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Living a Life of Simplicity

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I’ve never been someone who likes a lot of “stuff”.  If you look in my closet, you’ll see most of the same clothes and shoes year after year.  If I have things I don’t need or don’t use, I try to give them away.  I don’t keep two of something just in case I might need it someday.  But I still have a lot of work to do.  If you look around my house, you’ll see that it’s not as simple and clutter-free as it could be.  This is something I plan to focus on over the next year.

I’m trying to teach my kids that having so much stuff doesn’t make you happy.  What matters more are friends, family and having a good heart.  This time of year tends to give me anxiety because of the focus on gifts.  My 5-year old and 3-year old just celebrated birthdays and now Christmas is quickly approaching.  That means lots and lots of presents.  I try to go with the flow and recognize that some people are just gift-givers.  That’s how they show their love and to a certain degree, I need to respect that.  But at the same time, it drives me nuts because I feel like it takes away from the lessons I’m trying to teach, and the life I’m trying to create for my family.

To me, living a simple life isn’t just about “stuff”.  It’s also about slowing down and appreciating each moment.  I’ll admit:  I’m terrible at this.  I live life at a frantic pace, always preparing for what’s coming next.  It’s something I’ve struggled with for a long time, but still haven’t figured out how to change.

I don’t want to be so distracted (and stressed out) all the time, but my personality doesn’t always help.  I want to do everything for everyone, all the time (and do it perfectly, of course.)  My kids deserve a mom who works hard to make their lives as wonderful as possible.  That sounds nice, but often leads to burnout and seems to take me further and further away from that simple life I’m longing to create. 

As the New Year approaches, I’ve started thinking about Resolutions.  I’m not a big fan of making life changes just because the calendar turns to January 1st, but since I’ve been thinking about it so much, there’s no time like the present.  I don’t want to look back on my life and wish there were things I’d done differently or sooner.  In order to become a healthier person, I need to simplify and slow down.

Have you ever felt like your life is too complicated and moving too quickly?  Do you ever feel like you’re just racing to catch up?  If so, how did you handle it?  How did you begin to make changes? 

I ask all of these questions because I don’t have the answers.  Although I know I’d like a life that is simpler and slower, I’m just not sure what steps I need to take to get there.

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RAPUNZEL53 4/16/2020
Great Report
GETULLY 3/19/2020
Trying to use up, move on all the time. Report
RAPUNZEL53 2/24/2020
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KHALIA2 1/28/2020
Things are not simply! We all live very complicated lives!!!! Report
I am a single parent in a two parent family. I feel the need to cover both being a mom and a dad which leaves me feeling very exhausted and incomplete. I cannot take the place of someone else, it is just not possible. I need to have grace with myself. Report
Great article - stuff truly is not the answer to happiness. Thank you!
On another note...
I wish writing a comment was simpler, like having it at the top of the comments and not on the very bottom... which is time consuming Report
Like you,I don't like having a lot of stuff! Since I retired last year I have dedicated myself to the goal of purging tons of stuff and giving it away to someone who could use it and being very cautious to only by necessity and not more stuff. And you are so right that things and more things do not bring happiness but they do bring clutter... Thanks for a great blog. Report
Thank you for the thought provoking article. I am working towards simplicity & as a retiree I think that should be a simple process, but it isn't ... sigh, but i will keep working at it. Report
I understand. Sometimes its not others expectations we are trying to meet, its our own. We want to be that ideal mother , multi tasker but its actually hard. We can't do everything on our own and neither can we always ask others for help. But however you can outsource your work ,personal tasks to virtual assistants. There are plenty who provide that service. However since my va is from habiliss, I can vouchsafe for them. Report
This is how I want to live... but my husband borders on hoarding and so we live in a 4-bedroom house crammed with "stuff". It bothers me a lot and definitely contributes to my emotional eating. I love him, and I know he cannot/will not change. I cull MY stuff regularly (maybe 20% of the total in the house), but it very difficult to cope. There are places (basement,garage, his "office") that I simply avoid as much as possible, while trying to keep the rest of the house under some sort of control. I regularly remind myself of the serenity prayer... change what you can and accept what you cannot change... but it is very difficult. Report
In our home we have the essential to live. Not because we don't have money; but because I taught my children to live a life with simplicity. Now they are 27 and 25 and what we have a lot is love... a lot of love. Report
I find that just sitting down and clearing my mind while meditating, even if just for five minutes each day, really clears my head, makes me appreciate things more, and fosters my creativity and happiness with who I am and what I already have.

