29: The Small Simplicity Challenge that Changed My Life

29: The Small Simplicity Challenge that Changed My Life

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less


The Small Simplicity Challenge that Changed My Life

The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.

~Hans Hofmann

It was only the first week into a sparkling new year, and I was already feeling stuck. My life felt overwhelming and chaotic, rushing by in a flurry of social media and distractions and constant “busyness.” I was desperate to slow it down. To savor it. I wanted my days to be made up of beautiful moments, not long to-do lists. I wanted to be more present — to be aware of, and grateful for, every minute of my unique and amazing life.

Serendipitously, I stumbled across a TEDx talk by The Minimalists about authenticity and simplicity: paring down your life in order to make space for what truly matters to you. Something lit up in my soul. Simplicity. Time. Space. Room to breathe, and learn, and grow, and simply be.

I decided to set a challenge for myself. Little by little, over the course of the year, I would simplify my life. I would rid myself of clutter — physical, mental, emotional. I would reflect on what was most important to me, and why, and what I aimed to do with that knowledge. I hoped that by the end of the year, I would be less stressed, more present, and altogether happier in my simpler life.

My first step was to identify a few items that I tended to over-purchase: tea, stationery, and scarves. I pledged to purchase no more of these items for the entire year (or until I used up the embarrassingly large stash that I already possessed). After signing the self-pledge, I was a little surprised at my impulse to continue purchasing these items, even during the first week! Especially tea. I tended to visit the tea aisle whenever I went to the grocery store, just to see if they had any new flavors or good sales. So, I made a conscious choice not to even walk down the tea aisle. Same with stationery. I refrained from browsing greeting card displays. Instead, I used notecards I’d purchased the year before for all my holiday thank-you notes. A little thing, but progress!

In the weeks and months that followed, I slowly sorted through my clothes, shoes, purses — and, yes, scarves — and donated three full bags to charity. In the past, I might have been tempted to go out shopping to refill the empty spaces in my closet with brand new items, but not this time. I actually had space to slide hangers back and forth and didn’t have to cram T-shirts into my dresser drawers in order to wedge them shut. I could easily see every item in my closet — and, for the first time in my life, I absolutely loved every single item I owned. Getting dressed each morning became a breeze.

Motivated to continue my momentum, I donated boxes of books and magazines to my local library and ended my subscriptions to a couple of magazines. I cleared out my filing cabinets of old receipts and organized my haphazard piles of papers into neat, labeled folders. Now I could find whatever I needed easily and quickly.

Next, I tackled digital clutter. My e-mail inbox was always overflowing, distracting me from important tasks I wanted to complete. I began by unsubscribing to the various promotional e-mails that I always deleted without reading. That was the easy part. The harder part was unsubscribing from lists that I was genuinely interested in, but simply had no time to read. I realized that I had subscribed to these e-mails because I hoped that some mystical future version of me would one day find the time to conscientiously read through them. Instead, the build-up of unread e-mails had been stressing me out. The simple act of unsubscribing from e-mail lists made me feel freer and more at peace.

This may seem obvious, but I also realized how much less stressful tasks are when you do them in advance of deadlines. I started getting tasks and chores done in advance, which made me feel like I was “on top of things” and boosted my self-confidence. I also worked on squashing that impulse to try to squeeze in “one more thing” before I left the house, which was always making me late. Not only did I feel rushed and stressed about being late, I wanted to change this habit for others, too. Being on time shows respect and consideration for other people’s time and commitments.

I did figure out one way that I could squeeze in “one more thing” without negative consequences! I started listening to podcasts while driving. I love learning, and had a long list of podcasts I wanted to check out, but I couldn’t seem to find the time to listen to them. I realized I had precious pockets of time that I wasn’t using as opportunities. Twenty minutes in the car here and fifteen minutes in the car there really add up. Now I actually find myself looking forward to my car/podcast time instead of being annoyed by my commute.

When I look back at my life before my “simplicity challenge,” on the outside it appears much the same as it is today. I have the same job, live in the same house, take part in the same outside activities with their responsibilities and commitments. I did not make any drastic or big changes. And yet, on the inside, my life feels completely different. Small changes added up. I have time and space to pursue what I love most. I feel freer, and calmer, and more energetic. It’s funny: only now that I have gotten rid of so much unnecessary stuff, does my life feel truly full.

~Dallas Woodburn


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