For the past month or so, I’ve been thinking a lot about simple living and what it means to me, and I keep returning to one thought: I want to get back to basics.
I hinted at this in my last post about minimalism (where I confessed that I’ve been struggling with a growing need for stuff) but I felt I should write this post too because my intentions for the new year go far beyond my relationship with physical possessions. In the spirit of essentialism, I want to take a long hard look at how I spend my time and energy and make sure that I’m laser-focused on doing the things that matter the most.
This desire comes from a deep-seated need for ease and slowness, which isn’t new but it has grown in intensity recently. This is probably in response to the changes in my life this year; as my baby has grown into a toddler and my blog has grown into a business, the demands on my time and energy have increased accordingly.
This season of my life has brought new challenges but the solutions are well known to me; no matter where we are in our lives, I believe we can all benefit from going back to the basics of simple living.
Here are 9 simple living intentions for the new year and beyond.
KNOW YOUR VALUES + VISION
I apologise to regular readers because I know I talk about this all the time but it’s for good reason: the cornerstone of simple living will always be knowing what matters most to you.
You must define your core values and create a personal vision if you want to live with purpose—if not, what will you use to guide you?
When you declutter, how will you decide what to keep and what to let go? And when you tackle your to-do list, how will you decide what’s worth doing and what’s not? How you can you set goals and plan for the future if you’re unclear about what you really want to achieve?
Without a clear definition of what matters, it’s hard to consistently make good decisions. (If you’ve ever found decluttering to be overwhelming, then you know exactly what I mean.) Emotions, expectations and short-term needs can cloud our judgement and make it difficult to act in our own best interest—but if you know what matters most, then you have a compass to guide you.
I already have a list of my values and a written vision (writing it down is so important!) but in the next few weeks, I’ll be revisiting them to make sure they’re still an accurate representation of what’s most important to me. If you don’t have a list, then I highly recommend creating one for yourself (and if you find it challenging, then watch this space! I’m working on a project that will help you).
BE MINDFUL OF YOUR MENTAL SPACE
I’ve found that one of the most powerful ways to create ease in your everyday life is by being mindful of your mental space. You can do this by being selective about where you focus your attention. For example, you can choose:
- not to engage in pointless arguments (especially online!)
- to log off of social media if you catch yourself mindlessly scrolling
- to limit how much news you read or watch
- to let go of anger or frustration
- not to compare yourself with other people
Note that the key to this is self-awareness; it’s not that you should never feel angry or use social media! However, you can recognise when the feeling or activity is no longer serving you and then choose to turn away for your own wellbeing.
RELATED POST: How To Consume Social Media Mindfully
BE INTENTIONAL WITH YOUR TIME
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
I love this quote from Annie Dillard and I refer to it often because it’s a powerful reminder to be intentional with my time. Our schedules must reflect our priorities because the little things we do every day add up and over time, they become the big things. We can either intentionally choose these “big things” or our habits will choose them for us.
In addition, we must also consider the impact of what we do; what tasks and activities will give us the greatest return on our investment of time? I’ve struggled with this in the past and fallen into the trap of thinking everything’s important—but of course, this isn’t true and anyway, it’s impossible to execute because we’re all limited by 24 hours in a day.
The solution is to be intentional with our time by first, setting priorities in alignment with our values, and then, by choosing the most effective ways to move forward.
Journal Prompt: What does your schedule say about your life? If someone who didn’t know you saw your schedule, what assumptions would they make about your values and priorities?
LEARN TO SAY “NO”
Of course, saying “no” is simply another way of being intentional with your time but I wanted to highlight it as a separate item on this list because there are unique challenges; namely, when you say “no” to something, you’re usually saying “no” to someone as well.
As a people pleaser, this has been hard for me because I hate letting other people down—but I’ve come to accept that there are always tradeoffs in life. Sometimes saying “yes” to a friend or acquaintance means I’m saying “no” to my daughter, my husband, or more often, to myself. In order to have time and energy for the things that matter most, I have to (gracefully) say “no” to the nonessential.
