Simple Living Manifesto: 72 Ideas to Simplify Your Life
“Simplicity is the peak of civilization.” - Jessie Sampter A simple life has a different meaning and a different value for every person. For me, it means eliminatin...
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“Simplicity is the peak of civilization.” - Jessie Sampter
A simple life has a different meaning and a different value for
every person. For me, it means eliminating all but the essential,
eschewing chaos for peace, and spending your time doing what’s
important to you.
Photo by whitneybee
It means getting rid of many of the things you do so you can
spend time with people you love and do the things you love. It means
getting rid of the clutter so you are left with only that which gives
However, getting to simplicity isn’t always a simple process. It’s a
journey, not a destination, and it can often be a journey of two steps
forward, and one backward.
If you’re interested in simplifying your life, this is a great starter’s guide (if you’re not interested, move on).
The Short List
For the cynics who say that the list below is too long, there are really only two steps to simplifying:
- Identify what’s most important to you.
- Eliminate everything else.
Of course, that’s not terribly useful unless you can see how to
apply that to different areas of your life, so I present to you the
The Long List
There can be no step-by-step guide to simplifying your life, but I’ve
compiled an incomplete list of ideas that should help anyone trying to
find the simple life. Not every tip will work for you — choose the ones
that appeal and apply to your life.
One important note: this list will be criticized
for being too complicated, especially as it provides a bunch of links.
Don’t stress out about all of that. Just choose one at a time, and
focus on that. When you’re done with that, focus on the next thing.
- Make a list of your top 4-5 important things.
What’s most important to you? What do you value most? What 4-5 things
do you most want to do in your life? Simplifying starts with these
priorities, as you are trying to make room in your life so you have
more time for these things.
- Evaluate your commitments. Look at everything
you’ve got going on in your life. Everything, from work to home to
civic to kids’ activities to hobbies to side businesses to other
projects. Think about which of these really gives you value, which ones
you love doing. Which of these are in line with the 4-5 most important
things you listed above? Drop those that aren’t in line with those
things. Article here.
- Evaluate your time. How do you spend your day?
What things do you do, from the time you wake up to the time you go to
sleep? Make a list, and evaluate whether they’re in line with your
priorities. If not, eliminate the things that aren’t, and focus on
what’s important. Redesign your day.
- Simplify work tasks. Our work day is made up of an
endless list of work tasks. If you simply try to knock off all the
tasks on your to-do list, you’ll never get everything done, and worse
yet, you’ll never get the important stuff done. Focus on the essential
tasks and eliminate the rest. Read more.
- Simplify home tasks. In that vein, think about all
the stuff you do at home. Sometimes our home task list is just as long
as our work list. And we’ll never get that done either. So focus on the
most important, and try to find ways to eliminate the other tasks
(automate, eliminate, delegate, or hire help).
- Learn to say no. This is actually one of the key
habits for those trying to simplify their lives. If you can’t say no,
you will take on too much. Article here.
- Limit your communications. Our lives these days
are filled with a vast flow of communications: email, IM, cell phones,
paper mail, Skype, Twitter, forums, and more. It can take up your whole
day if you let it. Instead, put a limit on your communications: only do
email at certain times of the day, for a certain number of minutes (I
recommend twice a day, but do what works for you). Only do IM once a
day, for a limited amount of time. Limit phone calls to certain times
too. Same with any other communications. Set a schedule and stick to it.
- Limit your media consumption. This tip won’t be
for everyone, so if media consumption is important to you, please skip
it (as with any of the other tips). However, I believe that the media
in our lives — TV, radio, Internet, magazines, etc. — can come to
dominate our lives. Don’t let it. Simplify your life and your
information consumption by limiting it. Try a media fast.
- Purge your stuff. If you can devote a weekend to
purging the stuff you don’t want, it feels seriously terrific. Get
boxes and trash bags for the stuff you want to donate or toss. Here’s my guide on decluttering. Here’s a post on starting small. More on purging below.
