Last Friday was my birthday. I spent the day snuggled in bed. I soaked up all the birthday love. And got plenty of rest. I also watched a documentary. It came at the perfect time.
At the end of each year, I choose a word to brand the coming year. At the end of 2016, the word made itself known.
It was prompt and clear. But I doubted its truth. I wrote it down and planned to come back to it. Maybe there would be another word? A better word.
No. This was it.
What’s the word?
Simple is my guiding word for 2017.
It dashed into my consciousness as I imagined my nursing and writing career. It surfaced when I envisioned my home throughout 2017. And I felt it when I tuned into my core desired feelings.
Before we left for Colorado, Evan and I moved furniture and picked up clutter in our apartment. Our carpets would be cleaned while we were away. Ease washed over me as I saw the space clear.
After our trip, I put back most of the furniture. I made several changes and left certain areas open. Free of stuff. I felt inspired by the movement of energy and the clutter-free environment. It was hardly 2017 and Simple had made itself known. And it keeps making itself known.
That brings me to my birthday. There I was sitting in bed, browsing Netflix. In just a few clicks I see, “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things.” Perfect.
One hour later my heart engulfed in fire and my tummy swirled with energy. I was lit. The documentary encompassed what 2017 would be for me – creating more meaning through simpler living.
I know my desire for a simple life reaches into my past. I recently came across a journal entry from my junior year in high school. It read, “I wish I lived in the old days where everything was simple. That way my life would be simple. Simple is all I need.”
When I wrote that journal entry I believed that simplicity was a way of life that belonged to my ancestors. I believed I wouldn’t be able to achieve it in our materialistic society. At that point in my life, victimhood was all I knew.
And even though I didn’t believe I could have simplicity in my life then, I now know that simplicity has always been a part of my nature. In 2008, it was natural for me to create spaciousness and simplicity around my college schedule. But by the time I got to nursing school in 2014, something had clicked. I knew that simplicity could be and would be achieved.
As you can see, I am no stranger to simplicity. Yet this year’s simplicity surpasses anything I’ve experienced. This year’s simplicity digs deeper into my heart, mind, and soul. It returns to the surface as an integrated way of living. This year I’m intentionally applying it to my life.
After watching the documentary about minimalism, I learned about how simple living could affect me. Simple living affects my freedom, values, connection with people and myself, finances, vision for the future, and the environment. Here’s how…
1. Physical, Mental, and Emotional Freedom:
Simple living can create physical, mental, and emotional freedom. We experience mental and emotional freedom as we create physical freedom. How? A clutter-free environment. Less stuff means less headspace and heartspace consumed by that stuff.
Our stress levels increase as our environments fill with things. Things, things, and more things that we are responsible for. These things are used rarely or infrequently. We may think we need that thing-a-ma-bob to do that one task, but then we use that logic for all one-off tasks. And we end up with a house-full of unitaskers.
We’ve got a bunch of stuff which do a lot. Too many things to use. Too many choices. Too many choices breed indecision. With so much stuff, we make simple choices complicated.
On top of it all, the more stuff we collect the more space and time is needed to maintain the stuff and space. All of which are a mental, emotional, and physical drag, whether we are aware of it or not.
As our space fills with stuff, we feel the pressure of living in a “small” space. We need more room to breath and to experience mental and emotional freedom. We need more physical space. So we work hard, save more money, and buy a bigger living space. But we don’t examine the unconscious consumerism that forced us into a larger space. And the cycle continues.
We feel mental and emotional freedom for a short while. Then we buy more stuff to fill our newfound space. The mental and emotional blockage returns. And we need more space.
It rarely occurs that if we just stopped buying stuff and got rid of what we don’t use or value we would have more space – mentally, emotionally, and physically.
A simple life is not overcomplicated with a bunch of stuff. As we reduce the amount of stuff in our lives we place greater value on what remains. And whatever enters our lives undergoes greater scrutiny. This means that I’ll only possess things that I value.
What remains is either practically or emotionally useful. If it’s practically useful, I use it as a tool. And I use it frequently. If it’s emotionally useful, it provokes positive feelings within me. And I take the time to admire or reflect on it frequently.
