When I ask others how life is going, there is one response that seems to come up more than any other: busy. There are always more emails to check, appointments to make, people to see, products to purchase, and things to do.
But a busy, complex life doesn’t necessarily make for a full one. Instead, it can make us feel restless, anxious, and fatigued. That’s why it’s critical that we develop ways to simplify our lives, even in the midst of unavoidable responsibilities and necessary commitments. When it comes to living a more rewarding and full life, sometimes less is more.
While most of us may not be called to a life of monastic simplicity, we can probably all benefit from simplifying certain areas of our lives. With that in mind, here are three easy-to-implement ways to simplify your life for the better today.
Routinely “purge” your belongings
Many of us fortunate enough to live in the U.S. have all sorts of clothes, items, decorations, and other things that we don’t use (or only use rarely). Sure, you might be tempted to hold onto that flannel shirt you got for Christmas three years ago (still with the tags on it) or that pair of boots from when you were a freshman in college just in case, on some uncharacteristic whim, you actually feel compelled to bust them out. But, like many of the things we tend to accrue over time, we most likely wouldn’t miss these things all that much if we didn’t have them.
That’s why it can be a great practice to routinely “purge” your belongings. Think about committing to this twice a year, or maybe even once a season. Cleaning out your closet offers a rather literal way of simplifying your life by getting rid of things that only add clutter to your living space.
Removing the physical clutter in your exterior life can trickle into your interior life, helping you feel a greater sense of calm and peace as well. After all, a cluttered environment can subconsciously make you more anxious due to the plethora of external stimuli that comes along with it. And by getting rid of the things you don’t need, you might develop a greater appreciation for the things you actually need, which is another way to foster an interior posture of gratitude.
Further, routine purges will allow you to regularly donate clothes and other items to those in need, enabling you to share with others who have less than you do. In this sense, it’s a win-win-win: you simplify your space (and calm your mood), develop a better appreciation for what you have, and help others in need.
Be intentional about your relationships
Social media, FaceTime, and other communication technologies make it easy to maintain a vast network of friends. It’s nice to be able to see what’s going on with your third cousin living abroad, or to message a note of congratulations to an acquaintance from college about a new job offer. It all comes at the risk of filling all of our time with these surface-level relationships and interactions, however, leaving us with little capacity for deeper and more meaningful connections.
Oxford professor Robin Dunbar has researched human communities and relationships across various countries and time periods. He discovered that human beings, on average, can only maintain about 35 to 50 close relationships at a time. In other words, by nature we are only capable of sustaining a limited number of these kinds of meaningful bonds with others. Because we have a limited capacity (and limited time each day) for these relationships, it’s important to make sure we are prioritizing the ones that are actually nourishing and fulfilling.
If we find ourselves busy with maintaining too many relationships that are not all that nourishing, it might be worth undertaking a sort of audit to identity which relationships you should be giving more attention to and which you need to limit or remove altogether. This isn’t to say that we should only maintain relationships that are easy or pleasurable — we are all called to love, forgive, and befriend others, no matter how messy the context. But it’s important to be honest about which relationships we are truly called to engage with and to nurture.
Ask yourself the following questions: Which relationships help me to become a better person and to grow? Which ones allow me to demonstrate patience, forgiveness, and love? And which ones are only superficial time-fillers that don’t bring real nourishment and lasting fulfillment? Simplifying your life so that you can give your attention to fewer — but deeper — relationships will likely make your life much more rewarding.
Do more activities for their own sake
This one seems a bit counterintuitive because it suggests you actually do more rather than less to simplify your life. But the key is to do more activities that you enjoy for their own sake at the expense of other activities that have some other end in mind.
It’s important to set aside time for genuinely enjoyable and rejuvenating activities. By making time for authentic leisure and play, we are reminded that life isn’t just about doing — it’s also about being. When was the last time you read a book because you wanted to, as opposed to reading one to advance your career or pass a class? Have you ever taken a woodworking or a cooking class just for the fun of it?
By making time for leisure —genuine leisure and not just superficial distraction — we also begin to cultivate an appreciation for the simple things in life. By learning to cook a nice dinner for friends and family, we come to appreciate all of the natural ingredients that go into a wholesome meal. By hiking or running outdoors, we learn to appreciate the natural beauty embedded within each season.
Taking time for leisure helps us adopt a more simple mindset, reminding us that we are not machines meant to maximize productivity by adding greater and greater complexity to our lives. And the more we can find beauty and joy in the simple things, the more we’ll desire to cultivate that same beauty and joy within ourselves.
Modern life is busy, and the things that tug at our time and attention don’t show any indication of letting up anytime soon. Now more than ever, it’s important to be proactive in an effort to simplify our lives in order to quiet our minds and open our hearts. Decluttering your environment, fostering a smaller number of close relationships, and exploring activities you’re drawn to for their own sake are all great ways to orient yourself toward a more simple and intentional life.