- Get rid of the big items. There’s tons of little
clutter in our lives, but if you start with the big items, you’ll
simplify your life quickly and in a big way. Read more.
- Edit your rooms. One room at a time, go around the
room and eliminate the unnecessary. Act as a newspaper editor, trying
to leave only the minimum, and deleting everything else. Article here.
- Edit closets and drawers. Once you’ve gone through the main parts of your rooms, tackle the closets and drawers, one drawer or shelf at a time. More here.
- Simplify your wardrobe. Is your closet bursting
full? Are your drawers so stuffed they can’t close (I’m talking about
dresser drawers here, not underwear). Simplify your wardrobe by getting
rid of anything you don’t actually wear. Try creating a minimal
wardrobe by focusing on simple styles and a few solid colors that all
match each other. Read more.
- Simplify your computing life. If you have trouble
with too many files and too much disorganization, consider online
computing. It can simplify things greatly. Read more.
- Declutter your digital packrattery. If you are a digital packrat, and cannot seem to control your digital clutter, there is still hope for you. Read this guide to curing yourself of this clutter.
- Create a simplicity statement. What do you want your simple life to look like? Write it out. More here.
- Limit your buying habits. If you are a slave to
materialism and consumerism, there are ways to escape it. I was there,
and although I haven’t escaped these things entirely, I feel much freer
of it all. If you can escape materialism, you can get into the habit of
buying less. And that will mean less stuff, less spending, less
freneticism. Read more.
- Free up time. Find ways to free up time for the
important stuff. That means eliminating the stuff you don’t like,
cutting back on time wasters, and making room for what you want to do.
- Do what you love. Once you’ve freed up some time,
be sure to spend that extra time doing things you love. Go back to your
list of 4-5 important things. Do those, and nothing else. Read more.
- Spend time with people you love. Again, the list
of 4-5 important things probably contains some of the people you love
(if not, you may want to re-evaluate). Whether those people are a
spouse, a partner, children, parents, other family, best friends, or
whoever, find time to do things with them, talk to them, be intimate
with them (not necessarily in sexual ways).
- Spend time alone. See this list of ways to free up time for yourself — to spend in solitude. Alone time
is good for you, although some people aren’t comfortable with it. It
could take practice getting used to the quiet, and making room for your
inner voice. It sounds new-agey, I know, but it’s extremely calming.
And this quiet is necessary for finding out what’s important to you.
- Eat slowly. If you cram your food down your
throat, you are not only missing out on the great taste of the food,
you are not eating healthy. Slow down to lose weight, improve
digestion, and enjoy life more. Read more.
- Drive slowly. Most people rush through traffic,
honking and getting angry and frustrated and stressed out. And
endangering themselves and others in the meantime. Driving slower is
not only safer, but it is better on your fuel bill, and can be
incredibly peaceful. Give it a try. Read more.
- Be present. These two words can make a huge
difference in simplifying your life. Living here and now, in the
moment, keeps you aware of life, of what is going on around you and
within you. It does wonders for your sanity. Read tips on how to do it.
- Streamline your life. Many times we live with
unplanned, complex systems in our lives because we haven’t given them
much thought. Instead, focus on one system at a time (your laundry
system, your errands system, your paperwork system, your email system,
etc.) and try to make it simplified, efficient, and written. Then stick
to it. Here’s more. Another good article here.
- Create a simple mail & paperwork system. If you don’t have a system, this stuff will pile up. But a simple system will keep everything in order. Here’s how.
- Create a simple system for house work. Another example of a simple system is clean-as-you-go with a burst. Read more.
- Clear your desk. If you have a cluttered desk, it
can be distracting and disorganized and stressful. A clear desk,
however, is only a couple of simple habits away. Read more.
- Establish routines. The key to keeping your life simple is to create simple routines. A great article on that here.
- Keep your email inbox empty. Is your email inbox
overflowing with new and read messages? Do the messages just keep
piling up? If so, you’re normal — but you could be more efficient and
your email life could be simplified with a few simple steps. Read more.
