Practicing simple living

I recently led a three-day workshop titled “The Practice of Simplicity.” When choosing the name for this program, I specifically chose the word practice for the title because of its broad meaning.

People who aspire to a life of simplicity often consider themselves practitioners — in the sense that a doctor might say she practices medicine, an unclutterer might say he practices simplicity.

At the same time, living simply requires practice. No one goes to bed one night in complete chaos and disorder and wakes up the next morning master of an organized and clutter-free wonderland. Transformation doesn’t happen over night, and achieving and maintaining it most definitely takes practice.

Along these lines, simplicity isn’t a goal or an end result. Simplicity is a means to an end, with the ultimate destination being a remarkable life focused on what matters most to you. You don’t practice simplicity for simplicity’s sake, you practice simplicity to clear the distractions that get in the way of the life you desire.

Before I practiced simplicity, I spent a lot of time practicing other, less helpful skill sets — lack of focus, stress, worry, poor time management, operating on auto-pilot, pack rattiness, bad sleep and eating habits, and frustration immediately come to my mind. I practiced these unproductive skill sets so often that I became an expert on these traits and have spent the past nine years training myself not to use them.

What are you practicing? Are you a practitioner of simple living? If you’re struggling with your uncluttering efforts, remind yourself that it takes practice, even for people with already streamlined homes and offices. Keep at it! You’ll get better each day you choose to practice simplicity.

24 Comments for “Practicing simple living”

  1. posted by ninakk on

    I’m practicing patience while learning to master the art of simple(r) living. The patience part is my biggest obstacle, because when I forget about it, I berate myself for not doing better and more. I’m already on my way and deserve a clap on the shoulder instead of negative critique toward myself. Patience, darling, patience…

  2. posted by Rebecca on

    I’m definitely practicing uncluttering and organization, and mostly feel I’m working in fits and starts with broad periods of “if I pretend it’s not there, maybe it will organize/clean itself”. It never occurred to me that there was another way to live until I stumbled across the Voluntary Simplicity movement about 3-4 years ago. I’d purchased feng shui and organization books because I knew something didn’t balance, but it wasn’t until I started really thinking about clutter in broad terms as a lifestyle choice that my brain started to process information differently. I still struggle with hanging onto stuff (what emotional attachment can I possibly have to tattered pajama pants?). My ideas and goals exceed my time and motivation most days. But as my life continues to become more organized (and more meaningful), I know I’m headed in the right direction.

  3. posted by Alix on

    @ ninakk: Oh, I hear you! I’m practicing patience more than anything else, because I want things simplified TODAY.

    To me, simplicity is a *style* of living, one that will develop and grow over time until it becomes a part of you. So I’m trying to look at it as an evolution.

  4. posted by Betty Jo on

    My husband and I lived a simpler life for years. Simpler, that is, than what we once lived. When he passed away nineteen months ago, and once I came out of the shock of his sudden passing, I realized that in order to survive I needed to simplify even further. Your blog is super and I’m sure it is going to be a big help to me.

  5. posted by Annette on

    I like the concept of practicing simplicity. I practice uncluttering all the time! I practice organization to the point that folks call me names, lol. I don’t mind it. Without us organized folks, the creative types wouldn’t get meals during hurricanes.

  6. posted by Amy on

    Dear Betty Jo, I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your husband.

    I decided to simplify my life when I turned 50. It was right after my marriage broke up and I knew I could no longer sustain my lifestyle.

    It feels like a journey of self-realization, deciding what you need and what you can do without. I find it very liberating to live with less.

  7. posted by Helen on

    Gretchen Rubin at “The Happiness Project” has a video today on finding an EXACT place for each thing:http://www.happiness-project.c.....fying.html

  8. posted by dee on

    @[email protected] – well said, my sentiments exactly. Reminding myself to be patient and that its all an evolution is probably my biggest obstacle to simple living. I get in my own way by demeaning my efforts! “Practice simple living” is a great title and I’ll remember to say that phrase when I’m feeling a tad overwhelmed.

  9. posted by Tiffany on

    my fiancee and i just bought our first house. it’s larger than we were looking for, but outdoor lifestyle is important to us, so we bought it for the amazing backyard with room to garden, have a fire pit, and play with the pups.

    i have always been one who acts impulsively, so right now i’m practicing patience and prioritizing. we don’t want to break the bank to fill the house up, so we’re prioritizing needs and wants, and watching for deals on craigslist, garage sales, and thrift stores. it is so hard to fight the urge to fill up every corner of the house in the name of “decorating”, but so far so good! i just keep reminding myself that i would much rather have fewer things that bring happiness and organization than lots of things that bring clutter and extra cleaning time!

  10. posted by Dawn F on

    One way my family practices a simpler lifestyle is by not over-scheduling ourselves. We leave lots of space in our calendar for… well, nothing. I block it off and it’s reserved for “family down time”. It’s time for us to reconnect by enjoying simple, slower-paced, spontaneous activities – whether that be a trip to the park or a picnic in the living room or some time at the library – whatever we decide at that time.

    Our lives are happier and healthier (and not so financially strapped) when we are not scheduled every minute of the day (or weekend). Honestly, a simple life can be so rich!

    Thanks for the great topic today!

  11. posted by Menopausal Entrepreneur on

    I’ve been implementing so many of your great ideas since I found you, but I could always use more inspiration. Do you have plans to offer this workshop again? Would love to attend!

