Simplicity is Not a Destination

simplicitypractice

We have this obsession with arriving. As if we are meant to be in one specific place, state of mind or lifestyle forever and ever. And then, when that journey takes longer than we think, or transition is harder than we expected, we go in a different direction hoping to arrive somewhere else. Or, we beat ourselves up for not being as dedicated, fast, happy or brilliant as someone else on a similar journey.

Measuring success based on arrival time or place will lead to complete dissatisfaction. We don’t have ultimate control, everything is changing within us and around us and by the time we get to where we thought we were supposed to be, it doesn’t meet our expectations and we want something else.

I’ve gone through stages of frustration trying to reach a simpler place, and was curious about your experience. When I asked what was most frustrating to you, I realized that we all have similar struggles. These are a few of the responses I received on Twitter.

  • There seems to never be an end, no finish line for when I have arrived at the level of simplicity I am seeking.
  • I am frustrated that it takes so long to let go of the accumulation of 35+ years of excessive living!
  • Speed. I want it done NOW, and it’s all taking so long (and I’ve been at it for a long time already!)

Simplicity is a practice, not a destination.

While there may be exceptions, for most of us, simplicity is a daily practice and not some magical, clutter-free room where we arrive. Even when you are living a seemingly simple life, clutter accumulates, the unexpected phone call complicates your day, friends give you gifts that you don’t know what to do with, and family members aren’t on the same page.

All of those things happen and more. Life is messy. Instead of trying to change everything and everyone around you, accept that there is no finish line and no prize for having more or less. This is not a competition or a race. Simplicity is a practice. When you realize that the greatest benefits of simplicity come from the practice, you can start enjoying the process instead of being anxious to arrive.

7 ways to practice simplicity

Instead of working towards a goal that seems out of reach, implement a daily practice and start enjoying the rewards now.

1. Put you first.
You spend the day giving. You give your time, space and energy to your family, friends, work, and many other things. If you are lucky, you find a little time to unwind during the day, but it doesn’t happen every day. If you want to continue to give, you have to put you first. A morning routine (5-30 minutes) just for you every morning will change how you give. I created this microcourse to show you how, but you can start without it. Wake up 5 minutes early and move slowly instead of cursing the alarm clock and speeding through the morning making sure everyone has what they need. You first. It’s not selfish, it’s necessary.

2. Declutter everyday.
Keep a small box by a convenient exit in your home and drop things that you don’t use in it every day. When it’s full, tape it up and donate it. Repeat.

3. Build a $1000 emergency fund.
Even if you have debt, make a small contribution on a regular basis to build a $1000.00 emergency fund. It will simplify your life in so many ways. Unexpected expenses are stressful and can really complicate and shake up your life. Eliminate that stress with an emergency fund. It was our first step in becoming debt free.

4. Ask for help.
Host a simplicity summit with your spouse and/or family members. You can’t expect everyone in your family to be as interested in simplifying as you are, but include them and listen to them. Ask great questions. Celebrate progress and highlight some of the benefits you’ve enjoyed as a result of simplifying.

5. Document your practice.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember how much progress you’ve made. Write in a journal about your daily progress or photograph the things you are giving away. You could shoot before/after pictures of your rooms or even start a blog.

6. Connect without Comparison.
Connect with people sharing their simplicity journeys. Read books and blogs and connect with the writers on Twitter or Facebook. Don’t compare your journey, but share your experience. Ask questions. Be supported and inspired by like-minded people. And then support and inspire them right back.

7. Discover what you love.
Simplifying your life is rewarding, but you might get bored with the process if it is all-consuming. The best part of getting rid of the things that don’t matter, is that you build time and space to discover what is truly meaningful to you. Discover and engage. Simplicity paves the way for you to start doing the things you really love.

If simplicity is a practice and not a destination, you don’t have to wait to get started. You don’t have to be discouraged at how slowly or quickly it goes and you can measure your success in joy and happiness instead of arrival time and place.

Please share your simplicity practice, struggles and rewards in the comment section below.

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Comments

  1. Sheree says

    I am the one that posted about 35+ years of excess. Thanks for the post..I know my new way if living is not a destination but a way of life. Still…I can’t not help feeling guilty when I come across some item I purchased years ago…never used with price tag still on! 15 to 30 minutes a day with occasional all day purges has been working. I have a new endeavor I would like to pursue in my retirement but still don’t have the space to do it…so I will keep trudging along.

