Simplify Your Life in Six Simple Steps

Here lately I’ve been yearning for a simpler life. This is pretty normal for me.  I tend to put off getting organized or culling stuff from my life until it reaches a boiling point of frustration and then I go into “purge” mode where I start getting rid of stuff.  I’m just about there.

However, this time I’ll try to take a more methodical approach.  My wife and kids will appreciate this as they have witnessed far too many Saturday afternoon meltdowns when I couldn’t find something in the garage and go on a three-hour cleaning spree.  I’ve started looking for tips to simplify my life, and implementing those a few at a time until things feel more orderly.

Photo courtesy of Wolfgang Staudt

Simple Ways to Simplify Your Life

Clear a thinking space.  When our space is cluttered, our mind is cluttered.  This step is one that I have put off and sort of tolerated living without until I started trying to organize thoughts on paper.  I’ve lived with a messy office and a messy desk for quite a while, and found organization in my clutter (I usually only lost things after cleaning up).  But I have discovered writing in a cluttered environment jumbles my thoughts.  Remove anything from your space that is distracting. Clear surfaces of clutter.  File papers and documents that no longer require your attention.  Adopt a one-touch system and force yourself to take action, shred, or file something the first time it touches your hands.

Just say “no.” It’s only two letters, but it is often the most difficult word to say in the English language, especially for “pleasers.”  But saying no gracefully is key to simplifying your life because it allows to focus our energy on those commitments that are most important to us.  If we dilute that energy by committing to ten different opportunities we aren’t doing ourselves, or those we commit to, any favors.

Simplify your finances.  How many credit cards, savings accounts, brokerage accounts and mutual funds do you own?  Chances are you are like me and have things scattered all over the place.  I’m going to dedicate some time in the near future to consolidating a few accounts so I’ll have less to keep up with. Here are few ways to simplify your finances:

  • Scale back to one credit card and a backup.
  • Unless you have hundreds of thousands of dollars and are worried about FDIC coverage, consider banking at one institution.
  • Consider a target retirement fund rather than a smattering of funds that you have to manage, research and rebalance periodically.
  • Put recurring charges and utilities on automatic deduction and opt for paperless statements.  It’s one less envelope to enter your home and cause distraction.

Clean out your car.  What’s the last thing you see before you walk into the office each morning?  What’s the first thing you see when you leave the office in the evening?  The inside of your car.  If your interior is littered with three stained coffee mugs, fast food wrappers and receipts, then consider taking some time to spruce things up.  For those who commute, time spent on the road is often when we do some of our best thinking.  It’s also an opportunity to decompress after a long day at the office.

Create an “I Will Do One Thing Today” list.  Of course you can do more than one thing, but name at least one thing that you’ve been putting off and do it today.  I like to fill this out a day ahead of time (an I will do this tomorrow list, if you will) by declaring a task I’ve been procrastinating on.  The last few days my lists looked like this (I have a similar list at work):

  • Adjust gate hardware
  • Finish taxes
  • Put tomato plants in pot

Become a “90-percenter.” Are you one of those people who are always in a rush?  I used to be, too.  Then I realized that all that time I spent hurrying around was time I could have spent truly enjoying life.  At my first job I ran around like a maniac, worked a ton of hours, and basically tried to out-hustle everyone there.  I thought I had to because I was one of only a handful of team members who did not have a degree.  The hustle paid off, or so I thought.  I was soon promoted to a position that required even more work and more hours, but did not come with an equal bounce in pay.  I had a toddler at home and one on the way, and it occurred to me that all the hours spent working were hours I was missing watching them grow.  That’s when I became a “90-percenter.”

I now work hard to accomplish the top 90% of my priorities each day, but refuse to drive myself past exhaustion to get to the remaining 10% – it takes care of itself in time.  I discovered that the remaning 10% wasn’t worth getting an ulcer over, and I could spend that extra quality time with my family.


  1. How about saying “no” to television?

    There are people who consider that idea beyond the pale. Isn’t television one of the four essential food groups that we must ingest into our bodies every day?

    Say “no” to television and you open up a huge amount of free time to pursue things you have wanted to pursue for years.

    Is there a loss? Yes. That’s not the question. The question is — is the loss that follows from giving up television greater than the loss that follows from allowing more time to go through the hourglass as you continue to fail to pursue your most important Life Goals because there’s “not enough time.”

    All addictions complicate life. Television often becomes an addiction (I speak from experience).


  2. Cleaning out my car… wow, i really need to do this! Until I read this post I forgot how amazing it feels the first time you go get into the car after cleaning it!

  3. This is great. I especially love the 90% idea. I can push too hard and miss the thing that will last–people. My husband often reminds me that people are the currency of heaven. Not all this stuff, not even my work.

    Thanks for the great reminders. I blog about trying to see Jesus through the midst of the stuff at I hope you’ll join me sometime

  4. I agree completely about clearing a thinking space. When my desk is cluttered I can’t get anything done, it just distracts me and pulls me away from what I should be doing.

  5. Some really great thoughts in this post. A clean car and clean workspace definitely remove the distractions and make clear thinking that much easier.

    I agree completely with Rob too. We’re on month number two with no TV and we will never go back. It’s a complete time suck. It’s essentially paying money to not do things that you should be doing – cleaning, spend time with kids/spouse, read, relax…

  6. Lucky are those of us who are born anal-retentive. I can’t get anything accomplished in a messy environment. Drives my family nuts!

