Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.
I’ve felt like a swan too many times to count. Graceful, elegant and serene atop the water… Or at least, that’s what my family, friends and general passersby must think. Underneath the surface, I’m kicking like mad. It all feels like so much damn effort to even stay afloat, let alone look competent and well put together. Hell, it’s a full-time job!
Do you know what I mean?
If so, then you’re in the right place. Because this is your definitive guide to simplifying your life in ways which are manageable and sustainable for the long term.
I’ve worked hard to declutter both physically and mentally, and I can honestly say that I feel a lot lighter and more fulfilled. I’m more in alignment with myself, don’t sweat the small stuff (most of the time!), and as a happy and somewhat unexpected result, am more able to follow my passions and dreams.
It’s taken me a while to get all this figured out, so I hope this list goes some way to helping you do the same in your life!
If Only Simplifying Your Life Was… Simple
The difficulty in learning to tackle overwhelm, stress and decision fatigue is that you’re constantly focused on the physical symptoms: the house that never seems to be clean, deleting a hundred emails from companies you forgot you’d ever signed up to, or ordering takeout again because you can’t decide on dinner.
I can tell you confidently that if you spent even 10% of this time figuring out better systems to simplify your life at the root cause, you’d get a lot more done with a lot less effort.
I know, because in recent years I’ve made it my mission to live a more authentic life. If you’ve read Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, then you’ll know that this means going all in on vastly fewer things (read: the things that matter). By definition, it also means, well… actually doing fewer things, i.e. no more bending yourself into a pretzel or competing for that elusive superwoman status.
I should stress here that I don’t mean you should be lazy or not do anything, I simply mean that you need to work out what’s important and discard the rest. Then build daily systems around what you want to prioritise.
Simple in theory, right?
But in a culture where overworking, multitasking and doing it all are hailed as god-like attributes, this philosophy is counter-cultural. So this is going to take some new ways of thinking and talking to yourself.
Simplifying your life is anything but simple when you’ve internalised the message that life is hard, running yourself into the ground is the only way to get ahead, and your family will fall apart if you’re not the glue that binds everything together.
Well, hold tight, because I’m here to show you that there is another way…
How to Simplify Your Life
So without further ado, let’s get to it. Here are some practical, actionable steps you can take today, to set yourself up for success tomorrow, next week and even five years’ time.
1. Identify your core values
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you’ve got to know your ‘why’. Your core values are the foundations upon which you’re building your life, so spend time and lay the groundwork carefully.
If you take anything away from this list – do this. Because it truly is the key. Life becomes instantly simpler when you know what matters to you as an individual.
2. Say no to things that aren’t a ‘hell yeah!’
If you’ve not come across this famous phrase from entrepreneur Derek Sivers, then it’s a good one to live by!
A lot of life’s overwhelm can be stopped dead in its tracks by asking yourself this one simple question: Is it a hell yeah? For instance:
Is the person you’re dating a hell yeah? Or a… meh?
Do you even like that jumper you’ve not worn in over a year?
Your friends have invited you on the trip of a lifetime, but it’s expensive. Do you want to go?
There are no right or wrong answers by the way! It’s entirely down to your own gut feel – deep down, you know.
3. Use smart tech in your home
We live in an age where you can tap for a coffee on your smartwatch (if you’re still delving around in a bag full of stuff to find that particular debit card in a receipt-filled purse… stop!). You can track the amount of quality sleep you had last night. You can even have your morning coffee brewed and waiting for you by the time you get downstairs.
I’m a big believer in setting up simple systems that, once instigated, give and give and give on a daily basis. For example, program morning and evening routines on your Alexa to turn your lights on and off. Have a scheduled robot hoover go to work for you whilst you put your feet up. Or try the If This, Then That app.
Whilst some of these bits of kit may be an initial investment, they are so much more than fancy gadgets and will simplify home tasks like nothing else. Automation has honestly made a huge difference in my life!
4. Design your environment intentionally
This may sound both obvious and strange. But think about the purpose of the rooms in your home and how you use them.
When the vast majority of our living spaces are (quite literally) centred around a television screen, is it any wonder we waste hours of our lives sitting mindlessly in front of it? When your home office is a craft space, a home gym, a sofa bed and some boxes in the corner that never got unpacked from moving in… it’s no surprise you struggle to concentrate when trying to focus on work.
Think about the main purpose of each of your living spaces, as well as the kind of person you’d like to be and spend your time doing, then craft your furniture choices and environmental cues around this.
5. Let go of unhealthy relationships
You are the sum of the people you spend the most time with, so choose wisely.
You can greatly simplify your life by letting go of toxic relationships, or just ones that don’t make you feel good. Sometimes it’s easy to feel invisibly tied to the people around you, but remember that you are in control of who you do and don’t bring into your inner world.
