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17 Ways to Simplify Your Life: How to Desire Less

Would you be willing to accept a reduction in pay if you could work fewer hours to spend more time with your family? It is a lovely thought, but how realistic? Working less usually means earning less—hardly an option for most people. But that doesn’t mean you cannot take small steps to simplify your life. A little bit here and there, and before you know it, your efforts will add up to something significant.

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Simplifying your life means keeping things simple. It means cutting out stuff you don’t really need so you’ve got more time to spend time doing what makes you happy. It’s about ditching the excess and keeping only what truly matters to you.

The late Anne Ortlund, in her book Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman, sums it up in two words: concentrate and eliminate. Identify what’s most important to you, and eliminate everything else. That’s the way to simplify your life.

1. Most important things

What’s important to you? What do you value most? Write down your top four or five. Memorize them so they become automatic filters that help you set priorities and make daily decisions.

2. Worry only as needed

If we’re not conscious of our thoughts, our worries can travel with us throughout the day.

There are tricks to tackle them head-on. For example, set aside a specific time just for worrying. When you give this a shot, you’ll see how much of your day is eaten up by those nagging worries and how often they’re just the same old tune playing on repeat.

Whether it’s a quick 5-minute session or a longer 15-minute one, dedicate that time to facing those worries head-on. And once the clock’s up, leave ’em behind and get on with your day.

3. Declutter

Too much stuff leads to more stuff—and even more. All that stuff weighs us down, robbing our joy and precious time because everything becomes so complicated. Getting rid of clutter is a cheap, fast, and effective way to become physically and financially sound. It’s also the path to emotional and intellectual happiness. Dejunk your home one drawer, cupboard, closet, and room at a time. Expect to experience a new feeling of “lightness.”

4. Give everything a home

We know the rule—everything has a place, everything in its place. Adhering to that ideal can be quite another matter.

But truth be told, once everything has a home, it’s easy to maintain a clean and functional space. Cleanup is quick and easy because it’s simple. Whatever it takes to reach the everything-has-a-place goal will be so worth the effort.

5. Track your money to simplify your life

Statistically, we know that money is leaking out of our lives at a rate of at least 10% if we are not keeping track of where it is going. One of the most helpful things you can do to simplify your money is to download a budget app.

Generally, a budget app allows you to aggregate your financial accounts so that you can easily see your financial situation. You can connect accounts, such as your mortgage, bank accounts, credit card accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, and more. Plus, it is free.

6. Phone control

Just because it happens to be a convenient time for someone to call you doesn’t mean it’s convenient for you to answer. Let your calls go to voice mail. Every instant message does not deserve an instant response. Telling your phone who’s in charge will greatly simplify your life.

7. Learn to say no

This is actually one of the key habits for those trying to simplify their lives. If you can’t say no, you will take on too much.

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8. Run the dishwasher once a day

In most homes, the dishwasher tends to fill up quickly. Here’s a workable routine that if it fits into your lifestyle, can bring simplicity and calm to your home:

Every morning, after breakfast, run the dishwasher and then empty it right before lunch. Now, you can put the dirty dishes from lunch and dinner directly into the dishwasher and go to bed with nothing in the sink.

9. Record it

Write down what you need to remember and forget everything else. Don’t allow your mind to dwell on things over which you have no control. You will never regret making this a new habit.

10. Edit your wardrobe

Is your closet about to explode? Can’t even close those jam-packed drawers? Simplify things by ditching stuff you never wear. Opt for a minimalist wardrobe with basic styles and a handful of colors that all play nice together.

11. Share, lend, borrow, rent

Part of the reason we have such a love affair with shopping and consumerism is that we think we need to personally own everything we use.

Before you agree to complicate your life further with yet another possession, consider the alternatives. Ask yourself: Do I really need it? Don’t I have something already that will do just as well? Where will I keep it?

12. Stop paying for cable

Due to hidden fees on top of basic service,  the average household cable package is now $217.42 per month, which is more than the monthly average U.S. household pays for all major utilities combined ($205.50). Cutting the cable is a good step toward simplifying your life and, quite frankly, something you may never regret. With so many free or at least cheaper options, you might not even miss cable TV at all.

13. Take a break

You may not realize how screen time is affecting your purchasing and lifestyle choices. If you are addicted to  Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Facebook, and television in general, taking a break will simplify your life.

If you’re not willing to go cold turkey, at least disable notifications. Then limit the number of times each day that you check your various feeds. FOMO (fear of missing out) is a real thing that has no merit—it is a fake fear.

14. Drive a simple car

High-end, luxury automobiles are nice to drive but can complicate one’s life. Typically, they are gas-guzzlers and expensive to insure, register, maintain, and repair. It’s a simple step that may take a while to achieve, but it’s totally doable.

15. Select a patterned carpet

Light-colored, plush carpeting is beautiful but can be life-altering. It shows every speck, spot, fleck, and crumb. If you want your carpets to look good without having to spend all your free time spotting, vacuuming, de-flecking, and un-crumbing, go with something speckled, patterned, or multicolored.