    And I agree with Rob. Limiting the time spent with the Time-Vacuum (TV) is a great way to improve your life.

  7. I agree with streamlining the investments – having it all arrive on one statement each month has made things so much more organized in my life.

    I was voluntarily without TV for 18 years. But I did miss the local news coverage, especially the weather related events. So I got TV about 3 months ago, but find, except for the news being on, I rarely turn the set on otherwise.

    Cleaning out the truck? Well, that would be a great idea 🙂 I tend to go in spurts – and try to declutter it once a month – but it tends to pile up. Yes – the visual cleanliness helps – so will have to try harder. Good post and good reminders! Thanks!

  8. Reminds me of what my friend the landscape architect calls “addition by subtraction” in gardening – clearing out the garden “clutter” and overgrowth so that the really spectacular plants and features shine. The same principal applies to our personal and work lives. If you take out the clutter you can see the things that really matter so much more clearly. It’s a work in progress for me… 🙂

  9. I like the “one thing a day” list and the 90% rule… great for relieving undue stress. The list can also be used for the 80/20 rule: do the one thing today that will MOST get you ahead as per your goals. One task might carry over 80% of importance and priority, or just getting you closer to where you really want to be (not just where your job dictates you should be).

  10. FD I so much agree with your comment about the one touch system (though I’ve never heard it called that!) As a publicist, I have to have quick access to information. It can only be a step or click away or I lose valuable time “hunting” for it. In addition to online address books, I keep a tangible notebook of press contacts. If I cannot instantly find what I need online, I have my notebook back up. Sometimes the old fashioned notebook is quicker than trying to find something online.
    Great post FD. I am trying to slow down!

  11. My only problem with being a 90 perceter is after a while there are all kinds of 10%s waiting to be done. and is it better to pickup the tools now or when it’s done, if you pick them up, there is more time, picking them up and getting them again, if you leave them there it’s clutter. What’s better?

  12. Good thought provoking list FD.

    Regarding “Create an “I Will Do One Thing Today” list”, I am working to compile such a list but am working to make my daily list a “breakdown” of my more long term goals.

    Here’s what I’m working on doing:

    I have 2 goals in life and am working to break them down into achievable smaller yearly, montly, weekly, & daily goals, otherwise I get overwhelmed with what needs to be done.

    Once I have this goal chart in place I can feel fulfilled with the work I accomplished knowing that my daily tasks are part of a bigger plan. Without this I feel like I am working constantly but not really accomplishing anything.

    This quote has REALLY changed my perspective on things as of late:

    “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” ~Lao-Tzu

  13. Less is more.

    A great book on this idea of balance is by Andy Stanley called “Choosing To Cheat.” The basic thought is that we all have a limited amount of time so you are always going to be cheating somewhere. If you’re at work, you’re cheating your family. If you’re with your family, you’re cheating your career. We’re always cheating, so learn to be proactive and choose where you cheat.

    When you simplify life, you have a lot more wiggle room with where you “cheat”.

  14. Such a wonderful article, I would say the 90 percenter and simplifying finances are the biggest, at least for me.

    90 percenter is pretty much referring to the myth of multitasking, thinking you can be more effective if you are in 10 places at once.

    Simplifying finances is all about living within your means and of course you can increase your means when it makes sense and not just financially.

  15. Really helpful post, thank you. I so identify with your opening lines about putting the decluttering etc off until you boil over in frustration. That’s me, right now. And I’m enjoying the energy it’s giving me to be more proactive.

  16. I agree with all you said..was wondering your or anyone’s thoughts on how to go about cancelling unwanted credit cards as it relates to your credit score, etc….

  17. @Sherry

    If you have trouble spending on the cards then cut them up & pay them off.

    If they are already paid off, then just cut them up. Do not cancel the cards because it is generally good for your credit score to leave the accounts open with a zero balance.

    However, if it is a department store card…I would close that type. To do that just call the number on the back of the card, or if you don’t have the card, just call the company who the card is through.

    Hope this helps!


  18. Matt, etal~

    No problem with spending, we are debt free except the mortgate (just re-fi’d @ 4.2%), just a bunch of cards…Old Navy, Victoria Secret, junk cards. But I also have some old Visa’s…I have great credit…thanx for your advice…will kill the store cards…and perhaps kill off a Visa, 1 every 4-6 months..??????

  19. Great post, I have always tried to live a simplified life. I have found that living a simplified leads to a higher quality of life.

  20. @Sherry

    Congrats on your debt free status! I’m truly envious, although I’m on my way there now & can’t wait! Check out the website I built to track my progress while helping others too (DebtFreeAdventure[dot]com)

    As far as your Visa’s go, it sounds like you want to close them, so I would say to go ahead & do so after 6 months or so will be fine for your credit.


  21. 15 years ago quit my job for five years and worked out of my house.
    I had three small children at the time and wanted to spend more time with them.
    It was by far the happiest years of my life. They grow almost instantaneously, you have to take the time while you can.

    Will you make more money by neglecting your family, maybe you will, but if your kids don’t even know you have you really come out ahead?

    I’m back to my regular work as an engineer now. Maybe I’m a few years behind schedule getting to the top, but the detour was worth it and there was never any guarantee I was going to get rich if I neglected my family

  22. Creating lists is a great way to see what exactly you want to accomplish and can cross off what you have already done.

  23. Cleaning out your car is key!!! I feel at ease after my car is cleaned out and I put in a new air freshener…clearing the clutter from my car also clears the clutter in my mind!