Six Doors to a Simpler Life

Who doesn’t love a good origin story? It helps you see where someone’s values are and what motivates them.

You can read my simple-living origin story here, but here’s a quick recap for new readers:

After I graduated college, I was drowning in 22 years worth of clutter. I was chronically stressed and depressed. I moved four times that year, and the final move nearly broke me. I remember carrying 50-gallon trashbags full of clothes that I never wore downstairs to the moving truck and holding back tears under the literal and figurative weight of it all.

So when I began my life in a new city, I started to get rid of anything I didn’t need (which was no small feat). It started with clothes and slowly expanded into my other possessions and other areas of my life. So basically, my origin story is based on stuff, and lots of it.

But that’s not the only entry point into minimalism, so if you’ve been struggling with the “stuff” part of it all, there might be another way to start simplifying. What’s most important is that you do what feels right!

Other fascinating origin stories

There are others who have shared their origin stories. Some are similar to mine and some are very, very different.

Courtney Carver started with her diet after a medical diagnosis, then proceeded to simplify the rest of her belongings and her lifestyle. Joshua Becker started with his stuff after spending more time than he wanted to cleaning out his garage. Joshua Fields Millburn wasn’t a minimalist until life-changing events sparked him to approach the emotional weight of the stuff around him. Ryan Nicodemus, alongside Joshua Fields Millburn, decided to switch his pursuit of the American Dream to the pursuit of an intentional, good life.

The six doors to a simpler life.

Photo credit: Andrew Beeston

The Six Doors to Simplifying

I’ll go into each in more depth below, but here are the six entry points into simplifying and minimalism that I’ve observed throughout the years:

  1. Clutter
  2. Money
  3. Diet
  4. Schedule
  5. Relationships
  6. Digital distractions

Let’s dive in!

Clutter

This one is the most evident, and is the most obvious place to start. You can identify this as a problem when you start running out of places to put stuff, find yourself cleaning too often, or spend an inordinate amount of time on finding the perfect storage solution.

Starting with clutter is a great way to get the ball rolling and you will soon see the effects of simplifying your stuff in your life. A clear space is a clear mind.

However, it’s not always a comfortable place for everyone to start based on emotional ties to stuff or time or health constraints.

Money

I think we’re all trying to simplify this with varying degrees of success. This category is hard. Unexpected things pop up that make this area of our lives difficult to control completely.

However, starting here will give you more time for other areas of your life (because time is money and money is time). It can be as drastic as you want – you can aim for early retirement like Mr. Money Mustache or you can just cut out most extraneous expenses and get debt-free a little sooner.

Diet

There’s a pattern here – most of these entry points deal heavily with emotion, and this one is no exception. Your food choices are highly personal and the are the most directly connected to your actual human life.

Food determines our energy levels, our immunity and our overall health. This is one area that you can actually add to instead of taking away from – start by adding in an extra serving of veggies or an apple snack to remind your body what these nutrients can do for you. This is the change that you can make right now, while the other changes will take a little more time.

Schedule

Even though this one seems so impossible, trust me: there’s always room. Simplifying anything in your life means that you have to learn to say “no” to things, and what better way to get practice in?

We’re bombarded by invitations, requests and meaningless to-do’s, so start small. What is one thing that you can say no to today? Saying no to things that don’t add value to your life means that you can say yes to more things like spending time with loved ones, going on walks and taking care of yourself.

Relationships

This one is difficult – are there relationships in your life that do not bring joy or value? Are you surrounding yourself with people who motivate you or are you surrounded by people who bring you down?

Breaking off romantic relationships and friendships is complicated, but sometimes both need to be done.But by saying “no” to certain relationships, your truly meaningful relationships will have the space they deserve to flourish.

Digital distractions

If you have an internet connection, you probably have this problem. Notifications, requests and updates are constantly pinging on our desktops and our phones. Even though it takes up little physical space, these distractions take up a massive amount of emotional and mental space.

This category includes social media, files like word documents and photographs, email, and our cloud-based calendars. Start by removing push notifications from your phone as much as possible, then explore each space individually after that.

How to find which one is right for you

Take a moment to think about where most of your stress lies.

If you’re stressed about being busy, then look into your schedule. If there’s too much buzz in your mind and on your phone, start with digital distractions. Always frustrated about the clutter on your desk? Start with stuff.

If you can’t think of it right away, observe yourself for a couple of days. When and where do your stress levels spike, and when are they the lowest?

They’re all connected

If you’re worried that you just have to choose one, fear not. Once you start simplifying and streamlining one part of your life, you’ll start to see how it can be applied to other areas.

I felt like it was no stretch to change my eating habits after my closet was manageable. I began to value my time more after those two changes, so I then switched my focus to my digital life – particularly cutting down on Facebook.

Whatever you choose, know that your path to simplifying is entirely your own. Read others’ stories and take what you feel is relevant to yourself from them. If you try to copy someone exactly, you’ll end up in an unsustainable, frustrating and ultimately, complicated lifestyle.

Where did you start simplifying, or where do you think you’ll focus next?

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Facebook and FOFOMO

I pulled the plug on my Facebook a couple months ago, and haven’t looked back.

