Did you end off 2016 with high hopes for the year ahead? It was a tricky year for many of us, lots happened, much of it in the ‘you can’t make this shit up’ category.
I mean, who’d have thought he who shall not be named would make it all the way to the White House, right?
Never mind trying to figure out how to simplify your life, you’re probably wondering how the hell you can get off the grid completely. Suddenly living out your days in a twelve by twelve cabin is pretty appealing. Even the outdoor ‘hay toilet’ doesn’t sound so bad.
Perhaps you’re made of sterner stuff than the rest of us and instead of letting last year get you down, you’re focusing your attention on 2017. Your long list of resolutions is up on the fridge and you’re acing every one of them.
Or at least, you were until about a week ago when life overwhelmed you. Again. Suddenly the kids needed to get to school (can’t those rugrats drive yet?), the grocery cupboards didn’t miraculously replenish themselves, your boss dumped a bunch of new responsibilities on your head and your spouse (bless!) came down with the flu. Seriously!?
Well duh, of course you’re heading straight for the fridge for a slice of leftover pizza before flying out the door to get to that early meeting on time. Gym? Who the hell has time for gym? And besides, you can’t find your trainers and your track pants are too tight. Ugh.
It’s Time for You to Simplify Your Life
Don’t roll your eyes at the screen! Wait, I’ll insert an image of a cute cat. But if I do, then you’ve got to commit to reading to the end of the post. Deal?
Look at that, not one, but three cute cats. Fine, maybe the middle one is more schmatty* than cute, but the other two are sweet, right? Okay then, let’s get down to business. How do you simplify your life?
*In our house ‘schmatty’ means attitude on steroids.
Step #1 Declutter Your Home
The first thing you need to do is declutter your home. Because quite honestly, you won’t be able to concentrate on anything until you’ve got that mess into a straight stripe.
Note: When I say straight stripe, I do not mean organising everything into pretty boxes. That can come later (if you’ve got anything left to organise). First you must get rid of everything you no longer use.
In his book, Simplify: 7 Guiding Principles to Help Anyone Declutter Their Home and Life, Joshua Becker maps out a rational path to minimalism. Along with changing the way you look at physical possessions, Joshua’s approach promises to free you from the burden of clutter. With the extraneous out the way, you’ll find yourself brimming with the motivation that’s been missing (or maybe it was just hidden under a pile of old magazines) for so long.
Note: Sporty and I have been card-carrying minimalists since 2008, so while I figured the book would be a good read, I doubted very much it would teach us anything new. Ha, shows you what I know!
Straight after reading it, Sporty immediately began putting her stuff away. She’s always been one of those people who drapes things over chairs (my inner neat freak is shuddering just writing this), but now she’s actually tidying up after me! Holy guacamole!
Step #1a Declutter the Sentimental Stuff
For a lot of people getting rid of regular stuff, such as old clothes or kitchen appliances, is pretty easy. But when it comes to the sentimental stuff we balk at the idea of letting go. Maybe the item in question belonged to a loved one who’s since shuffled off or perhaps it serves as a reminder of a time gone by. Whatever the case, when we first embark on this downsizing journey we can all use a few helpful tips for dealing with sentimental clutter.
The post I linked to above is worth bookmarking (no, not just because I wrote it, though there is that), because it includes advice from a number of different sources (most of them fairly reputable). My hope is that at least one of them will resonate with you. Also, it’s worth watching Joshua Becker’s YouTube clip on the subject as well.
Step #2 Declutter Your Finances
For Sporty and I, the biggest benefit we’ve experienced since becoming minimalist is financial freedom. We’re not quite at the financially independent stage, but we are debt-free and we have a significant amount of savings in the bank.
No longer living paycheck to paycheck is indescribably liberating. Amongst other things, it allows you to sleep peacefully at night and it lets you do crazy cool stuff, like transition to a three-day work week.
Once you’ve decluttered your home, your number one goal is to get your finances in order. In short, this means paying off your debt and saving up six month’s worth of living expenses (also know as a rainy day fund).
