So many distractions we have now! It seems that if life would be a bit simpler, with less noise from outside, we could hear our thoughts at last! Simplicity and minimalism are the buzzwords that are becoming more and more important in our crowded modern world.
In this article, I will talk about two beautiful ways to make life more simple. I tried both of them and many of the suggestions I will provide here are verified by my own experience.
“Dispose of things”, they say. How many. Which ones? What if I have a family? What if I need those things? All these paradoxes will be solved.
So, before moving to the two actual methods of achieving simplicity in life, let’s explain what we should expect from it. What is it, that mysterious simplicity?
Definition of simplicity
Simplicity is when we do not use what is unnecessary, not useful for us and for others.
Consider carrying a huge backpack every day full of things we do not need. If we throw them away it’s only easier to walk. But who could do such a stupid thing – carry unnecessary things?
Look around your room. You can do this right now if you are in your room, but you can look around any place you are in. Are the things all around you really necessary here? What if some of them disappeared? Would you need to hurry and buy them again?
Making life simple is like getting rid of heavy stones attached to you with chains. Now you can move at last!
Actually, we can remove so many things from our room and our life, but we need special experience to realize it because everything seems so necessary. One of the benefits of literally traveling with the backpack is that we understand how few things we really need to survive and enjoy life. Some food, some water, a shelter and someone to help you. And, of course, wi-fi. What you see in this photo is enough for prolonged traveling (and still some things were unnecessary).
Simplicity is removing things from life that are not essential, we can survive without them.
When people literally carry all the things on the back, they start to get rid of things that would be considered absolutely necessary in other cases. I saw people burning things (especially clothes) on a campfire.
After coming back home from a half-year trip I was stunned by the amount of stuff I will have to deal with! However, I was not able to do some things while on the way (draw, read paper books, play PC games). So, it might be a bad idea to get rid of everything. Only get rid of what is not necessary for living a life.
Making life simple is like getting rid of additional weight to carry on your back. So, walking becomes easier.
Simplicity in its ultimate form is removing all that we can remove without making life worse.
Well, this is the ultimate form. Like a monk living in a cave eating only what people give him. They really have but a few things to worry about and this experience is so great, that they sacrifice the usual worldly life for the sake of simplicity.
I do not argue that you need that. Make as few steps as you feel is enough.
Making life simple is like getting rid of additional weight so hot air balloon can rise higher to the sky.
Simplicity is not only about things
To throw away things is only the first step. The next one is to throw away obligations and actions.
Suppose we have tidied our rooms. That’s nice. But what about commitments? Activities? Are we doing too many things? Maybe it is time to review them and to apply the same principles: Check what is not necessary? Check what is not essential? Decide what is enough?
We always have tons of obligations, lots of entries in our to-do lists about job, family, hobbies, community, and so on. If we could throw away some obligations, we would have more free time to do things that are … you guessed it … important.
Ironically, sickness is one of the best practices in this case. When we’re sick, we do only things that are crucial, we’re forced to select only what’s important. Wouldn’t it be great if we had the skill to prioritize things to do when we’re healthy?
Talking is also some kind of action. Avoiding it when it’s not necessary is also a step to simplicity.
Simplicity is not only about money
Sometimes people concentrate on financial gains of living simply. But it’s only a side effect, if we stop buying unnecessary things, of course, we will save more money.
But it is not necessary to avoid what’s expensive. We may still buy quality things, or pay for quality time, for example, in a good French restaurant if we feel that it’s necessary if that makes our significant other feel more significant.
If we buy something but never use it, no matter how cheap, it’s a waste of money. But if we buy an expensive thing, and use it a lot – it’s a wise decision. I bought a fancy suit and wear it in official parties. I bought expensive hiking pants and wore them so often, that they eventually broke.
Simplicity is not about having less
Having less is another side effect. If we don’t have what we don’t need we will naturally have less than we had before. However, if we start comparing ourselves to others we might see that they have even less! Does that mean they live more simple lives?
Comparing to others is a very bad idea in this case because other people have different needs. A family with a toddler need more things than a backpacker, but if that backpacker carries lots of unnecessary stuff then he’s just making his trip more difficult.
Simplicity is also about the mind, about thoughts
I guess much of thoughts in our minds are not useful for us. So, if we really want to go simple, let’s consider tidying the mind, removing unnecessary thoughts. There is a way to do this, it is worth a whole article (and the article is here).
What if we got rid of many things, actions, have lots of saved money and time, but thoughts are still filled with things?
I respect a creative person with plenty of paintings on his walls, an intelligent person with lots of books, a nature lover with flowers and plants everywhere in his apartment. Plenty of things, but if they do not trouble the mind, why not to have them?
For creative inspiration, complex environments are essential, but how to make an environment complex without cluttering it with things? Nature has the answer. A real forest (not a tidy park in a town) is such a mess – trees, bushes, mushrooms, stones, berries, streams all scattered in a random way! But that is still simplicity – so many things, but none of them trouble the mind like blinking phone or breaking car does.
Why repeat negative thoughts? Some of them come from the inside, but why not to get rid of those which come from the outside (a guide here)?