When you stop seeking external validation and look inwards more for approval, you’ll be well on your way towards inner peace.
6. Avoid drama
On the back of the last point, I think it’s safe to say that we actually create a lot of the stress and drama in our lives. And this is usually because we’re addicted to our own individual pain and suffering.
If you have overly emotional responses to situations, then think about ways in which you may be the common denominator or looking for people to fix you. Remember: your happiness is your job, not someone else’s.
Similarly, stop bitching and gossiping if you truly want to live openly and authentically.
7. Develop a second brain
If you’ve not read Tiago Forte’s book Building a Second Brain, then firstly, what are you waiting for?! In it, he explains that our minds really aren’t designed for storing vast reservoirs of information, so the best thing you can do is… create a second brain.
This sounds complicated, but in reality, it’s as simple as using the notes app on your phone (or any notetaking software of your choice) to record snippets from books, to-do lists, things you mustn’t forget when you next go shopping, or that creative burst of inspiration which might otherwise have been lost forever. This means that you can recall things whenever you need, without relying on the whims of memory.
I strongly suspect that a lot of our overwhelm comes from juggling too much in our minds amongst all the other stuff vying for our attention. So if you have a way of systematising this knowledge bank, you’re always going to be feeling calmer and more in control.
8. Make time for a daily walk
Being healthy is simpler than you think – just try to get outside at least once a day for a short walk.
It also helps that everything just falls into perspective more when you’re out in nature.
You feel that interconnected one-ness with all living things. You’re not just you anymore, but part of the abundant energy running through the universe.
And that’s always a good thing to remember, because it takes you out of yourself and your own limited perspective (at least momentarily).
So put your shoes on and open your front door.
9. Base your diet around whole-foods
I just said it, but I’ll say it again. Living healthily is simpler than your think.
Start by buying ingredients that are what they are – fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes. If something has 20+ ingredients that you can’t even pronounce, then put it back on the supermarket shelf.
Your diet doesn’t have to cause you a headache, be restrictive or make you feel terrible. Learn to love real food again and feel better in the process.
10. Declutter your home
You may not realise it, but all that physical stuff you own is taking its toll mentally. We cling to things, believing that they make us happier, make us look better and actually serve some purpose in our lives (even though I know you’ve never even used that waffle maker!).
So you can simplify things greatly by saying goodbye to physical clutter. It may feel overwhelming at first and like you don’t know where to begin, but once you start, it will feel like a weight has been lifted from your shoulders.
11. Stop buying stuff you don’t need
The flip side of decluttering is to stop buying stuff you don’t need! More stuff equals more stress. I could go on about this all day, but suffice it to say that you can save money by buying less stuff, eliminate negative thoughts by not trying to keep up with the Jones, and just generally be at peace with less.
It’s extremely calming to enjoy life in a less materialistic and consumerist way. Read on for a more in-depth discussion on the topic here.
12. Simplify your financial life
Finances are one of our biggest sources of stress and worry in life. We’ve not got enough money, we’re spending too much of it on the wrong things, or we just can’t keep hold of it.
I get it, I really do! I used to think of my finances as a scary, maths-related, ‘proper adult’ kind of activity. But a few key principles have really helped to revolutionise my attitude towards money.
For example, stick to the 50/30/20 rule and you can’t go far wrong. This means that 50% of your monthly income should go on paying bills and other necessary fixed expenses. 30% should go towards fun stuff. And 20% should be put away for a rainy day in savings and investments.
Oh, and if you haven’t already, switch to a digital bank account. You can keep track of your spending and different pots of money so much more easily!
13. Have a digital detox
You know what’s incredibly peaceful? A clean inbox.
There’s nothing like the stress and overwhelm of an inbox with thousands of unread emails from brands you don’t particularly want to hear from. And before you know it, you’ve bought something you didn’t even know you needed (read: you didn’t need it!).
Digital clutter is a real thing so it’s time to get ruthless.
Too many emails? Hit unsubscribe. Too many files? Recycle bin and delete. Too many social media accounts that make you feel anxious and unworthy? Unfollow.
Rinse and repeat.
14. Cut screen time
For me, simplifying your life means doing more of what makes you feel fulfilled and content at a deep level.
And although watching TV can masquerade as a simple life or ‘downtime’, it’s really slowly eating away at your soul.
Limit your screen time, including time spent scrolling on your phone through social media.
In other words, create more and consume less.
15. Create a morning routine
One of the key habits to simplify my life has been the creation of a consistent morning routine.
This means waking up at a set time each day and making space first thing for the stuff that matters.
You can create routines that bring calm and clarity in the peaceful morning hours before everyone else is awake. This also then has a ripple effect on your decision-making throughout the day, improving feelings of well-being and general positivity.
