Last month we were in Los Angeles visiting family when my cousin asked us “How do you live such a simple life?”.  I stirred on that question for a week and came to the conclusion that there’s no simple answer.  We all have the ability to simplify or complicate our lives and for years now Mark & I have made thoughtful choices in an effort to live the life we desire.  The more I marinated on my cousin’s question, the answers started to reveal themselves.  At first I wondered if simple was the right word until I looked up the definition.

simple
[sim-puhl]
adjective, simpler, simplest

1. easy to understand, deal with, use, etc.:
2. not elaborate or artificial; plain:
3. not ornate or luxurious; unadorned:
4. unaffected; unassuming; modest:
5. not complicated:
6. not complex or compound; single.
7. occurring or considered alone; mere; bare:

My cousin was spot on.  Living a life that’s easy to deal with, not artificial and not complicated is and has always been a goal of ours.  Some people may not see “a simple life” as something to strive for but I’ve found the simpler my life is, the more time I have to enjoy it.  For us, a simple life is a joyful life.  As soon as you can harness the power to spend your time how you want instead of how you think you should, the BS will take a backseat and the joy will come flooding in.

How we strive for simplicity:

1.  Turn down the noise.  TV, radio, magazines, news, social media, apps, ads, the list goes on.  It’s all noise, much of it useless, and it’s sucking more of your time than you realize.  Whether you give it your undivided attention or not, it’s getting in your head and taking up space.  Media has done a phenomenal job at creeping in and becoming seamless with our daily activities but it’s our choice to partake, we have the power to turn it all off.   The more chance you give yourself to have organic thoughts (not thoughts infiltrated by media), the more likely you are to discover what makes you truly happy.

Some of the changes we’ve made that have freed up our time, cleared our heads and simplified our lives are:  1) Only stream TV and movies.  We do not pay for a cable or satellite subscription and we only stream programs that are ad-free.  (Amazon is great for this)  There’s no mindless channel surfing in our house.  More importantly – there are no commercials.  I cannot come up with a worse way to spend my time.  2) Pandora One.  We gladly pay $3/mo for ad-free radio.  3) Ban the news.  We don’t watch or listen to the news.  It’s a bunch of fear and fluff and not enough facts in our opinion.  I read the local paper online a few days a week to keep up on current events and find that to be plenty.  If there’s some world event we should know about, our family does a fine job of keeping us in the loop.  4) Limited social media.  Mark refuses to partake and I keep it at arm’s length.  I don’t see social media as all bad but it sucks you in fast if you’re not careful.

These are just a few of the changes we’ve made over the years in an effort to turn down the noise.  You’ll find that the more you distance yourself from these things, the less you’ll tolerate giving up your time to anything that does not add to the quality of your life.

2.  Make good decisions.  This has been a mantra of ours for the last ten years and it’s always kept us on the right path.  I realize people don’t intentionally try to make bad decisions but I think many of us end up in situations without really thinking things thru.  Listen to your gut, it will never steer you wrong.  Don’t act on impulse.  Don’t be swayed by others.  These are all things that have led us to making good decisions.  Most importantly, if it’s a big decision, always give yourself time to sleep on it.

3.  Focus on what’s important to you, don’t get caught up in what’s not.  We can’t be everything to everyone no matter how hard we try so it’s important to know what really matters to you and your family and focus on that.  Don’t worry about what your neighbors are doing or what your colleagues are driving or how much money you think your friends have.  What do YOU want out of life?  What makes YOU tick?  What makes YOUR kids happy?  I don’t know who the Joneses are but they’ve set an unrealistic precedence.  When I figured out that a healthy body, happy marriage and being surrounded by good people and the Great Outdoors are what matter most to me, I put my attention there and quickly discovered how many things I had been putting my energy in to that don’t matter at all.  For example, I used to be caught up in fashion and decor until I realized that the core of that interest stemmed from wanting people to like me.  Once I realized that, I not only felt incredibly superficial but unbelievably relieved to let these things go.  So what if I wear the same thing all the time and have cheap, crappy furniture.  I’m still me.  Anyone that thinks any less of me for it isn’t someone I want in my life anyways.

4.  Let some things go.  I think it’s safe to say that we all can fill up a to-do list from now until eternity with everything that needs to get done.  Housekeeping, work, school projects, car maintenance, groceries, the list never ends.  There is always something that needs to get done.  Have you ever thought about crossing a few things off your list and just not doing them at all?  A couple of years ago I was drowning in work projects when I finally caved to the fact that I just can’t do it all.  I sorted thru my task manager and chose three things to delete.  POOF!  Just like that, tasks that had been eating away at me were gone.  I don’t know that there is anything more liberating.  I realized that I had more tasks than time.  I never came close to even starting some of these tasks and instead they gnawed on me every single day when I looked at them and thought “I don’t have time for this.”.  So I let it go.  And guess what, the world didn’t end.

5.  Steer clear of drama and whiners.  We live a drama-free life and surround ourselves with positive, inspirational people.  Drama is worse than worthless and we refuse to get caught up in anybody’s BS.  If our friends or family need help, we’ll be there but we hate listening to people complain.  A dear friend of ours spent 2014 battling breast cancer and she really drove this point home for me.  Every single time I saw or spoke with her during her battle, she was smiling.  I never heard her complain once.  This blew me away.  If anyone had a right to complain or be upset, it was her.  She knew that would get her nowhere and she ALWAYS stayed focused on the positive.  I believe her attitude and positive-thinking were as powerful as the chemo.  She has been a constant reminder that there is so much more to life than getting caught up in petty nonsense.  My admiration and respect for her are endless.

6.  Don’t Worry.  Whatever you’re worrying about right now, stop.  Tell the paranoid, anxious little voice in your head to shut the hell up.  Worrying has to be the most worthless use of our brain there is.  Worry and stress.  They’re unhealthy and unproductive.  A great quote I once heard that I’ll never forget:

“Worry is nothing but meditating on shit.”

Have truer words ever been spoken?  If you’re worrying about something you can change, take steps toward making a change.  If you’re worrying about something you have zero power over, accept the fact that you have no control and focus on the things you CAN change.

7.  Be Grateful.  If you have a roof over your head, food in your belly and love in your life, you have a lot to be grateful for.  It’s easy to get caught up in what we don’t have rather than give thanks for what we do.  At the end of the day, food, water, shelter and love are the only things that really matter.  Focus on being grateful and you’ll find that you have everything you need in life.

For me, simplifying life is all about getting more value from my time.  Our time on this Earth is finite and how we choose to spend it is what defines us.  Money comes and goes but this very moment in time, once it’s gone you can never get it back.  The more conscious thought you put in to how you want to spend your time, the more fulfilling your life will become.  Life is never perfect but we have the power to make it better every day.