My Life is too Complicated to Simplify


The thought of simplifying your life may seem completely out of reach for you today. Elaine St. James is a brilliant simplicity author and I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read her work until now. If I had read Living the Simple Life when it came out in the 90s, I would have thought, “Simplify this life? Not gonna happen.” I’m not sure if I would have laughed it off or cried about how complicated my life was. I probably would have ignored it, because thinking about it would have been too painful.

If you feel trapped in your busy, complicated life, take a deep breath and just consider what things could be like if most of the complications were gone. What would it feel like if your clutter was gone? What would it feel like if your debt was gone? How about family drama or all of the things you said yes to when you wanted to say no?  What about your job or commute? How would you feel if all of that was gone?

That might only be scratching the surface of your complicated life, so if you are completely overwhelmed with busyness and stress and think that the simple life will never happen in your lifetime, know this:

You are not alone.
Many of you reading this right now are thinking exactly what I would have thought if I had read Elaine St. James’ message before I was ready. It was a great idea, but not a great time for the great idea.

There is hope.
If today is not the day, tomorrow might be. Or maybe next week. When you are ready, the idea is here. The tools are here. The support is here. Simplicity will be here when you are ready.

It took years, decades even to accumulate clutter, debt and other complications so undoing that will take some time. Don’t compare your progress, set unrealistic deadlines or try to do it all overnight. Simplifying shouldn’t be added stress or pressure in your life. You don’t have room for that. If nothing else, simplifying should relieve pressure inch by inch.

Instead of taking on the simplicity movement all at once, choose one small thing to eliminate from your life. Then another and another. Slowly make room to consider bigger changes.

One of the reasons we keep our lives so complicated is so we won’t have to listen to our inner voice telling us what we need to do to make our lives work better -Elaine St. James

If I had heard those words in the 1990s, I wouldn’t have understood them. I didn’t know or trust my inner voice. If that sounds familiar, let these words be a soft whisper for today that get a little louder each day. And until you know or hear or trust your inner voice, let small actions speak to you. If the first step is only to set aside 5 minutes every morning to listen to your inner voice, that will be enough.

Don’t shut the door on a simple life, even if your life is very complicated. There is always hope in what you are willing to consider.



  1. Lisa says

    The thing I struggle with most is not convincing myself or my husband that we need to simplify (though it took time to get him on board), but rather trying to figure out how to deal with the constant influx of stuff from well-meaning relatives. We have a few family members who are always picking up things for us, even though they have no idea whether we need or want those things – toys, books, stuffed animals, kitchen equipment, clothing, bath products, and so on. If I try to explain to them that this isn’t working, there will be HUGE drama. It feels like the one area of our life that is never going to be less complicated.

    Great post! We are in an ongoing battle with our clutter, but we are winning. :)

    • NB says

      We have that problem too. It goes right back out the door – to salvation army, local shelters, free on craigslist etc. our housekeeper recently mentioned her daughter has her first apartment so she’s the beneficiary of that stuff too. If the well meaning family member asks I just say oh it must be somewhere.

    • Courtney Carver says

      Lisa, while sometimes a gentle conversation can help, other times it’s better just to keep doing what you are doing. They will get the memo.

      You are doing great!

  2. says

    One way to simplify is to opt for minimal space.
    This may be too harsh but consider this approach:

    That is reagarding space. One can simplify the
    money oart also. Consolidate all commitments,
    assets, payments and such.

    Most important part is to change on’es thginking.


    • Courtney Carver says

      Das, It really does come down to what we think about things. Great point.

  3. says

    Thanks for this reassurance, Courtney. My life was so complicated with working day and night and trying to meet everyone’s needs, I could never image anything else. It was like being programmed on automatic. Your message of hope helps us see possibilities that possibilities make dreams come true.

    • Courtney Carver says

      Sandra, I can tell you are seeing the benefits of simplifying things. Love it!

  4. says

    Thanks for this Courtney! I’ve been beating myself up on this exact topic! All the stuff accumulated over my “consumer years” is difficult to get through. In my head it’s already gone, but when I start working through things there are some treasures to save. It’s definitely a process to work through! Thanks a lot!

    • Courtney Carver says

      Hi Rob! It absolutely is a process. Remove the judgement and keep going. 😉

  5. says

    I read some of Elaine St. James’ books in the 1990’s. I remember craving simplicity back then, but felt like I couldn’t possibly do the things she recommended. I was too busy trying to do all of the other things I thought I should do (like work too many hours in a life consuming job I didn’t love so I could afford to travel and buy fancy things). Finally, in 2009, I hit my turning point. I was miserable and needed a change. I remembered reading those books and decided to see if simplicity would work for me. I didn’t start out with the intention to simplify everything about my life, but started with small changes. I found that with each change, I became a little more content and happy. You are right. There is hope. It is never too late to start listening to that inner voice. I am so glad I finally did.

    • Courtney Carver says

      That’s exactly how it was for me. I didn’t start simplifying to overhaul my life but that’s what happened!

