Simplicity in Action: Jill

Editor’s Note: This is a post in the series, Simplicity in Action.


I used to spend a lot of time shopping because I’d been told stuff would make me happy. I used to drink because I’d heard it would turn every event into a party and was a good way to make friends. I used to watch a lot of television because I was under the impression it was relaxing. I used to be busy and stressed at work because it was clear that overwhelm was the way to prove you were good at your job. I used to diet and work out in order to lose weight because it had been suggested that something was wrong with my body. I used to numb my feelings because I thought they were a sign of weakness.

In my efforts to be happy, loved, relaxed, successful, healthy and strong, I only managed to make myself miserable. I was smashing myself to bits.

I opted out. I got clear about what I wanted, what I needed, how I wanted my life to be. I stopped shopping for fun. I decluttered my home, getting rid of anything that I didn’t love or use, everything that was no longer serving me. When I needed something new, I shopped with intention, knowing what I wanted. I stopped drinking. I canceled my cable and started reading more. I renegotiated my job so that I only worked nine months out of the year instead of 12. I stopped dieting, no longer weigh myself or use that as a measure of how I’m doing, as an indicator of my health. I eat what I want when I am hungry and I stop when I am full. I move my body the way it wants to move, for the sake of moving and how good it feels. I get more sleep, going to bed early and getting up early. I started practicing yoga and meditation. I have a daily writing practice, have a blog. My dogs and I take long walks together, twice a day. I took enough ecourses – subjects like creativity and mindfulness and courage – to have earned a graduate degree, a curriculum of my own design. I keep my heart open.

This didn’t happen all at once, or even quickly, and my path was not a straight line. It’s taken many years of effort. Some things I’ve done once, only to have to start again. Some things I’ve had to repeat, over and over. The clutter of my life creeps up on me when I’m distracted. I still get overwhelmed, and even without cable I can manage to watch too much television. And yet, when I consider how I rehabbed my life, the steps were simple.

1. Know what you want. What do you want from your life? What do you want it to feel like? How do you want to spend your days? What do you value? What are you most interested in, curious about, in love with? Be clear about what you desire, what you dream of, what you want. It will make the steps you need to take to get “there” so much clearer.

2. Learn to say no. At first this is much more difficult, and you might lose friends and irritate people. They’ll be confused why you don’t like to do the things you used to, the stuff they like. You’ll also have to say no to yourself sometimes. This gets easier once you understand that by saying no to something, you are actually saying yes to something else.

3. Clear a space. This relates to environments both internal and external. Clear out any clutter that might block you or act as an obstacle – in your home, your schedule, your heart, your mind, your relationships. Get quiet, be still. Keep your heart open.

4. See your life as practice. It is regular, ritualized, and disciplined, a commitment. And yet, as practice you can let go of perfection. You accept that you are “just practicing,” coming back again and again in order to develop and deepen. At any time, you can take a fresh start, begin again.

5. Find a community. Somewhere there are other people who are weird like you. Seek them out. Request their support, gain their friendship, and offer the same to them. Be accountable, show up and be seen.

6. Don’t judge your success using external standards. How someone else measures your happiness or success doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you think. You are the one who has to live it.

7. Start where you are. You could ignore everything else, the whole rest of the list and just do this. Waiting for the perfect time, when you are less busy or confused, or more sane or inspired is a waste of time. Begin where you are, as you are.

Read more from Jill at Thousand Shades of Gray.


  1. Linda says

    Beautiful Jill, and just what I needed today! Thank you for being the woman that you truly are and for sharing her with the world!


  2. says

    Jill, I have loved getting to know you through your blog and you’ve pointed me in so many good directions. You are also a gifted writer! I usually skim articles and I read every word of this :) Thank you for being you!!

  3. Bill M says

    I like number 7. I’ve not made any New Year resolutions. 2013 was one thing, organize. Well, I find I am no more organized than any other year. 7 sounds good.

    The whole post is great. When I lived in the country I found life simpler. Now I live in a city and life…well, I’ll say it is much better in the country.

    • says

      I am such a big fan of starting where you are, Bill, disorganized as it might be, and the last resolution I made, the only one that was ever successful, was three years ago when I resolved to “be a better friend to myself.” And I know what you mean about living in the country. I grew up in a town of 835 people, farm country, wide open space, and now I live in a town of 150,000 and the energy, even if I don’t leave my house, is just so different.

