Living the simple life
Some may question why I decided to include this in psychological strategies of mood enhancement. I believe that to be happy we need a mind that has a certain level of clarity and peace, and that without keeping life simple to a certain extent, life becomes filled with objects, belongings and other things that lead to attachment and complications. Whilst working on attachment is more a function of the 'Positive Mind' stage, having and excess of things we do not need can in a natural may make us feel that in some way we are more with these belongings and loss of them makes us 'less of a person'. We cannot avoid a lot of the complexity that life throws at us, but we can learn to control what we can change. Given that much of our lives we spend chasing things we don't have and trying to get rid of things we don't want, I decided to include this section as a behavioural means of minimising 'excess of mind'.
The theory of simplicity or minimalism
Albert Einstein once said: "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simplier".
Simplicity is about decluttering and removing things in life that we do not need, in order to help us focus more on the things in life that can actually add in positive ways. As we know emotions such as happiness as caused primarily by thoughts, not by situations of objects around us. For example, my mother was on the Price is Right TV show and won the whole jackpot (never again will I ciriticise he in-depth knowledge of the price of toilet paper rolls in every supermarket). Whilst she was deliriously happy and excited throughout the process, when the prizes came she was rather flat. As part of the showcase she won a small car worth around $14K. Now for an average person most people would be delighted with a brand new car without having to work a day. My mother has always been hard-working all her life with a strong work ethic, but she had worked hard to afford a much more expensive car and was proud of that. In the end she got around half the worth from the dealer and there was little excitement about the cash. If the car as an objective item was a direct cause of happiness, then technicially no matter how rich or poor the emotional response should be the same. But we know this isn't true and it is actually the interpretation of what it means to win the car and the value placed upon it that creates the emotion. So when we declutter it isn't really about getting rid of the items, but rather the thoughts behind why we keep on to items.
As yourself whether a certain value has a utility in your life and see what your mind tells you about these things.
See what things you hold on to our of fear.
See what things you hold on to out of ego, feeling these things add in some way to your worth as a human.
Know you are not your possessions.
The mind can be an amazingly strange and illogical place when we are willing to look at it with honesty.
Allow yourself to make space for truly relevant things in your life.
Clutter & belongings
We have been convinced by the bombardment of advertising that certain products and good will add to our happiness. We shop and accumulate, but it is very clear that after the immediately surge we get from the purchase, the reality sets in and after a while we find ourselves bogged down by the things we own. We may have even heard it said that often our belongings own us. So much more joy can be found by having less possessions that you truly love and that add value to your life, compared to hundreds of possessions that weigh you down, take up space and need to be constantly kept in order, draining you of time. Think about washing clothes, cleaning ornaments, maintaining goods.
Your mind creates your life- it creates all the 'wants' and 'needs' you believe in. We may hold on to things that feel very emotional to us, but memories exist in our mind, and we tend to have a fear that without an object the memory will fade away. For things that clutter our lives but we hold on to for the memory we recommend taking a photograph so that you can look at it at anytime without it cluttering up the pace.
- Recognise what you need and what is just a want.
- Eliminate the 'just in case I need it in the future' mentality. Whilst a first aid kit may be a good example of the use of this thought, saving a piece of wood, or an old pair of shoes you have since replaced is not a good idea.
- If you aren't sure if something is worth keeping, put it in a box out of the way. Check the box in 6 months and if it hasn't been used then you probably don't need it (note for clothes give it one year so you cover all the seasons).
- Take your time- it is hard to give up old habits so don't feel like you need to cut down everything all at once. It can be a freeing experience for some, but for others going too fast can create anxiety and sensations of loss.
Making time for the things that truly matter to you is essential. This means that we need to learn to say "no" to things that don't add positively to our lives. This doesn't mean that we don't take responsibility for things we find difficult, and we mustn't be too self-centred to the extent we become hedonistic. However, we must learn to cull from our lives negative relationships that we no longer need and activities that we do that pull down rather than add to our lives. We need to be very clear on what our values and goals are, and then make sure that certain things we do are not either (1) stopping us from going in the direction we want or (2) actually taking us in a direction that is against our goals and values, and in fact in the opposite direction.
Limiting screen time: TV, social media, random browsing
How much does our screen time add to our lives? Does it take us in the direction in which we are aiming? When we reach the end of our lives will we think back and appreciate how much time we dedicated to social media and TV shows. We can certainly gain great entertainment out of these things, but many of them actually detract from our lives and can make us feel miserable. How happy do we feel when we watch all our friends on social media looking gorgeous (read: photo-shopped), only putting up the best parts of their days/weeks. Watching other people go on fabulous holidays, eat a great meal, or have the perfect hair day is not going to make you feel any better about your life. Moving towards things which are meaningful (ie. actually meeting up with people IRL and having some fun) is much more likely to result in happiness than passive watching. Sorry I realise I am showing my age by recommending meeting up with people IRL- a disappearing concept in todays world 🙂
Having a more minimalist budget
Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to by things they don't want, to impress people they don't like. I can't remember where I heard this quote but it is brilliant because not only is it ironic but it is vastly true. Thanks to rather sophisticated advertising and marketing (look into neuro-marketing if you want to see something impressive and scary!), we are made to feel that we need something to make ourselves either be happy/successful or at least appear happy/ successful to others.
