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Lessons in Simplicity From Times of Adversity [Episode 10]

In this episode of The Simply + Fiercely show, I get personal and share why 2022 was one of the most challenging years of my life, and more importantly, what I learned from it. Despite things not going as planned, I discovered ways to simplify and cope with adversity. Join me as I reflect on my journey and share the valuable lessons I gained from this experience.

In this Episode:

  • Why I took a six-month break from blogging and podcasting
  • An obvious (but often overlooked) secret to simplifying
  • Why you need to “test” your priorities
  • The importance of white space in your life

Featured In this Episode:

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Note: this is not an exact transcript and has been edited for clarity.

Hi there, it’s Jen, and welcome to The Simply and Fiercely Show, Episode 10. Today, I want to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned in the past year about simple living.

But before that, let me give you a quick update about what’s been happening in my life. The past 12 months have been one of the most challenging times for me.

Some of you may have noticed that I took a six-month break from the podcast, stopped writing blog posts, and disconnected from social media. The reason for that was my health. I was dealing with some health issues, but I won’t go into the details for privacy reasons. I want to assure you that it was nothing life-threatening, and I’m feeling much better now after getting on new medication.

However, dealing with the physical symptoms was just one part of the problem. What I quickly realized was that the mental load that comes with being sick is just as overwhelming.

There were additional stresses, anxieties, and uncertainties that came with it. Going through appointments, tests and dealing with the healthcare system was already stressful. But not being able to do the things I normally do and worrying about when I’ll get better and how I’ll catch up with everything added to the mental burden.

I learned that even short-term illnesses can leave you feeling like you’re drowning in responsibilities and wondering if you’ll ever get back to normal. Dealing with all of these challenges and struggles was beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before.

Of course, I’ve faced difficult times and challenges before, but I was always able to power through or run away from them.

I used to think that my ability to hustle and work harder than anyone else set me apart. If I had work problems or financial problems, I could solve them through grit and hard work.

Alternatively, when I couldn’t fix myself, I would run away from my problems by going on shopping sprees or travelling.

But things are different now. I was ill, and I couldn’t control it. I couldn’t hustle my way out of being sick, and I couldn’t run away from it either. I’m 41 years old, married, with two kids, and a business to run. I had to face this tough situation head-on, and it was challenging.

Now that I’m on the other side of my illness, I’m spending a lot of time reflecting on what happened and how things could have gone differently. But I’m not doing it in a judgmental way. Instead, I’m practising what I call compassionate curiosity, which is a powerful tool for simplifying your life.

It involves looking at the clutter in your life, the things that are out of alignment with your values and priorities, and trying to understand why they’re there.

For me, I wanted to understand why dealing with my illness was so difficult. I wanted to learn from this experience to make better decisions in the future and share my lessons with others through my blog and podcast.

We all go through hard times, and the best way to learn is through storytelling. So, I’m here to share my story and what I’ve learned.

Before I dive into today’s topic, I want to make one thing clear: what I’m sharing may not be groundbreaking. But there’s a big difference between intellectually knowing something and actually road testing it in your life. It’s like watching someone do cartwheels on video – you can’t learn until you try it yourself, and even then, it takes practice to get better.

The same goes for simplifying your life. I’ve done a lot of it in my own life, but I’m always learning and improving. And the only way to do that is by doing and reflecting. So, let’s get started.

Lesson 1: The Power of Acceptance and Making a Decision

One of the most important things I’ve learned in my journey towards simplifying my life is the power of acceptance and decision-making. While it may sound simple, it’s not always easy to put into practice.

Let me give you an example we can all relate to: those days when you’re exhausted and just want to rest, but there’s a nagging voice in your head reminding you of all the things you should be doing instead. I’ve experienced this conflict many times, and it usually leads to me staying up late, not getting anything done, and feeling anxious and stressed.

This feeling was even more pronounced during my year-long illness. I struggled to trust myself—should I rest? should I push harder?—and the indecision was so draining.

It actually took a conversation with a therapist to realise that I needed to work on acceptance. On sick days, I needed to stop second-guessing myself and instead, give myself permission to rest.

This is perhaps an extreme example of how indecision can weigh heavily on us, but I’ve also seen it in seemingly small situations like decluttering.

People struggle with keeping items, like a dress with the tag still on, because they fear they might need it someday. But every time they see it, they second-guess themselves.

Just as with my illness, this indecision creates a mental load that adds up over time, causing stress and anxiety.

Again, I struggled with indecision for a year while battling illness, constantly beating myself up for not being able to work. But I wonder if I had made the decision to rest and focus on my health earlier, would I have gotten better quicker?

Yet another example of the burden of indecision was the inner turmoil I experienced in my 20s. During this period, I couldn’t decide between a traditional career path or entrepreneurship.

While I was raised to believe that a certain type of career path would fulfil my potential, I also craved the freedom and flexibility of being self-employed. The mental clutter I carried for over a decade stemmed from this indecision. It wasn’t until my 30th birthday when I made the decision to let go of the pressure and expectations, that I felt truly free.

This decision didn’t solve all my problems, but it allowed me to fully commit to the life I wanted and eventually start my own business. Accepting our situation, our truth, and what we really want can be difficult, but once we do, it allows us to make a decision and move forward without the mental burden of indecision.

Lesson 2: Why You Must Test Your Values and Priorities

The concept of values and priorities in life is well-known, but it’s not until we’re forced to put them to the test that we truly understand their importance.