- Learn to live frugally. Living frugally means
buying less, wanting less, and leaving less of a footprint on the
earth. It’s directly related to simplicity. Here are 50 tips on how to live frugally.
- Make your house minimalist. A minimalist house has what is necessary, and not much else. It’s also extremely peaceful (not to mention easy to clean). More here.
- Find other ways to be minimalist. There are tons. You can find ways to be minimalist in every area of your life. Here are a few I do, to spur your own ideas.
- Consider a smaller home. If you rid your home of
stuff, you might find you don’t need so much space. I’m not saying you
should live on a boat (although I know some people who happily do so),
but if you can be comfortable in a smaller home, it will not only be
less expensive, but easier to maintain, and greatly simplify your life.
Read about downsizing your home here.
- Consider a smaller car. This is a big move, but if
you have a large car or SUV, you may not really need something that
big. It’s more expensive, uses more gas, harder to maintain, harder to
park. Simplify your life with less car. You don’t need to go tiny,
especially if you have a family, but try to find as small a car as can
fit you or your family comfortably. Maybe not something you’re going to
do today, but something to think about over the long term.
- Learn what “enough” is. Our materialistic society
today is about getting more and more, with no end in sight. Sure, you
can get the latest gadget, and more clothes and shoes. More stuff. But
when will you have enough? Most people don’t know, and thus they keep
buying more. It’s a neverending cycle. Get off the cycle by figuring
out how much is enough. And then stop when you get there.
- Create a simple weekly dinner menu. If figuring
out what’s for dinner is a nightly stressor for you or your family,
consider creating a weekly menu. Decide on a week’s worth of simple
dinners, set a specific dinner for each night of the week, go grocery
shopping for the ingredients. Now you know what’s for dinner each
night, and you have all the ingredients necessary. No need for
difficult recipes — find ones that can be done in 10-15 minutes (or
- Eat healthy. It might not be obvious how eating
healthy relates to simplicity, but think about the opposite: if you eat
fatty, greasy, salty, sugary, fried foods all the time, you are sure to
have higher medical needs over the long term. We could be talking years
from now, but imagine frequent doctor visits, hospitalization, going to
the pharmacist, getting therapy, having surgery, taking insulin shots …
you get the idea. Being unhealthy is complicated. Eating healthy
simplifies all of that greatly, over the long term. Read about how to simplify your eating habits.
- Exercise. This goes along the same lines as eating
healthy, as it simplifies your life in the long run, but it goes even
further: exercise helps burn off stress and makes you feel better. It’s
great. Here’s how to create the exercise habit.
- Declutter before organizing. Many people make the
mistake of taking a cluttered desk or filing cabinet or closet or
drawer, and trying to organize it. Unfortunately, that’s not only hard
to do, it keeps things complicated. Simplify the process by getting rid
of as much of the junk as possible, and then organizing. If you
declutter enough, you won’t need to organize at all.
- Have a place for everything. Age-old advice, but it’s the best advice on keeping things organized. After you declutter. Read more here.
- Find inner simplicity. I’m not much of a spiritual
person, but I have found that spending a little time with my inner self
creates a peaceful simplicity rather than a chaotic confusion. This
could be time praying or communing with God, or time spent meditating
or journaling or getting to know yourself, or time spent in nature.
However you do it, working on your inner self is worth the time.
- Learn to decompress from stress. Every life is
filled with stress — no matter how much you simplify your life, you’ll
still have stress (except in the case of the ultimate simplifier,
death). So after you go through stress, find ways to decompress. Here are some ideas.
- Try living without a car. OK, this isn’t something
I’ve done, but many others have. It’s something I would do if I didn’t
have kids. Walk, bike, or take public transportation. It reduces
expenses and gives you time to think. A car is also very complicating,
needing not only car payments, but insurance, registration, safety
inspections, maintenance, repairs, gas and more.
- Find a creative outlet for self-expression.