That and just watching my four-year-old's joy at being alive and still discovering new things - it's contagious! Report
Great blog! I have often felt overwhelmed and just racing to keep caught up. I have found one of the only things that seems to bring peace and ease that feeling is to make the conscious effort to acknowledge what is truly important to you in your life and be grateful for the many blessings our lives are filled with. Just because the rest of the world says you "need" something or should be doing something, doesn't necessarily make it true. Stay true to yourself and be proud of the commitment you have shown when you stick to your morals! Report
Great blog, Thank you. An idea that I always aspire to but struggle with maintaining. The book “Simplify Your Life” by Elaine St. James offers 100 tips (some great some less so) and the Christian book “Freedom of Simplicity” explores the idea in a lot more depth. Report
Everyone's comments are so thoughtful and helpful.
You have struck a theme close to many of us.
Finding balance is tricky, but I much rather have a less than perfect, messy life rich with daily experiences of family love. Report
My husband and I are planning to live on the road for the first 5 to 10 years of retirement - beginning next fall. So we're consciously NOT buying, and are giving away - and eventually will be selling - much of our "stuff." It really is a freeing feeling! Report
Our granddaughter, now 16, started collecting books for disadvantaged children when she was in 2nd grade. She canvases for the books, sorts them for grade levels, gets hundreds of books and goes to the schools and personally distributes them. Her parents do supervise but this is mostly done on her own. Then she stays and reads to the younger children. She has done this continuously for 9 years. Report
There is a family whose 3 kids I have taught who have a great idea. I wish I had thought of it when my kids were young. When each child has a birthday, they receive gifts from their parents and grandparents, but anyone else (kids at a birthday party, other friends and relatives) are asked to bring something that would be donated to a charity. They might collect non-perishable food, clothing, toys. The kids are fine and even excited about it. As they've gotten a little older, they have researched a good cause in their area and help to prepare and deliver the donation. They are very inspiring. They have everything they need, and seem to be wanting for little...I wish I could say the same for my students who have so much they don't even know what they have, and whine for more. Report
Thank you for sharing. There are places in my life I have simplified. However there is a lot more I wish to do. Especially in giving away the things I am not using. Report
My sister has been teaching her kids (11.5, 9.5, 5.5 and 2.5) about helping others.
The oldest 2 have donated money from gifts to supplies for a local food bank, toys they no longer use (and in excellent shape!) to charities.
All 4 are aware of others' needs, though the oldest 2 have the greatest appreciation.

I have contributed to gift of memberships, performances at a childrens theater, sports event, youth sports fees or equipment, etc. I am now gradually passing along some of my favorite books from childhood...some even came from their Grandma or great Uncle (via me)...they love it and we can discuss the stories.

My book collection is "down" to 435 books +/- and my closet is gradually losing some of the stuff that is unworn for any reason (fit, color, texture, etc.).

The journey is filled with speed bumps, temptations and new goals. Report
I live alone with three cats. I enjoy and long for peace and quiet. When my youngest moved out, I made one of the spare rooms a room for my cats and the other is a "prayer" room. I go there to rest, relax, concentrate, get away by myself in my own house. In my room, I see 100 things I could do, in this room it is specifically meant for relaxation, quiet and calmness. No TV, or electronics whatsoever. Come home, take off shoes, wash hands, change clothes, feed the pets, make a cup of coffee or tea and sit for a while. Also, I have learned to turn off the *&% cellphone!!! Report
My suggestion, to all of us, is to give experiences or needed services rather than stuff. My mom hates stuff and if she finds she really needs something she has probably already bought it. So, we give her a membership to the local gardens (she loves plants) or lately Onstar for her car (something she needs at 87 and can't afford). Wouldn't it be nice if someone would give you a membership to the local kid's museum instead of more stuff?

