How to Live a Simple Life (and Let Go of All the Crap Bogging You Down)
When we talk about living a simple life, we don’t mean packing our bags to work on a farm Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton-style (wow, that really was a long time ago). But there is something to be said for stripping away the trappings of society, whether that’s downsizing your home, decluttering your space or donating your diamond tiara, to help create a more relaxed and hopefully less stressed life.
Recently, more and more Americans have been gravitating toward this kind of minimalism by adopting trends like the tiny home movement, the capsule wardrobe craze and, of course, Marie Kondo and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. As burnout becomes our new normal, folks are looking for ways to slow down, and doing so reaps health benefits such as reduced anxiety, slower aging and stronger immunity. To help you step off life’s hectic hamster wheel, here are some ways to live a simple life that aren’t too complicated.
1. Declutter to Lessen Distractions
According to researchers at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute, clutter hinders your ability to focus as well as process information because it’s constantly competing for your attention—that pile of clothes is screaming, look at me! The research indicates that by decluttering and organizing your space, you’ll be less irritable, more productive and distracted less often.
Interior stylist Whitney Giancoli suggests purging at least twice a year, “right before it gets cold and right before it gets hot.” She also recommends keeping a donation bag in your closet so you can easily toss in items when they’ve worn out their welcome.
And to determine if you truly need something, follow this simple rule from Gretchen Rubin’s decluttering book, Outer Order, Inner Calm: “If you want to store something but don’t care if it’s accessible—well, that’s a clue that you may not need to keep that item at all." Or this one: “If you can’t decide whether to keep an item of clothing, ask yourself, ‘If I ran into my ex on the street, would I be happy if I were wearing this?’ Often, the answer will give you a good clue.”
2. Just say “no” so you can stop being busy all the time
Decluttering doesn’t just mean getting rid of physical stuff. It also applies to your schedule too. It’s OK to RSVP. “no” to an invitation if you’re not in the mood or to sit out of that bowling league your friends are pressuring you to join. Whether it’s in your personal or professional life, breaking free of the “cult of busyness” will instantly simplify your life. Plus, cutting down on the number of activities that are crammed into your daily life can help alleviate stress and anxiety.
3. Do nothing—and feel good about it
Along those same lines, practice doing nothing more often. This could be as simple as sitting in the park (without your phone), looking out the window or listening to music. The key is not to have a purpose; you’re not trying to accomplish anything or be productive. The idea comes from the Dutch concept of niksen, which is basically the conscious act of no action. It’s different than mindfulness or meditation because you’re allowed to let your mind wander with niksen. In fact, daydreaming is encouraged and can actually make you more creative and productive in the long run. Ironically, since we’re so programmed to constantly being doing something, you may need to practice doing nothing through trial and error.
4. Delete social media to reclaim your time
Or at least minimize the amount of time you spend scrolling. According to a study from GfK Global, digital addiction is real, with one in three people having trouble unplugging, even when they know they should. Now, instead of mindlessly opening and closing apps all day, you can track your activity on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and YouTube and even set time limits. For example, on Instagram, you can program a daily reminder and receive a warning when you’re about to hit your max minutes for the day (you can choose to ignore this message). Also, mute those pesky push notifications, so you’re not getting pinged every time someone likes a photo.
5. Quit trying to be perfect
For centuries, philosophers have been urging folks to embrace the idea of “meh, good enough.” That’s because you’ll go mad if you aim for perfection all the time. Perfectionists are prone to experiencing high levels of stress as well as feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted, so try to quiet your inner critic and set realistic goals and expectations for you and others. That might mean buying the store-bought cupcakes for your kid’s bake sale instead of making them from scratch.
6. Stop multitasking to truly focus
First, researchers actually don’t use the term “multitasking” because you can’t truly do more than one thing at a time (except for walking and talking). Rather, they call it "task switching," and they’ve found it doesn’t work; it takes more time to get tasks completed when you switch between them than if you do them one at a time. Each “task switch” might waste only 1/10th of a second, but if you do a lot of switching throughout the day that can add up to a loss of 40 percent of your productivity. Plus, you tend to make more mistakes when you’re multitasking. So you might think you’re being efficient, but you’ve really creating more work for yourself. Instead, set aside blocks of time (an hour or two or a whole day) when you fully focus on one task.