    • Courtney Carver says

      Sheree, The guilt isn’t productive or helpful. Turn your focus to the new endeavor and use that as motivation. You’ve spent enough time and money on stuff. Time to let it go and let the guilt go with it.

  2. says

    We’re always looking for the happy ending, aren’t we? But all of life is a practice! I appreciate this reminder that simplicity isn’t a destination as it can be yet another way that we pressure and put stress on ourselves.

    • Courtney Carver says

      Sandra, you are so right. We need to engage in the practice and stress less about the outcome.

  3. Jean says

    What helps me is that while back I made out index cards with things that took only 10 to 15 minutes each. I went through the entire house and yard. I followed the cards every day until I did not have to use them anymore except occasionally. I just follow each room around from left to right and clean what needs to be cleaned, etc. Then it is just a habit and kind of fun. I am back in the kitchen now and emptying drawers, cleaning them out and getting rid of what I have not needed and then cleaning the woodwork on the outside. Just what works for me.

  4. Thomas says

    Today I emptied a box full of toys from my childhood my parents kept for…, don’t ask me. Some nice memories came up and then I put the mass of it into a box for the fleamarket. I struggled a bit but by reminding me that I don’t need this stuff anymore, I could let it go.

    Simplifying is definetely a journey with ups and downs. The forth we come the ups will increase and a joyful and light feeling is coming up. That it is for me.

    Simply feels good!

    Thomas

  5. Nat says

    This is such timely and wise advice. You have just helped me realise I have been layering my efforts to create a more simple life with a heap of complicated expectations and deadlines. Old habits die hard. I have been a silent reader of your blog for a while now. Time I spoke up and thanked you.

  6. says

    Great – thank you! Although a morning routine with a two year old (who wakes me up a lot more than five minutes earlier than I would like!) is out of the question, we do clear time for yoga almost every morning and make time to do something creative and something special together every day. By not having to fret about what I don’t have or what I want to buy and gradually reducing the amount of cleaning and putting away of stuff by getting rid of it, we are finding more time to do things that we love doing

  7. says

    What a brilliant and satisfying post to read, thank you Courtney!

    I also enjoyed substituting the word ‘life’ in your final sentence which I found encouraging – no need to wait to get started on living life the way we want to (whether that’s simply or otherwise), no matter how small the steps we need to take initially.

    “If life is a practice and not a destination, you don’t have to wait to get started. You don’t have to be discouraged at how slowly or quickly it goes and you can measure your success in joy and happiness instead of arrival time and place.”

  8. says

    Great post as usual Courtney! Been following you for quite a while now and it never ceases to amaze me how inspiring the advice you share is, keep up the great work!

    In my slow journey to enlightened minimalism, my new rule regarding the acquisition of stuff is that it absolutely “MUST” come with a great story. No more buying because it’s pretty or would match perfectly with what I already have, it’s got to have some meaningful impact that I love to share about it. At the minimum… of how it inspired me or represented a milestone in my life. This rule for me not only impacts the new things but helps to discriminate against the old, when I finally let them go.