Try creating a morning writing ritual or spending some time in silent meditation with visualisation techniques. Simple habits have compound effects.
16. Have a fixed weekly schedule
Putting your life on autopilot as much as possible means less decision fatigue and more brain power for the important stuff.
This definitely works better if you’re a personality type that prefers structure and organisation to spontaneity. But you can still have fun and play around within this system so that it works for you!
As much as possible, know what cleaning tasks you need to do each day. For example:
Monday is laundry day
Tuesday I clean the bathroom
Wednesday is hoovering
Thursday means dusting
Friday I tackle the kitchen
Breaking big overwhelming tasks down into small manageable chunks means that in this example, you clean as you go and your living space is calmer as a result. You can do much the same thing when it comes to a gym routine, batch cooking or figuring out a social schedule that works for you.
17. Stop multitasking & be present
One study found that only 2.5% of people are able to multitask effectively (and I’m even dubious about that!).
The problem with multitasking is that you put all of your energy into doing a lot of things, at best adequately. If you were to properly give each task at hand the focus and attention it deserves, just think how much quicker and more effective you’d be!
When you are juggling all the stuff that needs doing, you’re also not truly present. Clear the mental clutter and focus entirely on what is in front of you.
You’ll also learn to cherish the little things in life this way.
18. Prioritise experiences over things
Along the same lines, you can simplify your life exponentially by focusing less on what you have physically and more on the things which really matter.
Do you think you’ll regret the model of car you drove on your deathbed, or a lack of time spent with your loved ones?
It’s not a trick question. I think it’s an obvious answer for all of us, but in the bombardment of 24-hour advertising, it’s easy to lose sight of.
For a simpler life, prioritise day trips, make memories and laugh a lot with your nearest and dearest. Value presence over presents. You don’t need to spend money or accumulate stuff to lead a fulfilling life.
19. Start small, trackable habits
Self-discipline is self-love, or so I believe to be true on my journey towards simple living.
As Steve Jobs warns in the quote I began with, simplicity doesn’t mean easy. But the rewards of simplifying your life are almost too great to comprehend.
You don’t have to have complex systems in place. As we’ve already discussed, eating healthy food and getting daily exercise can be simple (although we often like to make them more complicated than they are!).
That said, the simple daily systems of ‘go for a 5-minute walk’ or ‘eat a healthy snack’ can be difficult habits to cultivate when you’re used to instant gratification.
Start your habits small so that you can’t fail. And read one of my favourite books Atomic Habits by James Clear for more practical advice. You can track your habits in a visual and motivating way with an app like Streaks.
20. Write a daily to-do list with one non-negotiable
Writing down your important tasks for the day may be age-old advice, but there’s a reason for that. It works!
The slight difference I make to the traditional to-do list is to set myself one non-negotiable task for the day. This is usually the ‘ugly frog’ that I don’t want to do, but will move the needle the most once completed and helps me to get out of my head and into the real world. The other jobs are then could-do’s or nice-to-haves.
This makes my life easier and makes me feel more productive rather than holding myself to an overwhelming to-do list.
21. Have a digital calendar system
I used to be SO disorganised. And that’s because I was relying on my memory when it came to organising my time.
If you haven’t already, I’d suggest a good digital calendar system so that you can set yourself reminders (honestly, my bins would never get taken out if it wasn’t for this!), input social dates and block out time chunks in your day. I just use Google Calendar (it’s free!), but there are plenty of options out there.
Like developing a second brain, having a calendar system means storing less in your head.
The beauty of a digital system is that you can make changes seamlessly whenever you need to, receive alerts and reminders, and just generally be a badass at organising your time!
22. Set yourself up for success the night before
I promise you, your future self will thank you for it!
Make your packed lunch, prepare your outfit and have a general tidy-up. Not only will you save time in the morning, but you’ll also feel calmer and less stressed as a result.
23. Cook one-pot meals in bulk
A simplified life starts with investing in a good one-pot pan (I wouldn’t be without this one). You can use it on the hob and even finish off dishes in the oven! One-pot meals pack in flavour, save space without tons of big pots and pans, and save time on washing up!
If you batch-cook meals that will keep well in the fridge or freezer, you can also portion yourself extra meals with any leftovers!
As I explain in my post on minimalist meal planning, I only cook for a couple of hours a week. This streamlined method is essential for simplifying my mealtimes.
24. Sign up for a recipe box delivery service
Alternatively, if you want the stress taken out of recipe hunting and grocery shopping, with step-by-step instructions for trying out new cuisines, then try a meal delivery service.
Pre-portioned ingredients and easy recipe cards will do wonders to simplify your meal planning. I’m sure if you give it a try you’ll see the benefits for yourself!
25. Create a minimal makeup & skincare routine
Here’s a fun experiment. Count the number of makeup and skincare products you own. Now tell me how many of them you actually use.