I've been unemployed for 2 years, which means that I buy nearly nothing these days - definitely no gift buying. I won't be getting gifts during this season because I've been getting them all year - one sister has been paying medical bills and another has paid for experiences and supplied memberships. In a few months I'll move across the country to try to straighten out my life. Anything that I can't pack in a box and many things I could pack into a box will be going, so life will become very simple for me! Report
I know the feeling, I have 4 children ages range from 18 down to 4 a grandson 6 months and a husband (all living in the same house hold)+ work, homework, chores, food, practices, ccd classes ect. the list can go on & on & on as I'm sure that most parents list could go on too. I try to make time for myself and feel so frustrated when I can't, kids always make me feel guilty like if I didn't deserve some me time, if anyone has any great ideas or suggestions please help us out and comment. Glad your making time, maybe its just time to put our foots down and do whats best for us too. Report
I agree with you, but I don't have any answers. I think modern life has exacerbated some of my tendencies. If there is more than one good book on a subject I'm interested in, I'll want them all, and then struggle with the frustration of not having time to read them all. I love the latest electronics, and I have a hard time getting rid of stuff. I have more hobbies than time to pursue them, or space to store the equipment. Sometimes I think I'd be happier if I had fewer interests, or more limited choices.

Maybe the thing to do with children is to encourage them to give away something such as a t-shirt, book, or toy for each new one they receive. Report
Very thoughtful blog, Jen. Always hard to balance personal choice (simplicity) with the culture we live in. You sound like you are doing a great job. Report
Prioritize. Realize that this season in your life (with young children) is sweet and fleeting. Don't try to do it all- no one can. Write down what you want to invest your time and energy in right now and eliminate those things that don't fit . It doesn't mean forever. Your priorities change as your life does.
The years will pass quickly. Be sure that you are spending them in ways that reflect your priorities! Report
I have three teens at home and one daughter away at college, so my answers to your first two questions are Yes and Yes!

To be honest, over the years (especially when the kids were younger and needed me more), I have not taken very good care of myself. The kids always came first, then hubby, then work, then the can see it didn't leave me much time for anything for myself. A few years ago, when the oldest became a teen, I realized I needed to start taking care of myself FIRST. Then, I could be a better mom, wife, friend...etc. I am still trying to balance family/health/work every day. It is not easy, and sometimes floors don't get cleaned, or the laundry has to wait another day. But I think focusing on Quality of Life is a good goal; don't beat yourself up if you don't do it perfectly! Remember: it's the journey, not the destination. Report
I have mostly lived a simple life never needed a lot of stuff to make me happy always enjoyed a beautifull sunrise or sunset NEVER over bought at christmas time, it was a time for family and friends not how much was under the tree Report
When I was a working woman, I remember people asking me what I wanted for my birthday or Christmas. The answer was always the same "More Time". Now that I'm retired, I can appreciate the time I have. My life has been simplified, just because the responsibilities I have are those that I have chosen to take on and not what someone else has assigned to me. I realize that being a Mom doesn't allow for such luxury now, but realize that there is an end to the "doing everything for everybody perfectly" road. In the meantime give gifts of yourself when you can - a day to take your child shopping for Daddy's gift, going through your child's things with your child and let them select those toys that they no longer are interested in and take them to a thrift store (be sure the kids go too, so that they can receive the appreciative compliments), taking some leftover stew to an elderly neighbor (be sure the kids are there for this experience also). These experiences take some time, but do not add to your household clutter and they will make a positive impression on your kids. Report
What a great article. I'm on the 'simplify' road as well and so grateful to know the joy of this path. Report
Great Blog, I feel the same way. I'm always trying to please other people perfectly and I stress out and end up not pleasing them because of a blow out. I do feel better after I've organized and purged a closet, drawer or room. Concentrating on exercise and diet through this site is helping me focus my ocd personality to better use. Report
Git Er Dun!!! Report
I find that life rolls, and when I, feeling overwhelmed, I always go back to my FastBreak goals. I go from running and biking to walking and yoga - simpler things that bring me peace knowing I can't do it all, but I can do some healthy things and still stay on track.