  12. posted by Reader on

    Some people think that living simply is a no-brainer. It isn’t. Years ago, I read a book on living simply in which the author described being offered a weekend away to do some kind of outside sport. Although it sounded fun, neither she nor her husband had any background in the sport and she reasoned that they’d have to train, buy equipment, etc., all to pursue an activity that they weren’t that interested in.

    To live simply, she explained, often means acknowledging the time commitment that certain superficially appealing activities will require and saying, “No.”

  13. posted by WilliamB on

    My first thought was “I do not aspire to practice simple living.”

    My second was “What *is* simple living?” Till I have an answer to that I can’t tell if I practice simple living or not.

    What I aspire to is to do what I enjoy or that which makes me a better person. So I aspire to pare away the need to do things I don’t like (tidy up) so I have time to what I do like.

    I’ve discovered that, for myself, spontaneity is a good thing. I often prefer to decide at the last minute whether I’m going to attend the community picnic. If I schedule it in advance sometimes it feels like an obligation rather than a joy.

  14. posted by L. on

    This post really made me want to hear more about how you define “simplicity” and the simple life.

    I am really a believer in organization and decluttering, though I have a long way to go. On the other hand, it seems to me that sometimes organization/decluttering can become a focus of so much thought and effort that they’re the opposite of simple. For me, sometimes the posts on Unclutterer tend this way, and that’s when I most balk against certain concepts or tenets.

    But, also, while one can find simplicity in physical objects (what you have, how much, how it’s stored–or not!), I think you’re talking about emotional and time-related simplicity more than anything. And those are sometimes, but not always, connected to physical simplicity. Theoretically your home could be physically organized but your life could still be a mess in many other ways. So how do you see these things connected, or not?

    Anyway. I’d like to hear more on this!

  15. posted by tay on

    @ Rebecca,

    “My ideas and goals exceed my time and motivation most days” I couldn’t have said it better myself! I might print and frame it!

  16. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @L. — We’ve written on that before:
    http://unclutterer.com/2009/04.....implicity/

    Not the easiest thing to define …

  17. posted by Availle on

    I practice Aikido. Constantly, plus three times/week in the dojo. It has relaxed me tremendously, physically and mentally.

    Compared to the ‘me’ before, I am less irritable, much more patient, I don’t have such a short fuse any longer and I stopped worrying about nitty-gritty future details that most of the time don’t occur anyway (I still make plans, that’s different).

    This more relaxed attitude in general has simplified my life enormously. I never realized before that all those worries and all that anger take up so much time and energy.

  18. posted by Erin on

    Thank you for this post! I’m at the beginning of my uncluttering lifestyle. It’s going to be a long haul so the patient, understanding tone of this post is greatly appreciated.

    I certainly need the reminder to be kind with myself and family during the process.

  19. posted by Heather on

    I’m practicing simplicity by putting things away after I use them, limiting myself to a single in-box for paperwork, and using a daily planner (with a flash drive tucked inside) as a kind of mobile workplace. I’m no longer tripping over things left out, allowing paper to cover the kitchen table, or missing appointments kept on Post-Its and business cards. It took me 14 years to figure these things out! At first I confused simple living with tightwadding and thought it was about making quiche with leftover vegetables and reusing orphaned tube socks. Then I realized it was easy to make stuff, but much harder to organize it.

  20. Profile photo of

    posted by klutzgrrl on

    I aspire to simplicity, but I’m also in two minds about it: life is messy. Life is complicated. So I’m trying to figure out how to combine that reality with a simple approach. I think if you keep things as simple as you can, you make it possible to deal with the curve balls that life throws you, or even the everyday chaos – because it’s manageable.

    On the other hand, doing something like taking an overseas trip or even a lot of enjoyable, worthwhile activities like playing in a band or making art – these things aren’t simple – they involve planning and often a lot of ‘stuff’.

    So I don’t know that I want to make simplicity a goal in itself.

    Actually, simple living, in the sense of being self-reliant like many people use the term, isn’t simple – making your own food, growing things – that all takes time and commitment.

    I like the idea of simple being about the things that matter, rather than things that are superfluous. That’s a really helpful idea. Being able to distinguish between the two…

    Thanks for the food for thought!

  21. posted by Practicing simple living | Unclutterer | Minimalists on

    […] Practicing simple living | Unclutterer: Along these lines, simplicity isn’t a goal or an end result. Simplicity is a means to an end, with the ultimate destination being a remarkable life focused on what matters most to you. You don’t practice simplicity for simplicity’s sake, you practice simplicity to clear the distractions that get in the way of the life you desire. […]

  22. posted by Some weekly links and a basket high! on

    […] Practicing Simple Living ~ @ Unclutterer […]

  23. posted by paula on

    The best tip on how to practice simplicity is to stay away from shopping. Stores are organized in a way to tempt you to buy stuff you don’t need, can’t afford, or didn’t plan to buy in the first place. If you need to go shopping, make sure to put together your to-buy-list and follow it 100%. Stores still can be tricky because you constantly see things you all of a sudden realize you need. Always ask yourself – did I do okay without having it?

  24. posted by Deb on

    I’m focusing on identifying those objects I care about–things that are beautiful and/or useful, instead of focusing on clutter. I inventory and photograph the favorite things. What is left over, the clutter, falls to the background and is more easily eliminated.

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