This month has been a busy one for me. I just spent five days on vacation with friends in Oregon. I came home for one day to host and celebrate my Mom’s 95th birthday. (Happy Birthday, Mom!) I leave later today for a 16-day certification training in the desert. When I get back, I have another two-day business development mastermind here in San Diego.
Phew! I’m tired just looking at my schedule!
While I was packing for such a long trip, it gave me good time to ponder what it means to live your life simply. I immediately had questions for myself and anyone who wants to live a simpler life.
- How often do you get caught up in your busy schedule of life?
- Does your To-Do list look more like a child’s Christmas list, full of wants and wishes?
- At times, do you find yourself stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed with life?
It’s time to get back to basics and celebrate National Simplicity Day! National Simplicity Day falls every year on July 12 in honor of the birthday of Henry David Thoreau, who was born that day in 1817.
Thoreau was a jack-of-all-trades: an author, an environmentalist, and an abolitionist. However, thanks to high school English classes, you probably remember Thoreau most as a transcendentalist poet. As a transcendentalist, he believed that people have knowledge about themselves that “transcends” all the external forces in their lives. He advocated for living a simpler life to better get in touch with those feelings.
Now is your time to ground yourself by focusing on what is important in your life and simplifying your life.
I’m not here to tell you to take a year off from your busy life to live with nature just to get in touch with your feelings. Instead, in honor of National Simplicity Day, Thoreau, and his transcendentalist ideologies, I encourage you to think about what simplicity means to you.
Whether it be today, July 12th, or any day, I encourage you to take some time to evaluate your life and find out what elements of it are simply the most important to you.
As Thoreau himself said: “As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.”
5 Ways to Simplify Your Life
Nowadays, we know that it feels impossible to get through a day without Snapchatting, constantly checking your work email, posting to Instagram, and catching up on the latest HBO show. But I challenge you to take a break from your computer and smartphone, even if it’s only for an hour.
You’d be surprised at how refreshing it is to not be constantly plugged into everything that’s going on in everyone else’s life. Clear out all the noise, and home in on yourself. I’m willing to bet that when you log into Facebook the next morning, you’ll find you didn’t miss much.
Several summers ago, my sons (ages 11 and 16) were put on “electronic probation” for a month in the summertime. They were extremely frustrated during that first week without smartphones, computers, televisions, or video games.
But then something great happened. They started seeking other ways to entertain themselves. My older son took out some of his old art and art supplies and fueled his creativity. My younger son had always been an avid reader. So, he dusted off some old favorites and started reading again. They were spending more time outside, playing board games with each other and the family, and they were genuinely excited about family bike rides.
Both come back to me and talk about what they learned that summer. They tapped into understanding themselves and went back to those simple things that gave them such joy.
What will you do with that unplugged hour? Can you make it four hours, a whole day, or even a week?
Whether it’s a tiny apartment or a four-bedroom house, we tend to amass more and more stuff. Sometimes, we have so much stuff, we feel we’re stuffed into our own home.
Use Simplicity Day as an excuse to take a long, hard look at all your various objects and figure out what’s important to you versus what’s just taking up space. Take everything that falls into the latter category and donate it. You’ll feel more comfortable in your home, and you’ll have done a bonus good deed!
I’ve spoken before on cleaning up your life and the KonMari method. It is a great system for decluttering your life and allowing you to simply breathe in your own home.
The American Dream is often viewed as “achieve more so you can buy more things.” You need a fancier car, a bigger house, one with a pool, and on and on. The challenge of taking on this attitude is that the more you have, the more you must take care of it. The more time, effort, and stress you have to put toward their financing and maintenance, the less time you have to reflect on the things that really matter to you.
I have been especially reminded of this as I have to pack for a 16-day training. I remember being young and in Europe and taking one small suitcase all over the place. Last night, I was wondering if it was going to take two or three. Thankfully, contemplating a simple life while packing does wonders for economy of space.
PICK THREE GOALS
Our lives are constantly scheduled out between jobs, school, workouts, childcare, etc. We often forget how taxing it can be to always be moving from one thing to the next. Simplicity Day gives us a chance to put all those things on pause, even if it’s just mentally, and focus on the importance of the simple things.
In her motivational handbook, Pick Three: You Can Have It All (Just Not Every Day), Randi Zuckerberg talks about the fallacy of the "well-balanced" life, arguing that the key to success is learning to be well-lopsided.
Each day you review the different aspects of your life: work, sleep, fitness, family, or friends. Trying to do it all only leaves us frustrated and feeling inadequate. However, we can succeed if we pick three of them to concentrate on that day.
I review my BEST SELF Journal twice each day. It asks me to set three goals for the day. Of my laundry list of To-Dos, it allows me to focus in on what’s most important, and what it is I really need to get done to have a successful day.
I’m reminded of a trip I took to Oregon. It was supposed to be a five-day trip with friends, but I had brought three work-related things I wanted to do during the week. On the flight up, I took the three documents out of my planner and placed them in the pocket in front of me. (You can probably see where this is going.) I left them there and didn’t realize it until after I had left the airport.
At first, I was so concerned about whether I’d be able to replicate them and how I was going to be further behind having to do that. Then it dawned on me that this is a perfect instance of something happening FOR me and not TO me.
It forced me to pause and reflect not only on the lost materials, but on what my focus should be when I’m going on vacation with friends; them and me and what we want to do. Leaving those documents allowed me to focus and to pick three. With these friends, it was often eat, drink, and be merry. That was what I put in my BEST SELF journal, and on vacation, that was just what it should have been.
I also value this journal because it also asks me to write down three things in the morning and three things at night that I’m grateful for. Even if I wake up on the “wrong side of the bed” or “had a bad day,” it reminds me to touch base with my feelings and be thankful for what I do have.
As I celebrated my Mom’s 95th birthday yesterday, I recall all the things she’s been through in her life. From being raised during the depression to the loss of my father 7 years ago, she’s seen her share of hardships. But she’s been able to simplify and ground herself in her life. When I’m stressed or running around to get a million things done, she often tells me to settle down, and that I’m trying to do too much.
Living simply and being grateful for those simple things, will go a long way toward making the “laws of the universe…simpler.”
For those of us who are Type A personalities and thrive on our busy lives and To-Do Lists (yes, this is me), it’s not easy to seek the simple. Yet, it is possible.
For me, I get to focus on one thing for the next three weeks, enjoying my time with colleagues while learning more coaching tools to assist me and my clients.
You know, Thoreau also said, "The rule is to carry as little as possible." He was a strong proponent of living the simple life. I’ll keep that in mind as my finish my packing today.
What are your plans today?