Do you ever wonder how to live a simpler life? One with less stress and fewer responsibilities? If so, here are five easy ways to get started.
Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time writing and reflecting on how life has changed over the years. I like to do this now and then because it helps me maintain perspective.
With two young children and a small business to run, I’m in what many would consider a “busy” season of life—and, of course, to some extent this is true. My family and work certainly keep me on my toes.
Still, when I look back, I’m struck by the difference in how I feel. A decade ago, life was heavy and suffocating. I felt weighed down by work and responsibilities, but it was more than just my to-do list.
I can see now that it was also my expectations. There was so much pressure to do and be more, and it never eased, no matter what I accomplished. I felt like I could never take my foot off the gas.
These days, things are different and I’m grateful. I’ve learned how to balance slow and simple living with my dreams and ambitions, in a way that feels right for my family and me.
If you’d like to pursue a similar shift, then here are five easy things you can do to live a simpler life too.
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What Does Living A Simpler Life Mean?
In the words of Stephen Covey, we should “begin with the end in mind”, so let’s talk about what it means to live a simpler life.
To be clear, it’s not automatically an easy life, “less stress” doesn’t equal “no stress”, and things will never be perfect, for anyone.
Instead, life is almost always messy—but when you live simply, the mess is meaningful. You love and live and learn in a way that aligns with your hopes, dreams and values.
It’s a lifestyle that’s open to everyone. Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t have to sell all your stuff, forgo modern comforts, or move to the countryside to simplify.
You do, however, need to take a long hard look at your expectations and habits. Where are you inviting stress and worries that don’t need to be there?
Start small and start now, and in time you’ll slowly shift the balance so that you have more of what matters and less of what doesn’t.
This is the heart of what it means to live a simpler life.
How Do I Start Living A Simpler Life?
If you want to live a simpler life, here are five ways to begin.
DECIDE WHAT TO STOP CHASING
We all have things we want to do and beliefs about who we should be—but how long is your list? And does it represent what you really care about?
The hard truth is you can’t simplify your life without letting some things go. You can’t have it all, but you can find balance by defining your priorities. A big part of this is making an intentional choice about what to walk away from.
For example, I had very traditional beliefs about career success for most of my life. I wanted a fancy job title, a corner office, and a big paycheque to validate my self-worth.
Now, to be honest, I never came close to having any of these things, but that didn’t stop me from wanting them. Even if I wasn’t actively pursuing a bigger, “better” career, the thoughts were always there, telling me I should.
Until one day, I gave myself permission to stop.
Now, this doesn’t mean that I don’t value having a career or that I don’t recognise the importance of financial security. These things matter to me—but the job title and the external validation do not.
It was a subtle but powerful change, and it simplified my entire outlook. A lot of stress and anxiety disappeared overnight. I also began to notice new opportunities, things that I would never have paid attention to in the past.
Tip: If you’re struggling with what to let go, try exploring these simple journal prompts.
“She gave herself permission to rest. It occurred to her that since her to-do list would never end, she may as well take purposeful breaks along the way.” – Krista O’Reilly-Davi-Digui
One “secret” to a simpler life that’s not discussed nearly enough if self-compassion.
Think about it—how much of your stress and anxiety is caused by an overly harsh inner voice? And how much easier would things be if you were quicker to forgive yourself?
Here are just a few examples to consider:
- A decluttered home – Would you find it easier to let go of regrettable purchases if you could forgive yourself for making a mistake?
- A shorter to-do list – If you treated yourself with compassion, would you still expect yourself to take on more than you could reasonably handle?
- Self-care – Do you struggle to prioritise rest? Would you still resist if you valued caring for yourself as highly as you value caring for others?
Learning to practice self-compassion takes time (I’m certainly a work-in-progress) but it’s worth putting in the effort. I don’t think you can ever truly simplify your life without it.
Related Post: 5 Ways to Be Kinder to Yourself
Add to Your Reading List: The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown
LEARN TO LINGER
Life is simpler when you slow down and create space to breathe—but how often do we allow ourselves to do so?
Not enough. Instead, we hurry through our days, moving quickly from one activity to the next.
We do so out of habit and to some extent, fear. After all, many of us have been told to strive for productivity above all else and that there’s no greater character flaw than being “lazy”.
(As I type this, I have flashbacks of working in restaurants as a teenager. “Full hands in, Full hands out” was our mantra, drilled into us repeatedly as a reminder to squeeze the most out of every minute.)
Even when deep down, we know the value of slowing down, something inside resists. A voice propels us forward, urging us to “hurry, hurry”.
Pushing back takes practice, and one way to create this habit is by learning to linger.
Create space in your schedule by pausing throughout your day. Before you get out of the car, turn on your computer, or take your first sip of coffee, challenge yourself to sit quietly for just a moment. Take a deep breath and listen to the world around you.
Then you can continue with work or whatever else is on your plate, but keep coming back to these quiet moments. Sprinkle them throughout your day, every day, and watch as you slowly break the habit of busyness in favour of slow and simple.
Related Post: How to Create a Culture of Slow Living
PRIORITISE JOY EVERY DAY
This is simple but oh-so-important: prioritise joy in your life.
Don’t wait for tomorrow or “someday”. Instead, the time to act is now—keeping in mind that joy can be found in the little things.
If your time is limited, I understand (let me remind you of my two kids under three!). There will be some days when doing anything other than surviving feels hard, but honestly, this is when you need glimpses of joy the most.
A scent that reminds you of home, your favourite song on the radio, an ice-cold beverage in the sunshine or a long, deep breath under the stars—these are the things that ground you.
They remind you that the world might be big and complicated, and while your fears and struggles are undoubtedly valid, there is an abundance of beauty too. This simple perspective has carried me through many difficult and challenging days.
A beautiful resource that I highly recommend is A Book That Takes Its Time: An Unhurried Adventure in Creative Mindfulness by Irene Smit and Astrid van der Hulst. It’s part book, part journal and always a treat to read. I love it so much that I bought one for myself and one for a friend!
Related Post: 14 Ways to Stop Living for the Weekends
CREATE SPACE TO REFLECT OFTEN
Finally, I’ve learned that simple living is the results of hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny decisions. Collectively, these small choices to slow down, respect your boundaries, and care for yourself matter more than sweeping changes like a new career or moving home.
This is because small changes lead to simplicity from the inside out, which means you can carry it with you no matter where life takes you.
The key to creating this inner shift is frequent self-reflection. Create space to look at your life with curious eyes. Can you identify mental clutter, such as:
- Unreasonable expectations and perfectionism (both of which lead to worrying about things that don’t genuinely matter)
- Self-sabotage (are you creating unnecessary drama or complications out of fear?)
- “Should-do’s” that don’t serve you (“Much of what weighs you down isn’t yours to carry” — source unknown)
- Excessive worrying or anger (honour your feelings but know when to let go)
Journaling is my favourite method of self-reflection, but it’s not the only way. You can do it on your commute, on a walk, or with a friend over coffee. The method doesn’t matter as much as the questions. Here are a few that will inspire a simple, intentional life.
Alternatively, if you’re interested in guided self-discovery, to help kick-start the habit of self-reflection, I highly recommend my short course, 7 Simple Days.
Read More About Simplifying Life
If you’d like more simple living tips, stories, and resources, here are a few posts you might enjoy:
- 5 Essential Mindsets for Simple Living
- 3 Heartfelt Lessons On Living A Simple Life
- 7 Simple Living Podcasts to Inspire You
Do you think it’s possible to live a simpler life? If not, what’s holding you back? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!