10 Steps to Simplifying Life
By Brad Swift
Perhaps you woke up one morning to realize the old joke is true: "Even if you finish the rat race in first, you're still a rat." Or maybe, the thought crept in more slowly, wedging itself into your consciousness while sitting in the five o'clock traffic jam as you commute home. However it appeared, you now realize it's time for a change to a simpler way of life.
But how do you start? These 10 steps will provide you with guidance to propel you along the path.
- The 1st step may be the easiest for many people because by the time you're reading this it may already have been accomplished. That is making up your heart and mind that it's time to simplify, even better if the decision has moved to the level of being committed. If not, don't worry. It's quite possible to test the waters of simple living before diving in.
- A helpful realization to tag on to the decision to simplify is to realize that it's a process most easily and simply accomplished slowly and mindfully. Bringing the "rat race mentality" of drive, determination and "get the job done no matter what" can be self defeating. So, ease up and enjoy the ride.
- The next step may be a little more difficult, but it can be accomplished by everyone, even those who consider themselves the exception. Carve out a little space and time for self reflection. Maybe it's 1 night a week, or a few lunch breaks where you take your bag lunch to a quiet park bench, or a weekend when you tell everyone you're going away and then you don't. Or you go somewhere quiet and serene with only one agenda — to be with yourself. It's fine to take your family as long as they agree to participate in the purpose of the trip, which is steps 4, 5 and 6.
- In the carved out space and time begin to examine what's truly important to you. What gives you joy, satisfaction, fulfillment, what makes you laugh or cry movingly. Look beyond just the momentary surface level stuff and see what provides deeper moments of meaning. Remember back to your childhood years. Were there moments with your family that, while they may have appeared routine in the moment, you now remember fondly?
- While examining what brings joy and satisfaction to your life, also spend some time examining your values. As you do, notice whether your current life is consistent with those values. If not, where have they been compromised, and how might a simpler, less complex life allow for a renewal of those values.
- Last of all look at your life to see where it's primarily being shaped by a particular lifestyle, as in the "keeping up with the Jones mentality" and where it's being shaped by your values. One useful way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of a page of paper. On one side write "Lifestyle-based Life," on the other write "Value-based Life." Then, looking at your life write down whatever fits under the two headings.
For example, does the car or cars you own represent your values or your lifestyle, how about where you live — the home and neighborhood, how about your job, how much or little you're involved in the community, etc? By the way, there's nothing wrong with lifestyle. It's just not a very good way to shape a life if you're interested in joy and satisfaction. There are also no right answers. Each person must look and make the call for themselves.
- By this time in the process you'll probably see some areas that could benefit from simplification since it appears that a "value-based life" and a simple life go hand-in-hand. If you're into making lists, you might want to list what possible actions you could take towards that aim, then prioritize them. Or just pick two or three activities that would be fun, engaging and would move you further down the simplicity path.
- Simplifying your finances is often one of the most strategic steps to take for people who have identified that much of their life energy has been devoted more to lifestyle building than value building. A very powerful and effective process for financial transformation is outlined in the bestseller, "Your Money or Your Life" (YMORL), by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. I highly recommend this book for a more thorough look at this area of life.
In the meantime, here are a few steps to get you started:
- Find out where your money goes. Most people don't have a good handle on where all their money goes. The simplest way to determine this is to keep track for a few weeks or months where every cent is spent. This one step can be very revealing because once you realize that you're spending $5 a day on Cappuccino which equates to $150 a month or $1800 a year, you realize that it might be possible to streamline your budget starting here.
- Start to measure your spending against how much fulfillment and satisfaction you're receiving. If you think of money as something that you exchange your life energy for, you're spending naturally becomes more conscious.
- Determine how much money you're exchanging your life energy for in your job or career. Again, most people don't realize or take into account how much it costs them to work, so they often have an inflated view of how much money they make. To figure this out, take your base amount of pay and subtract all the expenditures that are directly related to work. In other words, if you weren't working would you be eating your lunches out each day? How about the cost of that 30 minute commute (also factor in the commute time as hours worked)? How much do you spend on business attire? Factor all of this to determine how much you're really taking home. People often realize from this exercise that instead of making $20/hr at work, their actual income is only $8-10. Suddenly, the $5 Cappuccino is costing them 30 minutes of their life energy. It can be a revealing experience going through this process.
- Many people realize from step 8 that one big area of their life that could be simplified and would have an accumulative effect elsewhere is to eliminate their debt. Debt-free living is a great way to live life. I call it living a life paid in full. Much of the lifestyle we've come to expect and take for granted in this country comes with an incredibly high price tag, especially when we're "buying now and paying later." Besides YMORL another beneficial resource on debt elimination is the "Financial Independence Network Limited" (FINL). FINL provides simple and effective methods to eliminate all debt within 5-7 years for most people while also providing the inspiration and encouragement to keep you on track.
- The last step is patience and persistence. Remember, it's taken most people years, perhaps even generations to develop the complex lives they live. It's unrealistic to think it can be all turned around at once. Besides, it's the journey that we're here for, not the destination. Enjoy the ride!
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