How many times have you wanted to explain something found that the only words you could articulate were inadequate? Everyone has had at least a few moments where the complexity of life threatens to overwhelm them. It may be that you do not know where you stand with your in-laws. It could be that you are not sure how to explain your tangled love life, or you might find yourself unable to articulate your five year plan to a concerned friend. In those moments of difficulty, you realize how complex your life has become, and the tangled web of commitments, relationships and ambitions seems more like a death trap than a productive life. In those moments, you realize that you need to simplify your life.
Purge and Organize
Most people like to believe they are honest, and most people are generally honest. That said, think about how many little white lies you tell in a week. They could be as simple as telling your friend that you are late to dinner because “traffic was bad” when you actually just took too long to get ready. You might have told your aunt that of course you loved the wool scarf she gave you for your birthday, but you have never worn the ugly, itchy thing. While lying is never ideal, most people tell these little fibs with surprising regularity and limited feelings of guilt. If you want to cut complexity out of your life, you need to stop telling those little white lies. Rather than trying to keep track of whether you told your aunt that the scarf got caught in a car door and ripped or that you accidentally left it behind on a business trip, be honest. Tell her that, while you appreciate the thought, you never wear wool clothing. Instead of complaining about imaginary traffic to your friend, just apologize for your tardiness. You might be surprised how much simpler your life feels when you stop having to keep track of what fib you told.
Eliminate Time Commitments
Eliminating time commitments does not mean you should do nothing but stay home and watch Netflix. It does mean, however, to really consider what you are directing your time and energy toward. Many people have more time commitments than they can realistically handle but feel guilty when they cannot give each commitment the time they feel they should. In fact, some people have developed an addiction to saying “yes.” They accept every responsibility and commitment they are offered and feel irrationally guilty, ashamed and sometimes physically ill if they refuse. You may not have as extreme a reaction to refusing to help with the church bake sale, but you probably still have more time commitments than you need. To cut complexity from your life, evaluate which time commitments matter to you. Which causes are you passionate about? What activities do you enjoy? Where do you feel that you are making the biggest difference? Think about your answers and then step back from the other time commitments. If you hate cooking, do not volunteer to help with the church bake sale. If childhood literacy is deeply important to you, continue to help organize the elementary school book fair instead. Simplify your life by only making commitments to what is important to you and refusing to take on more than you can realistically handle.
Most people do a lot of multitasking during the day. You might respond to your manager’s email while you are on the phone with your spouse. You might work on writing advertising copy at the same time you are crunching numbers for your annual budget. You might watch TV or surf the web while you eat. Trying to do two things at once, however, actually makes you less successful at doing either of them. To prove this to yourself, try and write an email to a friend while singing your favorite song, or do a long division problem while you try and remember a string of random words. The odds are good that your email has song lyrics in it or your math turned out incorrect. To simplify your life, give your complete focus to a single task. When you eat, savor the taste of your food. When you talk to your spouse, give them your entire focus. Make it a point to enjoy what you are doing. In addition, strive to get the job done correctly the first time rather than trying to focus on two things at once.
Cutting the complexity from your life is much easier than it often sounds. A few minor changes to your habits and a couple of uncomfortable weeks are a small price to pay for a calmer and more productive lifestyle. When neither your house nor your head are crammed full of unnecessary junk, you can better focus on the things that truly matter to you. A simple life is sometimes looked down on, but a simple life is likely to leave you satisfied and smiling.
Stephanie Hertzenberg is a writer and editor at Beliefnet. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary where she majored in Religious Studies and minored in Creative Writing. She maintains an avid interest in health, history and science.