Whether that’s writing, poetry, painting, drawing, creating movies,
designing websites, dance, skateboarding, whatever. We have a need for
self-expression, and finding a way to do that makes your life much more
fulfilling. Allow this to replace much of the busy-work you’re
eliminating from your life.
- Simplify your goals. Instead of having half a
dozen goals or more, simplify it to one goal. Not only will this make
you less stressed, it will make you more successful. You’ll be able to
focus on that One Goal, and give it all of your energy. That gives you
much better chances for success.
- Single-task. Multi-tasking is more complicated, more stressful, and generally less productive. Instead, do one task at a time.
- Simplify your filing system. Stacking a bunch of papers just doesn’t work. But a filing system doesn’t have to be complicated to be useful. Create a simple system.
- Develop equanimity. If every little thing that
happens to you sends you into anger or stress, your life might never be
simple. Learn to detach yourself, and be more at peace. Read more.
- Reduce your consumption of advertising.
Advertising makes us want things. That’s what it’s designed to do, and
it works. Find ways to reduce your exposure of advertising, whether
that’s in print, online, broadcast, or elsewhere. You’ll want much less.
- Live life more deliberately. Do every task slowly, with ease, paying full attention to what you’re doing. For more, see Peaceful Simplicity: How to Live a Life of Contentment.
- Make a Most Important Tasks (MITs) list each day.
Set just 3 very important things you want to accomplish each day. Don’t
start with a long list of things you probably won’t get done by the end
of the day. A simple list of 3 things, ones that would make you feel
like you accomplished something. See this article for more.
- Create morning and evening routines. A great way to simplify your life is to create routines at the start and end of your day. Read more on morning routines and evening routines.
- Create a morning writing ritual. If you enjoy writing, like I do, make it a peaceful, productive ritual. Article here.
- Learn to do nothing. Doing nothing can be an art form, and it should be a part of every life. Read the Art of Doing Nothing.
- Read Walden, by Thoreau. The quintessential text on simplifying. Available on Wikisources for free.
- Go for quality, not quantity. Try not to have a
ton of stuff in your life … instead, have just a few possessions, but
ones that you really love, and that will last for a long time.
- Read Simplify Your Life, by Elaine St. James. One of my favorite all-time authors on simplicity. Read my review here.
- Fill your day with simple pleasures. Make a list of your favorite simple pleasures, and sprinkle them throughout your day. List here.
- Simplify your RSS feeds. If you’ve got dozens of
feeds, or more than a hundred (as I once did), you probably have a lot
of stress in trying to keep up with them all. Simplify your feed
reading. See How to Drop an RSS Feed Like a Bad Habit.
- But subscribe to Unclutterer. Probably the best blog on simplifying your stuff and routines (along with Zen Habits, of course!).
- Create an easy-to-maintain yard. If you spend too much time on your yard, here are some good tips.
- Carry less stuff. Are your pockets bulging. Consider carrying only the essentials. Some thoughts on that here.
- Simplify your online life. If you have too much going on online, here are a few ways to simplify it all. Article here.
- Strive to automate your income. This isn’t the easiest task, but it can (and has) been done. I’ve been working towards it myself. Article here.
- Simplify your budget. Many people skip budgeting (which is very important) because it’s too hard or too complicated. Read more here.
- Simplify your financial life. Article from a financial planning expert here.
- Learn to pack light. Who wants to lug a bunch of luggage around on a trip? Here’s an article on using just one carry-on.
- Use a minimalist productivity system. The minimal Zen To Done is all you need. Everything else is icing.
- Leave space around things in your day. Whether
they’re appointments, or things you need to do, don’t stack them
back-to-back. Leave a little space between things you need to do, so
you will have room for contingencies, and you’ll go through your day
much more relaxed.
- Live closer to work. This might mean getting a job
closer to your home, or moving to a home closer to your work. Either
will do much to simplify your life.
- Always ask: Will this simplify my life? If the answer is no, reconsider.
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