I’ve talked about how much of a time-waster Facebook is in the past, but my usage was getting out of control.

I wasn’t using it because I was homesick. I wasn’t using it because I had nothing better to do. I wasn’t using it to even communicate.

Instead of using it to add value to my life, I let it do the opposite: I was using it to compare myself to the Facebook-version of my friends and acquaintances.

I always felt worse after visiting Facebook.

Why did it take so long to deactivate?

The excitement of Facebook really started wearing off after college three years ago. I realized that 90% of my Facebook friends were people I had no need to keep in touch with, personally or professionally.

I started unfriending and unfollowing people left and right. But did that stop me from stalking old crushes wedding photos? Nope.

It didn’t stop me from reading aggravating statuses (on purpose) and seeking out successful acquaintances, both which always made me feel bad. I was addicted to comparing myself with people on the internet.

We’ve all heard of FOMO, right? In hindsight, what was stopping me from deactivating my Facebook was actually FOFOMO.

What is FOFOMO?

The Fear of “The Fear of Missing Out” is what I’ve been calling my hesitation to quit Facebook.

I know it’s silly, but I was more afraid of how FOMO would affect me than I actually turned out to be afraid of missing out. I was anxious about how future me would deal with the anxiety of missing out on social updates.

Our generation has now been using “FOMO” as a new form of guilt or peer pressure. If you’re not where everyone else is, you should be afraid that they’re all hanging out without you.

If you’re not on Facebook, then how will you know your friends got engaged or started new jobs? If you subscribe to FOMO and let it consume you, you should be ashamed to have to ask.

For our generation, it’s unacceptable to purposely opt-out of what’s going on. It’s not “normal”.

I was afraid of the guilt and embarrassment that would come with ignoring my FOMO.

What has changed without Facebook?

My fear of FOMO turned out to be unwarranted. It turns out that I haven’t been afraid of missing out. I haven’t even missed out on anything important.

In fact, I’ve gained so much more now that I’m Facebook-free:

  • I (literally) have added hours of valuable time to each week. This positive change happened immediately.
  • I have fewer digital people/distractions in my life now, and my time online feels a lot less complicated.
  • I feel kinder towards people in general. What ever happened to that girl who made fun of me in second grade? I can’t go to her profile anymore and see if she’s complaining or doing well for herself (both of which could frustrate me). Instead, I send a silent good wish her way and move on with my day.

You can quit too

The most difficult part is finally deciding to just do it. There are a few steps that can help you get there!

  1. Start unfollowing and unfriending people. Ask yourself these questions to decide what to do with each friend: Does this person need to read my updates or see my pictures? If they don’t, unfriend them. Do you need to read this person’s updates or see their pictures (but you still want to keep an online relationship with them)? If you don’t, unfollow them.
  2. Download all the information and pictures from your profile. It makes it easier to shut it all down.
  3. Try deactivating your account temporarily – you can set it to auto-reactivate after a certain number of days, which might help you decide if it’s the right choice for you.
  4. Open up new avenues with new purposes. I’ve started texting and calling my friends more, and I’m inching back in to Twitter. I’m interested in meeting like-minded simple living people , so say hello!
  5. Don’t announce it. I wanted to share my email or my Twitter profile with a little “seeya” announcement, but I realized that allowing myself to engage with people before leaving Facebook was as dangerous as having just one more drink. It’s best to tell your closest friends personally and then deactivate your account without posting a word about it.

How do you use Facebook? Is it a positive or negative tool in your life?

Why I’m Curating my Facebook Feed

One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced as I try to simplify and remove unwanted distractions from my life has been the removal of intangible distractions. I work full time and then some behind a computer screen, so it’s difficult not to get entirely caught up in the digital world.

But sometimes, you’ve got to outsmart yourself.

I’ve thought hard and often about deactivating my Facebook page, but can’t bring myself to do it. It’s such a great way to stay connected to friends and family who I would otherwise not regularly communicate with. I get to see pictures of my (newly inherited) nephews more regularly than I’m actually able to see them in person. I’m able to check in on my little brother in South Carolina without letting him know that I’m checking in (what could be less cool than a pestering older sister?)

But in order to do that, I have to wade through some…well, junk. And some not junk – I’ve started to unfollow people for some expected and unexpected reasons.

There’s a 90% chance I’m not following your updates.

And it’s not because I hate you or that I no longer want to be your friend. It’s because I want to still have the option of checking in on you without hearing from you every day. You’re probably a friendly connection I’ve made along the way and I still love having the opportunity of being in touch with you, but I don’t need to read details of your life every day. Here’s my criteria for unfollowing:

  • Mundane updates
  • Dramatic or cryptic updates
  • Automatic updates from applications. NO. I’ve learned to stay away from Candy Crush, and I don’t need that temptation again.
  • Selfies on selfies on selfies.

Here’s the one that takes people off guard: I unfollow people who have beautiful pictures of their incredible adventures (unless they’re my very best friends). I’ve started to realize that consistent exposure to other people’s lives has made me worry about my own. Am I going on enough adventures? Am I fun? Look at all those people having fun together, do I even have friends?