Like you Jen, I am not a shopper. I try to live with what we already have, where my hubby loves getting the new toys and such. It's hard finding a balance, and I think picking him to be in my life has taught me many things.

I loved this blog. So much to think about.
Judi Report
Dear Jen and fellow sparkers, I struggle with the same issues: living a simple life. All that has been said resonates with me as well. I have found that my breath is the best tool to keeping things simple. When I feel overwhelmed, I bring myself to the simple act of breathing. IN brings me back to the moment and helps me tune into my body. I can then become aware of tensions, stress and concerns. I bring myself to make choices based on my needs rather than my wants. I strive to be in the moment as often as I can. Breathe! Namaste. Report
As with everything else on this Journey, my getting to a simpler life has involved small steps. I live a less complicated life than I used to but there's always more that can be done! I, too, don't put much emphasis on New Year's resolutions but when I see an opportunity to make a change (and am mentally ready to do it) I treat that particular day as my personal New Year and go for it!

The world has certainly changed since we were children but what doesn't change is this: kids probably are not going to remember what "stuff" they got for Christmas. They're going to remember fun, warmth, security and love; great gifts to give anyone, regardless of age!!

We have a lot of guests, and I really don't want them to bring me gifts that I have to find a place for. Unless I know someone needs a particular object, my gift center around consumables -- chocolate or wine or other food treats, special pampering lotions and creams for friends overseas, or, for my daughter-in-law, a shopping spree with her. I certainly don't need more stuff!

As for simplifying life, we are orthodox Jews, and so Shabbat every week is a time for getting together with family, sitting down to wonderful long meals where we spend hours talking about things that are otherwise never get discussed, singing, and appreciating what we have. These times are more important to me than any "things" I may have. Report
Have you tried to take the first 5 - 10 minutes of each day to just be and pick the top 3 things you want to accomplish during that day. Then take the last 5 - 10 minutes of each day to just be and comtemplate what you accomplished and how important those accomplishment were to the day/week/month/year/life you want to live? Remember some things are only important for the moment, others for a life-time! Only YOU know which is which. Report
I love this blog, Jen. I, too, get stressed out by all the STUFF we amass, especially this time of year!
Great entry Jen. Love it. Hooks in to what I think and believe about simplicity... now if only I could practice it! Report
Gifts received can be regifted. And it's possible to give gifts that don't involve spending money on "stuff". Ever since I was a little kid, I've given handmade coupon books for things like foot rubs, favorite foods, errands. My working mother with three children each less than a year apart especially appreciate this. Picking up and returning books to the library, organizing, coaching, baking, teaching.... and on and on and on.

Try it, you'll like it! Report
I don't have an answer to your bigger question, but I have a suggestion for the "stuff" issue. Is there a branch of Freecycle near where you live? Freecycle is a Yahoo usergroup consisting of people who a) don't want stuff to end up in landfill; b) would like to get rid of some of their stuff and have it go to people who will appreciate it; and c) people who want or need free stuff. It's a bit like Craigslist, but focused exclusively on people who want to give or get free stuff. I have found it a pretty easy way to get things out of my apartment and into the hands of people who appreciate them.