An article I wrote for The Penny Hoarder explains how becoming minimalist helped us pay off $95 000 worth of debt. And if you sign up for our weekly newsletter, we’ll send you the budget template we used to get our spending on track. In fact, it’s the same one we use to this day.
Yip, it’s that good, but then we don’t call Sporty the spreadsheet guru for nothing!
Also, if you haven’t already, I highly recommend watching my TEDx Cape Town talk: The Less You Own, the More You Have. Mostly because I’m trying to get my view numbers up in the hope that TED Global will feature it on their website, but also because it too offers some useful nuggets of wisdom on the subjects of both downsizing and finances.
But don’t just take my word for it. After all, perhaps our $95 000 is like pocket change compared to the mountain of debt you’re currently faced with. No worries, I’ve got you covered.
These personal finance bloggers all answered one pertinent question: What is the biggest money obstacle you have overcome? From student and consumer debt to living beyond their means and changing their mindset about money, these guys have covered it all.
Step #3 Declutter Your Brain
Now that we’ve dealt with the physical and financial clutter, it’s time to declutter your brain. It’s true, our brains are wondrous and remarkable things, but using them to store absolutely every idea we’ve ever had (or will have) doesn’t make sense.
For starters, it’s really just another form of hoarding. But perhaps more importantly, if we don’t put our ideas down on paper we risk losing them to the ethers. There’s something powerful about taking a thought and turning it into something tangible. Even if that something tangible amounts to nothing more than some scribbles in a journal.
A brain dump isn’t just good for documenting your ideas though, it’s also a smart way to keep track of everything you have to do. This is groundbreaking stuff, right? Who’d’ve thunk that to-do lists can be useful?
Jest not, there are plenty of ‘fly by the seat of their pants’ folks out there, who, for whatever reason, believe they can remember everything they need to do without actually writing it down. Weirdos. (I’m just glad that’s not me.)
By decluttering your brain you avoid (or greatly reduce) the chances of cognitive overload. And in my opinion, avoiding any kind of overload (except for
maybe baked goods and chocolate) is a good thing.
Step #4 Focus on the Right Stuff
Listen up ladies, this bit is especially for you. I know guys also suffer from “I can do it all!” syndrome, but us women take this multi-tasking, say yes to everything, no matter the cost approach to life to a whole ‘nother level.
Yes, people might be disappointed, but that’s okay. You can’t please everyone all the time and you can’t do everything either. Your best bet for a happy, fulfilled and productive life is to spend your time focusing on the right stuff, not just any stuff.
Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, single-handedly brought about the downfall of two of the most hardcore workaholics I know: my boss and Sporty.
I didn’t know my boss BE (Before Essentialism), but I did know Sporty. Worse, I lived with her. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve been together almost 20 years and I’m still smitten, but living with a workaholic isn’t fun.
I witnessed her almost overnight change with awe. She went from routinely working overtime to keeping normal work hours. She stopped responding to work-related emails and phone calls on the weekend and best of all, she no longer labours under the illusion that everything will grind to a halt if she’s not there to oversee matters.
Essentialism isn’t just for workaholics though, it’s for anyone who is struggling with overwhelm in whatever way, shape or form. Whether you have too many projects going on at once or too many new ideas all vying for attention, Greg’s book will help you discern what to focus on and what to leave (either for the moment or for good).
Focusing on the right stuff (as opposed to just any stuff) is in the same vein as the Pareto principle or the 80/20 rule, as it’s also known, which dictates that 80% of your results comes from 20% of your effort. That 20% is the ‘right stuff’
Step #5 Enjoy Life
Once you’ve put Steps 1-4 in place you should (provided you’ve followed the guidelines in this post) have more leisure time on your hands. Don’t be immediately tempted to fill those free hours with new projects or other ‘productive’ activities.
Spend this time wisely. Use it to make memories. Hang out with your family, your significant other, your friends, your person, your pets. Remember to take time out for you as well though, there’s something to be said for enjoying your own company.
Relax. Take life slow. Stop to smell the flowers, enjoy the view and feel the wind in your hair. Walk, read, ride a bike, lie on the grass. Be still. Enjoy life.