Anyone can make today more complicated than it has to be, and most people will. It takes a touch of wisdom to do the opposite.
Our days fill up so fast, and are so frenzied and jammed with drama and distractions, they often seem to be bursting at the seams. And the craziest part of it all is that we get so accustomed to this kind of chaos, we think it’s normal. We go about each day without ever questioning why we feel so darn stressed out.
Angel and I lived this way for many years, until a time came when we were dealt a series of harsh reality checks that forced us to reexamine everything. One of the key lessons we learned through this reexamination is that it’s not terribly hard to make our lives a whole lot simpler and happier, one day at a time… one step at a time.
Today, I encourage you to join us on our daily journey of living a simpler, happier life by following the seven steps I’ve outlined below. Keep in mind, however, that while Angel and I have fully incorporated each of these steps into our daily lives, we did so gradually. I suggest you choose one right now and begin working on it. Then revisit this list when you’re ready to take the next step.
- Identify what’s most important, and eliminate the rest. – This may sound like a drastic measure to some, but it’s really not. Today will quickly fill up with time-wasting activities if you aren’t careful. Thus, you must remember that being productive isn’t just about getting things done – it’s also about leaving things undone. The simplicity and efficiency of today relies heavily on the elimination of non-essential tasks. You must identify what’s most important to you, and then eliminate as much as you possibly can of everything else.
- Declutter your physical space. – Decluttering your physical space not only makes things more organized, but it also leads to a less cluttered mental space. The visual distractions in your environment pull on you and distract you in more ways than you likely realize. If you’re holding on to things you don’t need, let go and donate them to someone who does. Give yourself some extra breathing room. And remember, it’s not just how many (or how few) things you own that matters – it’s whether you make those things count. For example, it’s better to have three great books on your bookshelf that you’re actually going to read rather than 300 that only take up space. (Read The More of Less for decluttering strategies that work. Note: We read an advance copy of this book, and it’s a must-read.)
- Schedule at least one distraction-free time block each day. – Distractions are nothing more than complications. So once you know you’re focusing on what’s important, and your space is relatively clutter-free, eliminating all distractions for a set time while you work is one of the most effective ways to get things done. Just lock your door, put a sign up, turn off your phone, close your email application, disconnect your internet connection, whatever it takes. You can’t remain in hiding forever, but you can be twice as peaceful and twice as productive while you are.
- Leave space between everything on your to-do list. – It’s tempting to fill in every waking minute of the day with tasks. Don’t do this to yourself. Leave space. The space between the things you do is just as important as the things you do. Remember, your overarching goal is living a life uncluttered by most of the things people fill their lives with, leaving you with space for what’s truly important. A life that isn’t constant busyness, rushing and stress, but instead mindful contemplation, creation and connection with people and projects that bring meaning into your life.
- Disconnect from the drama. – When your day gets stressful and the people around you aren’t helping, keep in mind that the battle you’re going through is never fueled by the things other people do; it is fueled by your mind that gives these things importance. Even if you have a good reason to be angry and resentful, don’t. Channel your energy into thoughts and actions that actually benefit your life – build positive daily rituals that build YOU. And as you move forward positively, remember, there is a huge amount of simplicity and freedom that comes into your life when you take nothing personally. (Angel and I build positive daily rituals with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
- Let go of life’s uncontrollable outcomes. – When you attempt to control too much, you complicate things, and thus you enjoy too little. Sometimes you just need to let go, take a deep breath and love what is. Make mistakes, learn from the realities around you, laugh about it all and then move along. Waste not a minute on outcomes you can’t control. This, I’ve learned, is the best way to be in all walks of life… You can stop trying to change people, and just let go and dissolve into their presence – just notice who they truly are, just appreciate every idiosyncratic quirk. You can stop complaining about your life circumstances, about your losses, about how the world is, and just let go and love what is. Just be. Just accept. Just appreciate.
- Reflect on the goodness. – One of the primary reasons we complicate our lives is because we become ungrateful. We lose our enthusiasm and then we go looking for it in all the wrong places. We think we need more of everything to find it again, when in fact we need less. We need less clutter, less distraction, less drama and less busyness, so we can create the space we once had to appreciate what we have. And what we have is always more than enough. Reflect on this. Never let all the things you want make you forget about all the things you have. Consider how very fortunate you are. Consider it every day. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Simplicity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
Please leave a comment below and let us know which step above resonates with you the most. Do you have any other thoughts or tips to share about making life simpler and happier? We would love to hear from YOU.
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Photo by: Dustin Lee
Each on of these steps are worth taking. I’m still working on them, but I’ve made incredible progress over the past year. With your guidance, I’ve realized that the meaning of life is just to be alive and aware present. It’s so plain and so simple. And yet, so many of us continuously rush around in a great panic 24/7 as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond ourselves. Yes, there are things to do, but those things do not control us unless we let them.
Great post, M&A! And thank you for your 1,000 Little Things book too – it’s been my guide. It provides a needed dose of positive motivation whenever I read a page. Also, your decluttering book recommendation will come in handy too — that’s something I need to work on more than anything.