16. Get up earlier

The best hour of the day is the one right before you normally get up. It may take you a few weeks to truly enjoy that hour right before dawn, but when you create the habit, you will be amazed by the simplicity that 60 quiet, stress-free minutes will add to your day.

17. Cultivate contentment

Decide to be happy with what you have. The social imperative that we must consume to be happy breeds dissatisfaction and nonfulfillment. The constant ratcheting up of standards demands that we constantly upgrade in order to keep up. It takes a conscious effort to desire less.


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  1. Rachel says:

    This “diminishing returns” we experience, on so many levels, seems to come down to mindfulness. Living in the moment means that even if you drink the same coffee at the same time and listen to the same music, for example, when you are AWARE of what you are doing you retain the enjoyment that follows.

  2. Julie says:

    Here are some ideas for Free/Inexpensive TV:
    (1) I get “OTA” (over-the-air) tv using a roof-top antenna as well as rabbit ear antennas. I get more than 100 channels all for free. See Antenna TV to see if you live near television station transmitters.
    (2) I pay $50 per month for home internet service for my desktop computer.
    (3) I bought a ROKU streaming (streaming = over the internet) media device ($25 – $35) that easily connects to my tv which allows me to watch all the channels that are on ROKU for FREE! Best deal around. Roku has hundreds of channels, including movie channels, food channels, news channels, sports channels, etc.

  3. Holly says:

    I am interested in getting rid of cable as you suggested. I do live in a small town, but I don’t understand the things available out there and how to use them. I am paying dish 112.00 for the top 120 and there is nothing there. I mostly watch Fox, Hallmark and reruns. I live on fixed income. Explain what I can do and how? I can’t stream in because of the location of my computer and my tv. thank you

    • leslie says:

      if you are on the internet there are facebook groups that will help you cut the cord. also if there is a nextdoor group in your area, the people on it may also be able to give you suggestions.

    • Lydia Warden says:

      If you watch Fox try the app Hulu. It allows you to watch most everything on Fox the day after it comes out. Plus it has dozens of movies and other shows. It has lots of older classic TV shows as well. Not sure about Hallmark. They may also have an App. For Hulu I have the very basic subscription and while I can’t watch everything it has more than enough for me.

  4. Jackie says:

    Our cable bill isn’t the problem since we just have basic to get reception. Our internet service and fees are about $80/month. How do I cut that down?

  5. Cathy down on says:

    This column reminds me of the old saying, “we spend half of our life accumulating stuff and the other half giving stuff away.” I think we all reach an age when we start losing out loved ones and we find out what really matters in life and it “ain’t” stuff!

  6. Cathy down on the Farm says:

    Just love these columns. My dad left me the farm that has been owned by his parents and then my parents with generations of “stuff”. I am so grateful for this gift but it is still overwhelming to me after almost two years of decluttering. I have given away so much but have even thrown more broken stuff out. I am cleaning and organizing for my kids so that they don’t have the burden. I am going to exercise fasting in various forms this year;.. fasting from food and fasting from shopping and just live on what I have for a month at a time. I tried fasting shopping over the month of August and it was much harder than I thought it would be. It really is an amazing discipline.

  7. Terri says:

    One of my dearest neighbors told me that she was getting rid of 3 things each day by giving, donating or discarding items. Her reasoning was that when she died, she wanted to save her daughter from having to decide what to do with all of her stuff. Taking those decisions out of her daughter’s hands was an incredibly thoughtful gift.

  8. Loretta says:

    Started serious decluttering in November of 2019. My goal is to get rid of half my stuff by November 2020. So, that will continue. Next up is getting rid of time wasters (too much phone/computer use) and way too much time looking for things. Finally, I’m clearing my head as I clear my closet. Emotional clutter is harder to deal with than physical clutter, but it’s ALL going effectively IMMEDIATELY.

  9. Kay Jones says:

    I agree with your suggestions and have a few that I have used. Take an honest look at yourself and surroundings. I have physical limitations that I didn’t have 3 years ago. My housekeeping suffered and really bothered me. Rather than focus on what I couldn’t do, I leaned a new way of doing it and got new tools. I now have a long handled dustpan and just sweep my floors without having to bend over. I have one of those sweepers that they use in restaurants that works on my bare floors, leaving me to manhandle the vacuum less. No cable, but streaming that I share the subscription cost with my children. They have the code and can use it. Same with Amazon Prime. One person has the account, we split the cost and all use it. Enjoy the look on your kids faces when you give them something BEFORE you die. I’m not using the fine china……let someone else enjoy it. Same thing with art work, Christmas treasures and so forth. Cook with them and pass on family recipes. If you plan your day around sharing and passing on things, you will never have a bad day.

    • Lija Wills says:

      “If you plan your day around sharing and passing on things, you will never have a bad day.”
      What a great insight! I am going to start telling that little gem to my friends. Thank you.

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