Why repeat the same thoughts again and again? Think about them once and let them go. (Diary helps)
Why worry about things we cannot change?
Simplicity is having, doing, talking and thinking only what is important to us and others.
There are three levels:
- We concentrate on what is important, get rid of unnecessary.
- We concentrate only on the most important things, get rid of what is not so important.
- We concentrate only on the few most crucial things, get rid of everything else.
This is a way to mastery. This is what Warren Buffet taught (check this great insight). This is what monks do.
How to make life more simple
First method – the way of the Chinese emperor.
(Because Chinese emperor taught me to do things the opposite way, there is more in another article).
Make your life sophisticated, cluttered, overcrowded. I’d call this method overload. It really changes the way of thinking.
Sounds counterintuitive, right? But if you have too many commitments than you can handle, you will start making priorities and finally, choose what you need to do the most. If you have too many things in your home, you will get embarrassed by them and will start throwing them away. But it must be really overcrowded.
Wanna get rid of stuff? Bring all that you have in your basement to your living room. Soon you will throw away most of it. Wanna get rid of commitments? Plan, or promise to do everything in one day. You will see that you did only a few things. I guess they might have been very important.
The way is to add everything at once and then remove remove remove until it is the right amount of things.
I did like this with my job. I tried to do everything plus my personal ideas. Soon I was doing only the most important things that contributed to my company the most, and did not bother much with unnecessary junk tasks because I could always say: “hey I’m busy with something important!”. I do like this with my personal projects. I always try to do everything at once, and usually end up in doing one or two things all in all, because it is just impossible to keep attention on everything.
This is how true passion is found.
Is overload stressful? Not more stressful than trying to limit myself. But it has less feeling of guilt because I’m not doing certain things not because I decided so, but because of the lack of time.
This is how people pack things for travel (select only what’s important), this is how they get rid of stuff while moving. Overload teaches us to recognize unnecessary things – a very important skill of mind.
Second method – the way of the Buddha
(Because Buddha was a monk who lived in woods, but then he abandoned this way and came back to people).
Remove everything. And then add back one by one. Then you will have only what is really necessary.
Seems quite extreme, and actually, it is. But it works. For example, if you don’t know what to do first because you have so many ideas, try to do nothing at all. Cancel all your plans and do nothing. If you don’t know what career to pursue, go traveling at first. If you want a shift in your career but you are not sure what you want to do, make a break and do nothing at first (like this guy).
Very quickly we will know what’s important, what we must have and what we must do.
It’s like buying a new laptop or phone – while it’s fresh, it has only the most necessary apps there, only later it gets cluttered. But a magic button “restore factory settings” solves this problem again.
We often apply this way when we start a new activity, we buy things that are essential first. A bicycle if riding a bicycle is the goal, some paint if painting a picture is the goal. But some people hurry to buy a lot at once, so they clutter everything from the very beginning.
Want to get rid of stuff? Then cheat! Hide all the stuff in the basement or somewhere else and take only the things you need. When you see that you have taken enough, throw away the rest.
This method is more efficient than the previous one because this time we really have only the things we need, but it’s a bit more difficult to implement.
So, what are the benefits?
I’ll be quick with this part because you may believe me or you may not. You need to try yourself. Simplicity might look scary if we try to copy others. But the essential point is this: it should not make the life worse, only better. So, the benefits:
- I spend less money. Because I do not buy what I don’t need.
- I have more time. Because I do not do what is not necessary.
- It is easier to make decisions. Because I have fewer things to consider.
- It is easier to focus and concentrate. Because there are fewer distractions.
- I am more productive. Because I make decisions easier and concentrate better.
- I can do more sophisticated things. Because my mind is less cluttered by what’s unnecessary.
“Less is more” means that less stuff means more value. Less overload means more freedom.
Ways to apply
Sure, both methods need time and commitment. And they make our lives a bit complicated for a while. But review the benefits again ↑↑↑. It is worth to give a try! Also, it’s not necessary to stick to one method, it’s possible to use both for different areas of life.
Ok, but where to start?
Wardrobe. That’s where many men start. They get rid of different clothes and have only one kind of shirt like Steve Jobs did. But it’s an extreme case. Actually, women should not worry, it’s possible to have few things and still be able to vary the outfit. (More about minimalist fashion here.) Enjoy easy choices!
The room and home. If you live in your own house and move rarely, it’s possible that you have plenty of things. We can move what’s unnecessary to another place, or sell them, or give to charity. Enjoy comfort and space!
Computer and phone. Why should we bother about these things if the virtual space is vast? Well, it’s about speed, ease to use, and the most important – safety of the most important files if something gets broken. Clean the unnecessary files, have easy to understand folder structure. Enjoy the increased speed and better flow of work.
To-do list. If you have lots of items in a to-do list, but no idea when are you going to do them, it’s time to do something with it now. Remove unnecessary entries, move them to “someday” list. Leave only important things for your attention. Enjoy the achievements.
Finance. Review your spending. Stop spending on things that are not necessary. Enjoy spare money.
The mind. Stop worrying about things you cannot change or have no intention to change. OK, that’s easier said than done, but at least we know where to aim! Enjoy peace.
… it is up to your creativity to continue this list… I want you to enjoy.