Marc Chernoff says
Well said, Denise. And thank you for supporting our work. 🙂
“We lose our enthusiasm and then we go looking for it in all the wrong places. We think we need more of everything to find it again, when in fact we need less.”
Absolutely love these two sentences! It hits close to home. I really enjoyed the article and I think the steps you outlined are spot on. I also liked that you emphasized on starting these steps gradually. I look forward to reading more on your site.
Marc Chernoff says
Glad those lines resonated, Matt.
Ben Pruett says
Excellent list. I’d also add the perfectionism can complicate our lives. I used to struggle desperately with perfectionism and it complicated everything for me.
A simple line I picked up from one of Angel’s emails a couple years ago that has helped me keep my perfectionism in check:
“The real world doesn’t reward perfection. It rewards people who get GOOD things done. And the only way to get GOOD things done is to be imperfect 99% of the time.”
I love this quote! I am going to work on this to simplify my life. I frequently put off a task because I think I have to wait until I can do it “perfect” to my standards. Doing something is better than doing nothing.
Marc Chernoff says
Cheers to letting go of perfectionism, Ben! 🙂
Every point here resonates, but I particularly needed to be reminded of #1.
And since Ben shared a line from one of Angel’s emails, I figured I’d share one too (although this may have come from your book…I can’t remember). I wrote this down on my white board well over a year ago, and I glance at it often:
“A simpler life is ultimately a product of focusing on what matters.”
Marc Chernoff says
Thanks for re-sharing this, Michelle. And thank you for supporting us.
Vanessa Cassani says
I agree with everything on this list. Number 1 seems to be what I need most these days. Wish me luck!
Looking forward to reading more 🙂
Nathalie | WantForWellness.com says
I’m extremely impressed by the simplicity and the wholesomeness of this post. I feel it covers everything regarding the topic, and I can imagine it will help a lot of people get their priorities straight. Well done guys!
Thanks so much for this post! I’m going to do my best incorporating all these points into my daily life. What I personally started doing since a week, is writing down something I’m grateful for at the end of the day. This helps me on relativating problems and focus on the goodness in life. Love your blog, keep it up!
They are all fabulous. When I read this line “never let all the things you want make you forget all the things you have,” I told myself I have to repeat it to myself each morning. I’m really very fortunate.
Merci beaucoup from Toulouse France.
I really like what you said about picking two or three things to do well each day. That’s part of my problem – I have tried to fill my plate with six or seven things and have felt unproductive if I did not. This left no time for introspection, reflection, or activities that refueled my soul. I think I will try to begin each day with picking out the two or three most critical things on my plate and making sure I do those well.
I am working hard on #5 and #6. I live a very basic and mostly drama free life. Living simply is wonderful . There are times when others draw me into their drama or cast drama onto me. When I take steps to keep the drama away, they conclude something is wrong with me. I still struggle with this, and try to keep from worrying about what others think of me, but so far I am not successful all the time. I guess I just have to keep working on it.
Gautam thakur says
Let go of life’s uncontrollable outcomes. I think I need these one the most, thank yu Marcangel, Its beautiful, and i will work on that.
Frank - Houston says
Your message arrived at a very good time. I must, and WILL start with the PHYSICAL CLUTTER, enabling me to tackle the mental clutter. One baby-step at a time…..good idea.
Thank you for this article, so simple, yet wise wise words and instructions for a better, more positive and simpler life!
Love this: “You can stop complaining about your life circumstances, about your losses, about how the world is, and just let go and love what is. Just be. Just accept. Just appreciate.” I am copying this paragraph to my Inspiration board 🙂 big thanks and Love to you, guys 😉
Amancharla Venkata SUDHAKARA SARMA says
In my view daily meditation for a minimum of 15 to 20 minutes, and more if time permits.
Doing so will help slow things down and simply your life to achieve good results.
Be simple. And do help people in need too.
Ohh and I absolutely love this, too: “Channel your energy into thoughts and actions that actually benefit your life – build positive daily rituals that build YOU. And as you move forward positively, remember, there is a huge amount of simplicity and freedom that comes into your life when you take nothing personally.”
Very wise words indeed . I need to start following them cause I always end up being tired trying to be the best manager at work, the best housewife and the best chef at home, and this without having any kids yet .. So I do need to focus on what is actually important and on what satisfies me most. Thanks a lot ..
anmol mishra says
After reading your articles it seems life is not so complicated.. It’s just matter how we take it. Thanks MARC & ANGEL for showing us how we can deal with important aspects of our life… so easily.
Your posts are amazingly helpful! They are read each morning, even before I get out of bed! Physical Clutter can really slow life down big time!
This is a great article, helful points. Now I just need to tackle my procrastinating issue and start implementing some of these great ideas!
David Rapp says
My whole life is jammed with clutter. My wife is a pack rat and simply will NOT part with anything. She would rather step over boxes of dolls than put them in storage or display them. We cannot have people over because its so embarrassing. I call it the Parlor of Squalor. We have had so many fights over this, that I gave up.
So the only thing I can do is get rid of stuff under my control. I have to go through my stuff, weed out what I can, and get rid of it while no one is looking.
At work, I took half a day and cleaned my cube. I mean down to bare counter-tops, and drawer by drawer. It has made a huge difference.