Here are a few tips to make saying “no” easier:
- Do it quickly; the longer you wait, the harder it gets.
- Thank the other person for thinking of you
- Keep it simple; you don’t need to justify the decision to do what’s best for you
- Try exploring the below journal prompt, it will help you clarify when to say “yes” and when to say “no”.
- If you’re still struggling, watc this.
Journal Prompt: Create two lists and brainstorm how to complete the following statements: I will say “yes” if _______ and I will say “no” if _______. (Inspiration for this prompt was found in the Breathe List Journal—this is NOT a sponsored or affiliate link, just an item I personally use and enjoy.)
QUESTION THE STORIES YOU TELL YOURSELF
Simple living is often associated with the letting go of physical possessions and commitments but it doesn’t stop there; we can also “declutter” our minds by questioning the stories we tell ourselves. These stories come in many forms, such as:
- self-limiting beliefs (“I could never do ___” or “I’m not a ___ type of person”)
- broad assumptions about other people (“No one here values my work”)
- stories about the future (“All I need is ___ to be happy”)
Tackling these mindsets is sometimes referred to as “next level” or “advanced” minimalism (implying that you should declutter your home and schedule first, before your beliefs) but I would argue that the reverse makes better sense. Our beliefs dictate our actions, so if our lives are cluttered, busy or complicated we need to address the beliefs that led to this state of living in the first place.
Journal Prompt: Complete the statement “I could never ___” with whatever responses first come to mind. When you’re done, write a new story; play the devil’s advocate and look for real-life examples contrary to your old beliefs.
IMPLEMENT SYSTEMS + ROUTINES
One very practical way to practice
- a morning routine
- a bedtime routine (one for my daughter and one for myself)
- a system for capturing blog post ideas and writing new posts
- an automated system for bill paying
- a weekly planning routine
Systems and routines help me because I can rest easy knowing the most important things in my life have been already accounted for.
There are thousands of ways you can use systems and routines to simplify your life but if you’re looking for a place to start, I recommend implementing some sort of routine for weekly planning and intention setting (this is the #1 tool that empowers me to be intentional with my time).
Related Post: 20 Ways I Simplified My Life
PAUSE + REFLECT
Another way to simplify your life is by putting time and space between your impulses and your reactions. Here are some examples:
- Instead of making an impulse purchase, wait 24 hours and use this time to explore your motivation (is your desire to buy a genuine need or is it an emotional reaction?)
- Before getting angry with a friend or loved one, pause and reflect on your frustration: what’s really upsetting you?
- When you feel overwhelmed with your to-do list, take a moment to step back and separate the urgent from the important.
If you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend using a journal as a tool to create this space. I’ve been journaling regularly for two years and it has been a powerful source of positive change in my life.
RELATED POST: 7 Questions to Inspire Intentional Living
DECLUTTER YOUR PHYSICAL SPACE
Of course, I couldn’t write this post without mentioning decluttering because there’s no doubt that life is simpler with less stuff. Owning less creates physical and mental space, which in turn leads to freedom and confidence to pursue your dreams.
In my experience, the best way to declutter is to take a mindful approach. Begin by first knowing clearly what you want from your home and life, and then consciously working towards that vision by letting go of anything that doesn’t serve that vision.
I break down this method in my free guide and workbook, Mindful Decluttering. It also includes practical advice, personal stories, and a troubleshooting guide to help you overcome your decluttering challenges! I’d love for you to subscribe below and get your free copy.
ACCEPT SLOW PROGRESS + LET GO OF PERFECTIONISM
One final way to practice simple living is to accept slow progress and let go of perfectionism; in doing so, you’ll clear unnecessary stress and replace it with a feeling of ease and wellbeing.
Accepting slow progress means: setting realistic expectations, showing up consistently to take “small bites” out of big projects, and learning to appreciate the journey as much as the destination.
Letting go of perfectionism involves: not quitting when things don’t go exactly as planned, accepting that “good enough” really is good enough, and learning from mistakes (instead of hiding from them).
Thank you as always for reading! If you’re new here, please click here for more blog posts about simple and intentional living.