  6. Trisha says

    This is spot on. We live in a society where we are used to having everything now, and it’s difficult to accept that undoing years of clutter and mess cannot be fixed immediately. When I get frustrated that my minimalism journey isn’t going fast enough, I remind myself that, though I am not there yet, I am so much closer than I was even three months ago.

    We hear the message when we’re ready to hear it. Posts like this are a great encouragement.

    • Courtney Carver says

      Thanks Trisha, The first year is the slowest or at least it was for me. Then things sort of take on a life of their own and simplifying becomes easier.

  7. says

    I felt the same when I started simplifying in 2010. But I persevered, gradually trading my old lifestyle into the new one that it is today, and I’m very happy and grateful I did!

    Wonderful post, Courtney!

  8. Natalie says

    Not sure where this quote comes from, but “when the student is ready, the teacher will teach”. How true this has been for me this year. At the end of last year, I was at the lowest point in my life, I did not understand why I was feeling the way that I was, even my husband could not understand why I was so dissatisfied with my life when I had so much to be happy for- family, friends, job, house etc…It was around this time that I heard about Eckart Tolle and read some of his books, he focuses on present moment living….anyway to cut a long story short, 6 months later and I come across The Minimalists and this wonderful site. I feel alive, and I have not felt this way in years. And Im excited because I know this is the beginning of a fantastic journey, so thank you!

  9. says

    Thank you for this post Courtney. I have found that when you are ready the change will happen in your life. There is an internal shift that just makes it possible. It happened for me during a time of crisis, but I have seen it happen for others in all kinds of ways. I really enjoy the Simplicity in Action stories you post each week. They give me inspiration and hope along the journey.

    • Courtney Carver says

      Thanks Sharon! I love those stories too because they really help demonstrate that this can happen in every walk of life.

  10. Anne says

    Thanks for sharing this quote, Courtney.

    It is now the wallpaper on my laptop – I needed to hear this today.

    I feel refocused to keep going with the sometimes uncomfortable but necessary changes I am making in my life.

  11. says

    I think any major lifestyle change that accompanies a paradigm shift can feel overwhelming at first. That’s actually something I worry about when I think about people reading my book. I wish I could sit there with them and force them to just reading one chapter at a time, letting the information sit and marinate for a while before moving on! I guess that’s why blogging is so great. :-)

  12. says

    This is an incredibly important point: “It took years, decades even to accumulate clutter, debt and other complications so undoing that will take some time.”

    A few people have situations where, for some reason, they must downsize and simplify quickly, but for most of us, it really is okay to spend years getting rid of what it took years to accumulate.

    As the tortoise learned, slow & steady progress wins the race!

  13. says

    I think you’re so right that everyone needs to get “there”, whereever “there” may be, in their own time. We do it when we’re ready and not a moment before. But in the meantime, it’s great to read these books and posts to plant the seed of an idea. I think it makes a huge difference. At least, it has for me.

  14. ez says

    hi, i accidentally find your blog. while im googlin for any other thing that i dont remember right now :) till then im reading again and again i find inspiration to “simplify”. and now whenever i want to buy something i think twice or three times. that made me happy at all not to buy what i really DONT NEED and never regret it :)

    im from Turkiye and in our tradition , keeping objects and gıfts that are gıven to you ıs so important, you cant just throw them away, its so awful and hurts the others feelings. and the other’s feelings is much more important than our own feelings!! nearly in all of the houses, millions of things that is not used but cannot be thrown away cause its a gift or a memory of bla bla bla. i always rejected this idea.

    when i was married 18 months ago and moved to my new apartment, i told myself “im not gonna collect those kind of stuff, my house will be clean and tidy”. when i accidentally start to read your blog 2 months ago, i tought my house was not so clutterded!!! but “give a try and look around” i told to myself, when i start my declutter projects ,inspired by you, i give away 5 big boxes of clothes, 5 big boxes of kitchen staff, bath staff and etc. that was a big SURPRİSE. i was living in my new apartment for only 1,5 years but i was already “complicated” and didnt even realized.

    then i planned a declutter project for my office desk and all the papers, catalogues, 3 calenders on my desk- as if one is not enough- are gone :) and they will never come back. of course they didnt gona with the wind :) i just filed my documents and archived them, throw away the unneccessary and it also took 3-4 boxes.

    im a new born “simplifier”. day by day im decluttering and creating a simpler life,

  15. Brenda says

    I’ve been trying to simplify my life for years. I go through things and donate many items to Goodwill. However, I find myself buying more things. A week and a half ago my mother who is 88 had a stroke. She has been living with me for the past 3 years. Experiencing this has me think that it’s all just stuff. I went from wondering if I would ever be able to have my mother back home with me to hearing that it is a definite possibility. We were thrilled at the news. Things that used to feel so important to me are definitely feeling a lot less important after going through this horrible situation. I feel so frazzled going through all of this and trying to plan how to shift things around to accommodate walkers and other medical equipment that she will need. When things get a little less hectic here, I’m going to be purging a lot more things and hopefully not go out and buy more. Going through this has definitely shown me what is truly important in life.

  16. Lisa beehner says

    Hi, does anyone know.if Elaine St John is still alive? She wrote so many good books about living simple