David – Clearing out is difficult. I’ve been working on it for a couple of years. The first step is to stop bringing things IN or at least reduce the quantity. The focus from these emails helps to remind me of my goals. In addition to books recommended here, I recommend books written by Peter Frost et. al. He has studied hoarding for years. Can you move things to another part of the house or as a last resort take a storage unit? I don’t recommend storage but have done it myself. We can’t have visitors either and worse is the fact that some areas are quite dirty and dusty – you can’t clean what you can’t get to! I can relate to what you say only I am the hoarder. I’ll save this article as reminders always help me to focus better.
Marc Chernoff says
Well done, David (and granitegirl). No doubt, clearing clutter is often a difficult undertaking, but it’s always worth it in the end. Angel and I clean house with clutter on the 1st of every month. We’re pretty good about not accumulating clutter, but we have a ritual to clear needless accumulation that slips through the cracks.
Betty McE. Johnson says
Excellent motivational topics to remind people of letting go of things they cannot control and reflecting on some of the positive things that has already happened in their lives. I personally try to make a point of practicing these things on a daily basis. It is so easy for one to become so focused on moving to a higher level that one can easily become ungrateful for past accomplishments, and eventually loose one’s way in the process.
Boy did I need to read this! I work in a highly dysfunctional environment. It is easy to get “caught up” in that. I am printing this at work where it shall live on my desk.
Excellent, timely article! I’m a disorganized perfectionist 🙂 I’m way too over-sensitive and resentful. Overly Suspicious mostly due to noisy, overcrowded, disrespectful neighbors. Over-complicated myself, so overwhelmed very important things left undone. 5, 6 and 7 are helpful.
Rick Popowitz says
Dave, many year ago I learned the key to frustration. That of being a perfectionist. It’s a standard none of us, mere mortals, will ever attain. Instead consider reframing your views as a search for excellence. Put in the best you have in you, be it creativity, hard work, some other “talent” and then walk away with knowing you’ve done your best “and be completely, totally, 100% satisfied with your work or accomplishment.”
Thank you Rick I truly appreciate your insight, especially your time!
I think planning can really help to simplify life. For example, it can be pretty hectic and “unsimple” getting ready for work in the mornings, a little planning either the night before, or even a few days before, where I plan out my lunches so at least pieces of them are ready to go in the mornings can really simplify things. I am also definitely affected if there is a lot of material clutter around the house, so I’ve started to make a habit of whenever I walk by some clutter, to grab one thing and put it where it should be (I have a 2 1/2 year old who does the opposite). This so far has had a pretty huge affect on the overall cleanliness of the house.
Evelyn Cucchiara says
I’m such a fan of decluttering – not just for your space’s appearance, but for your own internal peace.
Hi, no comments. Good advice as usual. Of course, some of this stuff sounds a lot easier than it is. Any advice down the road on living in the now — being present, etc. ??
Rick Popowitz says
Look for the positive(s) in every person you meet and every situation that arises.
again thank you for your wonderful composition 😀 the step that resonates to me the most is leave space between everything on your to-do list. because every time i make my own goal setting i forgot to give myself a rest 😀 and it makes me feel rush because after completing the task i know there is another battle to face. it makes me feel anxious also that results to less space, less focus, more destructed and ungrateful. thank you for again opening my sight to that unseen normal course of action in my life. thank you for reminding also that “i have everything i need, and its more than enough” 🙂
your always a student reader 😀
Dear Marc & Angel
Went through your list of 7 tips, for changes in life & living, for a happy Life. My life is in a very stressful phase in all aspects, was very agitated and couldn’t eat or get enough sleep, when after lot of introspection understood exactly These 7 points, and presently though circumstances haven’t changed much, living a much relaxing life feeling less stressed and with more positive approach each day. Pranayam and meditation at start of day does help me to remind me of living in the ‘NOW’, of every moment of the day.
Thank you for putting it down as 7 points. God bless you both for making living a better life, for many , with changes in our attitude and not expecting change in environment.
Laura Dean says
Wonderful words of wisdom. Just stumbled onto your blog from the Simply Luxurious Life. Thank you!
Remember, when you were a child learning to walk, you stumbled and fell frequently. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get it right all at once. Baby steps, one thing at a time. When (not “if”) you fail, give thanks that you can try again, and again, until the problem gets better. Keep on trying, eventually you will succeed. Peace and hope from Elva.
Thank you, thank you, thank you! This came at an apt time for me. I have allowed other people’s bahaviours to diminish my hapiness and confidence, which sunk me into a deep depression. This post helped me make the choice to let everything go and start cleaning up today 🙂
Reading your blog made a lot of difference in my life. It brought courage and built self confidence in me that inspired me to make a video . I must confess your blog has been one of the reasons for me to step up. Thank you very much for being a part of my life. I appreciate the work you do for people like us.
Anthusia Daniela Sandu says
I write to you with much gratitude from Romania.
I follow your blog (via newsletter) for more than 2 years and and is a blessing for me 🙂
Like Ayesha says above…
“Thank you very much for being a part of my life.
I appreciate the work you do for people like us.”