  9. Mafalda says

    Some months ago, I was leading a life of chaos: not knowing when to turn left or right, when to choose my needs or the needs of others, when to do what seemed urgent and what really gave me pleasure.
    Finding minimalism and simple living has been absolutely life changing for me.
    I’m a wife, a mother, an outside-of-the-home-worker and, naturaly, many other things.
    During the week, I strugled to get to work on time, always rushing my three-year-old child back and forth. I was mad at my husband for not hurrying up as much as I thought he should. I would get to work and juggle all my tasks, while answering to other people’s constant requests and e-mails that appeared as never ending.
    On the weekends, I seemed to be constantly tidying up, cleaning, cooking, washing dishes and so on. My daughter wanted to play with me and I was unable to let go of the domestic tasks and put her wishes first.
    Sad, sad, sad…
    Then, one day, I decided that I needed to change the way I was living: my daughter deserved a better, more relaxed mom. One that played with her more often, one that didn’t yell or get mad when she just wanted to have a little bit more of me. And my husband deserved someone who smiled more and also to get his easy-going and relaxed girlfriend (me, in case your wondering) back.
    I know, sad, sad, sad… I’m on the verge of tears while writing this, but it’s the truth.
    I grew up thinking that I would have a great life, one where I could buy everything I wished for. I’m not talking about Ferraris, or mansions on the beach, but things that middle class people tend to look at as necessary to still be considered “middle-class”. Yes, the life of appearances.
    But, I realized, those things were making me miserable. The way I was taking care of me and my family made me miserable. I was overweight, stuck at work and, I felt, walking towards the abyss.
    So, a year ago, I joined a gym and lost 25 pounds since then. Along the way, I started to declutter our apartment and my desk at work. And that made all the diference. I altered my mindset and began to feel calmer and more focused. A thoroughly different person.
    How did I get to know simple living concepts? I’m Portuguese. Rita Domingues, a Portuguese marine biologist, has a very interesting blog (http://busywomanstripycat.blogspot.pt), where she talks about these concepts. It was my first contact with this way of living. Then came Coutney (of course), Leo Babauta and many others. I read several books on the theme and started to get rid of things that I didn’t need and learning that making time for what we love is easy.
    There is still a lot of work that can be done: yes Courtney, it’s a journey, not a destination. But I believe that the slower you do it, the more mindfully it will be done and its effects will certainly last longer. We are animals of habits, but it’s really easy get of track and let go of our routines, no matter how great they are.
    Simplifying has changed my life. For the better. For the BEST!
    Take care.

  10. says

    What a great lesson. It’s very difficult NOT to think about simplicity as a destination. But, alas, it is a bit like the horizon…always receding as we approach it!

  11. says

    Hi Courtney and thanks for a great post :)

    I’ve been living a simple life for over twenty years and I STILL feel like I’m not fully “there” yet! Which, in a way, is the beauty of life and living. There’s always something coming out of left field that tends to challenge are beliefs and/or ideals. The trick is to embrace the overall concept of simplicity, then work down from there until your able to deal with whatever “drama” you face, on your own terms.

    Hope that made sense!

    Take care and thanks again for all your efforts. All the best.

    Lyle

  12. says

    I love number 2 and 3:) Taking it one step at a time. I get so overwelmed if I try to do to much in a short time. Especially, since it does take quite a bit of brain power (at least for me) to figure out if I need to keep something or let it go.
    I find it hard to start saving up for an emergency fund when we still have so much debt.. is there a line you think, of when to start or is it always better to just start saving up right away?.. probably, since it eliminats stress.. I just find it difficult:/

  13. says

    I became interested in the tiny house movement about a year ago. Before that was several blogs on simplifying one’s life. I moved in with a daughter in Michigan last winter but decided I wanted to return to live in the west. In order to do that I could only take with me what I could fit in my car. The previous year I had all my personal possessions in storage paying $80 a month. I kick myself every time I think of that. Then when I sold or gave away most of my stuff I felt a sense of relief. There are times though when I think I’m still mourning my possessions. I had a great library that I had built up. I love to cook and had gobs of kitchen tools and equipment. I comfort myself in these times of sadness by thinking of myself in a nursing home someday or after my life is over. I can’t take any of that stuff with me and my family would just donate or throw it away. Wow…that’s a wake up call for me.

  14. Gail says

    Even though I generally am not a saver, I still have way too many things. I prefer order and simplicity, but I haven’t always had it. I still don’t have it to the degree that I would like, but I’ve been seriously working on downsizing my stuff for at least a year now, and reading about it for a lot longer. Lately, I’ve been thinking that it is taking such a long time to get where I want to be with simplifying my life. There’s still a long ways to go. So it is enlightening, indeed, to read that simplicity is not a destination! This is about the 3rd time in a few weeks that I have read this same idea. It’s beginning to sink in. I truly thought it WAS a destination, and I was eagerly waiting my arrival. But, you’re telling me I will be doing this all my life? As an ongoing thing? Surely, though, if I’m persistent enough I should get to where I can look around my home and see neat, empty spaces, right? I hope to get to a point where the only things that are in my dresser drawers and closets are the things I use regularly (other than out-of-season items). I know that if I could let go more easily, I could make my goals happen sooner. I ask myself, why can’t I just scoop up all the excess and haul it off and be done with it in a day or two? Why has it taken a year already? Does anyone else have this frustration? I know you will say to let myself off the hook and lighten up, but I just want a simpler home very badly.