down to dinner together each night. Consider what "big stuff" in your own life could potentially be changed to make things easier on you - living in a smaller home could mean less stress over finances, leaving a high-stress job for something you are passionate about could make your days feel more relaxed and joyful. If you were going to change something big, what would it be?

3. Shop less. What I mean here is shopping for necessary stuff...which can quickly spiral into shopping for unnecessary stuff (that honestly, you don't even really want) and eat up a bunch of your day that could be spent doing something you love. I am a complete convert to the joys of shopping online, and while I still make a Target run every once in a while for certain bulky items, shopping online generally saves money, time, and stress, and prevents clutter from entering my home.

4. Simplify meals. Doing some weekend cooking and prep is a lifesaver. On most Sundays, we make a roast chicken, and then make stock to use in homemade soup later in the week (just add carrots, celery, and onion, pour over your favorite noodles + top with a sprinkle of parmesan). If we don't roast a chicken, we try to make a big batch of something and freeze a dish for later in the week, and pre-wash and chop some veggies, boil some eggs, cook a pot of grains, or grate some cheese to make building blocks for quick weeknight dinners. Cooking on the weekend is more fun than on rushed weeknights (perhaps with glass of wine in hand...) so take advantage!

5. Simplify your wardrobe. Why have items in your wardrobe that aren't quite right? I much prefer the approach taken in much of Europe, where it's the norm to have fewer but higher-quality clothes. Who cares if you wear the same clothes often if you look and feel great in them? Having a simple wardrobe to me also means carefully choosing pieces that go well together, so you can put almost any piece with any other piece and create a fresh outfit.

6. Be honest about how you feel about commitments in your life. For some people, having a productive home garden, chickens, and a compost pile are wonderful ways to simplify by meeting many of your family's needs without having to leave home. For others, being tied to the work of keeping up a garden and caring for animals daily means sacrificing the freedom to take off and travel. Simplifying looks different for everyone!

7. Get comfortable saying no. It's not always easy to say no, but by saying no to some things, you are leaving more room in your life to say yes to the things that really matter to you. If protecting your own health and happiness means occasionally turning down an invite, a board position, or weekend plans, so be it. 

8. Get rid of annoyances. The shirt that always rides up, the bottles of strange cleaning products you can't even remember buying, the garbage in your purse, the random junk you have to push aside to find what you really need - these daily annoyances seem small, but in the grand scheme of things, they are sapping energy and joy from your life. It's time to let these things go.

9. Refuse to worry about something that's been a huge source of stress. Gabrielle wrote a wonderful piece on Design Mom a while back called Why We Don't Stress Out About Choosing a School that I think should be required reading for everyone (not just parents!) because ... she nails it. So often, we worry ourselves sick over things - but worrying simply doesn't help. Call to mind your biggest current worry - it could be about your child, your health, where to move, whatever it is - and then just let yourself imagine for a moment what it would feel like if you gave yourself permission not to worry about it anymore. What a relief!  

10. Take the time to get to know yourself. So much of simplifying comes down to this: if you don't know yourself, what you're most passionate about, what you love, how you would spend your ideal day (and week and year...), and so on, you won't be making life decisions that really simplify things for you. We are all beautifully different. Get to know yourself, your loves and hopes and dreams, and then you can make strong decisions about what to let go of in your life. Identify the treasures in your life, and let go of the rest.