My husband Thom and I began living a more simple and sustainable life over ten years ago. In the beginning, the practice felt a bit awkward and required our conscious focus and intention to make the necessary changes. Gradually our actions became fluid and felt more natural. Most excuses and resistance simply faded away. Finally, after all these years I believe that our path to simple living is so deeply ingrained in us that it has become a habit that adds value to our lives every single day. Are we experts? Not hardly. But if we can do it, anyone can. So what if you’re just starting on the journey? My advice is to make the practice a habit as quickly as possible.
Here are three critical steps I believe are necessary:
#1 Focus more on the “why” you are doing it than the “how.” If you have been paying attention, you know that dozens of books, websites, blogs and even movies are currently focused on ways to “unclutter” your life. And while many of those outlets offer great information about how to go about sifting through your stuff, unless you have a strong “why” you, will likely return to your former habits after a while.
I think many of us are first drawn to simple living because we previously pursued a life in ways we thought would make us happy only to discover how empty that can be. Often our first thoughts are examining the details of our life, the over-stuffed clutter that takes more work to manage than expected and feel the need to sweep it all away. Instead, I recommend that we dig deep inside—that and talk it over intimately with our loved ones—and come to the clear understanding that all that stuff and clutter is not the happiness or satisfaction we really crave.
The basis of simple living or minimalism is the recognition that true happiness and peace of mind lie with an awareness of what really matters to us—and that seldom has anything to do with our accumulation of stuff. In fact, all those hours that we force ourselves to go to jobs we dislike just to pay bills often leads us to buy stuff just to medicate ourselves from the life dissatisfaction we’ve created. Instead, by stripping away all the clutter and distractions we’ve accumulated to dull our unhappiness, we uncover the satisfied, contented and rewarding life we desire.
Once most of you in the household (it might take some family members a while) catch on, you can then begin taking some of the actions. Plus, once you are clear on your “why” it will be far easier to explain it to anyone in the house that might continue to resist. Remember, if you’ve had your life ladder leaning against the wrong wall for years, it will require a significant change to move it to a wall that fits your new understanding. But bit-by-bit, even the most reluctant among you will begin to realize all the wonderful benefits such a transformation can bring about.
#2 Start every day reading or watching some new information about simple living or minimalism. Any thing we want to make a habit needs to be “fed” constant input to shift our mindset to a new way of thinking. First thing in the morning we are very susceptible to input that sinks down into our unconscious mind. By “teaching” our minds about this is new and important way of thinking, we set ourselves up for different actions we can take to fit it into our lifestyle in beneficial ways.
Keep strongly in mind that our old habit of just soaking up any and all news that we encounter first thing, and all day long, usually promotes the opposite of simple living. Nearly every television program, Facebook post, or many websites have the strong mission to entertain you while convincing you that you need their product or what they are selling, to create a happy life. It’s their job. If we slip into watching, reading or paying attention to messages questioning our need for what they are selling, we are usually mindlessly accepting messages of consumerism or competition with others without any awareness we are doing so. Ever wondered why you have accumulated so much stuff that doesn’t make you that happy? You’ve made consumerism a habit and opened yourself up to be sold anything and everything out there that others want you to buy.
Instead, by consciously start your day focused on information about what matters most to you and things that encourage your new habit. Reading stories about how others are learning to live a more rewarding and sustainable life will encourage you to do the same. Tips about ways to practice simple living will inspire you to make simple changes in your own life. Want minimalism to be a habit? Start every day with making it a priority.
#3 Develop a “tribe” of others who want to live like you do. Research shows that most of the time we hang out with people like us. Some of those studies even show that if you eat unhealthy foods, never exercise or do anything else in excess, chances are that many of your friends do exactly the same. If you are on welfare or other governmental assistance, chances are many of your friends are too. Humans tend to unconsciously gravitate to others who are like them in appearance, education, health, and actions.
It is exceedingly difficult to hang out with the Joneses and not get sucked into the idea that you deserve the same stuff as much (or more) than your friends and neighbors. No matter how focused we are, it takes a great deal of personal discipline to see attractive and interesting items –like a big expensive home, the current model of an automobile, the latest in technology, or the most visually gorgeous outfit—and not begin to wonder whether you should own it too. Add in a tiny bit of competition and comparison, and before we know it, we can justify just about any purchase for ourselves regardless of whether we need it or can even afford it. Easy credit just adds to the problem.
However, if most of your friends are also doing their best to focus on experiences rather than things, and live well within their means, your relationship with them will help you, not lead you astray. How do you know if your current friends belong in your tribe? In most cases, I think many people are aware of this if they just take the time to think it through.
Other than that, all you really have to do is start talking about the benefits of living a more simple and sustainable life and anyone not on board will likely just begin to fade away. If a person isn’t ready to get off the hamster-wheel of consumerism, chances are they want to get as far away from you as they can. Instead, focus on those who exemplify the habits and lifestyle you wish for yourself and your family.
Like most good habits with multiple rewards, the more you practice it, the benefits add up—making it easier as time goes by. Then, like my husband and I, you will likely find that nearly all your choices and decisions are guided by that deep acceptance you have for a lifestyle that rewards you on so many levels. Once minimalism and simple living become a deeply ingrained habit, you’ll probably ask yourself, like Thom and I did, “Why did we wait so long?”
I happen to call our version of simple living, “rightsizing” because it frees me to define our minimalist lifestyle in a way that fits our family in a unique way. Regardless of how others attempt to define the practice, discovering how it fits you and your family in the best way possible, is the SMART way to go. All that remains is making it a habit.
Your turn! Do you have any tips you’d like to add to help make the practice of simple living or minimalism a habit? Please share in the comments below.