5 Steps to a Life That's Less Complicated Yet More Fulfilled

The opposite of minimalism isn't just maximalism or materialism, it's complexity.  And a complicated life is costly.

complicated - photo by Darius Bashar on Unsplash

The price of a complicated life

Life gets complicated when you

  • own a lot more than you need or even want
  • schedule every moment and live life in a hurry
  • live beyond your means and owe more than you can pay every month
  • search restlessly for more, more, more instead of being contented with what you have
  • worry, complain, hold grudges, and pay attention to negative self-talk
  • eat, drink, sleep, and move your body in ways that aren't healthy
  • spend too much time with technology and screens
  • prioritize your stuff or your bucket list over relationships

We might think that life is easier when we can afford more luxuries and conveniences, but in order to do that we might adopt some pretty complicated circumstances, such as

  • a stressful job with a long commute
  • a barely-affordable home loan or renovation
  • a high-end car that requires expensive maintenance and insurance
  • a designer wardrobe that's dry clean only
  • a habit of eating out or weekend adventures that keep us stuck in that high-stress job with the life-sucking commute

A less complicated life might involve a job that pays less but has a congenial atmosphere and is close to home.  It might be less complicated to live in a small house that is easily affordable, drive a more basic but dependable and paid-for vehicle that gets you where you need to go, and wear clothes that are comfortable, versatile, and can be washed at home.  It could be less complicated to eat basic home-cooked meals and enjoy friends, hobbies, volunteering, and places to relax that are closer to home.

Only part of this has to do with cost, although living beyond your means steals your life energy, especially if what you're barely affording requires that stressful job 45 miles away.  It's that price beyond money we need to focus on.  What should concern us is the time crunch, the worries, the pressures, the weakened relationships, and how all of that affects health, moods, and life satisfaction.  That's the real price of a complicated life.

Minimalism is the means to fulfillment.

So how do we create a less complicated life?  The steps aren't easy, but they help clarify what really matters to you.

1.  Want less.

Our culture pushes us to want more and more, selling us on the idea that that's the way to happiness.  But we all know that getting what you want makes you happy for a brief moment, and then you want the next thing.  Children want more toys, adults want more money and more "toys," politicians want more power, and so it goes.

How can you overcome this tendency and learn to be happy with what you have?

  • Start by limiting your exposure to TV, social media, lifestyle magazines, and other things designed to make you want more.  You may even have a few friends who push you in that direction, and you might need to limit the time you spend with them.
  • Continue by decluttering the things you don't need, use, or love.  When you're left with the things that have purpose and value in your life, it's easier to feel contentment, because what you have is just right for you.  (More about this later.)

2.  Quit what overwhelms you.

There's a difference between being comfortably and productively busy and being overwhelmed.  For example, that all-too-common lifestyle of picking kids up from school, wolfing down some fast food, and rushing around to different activities every afternoon and evening?  Guess what?  You can stop that.  Limit those activities to two afternoons a week, or limit each child to one extra activity at a time.  Teach everyone to choose, and life gets less complicated and allows each of you to have more focus and success.

How about a volunteer activity or social obligation you've "always" done?  If it's become something that keeps you too busy, you can stop that.  Driving 450 miles round-trip to visit your in-laws every other weekend?  You can stop that too.  A job that makes you feel like throwing up every morning?  (That's what my first teaching job did to me.)  If it's become something you dread, you can quit.

Related article:  How to Overcome the Big Lie That Keeps You Trapped


3.  Stop competing and comparing.

My husband Jon and I leased a new station wagon (the 80's equivalent of an SUV) when were expecting our first child because that's what his brother had done.  We bought a house we weren't really happy with because that's what you're "supposed to do" once you have kids.  (We were really stupid and did it again 12 years later.)

Before you buy that new thing that's going to impact your finances (and your choices) for years, think about why.  Are you just trying to keep up?  To impress others?  To follow some script written by our culture?  If you were content until you saw an ad, a social media influencer, or someone down the block, don't let anyone take that away from you.

Dare to follow your own script.  Is your dad a doctor, and your sister's in med school, and you're expected to follow along?  Do you have to prove something to them, or are you going to follow your desire and start that pet-sitting business you've always dreamed of?  Once you realize that everyone should live their own life, this decision might be easier.

Before you sign up to do anything, ask yourself:  Would I still do this if no one else was ever going to know?  Would I do it if I believed that no one else cares as much about my choices as I do?  How many things have you done or bought just to please or impress someone else?  If you stop trying to match your lifestyle to everyone else's, life is much less complicated.

4.  Declutter

Many people think decluttering is the most important part of a less complicated life.  It's certainly the most visible part of it, and even a little progress can have noticeable benefits.

Decluttering is very personal, because what you need may not be what I need, and vice versa.  But almost all of us are hanging on to things we no longer need or want.  Everything from clothes, jewelry, dishes, books, toys, hobbies, streaming services, email subscriptions, and more can be pared down.

It's important not to think of this as getting rid of things, but as choosing the things you use and love.

  • Start with an area you see and use every day, such as the kitchen counter, the bathroom counter, your car, your entry area, or your clothes closet.  Or try a quick purge in multiple areas, using a guide like this.
  • Make a list of each room in your house and its purpose.  Declutter by determining whether an item is helping the space fulfill that goal.  For example, the couch, coffee table, TV, game cupboard, and family photo wall may help your living room function according to plan.  The unused treadmill, rack of old magazines, and dusty Hummel collection you inherited from Aunt Marge may not.
  • Don't undo your hard work by buying new things to fill the spaces.  Whenever you're tempted to shop, realize that you're actually saying "I don't have enough."  Is that true?

Related article:  How One Question Can Help You Get to Less

5.  Create space and time for what matters.

We've been talking about getting rid of things:  clutter, peer pressure, hyper-busyness, greed.  But minimalism is not just about reducing belongings, schedules, or anything else.  The purpose of minimalism is to make space, time, and energy for what matters most.

So now it's time to think about what you want to keep or add.  You've been clearing things away, making life less complicated, so you can concentrate on what makes life meaningful.

Maybe you want

  • more time with your family
  • more space for a hobby
  • more money for travel or special experiences
  • more freedom to pursue a new career

... or something else.  You might find it helpful to write a list of priorities.  What do you want to accomplish?  What do you hope to be remembered for?  Then compare your list to how you actually spend your time and funds.

  • Do you say you want close relationships with your kids, but actually spend more time on your phone than interacting with them?
  • Do you say you want to volunteer more for that cause you care about, but work and commute too many hours to make it happen?
  • Do you say you want to get out of debt and take a year off to travel and teach English in Japan, but spend every weekend in stores and restaurants?

These are personal decisions.  But consider what it means to spend time.  Unlike money, you can't earn any more.  And to earn more money, you have to invest time, energy, and talent.

A less complicated life might mean getting rid of the TV so you can spend most evenings reading aloud to your family.  Or maybe you want to keep your TV and enjoy more family movie nights and multiplayer video games.  It's up to you.  It's your life, your time, and your definition of what matters.  Minimalism is your means to fulfillment.

Related article:  6 Strategies to Simplify Your Life Every Day


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