One of the greatest pieces of advice I received was never to borrow money for personal item unless it is a true need or emergency (medical, food, rent). No credit cards, or if they are used, they are paid in full monthly. Of course this doesn't count for investments or businesses, however, in these cases don't borrow more than you know you can afford to lose. If you want to risk your house on a new business good on you for being daring, but don't do this if you know you will be of the mindset that if you lose it all you wont be able to cope. Too many people risk it all and then end up attempting suicide when they fail, so know the extent of how much you are willing to risk. People who live minimalist lifestyles know they can exist with minimal objects, hence have a much lower fear of losing things they risk. Being able to know that you can cope with a basic roof over your head and basic food and items can go a long way in reducing fear of failure. In fact, so of the greatest business people today and come from nothing and at several times in their lives have been bankrupt and broke, but knowing they can cope as they have done before makes them fearless in the face of setbacks and adversity. So the saying goes: "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger".
- Don't believe in consumerism: don't buy for the sake of being able to show off to others. Buy due to need.
- Don't spend more than you earn.
- If you borrow money, make sure you can afford to lose it or have a way to pay it back without too much stress.
- Save money. Have an emergency fund so you don't live paycheck to paycheck.
- Make a shopping list and only allow yourself to buy what is on the list- everything else is (probably) an impulse buy.
- Little things can add up to a lot of money. Look at all your subscriptions, coffees, takeaways, entertainment. See what adds to your life and what doesn't.
We don't own our family or friends. We can't rely upon other people for our self-worth. Some relationships give us joy and strength and add to our lives overall in positive ways. Other people pull us down, affect us negatively, and overall there is no net benefit to being in a relationship. This isn't to say that sometimes friends don't have hard times and we shouldn't stick by them and help them through these times. Compassion and giving are essential to positive relationships. However we all have friends, sometimes even for decades, that we have held on to out of nostalgia for better times, or things we had in common in the past. Like going through our belongings we have to evaluate in our lives who adds and who detracts. Unlike our belongings we don't need to dispose of people (please don't be putting anyone in a box 😉 ), merely cut down the influence and time we spend with them. If we feel certain people pull us away from our core values, we really need to determine whether these relationships are healthy. True relationships can be hard, can involve compromise, and can even involve a lot of stress, but the overall effect is that having this person in your life has a positive net effect, and any hardships in the long run are felt to be worth it.
One thing that fascinates me to no end (probably because I am a woman) is the concept of a minimalist wardrobe. The capsule wardrobe and Project 333 are in my opinion genius. I am not sure if this applies to men, certainly none that would ever admit this to me, but how often do we wake up and search through a packed wardrobe with the thought 'I have nothing to wear'. I always think back to school days where you put on the same clothes day in, day out, and never have to think about what to wear. I pity people in countries where school uniforms are not mandatory. Whilst some people believe that their clothes are an expression of their personalities, I think it is healthy for children to develop personalities which are not dependent on external factors. Over the years I have come up with my own concepts of a 'uniform' to minimise morning stress and simplify the morning routine. I guess this suggestion depends on whether having to get up and get dressed and look a certain way feels like another mundane item in the list of things you better do to survive (being arrested for nudity is certainly not on my list of things that make for a good day). If you enjoy the thrill of layering upon accessories and creating the perfect look, finding it inspirational and adding joy to your life, then go for it. But if, like me, you think that ironing is in line with watching grass grow, or having to wear more than one colour fills you with fear, a simplified capsule wardrobe of matching essentials could be just the solution.
- Consider colour carefully. Try to buy colours that are easy to combine.
- Have one signature piece from all types of clothing in the highest quality you can afford.
- When ever you wear clothes, place them on the other side of your wardrobe. At the end of the season whatever is still on the original side hasn't been worn and you need to decide whether to keep or recycle.
- Buy clothing when one piece gets worn out or when you realise there is something you need. Don't go to clothing sales and try and limit all "retail therapy" and general browsing.
- Remember your personality can be reflected in your clothing, but it is much better to have a personality that speaks for itself without the frills. People can easily see through clothing that does not match who you truly are.
- Take photos of items you love and have sentimental value. Then recycle and let those pieces have sentimental value for others- pass on the good vibes but keep the fond memories.
How to simplify?
Imagine for a moment that you could cut down your life to you essential belongs- what would this look like for you? Think of your clothes, electronics, furniture etc.
Imagine you could only do a few things a day- what would this look like? What would you prioritise?
Now you have made some space- what would you add?
Make sure you actually leave some space for doing nothing- don't under-estimate nothing. Being present, silent and still is one of the core skills I talk about, and I believe fundamental to happiness, peace and clarity.