Yes, yes and yes. I just don’t tend to document it all as well as others do. But that’s okay.

Honestly, my next step is to delete my Facebook account entirely, since I mostly observe from the corner. But how can I stay in touch with my new nephews and my family? I might have to change a few things up if I want to start getting digital with my minimalism.

Have you deleted your Facebook? If so, have you implemented any alternatives?

The Cleanse: Pinterest

You have a choice to make, right now. Before you pin your next pin, before you browse your next DIY Board, you have to make a choice. Will you use Pinterest for good or for evil?

I’m feeling rather cynical, so I’m assuming you’re using it for evil. I’ve used it for evil. I still do, when I’m in the mood.

Is there a wrong way to use Pinterest?

Yes. Pinterest is a beautiful, well-designed inspiration tool that can help you design your life. Down to the colors of your throw pillows and accent doilies, it can help you visualize your new home without lifting more than a finger. Some power pinners can plan every detail, while those of us who more casually browse can get general ideas and color schemes from images we find beautiful.

But here is what Pinterest is not: an escape. If you are using Pinterest as an escape pod from your everyday “ugly” lifestyle, you need to shut it down. Turn off your computer and run very far away from it. Do not spend one more minute on the site.

Rilke Quote

Rilke telling it like it is. I may pin this image out of irony.

But I like Pinterest better than real life.

I did too for a while. My life isn’t nearly as rose-colored and beautiful as the lives of people on Pinterest. I had to break it to myself, and I’ll break it to you too. The secret of their happiness? Professional photography. Excellent lighting. Great makeup. Tons of spare time. Photo filters. Photoshop.

If you’re measuring your happiness up against what Pinterest offers, then you’re doing it wrong. People in pictures on Pinterest are smiling  because they’re not thinking about how good this will look on Pinterest. Amazing DIY projects are not the result of hours spent on the site—they’re the result of hours spent working on a craft.

How do I reduce my addiction to Pinterest?

First of all, find out if you have an addiction. Then, identify if you leave the site with a plethora of new ideas, or if you come away wondering why does my life suck? If it’s the latter, it’s time to cut down.

I still go on Pinterest. I love it. However, I’ve changed my use of the site. How often do you go back to your boards to see something you’ve pinned? (Especially if it’s not a link to a useful post or cool DIY project). If you’re like me, the answer would be never.

minimalist Pinterest board

Does anyone else see the irony in having a Pinterest board devoted to minimalism?

So instead of overwhelming myself with weird digital baggage, I stopped pinning to many boards. Right now, I’m pinning minimalist images that inspire me to further reduce clutter in my life. If I find a link particularly useful, I pin it to my secret boards along with the engagement ring ideas I stored up to give my boyfriend (not a joke. I’ll talk Pinterest and weddings in a later post). By using secret boards, I don’t feel like I’m broadcasting my general good taste (please read that sarcastically) to others.

Instead of browsing everything, I turn to specific keywords or particular boards, to avoid overwhelming myself. If I find myself clicking through to a retail site in order to purchase something, I call it quits. Shut it down. I’m not on Pinterest to shop. I’m on Pinterest to be inspired. For free.

That leads me to my final point:

Did you know that Pinterest is a goldmine for marketers? Consumers spend more money and purchase more things more often as a result of Pinterest use than any of the other top social media sites. There’s tons of Pinterest marketing info on how best to get casual pinners to convert. You may think you’re on Pinterest for inspiration, but oftentimes you’re actually there to be marketed to (that’s why I try to avoid browsing consumer products).

Give Pinterest a break. Use your time wisely, and actually start working on one of those projects you pinned months ago. I know I should.

Are you a friend or foe of Pinterest? Let me know in the comments.

The Cleanse: Reduce Your Digital Distractions

I’ve had the conversation time and time again.

“I feel like my life isn’t exciting. I see all my friends uploading photos to Facebook and they’re all having fun without me. Their lives are cooler, prettier, and more interesting than mine.”

Have you had this conversation? With the popularity of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and especially Pinterest, this unhappiness digs deep at a lot of us. It can be debilitating. It can be addicting.

So today, I propose another challenge. Analyze how you spend your day, and identify where you can cut out the unnecessary distractions. Don’t tell me that scrolling through Pinterest for hours and hours is how you relax. It’s causing you more stress! It’s destroying your productivity! It’s draining your energy! It’s making you unhappy.

I’ve recently been without internet at my apartment. So, instead of sleeping and eating the day away, I’ve been walking to the grocery store, talking to my family on the phone, and listening to audiobooks as I do dishes. I’ve been exercising more and my eyes feel a lot less tired from staring at screens all day. The internet is a wonderful tool, but it’s a black hole of time-wasting and an avalanche of self-esteem lowering images and ideas.

Make it a personal goal to avoid unnecessary time online, and when you do, consider sharing more of what you do well rather than just focusing on what others are doing or what they own that you cannot. I’m going to follow this post up with detailed entries about various social networks and how you can start utilizing them efficiently and positively, because I’ve been through an addiction to each one–and none of them are healthy.

Do you use the internet as a tool to further your productivity, or do you lose hours a day while browsing?