Do you find yourself missing out on life events because you are buried under physical and mental clutter?
Do you wish your space is light and airy and brings you great joy, peace and calm?
Have you tried simplifying your life only to find that you are more overwhelmed with the activities and emotions needed to downscale your life?
Simplifying your life could be a huge task on its own. However, you can start with just four main areas. Simplifying any one of these will give you a sense of balance you desire.
Our physical environment is often filled with items we believe we must have. A cluttered environment is often accompanied by a cluttered schedule and both are due to feelings and thoughts we experience in our daily lives.
Reducing all of our physical environment at once is hard. But you can start by not adding more things to it. Then, we will work through how to simplify our commitments, feelings and thoughts.
1. Stop purchasing excessive bargain items
Our physical environment gets cluttered for multiple reasons. Sometimes you may not know how to store things or where to store them. Other times you may not have the habits to reduce and maintain an environment that properly supports you. But, if you are anything like me, you just can’t help but pack your space with items you got at a bargain price.
Have you seen a “buy 3 for the price of 2 for a limited time only” sale and bought five sets just to get 15 for the price of 10?
Or maybe you got hooked with “buy one and get one free” marketing?
Regardless, these bargain deals make you spend money on things you don’t need. And, you have to make space or put more things into an occupied space just to store the bargain items for later use. You end up cluttering your space.
Also, bargain goods help to loosen your grip on your wallet. When you believe you have made a good bargain purchase, you are in a better mood to spend on some luxury item in the same store. You are often upsold on other things you don’t need.
I’m not saying don’t buy bargain items, only that you should not buy more of the same bargain items that are needed at any point in time.
Instead, try shifting how you think about bargain items. So-called bargain items are there to create scarcity and to make you buy. So set up a system so that you can clearly see that the scarcity is not real or create another financial goal.
One tactic that you can use is to containerize your physical goods. If the container is filled then you do not need to purchase new items. Refill when the container is half empty. And do not buy another container.
Another tactic is to consider if you really want to spend your hard-earned cash on things you do not need immediately or in the near future. Maybe you would prefer to start an investment account and deposit into it to slowly grow the money you have. Consider having another financial goal that will satisfy one of your core desires. When you see your money multiply in another area of life, you tend to reduce spending on unnecessary things including bargains.
2. Stop overcommitting yourself
Pull out your to-do list if you have one or do a brain dump for all the things you need to do. Write down your work, home, kids’ activities, hobbies, side hustle, community events, etc.
Each item on that list is an obligation or commitment. Each item will most likely pull your energy, time and money. Some will build you up and others may drain you.
One aspect of simplifying your life is to question whether you really need to keep all the obligations on your to-do list. Do you really need to do everything there now, the next week or even the next month?
Consider if you would feel a sense of relief by removing a commitment completely, and the extra headspace, time and energy you will have for the most important people, things and opportunities in your life.
Think about what will be the near-term and long-term consequences of knocking one obligation of your to-do list. Then to decide on which commitment to remove from your list, check if each aligns with your values. The one that has the least alignment can easily go.
Here are a few areas where people tend to overextend themselves:
- Children’s activities. Does each child really need a separate and different activity? Consider having them participating in the same activities if they are similar in age, for example, taking swimming lessons on the same day. Or allow your children to focus on one extra-curricular activity every term.
- Volunteer activities. Sometimes we tend to overextend here because of guilt. Choose one where you find you can truly make a contribution and inform the others that you cannot continue with them.
- Goals. Look at your current list of goals and ask yourself if you need to have so many goals. Reduce the number of goals you are striving for at any point in your life to one or two. When you focus on a small number of goals at a time, you will improve your focus and your ability to take action.
We are all suckers for saying yes to things we know we should not do, so make a habit out of reviewing your commitments every week.
3. Stop ignoring your feelings
Do a self-analysis to figure out why you make particular choices that complicate your life. Most times, people spend more and commit to new guilt-inducing activities to satisfy some other desire, avoid having uncomfortable feelings or because of some underlying belief.
For example, ask yourself, “Why do you purchase so many bargains even if you do not need the items?” Or, “Why do you feel guilty saying no to an additional request for your time?”
Sometimes you might buy bargain items because you feel that you deserve new things. Maybe you have worked hard to get to where you are and you believe you are rewarding your hard work with these purchases.
Or, you commit to a new parent-teacher activity in your child’s school because another parent guilted you into it. So you think you have to make up for some other missed activity.
Take the time to understand your actions and the feelings, thoughts and beliefs that cause you to act against yourself. It is only when you do this that you can truly correct your behaviour.
To do this, keep asking why until you get to the core feeling that you are trying to satisfy or avoid. For example, you may purchase more items than necessary because you do not want to run out of it. So ask why again? Maybe this time your answer might be that you need to have more than enough because you never had enough of the item when you were a child. So why is this important to you? Maybe this is because you never want to feel hungry again.
The feelings are hard to face. But, if you don’t face them you will most likely keep repeating actions that end up complicating your life.
4. Stop your negative thoughts in their tracks
Related to dealing with negative feelings is dealing with your negative thoughts. Frankly, some of us have too many negative thoughts on any given day.
Have you noticed how whenever you try to change something in your life you default to, “I can’t do this because of some excuse?”
Our negative thoughts hold us back from living a full and enjoyable life. When you recognize your negative thoughts you could then learn constructive ways to deal with them.
Whenever you have a negative thought, stop and determine whether it is accurate and the different reasons you thought the way you did. Record what the situation was, your mood and why you felt that way.
Break down the situation into pieces and describe why you felt that way or why you had the thought. Which aspect of the situation caused you to have the thought? Also, how is the current situation different from previous instances. Write out the worst-case scenario and see how you feel about it. Determine if your thoughts and feelings have any evidence to stand on. Most times the current situation is independent of previous ones.
It is important that you recognize the thought, consciously stop and reevaluate how you think. Consciously stopping is important to prevent a loop in your mind where you repeatedly reminisce on the negative thought. Stopping helps you to think of ways to shift gears and to consciously make a mental shift.
Also, think about how you would respond if a friend spoke about herself in a negative way. Offer a good rebuttal to the negative view. And choose kinder words to say to yourself.
At times we need to recognize that when our thoughts are coming from depression, severe anxiety or a mental health condition that these ways of dealing with negative thoughts may not work for you. When in doubt, seek the assistance of a qualified mental health professional.
In the long run, working through negative thoughts will lift a burden from your mind. The fewer negative thoughts you have, the simpler your life will be and the greater the mental space you will have to focus on the areas that bring you joy, calm, and love.
Use a process to get to peace and calm
You can have a greater sense of balance, relief, calm and joy if you focus on simplifying a few areas of your life.
Working through these four areas, physical environment, commitments, feelings and thoughts, does not have to be overwhelming. Start with one aspect such as not bringing more things into your space or schedule. For each thing you stop bringing into your space, consider the feelings they invoke in you or the feelings you hope to have. Then work through the thoughts leading to your feelings.
The road to simplifying your life might be a long one. But, every step you take in the process will get you closer to the people, activities, opportunities and things that truly matter to you.