Maybe you can encourage your kids to think about giving things away that they don't need or use anymore. Maybe you start by setting the example, very visibly -talk to them about why you are giving some things away and about the stories of the people you're giving things to. Then, after they've seen you practise this habit, you can encourage them to think about paring down their own possessions, especially if you can find someone who would benefit from their stuff. Report
Remembering that things are not the important thing is a good start. I wanted to simplify when I was around 40 and the teens were on their own. I took a year leave and traveled to do volunteer work in Guatemala. The best experience in my life.Made me realize how simple things could get, also. Now I´ve gotten married, and my husband is quite time consuming. I take time in the mornings for half an hour just to sit and enjoy the first cup of coffee. (When I started to do this my husband also began getting up earlier, but I told him that this was my time and that I didn´t want to see or hear him for a while. I also take the time he´s napping to do things I enjoy and find worthwhile, and try to get into bed a little earlier to enjoy some quiet time with him. My life is not simplified yet, but I do enjoy the things I do and my life situation a lot. (I think something happens when you hit 55 or so, and stop thinking about what others want you to do and begin thinking about what´s important to YOU. I do about 40 hours a month of volunteer work and teach 3 or more hours weekly of English classes.) Life is great.
There needs to be a balance. I tried to give simply to my kids with a focus on the arts and people. We did museums and festivals with little to no electronics. I did stress a dress code of clean and matching outfits which often resulted in deliberate mis-matching to rebel, lol. I have just one tip, Girl Scouts was great for my girls. The program is based on an excellent model. I understand Boy Scouts is equally as good. Check it out. Victoria Report
When I became burnt out and overwhelmed with all the clutter (physical and mental) in my life, my sister told me about This website and accompanying "stuff" really worked for me in my life. I'm still nowhere near perfect, and that's okay. It a baby-step thing and it's about making little routines in my daily life that adds up to a big difference in my home and my life and my mental state! Report
Very, very true. My "kids" are grown; youngest is 19. Two are away in college and one is back home, working and doing grad school. Seems like life would be slower paced, but it's not. The thing that seems to help me the most to "keep my priorities straight" is to volunteer. Last night I helped wrap presents for women and children at a domestic violence safe house. It felt wonderful and really made me thankful for all I have. Tomorrow night I work with children at my church and that, too makes me very thankful (and very tired :) Report
Yes. I'm in the process of selling almost everything I've accumulated over the past 50 years. I'm enjoying it - and it's amazing how much I have found it easy to part with! Report
Spot on. My kids are the same age as yours (3 and 5) and I've always prided myself on kids focus on playing with each other -- not things. Of course, they get tons of gifts from friends and family, and that's okay. However, this is the first year that I'm hearing the, "I want that and that and that and that." I, too, crave the simple, but sometimes it seems working toward simplicity is more complicated than just letting it be! Report
Jen, your post really strikes a chord with me. I'm always wondering where the time went and why life can't be simpler. One thing I've noticed is that to simplify, you have to say no. It is not easy as the kids get older and litigate every point of disagreement or the spouse isn't behind you.
One thing I did (before kids - 27 years ago) was say no to TV. I have never regretted that decision and feel like it was great simplifier. I remember also having to tell my son no to karate because he was already in soccer. I see parents who try to let their kids do everything and they end up being a taxi/laundry service and get very little of the quality family time that was their goal in the first place. Multiply this by 3 or 4 kids and it's over-the-top crazy.
I think when we express an aversion to clutter (things that take up space, time, or energy) we are really sensing a craving for the things that got crowded out by it(relationship, family time, quiet time). We should never give up trying to simplify because it frees space, time, and energy to do the things that matter most. Report
I completely know how you feel. I have always been a simple person as well. My husband too (he would probably live in a cave if I let him). We don't have a bunch of stuff. We don't have I Phones or Smart Phones, blue ray players, or a flat screen tv. We have the things we need and our Family.

We are tie dye artists with a growing business. We are crazy busy seasonally. From May to October we don't have a minute to think. I have 3 websites that I manage, several stores that sell our tie dyes, and we vend at about 25 events through our season.

Me and my husband hand tie and dye all of our items, so keeping up our stock is a big concern that leads to crazyness too. Sometimes I have been found in my dyeing studio at 2am still dyeing. Tie dyeing is my passion though, my expression of art, a part of myself that I can share with others.

We have an incredible daughter who is 4 years old going on 16. Ember Rain. Ember is my center, when the world is swimming inside my head and I can't find a minute to breath, my Ember drags me to the couch to cuddle and watch movies. My most favorite time is when My husband, Ember and me are twisted into a pretzel on the couch, together talking and watching movies. That is how I make it. My small, simple, wonderful family.

During the holiday season when everything is commercialized and all we hear is I wants, we should think of what we have a what we need. We will find ourselves in a much better state of being. Let's all just breath.

Elisabeth Report
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