Well, we’re one month in. How is your New Year going so far? Any progress on your goals or resolutions? I’m not a huge New Year’s Resolution guy, but I am all in on the idea of living a life that has joy, meaning and purpose.
That often requires change (hence the resolutions), but change is hard. The urgent overwhelms the important. A host of bad habits smothers the few fledgling good ones. How do you overcome those obstacles and achieve real, significant and lasting change in your life? How do you decide what’s important to you and follow through on making it a reality, both now and in retirement?
I’ve been thinking about that for months and experimenting with what I’ve learned. Along the way, I’ve wrestled with three big ideas that are essential to the process. I’ll write an article about each and recommend 3 books for further reading. Today is Part I.
The More of Less
It’s tough to live the life you want if the life you have is cluttered with stuff you don’t want. So idea #1 is simplicity. Simplify your life and get rid of things that don’t belong. Some of you may remember my interview with Joshua Becker on minimalism and how to simplify life in retirement. Not long after that, Joshua published a book called The More of Less, which I highly recommend. After reading it and taking a class he offered, I decided to get serious about the clutter (stuff, projects, obligations, etc.) in my life. I’m well along in that process now, so I thought I’d share the “why, what and how” in the hopes that it would be helpful to some of you.
Lesson one of Joshua’s course was to define why you want to simplify in the first place. My why was simple: I want to minimize so I can maximize. In other words, minimize stuff, expenses, obligations, hassles, commitments and projects that aren’t that important to me so I can maximize those that are and maximize things like time with family, time with friends, time for clients, freedom, financial peace, writing, traveling and doing. It’s about becoming a minimalist in the things that don’t matter so I can become a maximalist in the things that do.
“Minimalism is the promotion of things I most value and the removal of everything that distracts me from it.” – Joshua Becker
So when we talk about simplicity or minimalism, it’s not necessarily about how many shirts you have or how big your house is. It’s about defining what’s important to you and what isn’t. Then you ruthlessly cut the latter in order to create space, time and money for the former.
Key areas I set out to simplify and declutter
- Home (wardrobe, bathroom, desk, basement, garage, car, etc.)
- Digital life (apps, email, T.V.)
- Health and body (eating, exercise, excess weight, etc.)
- Personal finances
I decided to tackle physical clutter first. I started with my car, because it seemed like an easy win. The first thing I did was throw away everything that was garbage. Then I took everything else from inside the car and sorted it into 3 piles: Things to keep in the car, things to relocate somewhere else and things to give or throw away.
I was surprised how much there was. When you empty out the door compartments, seat pockets, center console, glove box, trunk and everything that is strewn about the floor and seats, there is a lot of stuff. Most of it didn’t belong and it felt great to get rid of it.
Next up was the night stand by my bed. Same process with an equally satisfying result. Then my sink area and cabinet in the bathroom. Then my desk, files, tools, wardrobe, the garage and basement. My wife is in charge of most of the other rooms in the house, so I wisely left those alone.
I’m not done yet, but I’ve made a ton of progress. Our garbage and recycling bins have been full each week. We’ve taken load after load of clothes, books, tools, furniture, electronics and toys to our local mission or Habitat for Humanity. A shredding company comes regularly to our office so we can securely get rid of old documents. Between my home and work offices, I’ve added 20 banker’s boxes full of old papers to the shred pile.
After making progress on the physical clutter, I started working on other areas like projects, my health and my finances. The process is a little different with those, but the desired result is the same: The promotion of things I value and the removal of whatever distracts me from it. That meant working hard to finish up projects that I didn’t want to leave half done. It meant looking at how we spend our money and making sure that we were investing it in our priorities rather than wasting it. It meant simplifying my eating and exercise so I could be healthier (I’m down 18 pounds since September 1st).
So to review. Make a list of the areas you want to simplify, minimalize and declutter. For physical clutter, follow the simple 3 pile process (keep, relocate, trash/give away). For non-physical clutter like projects, finish them up so you can get them off your To-Do list. Don’t worry about having all the answers. Just learn as you go and do what works best for you.
Below are some of the benefits of a less cluttered life. Some I experienced first-hand. Some are taken from Joshua’s book The More of Less.
- More than just a clean house. You get a more meaningful life.
- More time and energy (our stuff takes a lot of time and energy to maintain)
- More money (buying less, maintaining less, leaner expenses)
- More freedom
- More security (need less)
- Less stress
- Less distraction
- Less environmental impact
- Higher quality belongings
- A better example for our kids
- Less work for others (e.g. dealing with our stuff after we die)
- Less comparison
- More contentment
- Ultimately more happiness and fulfillment
- Enables you to fulfill your greatest passions
- Enables you to be more generous
- Enables you to live a more intentional life
Below are the two biggest misconceptions about minimalism that Joshua mentioned in his book.
- It’s not about giving everything up. It’s about getting the right stuff, commitments, etc.
- It’s not just about organizing. It’s about de-owning, de-committing, etc. Actually getting rid of the stuff that is getting in the way of what you want.
Thoughts and Lessons
Throughout the process, I’ve learned all sorts of lessons. I’ll list some of those below along with several more taken directly from Joshua’s book or from other people prominent in the minimalism movement.
- Clutter is a visual sign of procrastination and carries with it just as much anxiety. (Leo Babauta)
- In essence then, clutter is a sign of laziness just as much as it’s a sign of overconsumption, disorganization, etc.
- It is easier to see everyone else’s clutter than it is to see your own.
- Live it yourself before you ask it from others (i.e. around your home).
- We live in a world where 6 billion people live on less than $13,000 per year. Most of our financially related stress occurs because of artificially manufactured need.
- A busy life is an unreflective life.
- Busyness is a form of laziness (Tim Ferriss).
- Minimalism serves as a gateway to intentionality in every area.
- Opportunity cost: Life is about choices, but some choices are more valuable than others. Each time we choose something, there is an opportunity cost. By choosing to do something, we are choosing not to do alternatives. Therefore, we give up the potential benefit of those things. Make sure that the benefits you gain from your choices are greater than the ones you’re giving up.
- Deal with clutter right away. If you don’t, it builds up and procrastination gets easier as the task at hand gets larger.
- The best thing to do is start and then figure it out as you go.
- You clarify your goals and settle into a less-encumbered lifestyle at the same time.
- Becoming Unbusy: Cultivate space in your daily routine. Reduce distractions. Say “no.” Appreciate and schedule rest.
- This process will probably take months. Maybe an entire year. I cleaned out my car in an hour, but I’ve got projects I’m trying to finish that will take months.
- Success and excess are not the same.
- Be very intentional about what you add into your life. Be a tough curator.
Fill the void
Once you’ve gotten rid of things you don’t want, you have room to add more of the things (relationships, projects, experiences, work, possessions) that you do want. The next article in the series will help with that process and will cover some of the key ideas in the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown. Until then, I hope you’ll spend time using the ideas in this article to pare back things that are unimportant to you with the ultimate goal of creating the life you want, both now and in retirement.