I think we’re all guilty of hoarding random beauty products we thought would be the miracle solution to all our problems… but just never quite lived up to the hype.
Start by decluttering your beauty products and investing in simple, clean and cruelty-free brands.
Once you have a good cleanser, toner and moisturiser, you only need minimal makeup for a simple ‘your skin but better’ look. You can reduce your makeup collection to 5 fundamental items: foundation, bronzer/highlighter (doubles up as eye-shadow), eyebrow pencil, mascara and a rosy lipstick (doubles up as blusher).
Putting on makeup can take an inordinate amount of time in the morning, so try to streamline this process. I’ve got my minimal makeup look down to about 5 minutes, whilst still feeling put-together and presentable for the day.
26. Brain dump before bed
If a lot of overthinking and anxiety stems from carrying too much in your head, then it makes sense to unload this.
I find that insurmountable problems feel a lot more manageable when I get things out on paper (or screen). If you’re feeling overwhelmed and your mind is like a hamster wheel at night when you’re trying to get to sleep, then empty your mind of anything and everything that is bothering you.
Add journalling into your evening routine and watch your stress melt away.
27. Set aside time to do nothing
The thought of scheduling time to do nothing may seem counter-productive or even overly indulgent.
However, it’s important to rest, relax and recharge. When you schedule downtime, you make doing nothing acceptable to yourself, and I find this helps to overcome the usual nagging feelings of guilt over things you ‘could’ be getting on with.
If your job right now is to relax, then that’s exactly what you should be doing. As a happy bonus, you’ll feel more energised when it comes to your scheduled daily tasks, too!
28. If it takes less than two minutes, do it now
Coined by David Allen in Getting It Done, this is a handy phrase to say to yourself when it comes to keeping on top of little things and not letting them build up.
I find this especially useful when it comes to home tasks I’m tempted to leave until later. For example, taking a cup downstairs or putting a plate in the dishwasher. These are things which, if all consistently ‘left until later’, have a snowball effect and quickly make an untidy house.
In my own experience, it’s amazing how this small mentality shift can change you from a messy person into a tidy person!
29. Eat slowly
A counter-productive ritual for me has been to stop trying to do a million and one things whilst I’m eating and just concentrate on the enjoyment of taste and texture. Whenever my mind wanders, I bring my attention back to an awareness of the task at hand.
Try to make sit-down meals based around good food and conversation a staple in your household. You can be content with a more Mediterranean way of life that takes things at a slower pace.
30. Create an organised capsule wardrobe
Reduce decision fatigue with one less thing to worry about. By creating a minimal wardrobe, you pare your clothing options down to only the essentials.
And the best bit? The contents are greater than the sum of their parts, because your wardrobe is now entirely mix-and-matchable with multiple ways to wear.
Read my beginner’s guide if you want to get started with creating a minimalist capsule wardrobe, or click for advice on how to embrace slow fashion.
31. Never go to bed with a dirty sink
If you want one tip that has truly been a cornerstone habit for simplifying my home and mornings, then make it your mission to never go to bed with a dirty sink.
Is there anything worse than coming downstairs in the morning to a pile of last night’s dirty dishes? A clean sink can’t be overstated when it comes to mental clarity and starting your day on the right foot.
32. Have a set bedtime
Evenings can be a neglected time where the hours run away with us (even if we’re super-disciplined with our morning routines!).
To get the best out of your morning, it’s essential that you get enough quality sleep. Ideally, you need 7-8 hours for optimum brain health, memory, focus and attention.
So don’t just set your alarm for the morning – set an alarm as a reminder to start your wind-down routine too! And don’t forget to stop looking at a screen at least 30 minutes before bed (ideally an hour). Your natural sleep hormones can kick in more effectively this way.
33. Practice gratitude & mindfulness
Finally, carve out a little space in your mornings and evenings to keep a gratitude journal or practice meditation.
By writing down 3 specific things you’re grateful for each day, you can learn to reframe your perspective. It helps you to focus less on the negatives and see the opportunity in all situations.
Time spent meditating is also a way of slowing down and keeping things simple, by realising that you are not your thoughts. You may experience resistance at first, but learning to sit with yourself in silence can be extremely peaceful and put things into perspective like nothing else.
Make More Space for the Things That Truly Matter
When your most valuable resource is time, it makes sense to take steps to simplify your life. This means that you can be more productive, enjoy your daily routines and make the most of all you really have – the present moment.
Work smarter, not harder! Simplifying your life may mean initial time and investment in setting yourself up for the long-term, but the results will be worth it. You’ll then have more time to make room for the things which light you up.
I hope that this post has given you some practical tips to try out in your own life. And if there’s anything that’s been a game-changer for you that I need to hear about, then don’t forget to let me know in the comments below!