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Stress: Is Simplicity the Answer?
Is your life more or less complicated than it was 10 years ago? More and more people are finding that, in spite of technology and other modern conveniences, they have less time, get less sleep, and are more stressed than they were a decade ago. Can simplicity help to relieve some of this stress?
What Is Simplicity?
Making changes to simplify certain aspects of life can be the antidote to living in such a complex society. But, simplification is a very individual matter—what is considered simple and stress-relieving to one person might be burdensome and stressful to another. For example, you may eat convenience foods because they save you time and energy. Your friend, on the other hand, may find convenience foods expensive and rather "inconvenient" for her family food budget.
The most important part of the simplification process is introspection —taking an honest and in-depth look at yourself and your life and then identifying things that can be changed. Simple enough? Yes and no. That is, some changes can be relatively easy to make. You may decide to unclutter your house by throwing out items that you really do not need and scaling back on your consumption. On the other hand, you may find that you need a major overhaul to find a simpler life—a change of career or financial goals, a geographical relocation, or a change in perception through intensive psychotherapy.
What makes the concept of simplicity difficult for some people is that it implies that you must give up something. But many people derive invaluable benefits from simplifying their lives—more time, freedom, self-expression, and a chance to live with more clarity and meaning. Simplification is a deeply personal endeavor and should be approached with the following things in mind:
- Values/priorities. What is most important to you? What would you have the hardest time living without—your health, spouse, family, friends, time, creative projects? (This can be a tricky one. For example, you may say that you value money. But, by looking deeper within yourself, you may find that what you really value is freedom, self-reliance, time, friends, or self-esteem, which you think money will buy for you).
- Identity. Who are you? What talents, skills, activities, and types of environments bring you the most enjoyment? Are you living authentically—speaking your truth and living according to your own values (values that you have examined and owned) or someone else's?
- Time/pace. How do you manage time and pace yourself? Is your natural pace 100 miles per hour or a bit slower and more reflective? Examine your current pace and your energy levels. If you are feeling exhausted or burned out, you may need to slow down, or at least change where you are focusing the majority of your energy.
- Purpose. What do you most want to do with your life and are you doing that right now? How do you wish to direct your talents? Are you living purposefully?
- Vision. What is your ideal lifestyle and environment? What would your life look like if you could design it exactly the way you wanted? You cannot always "have it all," but think about how close you can get to that vision now, realistically.
Ways to Simplify Your Life
The list of things you can do to simplify your life is probably endless. Big changes will require a good deal of thought and planning. But there are many small changes you can make to simplify your life right now, such as:
- Buy a simple car—one that has less gadgets to fix.
- Do your shopping all at once, and preferably in the same place.
- Reduce the clutter in your home and office. Throw out things that you do not use.
- Buy classic clothes that do not go out of style.
- Donate your clothes that need to be dry cleaned.
- Shop during off-hours.
- Get a simple, low-maintenance hairstyle.
- Downscale to a smaller home or less expensive car.
- Find a way to turn your hobby into your primary source of income.
- Make a conscious effort to reflect upon and appreciate the simple things in your life—those things that you may be taking for granted.
Simplifying your life is not always simple, but something as easy as getting more organized can be a big help. As some of the complexity decreases from your life, you may find greater clarity and peace of mind.
Mental Health America
National Institute of Mental Health
Canadian Mental Health Association
Mental Health Canada
Adams C. The Circle of Simplicity: Return to the Good Life. New York, NY: Harpercollins; 1998.
Aumiller G. Keeping It Simple: Sorting Out What Really Matters in Your Life. Holbrook, MA: Probity Press; 1995.
Orem S, Demarest L. Living Simply: Timeless Thoughts for A Balanced Life. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc; 1994
St. James E. Living the Simple Life: A Guide to Scaling Down and Enjoying More. New York, NY: Hyperion; 1998.