The keyword here is “frequently”. If it sits in a box or out of sight for great lengths of time, then I’m better off without it. Otherwise, I intend to use everything I own.
Relationships matter. As we make more room in our lives and allow ourselves to step back and slow down, we see the people that make life worth living. We begin to value their presence in our lives. But we only do that after we’ve detached from our unhealthy relationship with things.
The first step to living a simpler life is letting go of our obsession with possessions. We think we need more things to be happier. All we really need are quality connections with others.
Get rid of things in your life. And stop using shopping as therapy. Instead, reach out to your friend or neighbor. See what gem they have to offer. You’ll find that your heart is filled much faster and the good feelings last longer.
Simple living allows for these connections to happen. It’s a re-organization of value. You begin to properly value objects (see number 2). And you start to properly value people. People should be valued more than things – always. That is the natural order of life. Unhappiness spawns when this order is turned upside-down.
The average American thinks that if they could just make more money they would be happier. Life would be simpler. So they work hard by picking up extra hours or extra jobs. Time spent with friends and family is cut short in favor of making an extra buck. And soon the individual’s health is affected. Now the person has more money but fewer quality relationships, poorer health, and less time.
Living a simple life means there is no need to chase the extra buck. You don’t need the cash to buy the bigger living space to put all your stuff in that you would need more money to buy. Instead, you see that you can live on less and get rid of stuff to create more space.
When you stop chasing the money to get more, more, and more, you find you have more. More time, better health, quality relationships – and you’re happier.
You may even realize you don’t need to work so much. Or that you don’t need to work at that job you hate. Maybe you find you can actually pursue your passion. Like farming, knitting, or writing.
When you stop chasing the money, you realize how much you already have and how happy you can become right where you are. You can be happy on less.
5. A Vision for the Future:
“Simple” gives me a new way to live. It’s like I’ve added new colors to my palette. And I can add different layers to my vision for the future. Now I know that I can have soft pink, fuchsia, or hot pink instead of just pink.
Before I took on this way of living, I believed that the way forward was to buy a multi-bedroom home with a garage, a new car, and a front and backyard with all the lawn care equipment. And let’s not forget the husband, 2.5 kids, and white picket fence.
In my own way, I envisioned this for my future. I thought I was supposed to have something along these lines. Even though I read blogs about people living life differently, I still thought that this vision was my vision. I see things differently now.
I haven’t thought it out fully yet, but I’m excited about the new possibilities a simple life means for my future. What if I want to live in a tiny house? What if I’m okay renting and never buying a home? What if I want to drive my car until it falls apart and then purchase a used car? All possibilities for me now. And all okay.
As I take on this new way of living, I can get rid of thoughts like, “I’m not good enough if I don’t have all the flashiest, fanciest, nicest new things.” Instead, I know that by living on less I actually have more. I have more happiness, freedom, health, and wealth.
6. The Environment:
As I choose to live with less in less space I create less waste and destruction. This is the most timely effect of minimalism. And one that benefits every person on the planet.
Environmental destruction and global warming are some of the biggest challenges facing modern civilization. A simple life leads to less consumption, thoughtful use of materials, and proper consideration of space. If we all took steps to simplify our lives we could maximize our living spaces, reduce harm to the environment, and work towards harmonizing the ecosystem.
I won’t go into too much detail about environmental conservation. I hope that it is evident at this point that if you reduce what you use you have less impact on the environment. And it’s clear that humanity has been over-consuming and over-using mother nature’s bounty for far too long. A simple, minimalist lifestyle brings this disturbing habit to a slow crawl.
In a time when it looks like the world is turning upside down, there’s a driving force that compels each of us to make wiser decisions. Often we feel called to great feats of activism. But sometimes we don’t have the bandwidth to initiate or maintain such feats. That’s when it’s vital we tune into what it is we can do.
We can open our hearts, listen to our true desires, and act on what we learn about ourselves. As we transform our own lives, the lives of others are transformed as well.
A simple life offers many rewards, often unnoticed by the average person. Simple living creates space, boosts happiness, and supports the environment. Most of all it creates a meaningful life. One thing we all have in common is the desire for a meaningful life.
Who knew that picking one simple word could lead me to such a profound shift in lifestyle? It’s a new year. I’m a year older. And my life will never be the same.