  4. Dipti shah says

    Crisp and well articulated, have been following Courtney since last year but first time I am commenting – was always the audience and now I want to take baby steps into the actual action field.
    Wish me luck – hope to join you amazing people who have discovered sn much energy by simply being simple
    Courtney – you are my inspiration and I am truly proud of you – I see so much likeness in you and me yet I am so far away from being really you – on my wish list this year – I just have to make it happen !!!

    • says

      I’m so glad you are commenting, Dipti! I am wishing you so much luck. Starting with a clear intention, knowing what you want is powerful.

  5. Rose Cole says

    Well done Jill! I am effectively going through the same transformation right now. I awoke on the morning of August 12,2013 to a stroke. After my discharge, I was lying in bed the morning of my first physical therapy session and I realized that if I did not get off there “hamster wheel” I was on I was literally going to die! I pulled my laptop onto my lap and found Courtney’s website and others like it, and began to rebuild my life into the way I always wanted to but did not take the time act upon it before.
    I began by climbing out of my bed and decluttering alittle at a time, resting, declutter alittle more, resting. Do yoga. Rest. and so on. Now, almost 6 months later my home has been transformed into a serene oasis and I try to approach everything I do with mindful intention and GRATITUDE.
    I am about to return to the workplace but this time I refuse to become a “wageslave” working overtime to pay for stuff I don’t need and my occupation will no longer define who I am and rule my life as it did before. Our lives should be so much more than what we do for a living. 2014 is the year I will finally be free.

  6. says

    I’m so sorry that your transformation had to come in such a difficult form, Rose, but this is so often how it happens. For me, it was the loss of two beings I loved dearly to fatal cancers. I was compelled to honor their loss by starting to truly and honestly live. I love the way you’ve been able to make your life into what you want, how you want to live and feel.

  7. Alix says

    What kind of job do you have that you negotiated a nine-month work schedule? That sounds fabulous!

    • says

      I work at a university, Alix, so it was easier to do than it would be in the private sector. We have a summer session, and I do end up doing working a little during the summer, but my actual contract is mid-August to mid-May. I did take a pretty big pay cut to be able to do it, but so far it’s been worth it.

  8. says

    Wonderful points! Know what you want speaks the most to me – not what others want for you, but what you want for yourself. Thank you for your story.

    • says

      Yes, it’s so important to claim your own life on your own terms, to want what you want and know that you have the right to want it, to pursue it. I hope you have that, or at least feel yourself moving towards it.

  9. says

    What a great post!
    I recognized myself in the first part, and working on the rest. Thanks for your inspiring story!

  10. says

    Jill! What an inspiring post! I love, love, LOVE the idea of “taking enough e-courses – subjects like creativity and mindfulness and courage – to have earned a graduate degree, a curriculum of my own design.” I have a graduate degree in law, and that’s excellent, but I love the idea of a graduate degree in courses that make my heart sing, taken over time Could you give a few examples of course that you took and where online you took them? I’m fascinated. Thank you!

    • says

      Lisa, I wrote a longer answer to your question, complete with links, but it’s still “awaiting moderation,” so here’s the info, just without the links: Great question, Lisa. In no particular order, I’ve taken classes with Andrea Scher, Brene’ Brown, Susannah Conway, Susan Piver, Rachel Cole, Laurie Wagner, and Pema Chödrön, just to name a few! Lots of things related to courage, creativity, and mindfulness.

      • says

        Thanks for your reply, Jill! We certainly have a lot of favourite authors and teachers in common. Courage, creativity and mindfulness is a graduate degree in life well worth creating.

  11. says

    What a beautifully written and inspiring post! It’s a pleasure to meet you Jill. I too also love the “a curriculum of my own design”. I have a bachelor’s in accounting and had considered whether I should get a MBA or a Masters in Human Resources (Financial Controllers are often tasked with overseeing HR as well so I’m knowledgeable in that area too). Then I realized that’s not what I needed or what would truly enhance my life and help me to evolve. So, instead I take courses in writing, photography and technology. I also read as much as I can get my hands on about design and not just the home fun stuff but product/graphic/social/industrial design too. My personality is split right down the middle between analytical and creative and it was about time I take care of the creative side as well. So, I feel the same. I’m getting an education. I may not have a piece of paper to show for it but I’ll definitely be better off. I’ve never visited your blog but definitely will as you are farther along on the journey to a less is more life than I am.

  12. says

    As soon as I read about walking with dogs and taking creativity e-courses, I knew it was you! I love what you’ve written here and how it reminds me of so many truths I forget about. You are trusting yourself and it is so beautiful.

  13. says

    Jill, thank you so much for these wise and inspiring words. I have the most trouble with #6 but I am slowly learning and growing and trusting in myself. Thank you for sharing your story!