After all, most of us don’t need to examine our priorities closely because things are going well in our lives. We might feel overwhelmed, but we get by because we have the capacity to manage our overflowing to-do lists.

However, when we face adversity, such as illness or financial struggles, we’re forced to examine what’s truly essential because we suddenly have less time, energy, or other resources.

I experienced this firsthand when I became unwell and had to reexamine my priorities for my business. While there were many important tasks, I realised the people who trusted me to work with them in my paid programs were my number one priority.

In a crunch, everything else could be pushed to the side, which didn’t feel great, but at the same time, my business didn’t collapse because I used my limited energy on what truly needed to be done. This is the power of testing your priorities.

Now, you may be thinking, “Why should I do that when I have 10 important things on my to-do list and enough time to complete them?”

The answer is simple: you may not always have that time. That’s why it’s crucial to know what you would give up if you had to. If you don’t intentionally choose your priorities, the universe will choose them for you, and you may not like the outcome.

Let’s say you suddenly lose half of your working hours, and you now have 20 hours a week instead of 40. If you don’t know which tasks are the most important, you’ll end up testing them at the worst possible time, and your priorities will remain unfinished.

The same goes for your home life. If you value self-care but have numerous housework tasks that you must complete first, what happens when you have less energy or time? Your self-care routine will fall to the wayside, and you’ll be left feeling burnt out and unfulfilled.

As a woman, I know firsthand how easy it is to push self-care to the back burner. We have numerous other responsibilities that we believe are essential, but we never know the true value of self-care until we test it.

So, how do you test it? You experiment by doing less and seeing what kind of follow-up occurs. Although it may not be enjoyable, it’s necessary to find what truly matters to us.

In the past year, I’ve learned that I don’t have to attend to everything that I consider important. For example, if you’re a stickler for a clean house and vacuum every other day, try doing it every three or four days instead. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but you’ll discover that you can live without it. It’s freeing to simplify your life and reclaim that time for more significant priorities.

Sometimes it’s more challenging to test our priorities, such as deciding whether to attend a child’s soccer game or have some much-needed alone time. It’s a hard decision, but experimenting with different options can help us find a balance that works for us. We may worry about being judged for not attending every soccer game, but what’s essential is finding what works for our family and ourselves.

In conclusion, we often struggle to find time for the things that are important to us. However, we can’t know what we can cut out until we experiment. It may not feel comfortable at first, but if our well-being or other areas of our life are a priority, it’s worth giving it a try. Testing our priorities is a hard lesson, but it’s a valuable one that we can all learn from.

Lesson 3: Create Whitespace Before You Need It

I want to share with you the third lesson that I learned in my journey towards a simpler life. It’s not something that was news to me, but it’s something that I’m constantly grateful for.

Simplifying your life and decluttering is not a magic pill that will make all your problems go away. Many people think that they can simplify their lives to the point where they won’t have any problems, and I thought that too when I first started experimenting with minimalism. But the reality is that no matter how much you simplify, you can’t make all your problems disappear.

However, despite this realization, I’m still grateful for the simplifying that I’ve done. When you declutter and simplify your life, you clear out many of the smaller problems so that when you have limited time and energy, you can save it for what matters most.

For example, when I got sick, and I was in bed looking around my house, which was steadily getting worse, I was grateful for the decluttering work that I had done. My husband helped a lot, but we share the housework equally, so when I’m not there doing my share, he has to pick up the slack.

Despite that, even with my limited contribution, we could have our house back to 90% within two or three hours because of the simplifying and decluttering work that I had done.

Living in a small house, teaching my kids about simple living, and downsizing were all part of the work that I’ve done over the past decade. And last year was a reminder of how important it is to create whitespace in our spending, schedule, home, and energy.

You don’t want to be running at 100% all the time, even when you’re capable of it, because you never know when something unexpected might come up. You may not be able to go from 100% to 70% overnight, but gradually creating whitespace in your life can make a significant difference.

Decluttering and simplifying are not just about having a clean home, looking organized, or achieving a particular aesthetic. It’s about creating space, almost like a safety net, for yourself. When times are hard, you can deal with them because you have room to breathe.

This past year was a reaffirmation for me of why I practice simplicity in my life and why I teach it. And even though it was one of the most challenging years of my life, I was grateful to have created that breathing room, that whitespace, to fall back on.

Recap: Three Lessons From a Difficult Year

I hope that you found these insights helpful. While they may not be entirely new, experiencing difficult times has helped me see their importance in new ways.

Don’t put off making decisions. In the long run, the cumulative weight of indecision is more stressful than making a choice (and it can drag out for years!).

Testing our priorities, and acknowledging what’s truly important is absolutely essential. Ideally, you should do this before your hand is forced, so that when you’re faced with a difficult situation, you can navigate it with a clear head. Having this perspective of what’s important in our lives allows us to better handle the challenges we face.

Creating whitespace through decluttering and simplifying is an act of self-kindness that sets us up for success in the future.

Thank you for joining me for this episode. Let’s hope that 2023 brings us all new and better things. Until next time, take care.

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1 thought on “Lessons in Simplicity From Times of Adversity [Episode 10]”

  1. Thank you, Jen. Your ideas about simplifying and creating white space/margin so that times of crisis are more easily managed are on point! Well done on reflecting on your experience over the last year in such a constructive manner.
    Wishing you wonderful things as you move forward!


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