Simplifying your life doesn’t have to be complicated but it does require thought. In Keeping Life Simple, Karen Levine shares 7 guiding principles to help us have more time to do the things we love – and to figure out what those things are.
You Can’t Buy Peace Of Mind
It was Saturday morning and Kelly woke up in a foul mood. She was tired of juggling a demanding job, a house that was in constant disarray, and a husband and children that always seemed to need something – forms completed, lunches packed, arguments settled, and on and on.
Although she didn’t really need anything specific, she decided to give herself a break and go shopping; it seemed to be one of the few outlets available to her to make herself feel better. She left her husband in charge of the house and children and headed for the mall.
Kelly came home hours later with bags of clothing for herself and the children and several new household items. But as she unloaded her purchases and looked around her, she did not feel the renewal she had hoped for. If anything, she felt worse. She had a stack of new clothes, but hadn’t really stopped to consider what she or the children actually needed and many of the new things didn’t go with anything they already owned. And where was she going to put the new lamp and that plaque that looked so cute in the store? Her shelves and most other surfaces were already overflowing with things.
Still under a black cloud, Kelly went to the kitchen to prepare dinner. Her one day off this week had not gone the way she had imagined. And tomorrow it would be time to start preparing for the next week.
You Can’t Get Enough Of What You Don’t Want
Many of us find ourselves from time to time, like Kelly, with too much to do, too many demands, and our living spaces, our calendars, our lives cluttered with things we don’t really want or need. In fact, a survey by The Harwood Group found that 95% of respondents considered their fellow Americans to be materialistic or very materialistic. 82% agreed that we buy and consume far more than we need and a full 93% agreed that “the way we live produces too much waste”.
More than half (66%) of respondents said they would be much more satisfied if they could spend more time with loved ones. Asked what keeps them away from family and friends, people cited the need to “keep up or to get ahead“. As a woman from Dallas stated: “you have all this money but no time to slow down and enjoy it.“
[The Harwood Group]
“Keeping Life Simple”
Karen Levine is an award-winning radio producer for Canadian CBC Radio and the author of a number of books, including Keeping Life Simple: 7 Guiding Principles, 500 Tips & Ideas. In this book, Karen introduces 7 principles for simplifying our lives as a way to address some of the issues faced by those of us who have more stuff and less time than we want.
The 7 Principles are:
- Relax your standards.
- Free yourself of stereotypical roles.
- Take time to figure out what you find most satisfying.
- Create time for the things you care about.
- Learn to enjoy what’s in front of you.|
- Learn to be flexible.
Let’s take a quick look at each one.
Relax your standards.
The first step is to examine your standards. We have standards and that’s generally a good thing. In fact, I advocate holding yourself to high standards. But these high standards should be ones you have set for yourself, that you aspire to for your own good reasons.
If, on the other hand, you are trying to live up to someone else’s standards – in order to please your mom, your dad, your spouse, your boss, or your next-door neighbor – now may be a time to stop and ask yourself “why?”
“If you’re struggling to meet standards because you find the effort satisfying,” Karen writes, “then by all means, struggle on . . . But if meeting your standards leaves you with too little energy to enjoy other things, it’s time to relax them.” [Levine]
Free yourself of stereotypical roles.
Sometimes we find ourselves doing certain tasks because “that’s what women do” or “that’s what men do”. Hopefully, the more we view each other as individuals rather than members of a certain group, the more this will change.
We all have different tasks that we must do – sometimes by choice, sometimes because there is no one else to do them. But if you find you are doing things that you don’t like to do just because you fit a certain role – mom, dad, wife, husband, father, mother, daughter, son, employee, consumer, etc., etc. – maybe it’s time to rethink those tasks.
As Karen says, “It makes no sense to expend energy doing things you’re neither good at nor enjoy simply because those are the things that men or women are supposed to do. Think about all that needs to be done in a day, then divide up the tasks based on inclination rather than on stereotypical roles.” [Levine]
Take time to figure out what you find most satisfying.
Habits are powerful forces for good – helping us improve our health, our performance and abilities, and most aspects of our lives. But, writes Karen, “We all get into ruts, doing things out of habit rather than because we truly want to do them.” [Levine]
Sometimes, like Kelly in the opening story, these habits lead to mindless accumulation and clutter. Rather than mindlessly continuing to pursue activities that are not fulfilling, make a conscious effort to examine the results you are getting in your life. What’s working now? What changes could help you have a more satisfying life?
Create time for the things you care about.
“The purpose of taking time to think about what it is you care about (Principle #3) is to make time for those things in your life.” [Levine]
Making these changes, dropping unhelpful activities and adding more enjoyable ones won’t happen spontaneously. You must first decide what you want to add, then find a time when you can add them.
Begin taking steps to drop the old, unhelpful habits and replace them with more satisfying ones.
Learn to enjoy what’s in front of you.
We have goals and aspirations and that’s good. But don’t postpone all your enjoyment to some future day when your goal is achieved. That’s one reason Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoon, says, “Goals are for losers.”
Take your “outcome goal” – the one where you are only successful when you complete it – and turn it into “process goals” – behaviors and actions which you do every day.
“There is a value in having a long-range perspective on life,” writes Karen, “but there is also a value in being able to live in the moment. . . There’s a skill involved in looking at what’s in front of you and finding the gift in it.” [Levine]
As I often remind myself, in the words of Byron Katie: “Love what is.” [Katie]
Learn to be flexible.
(but cultivate consistency too)
“A foolish consistency,” Emerson told us, “is the hobgoblin of small minds.” And, adds Karen, “Rigidity is the hobgoblin of an unsatisfying life.” [Levine]
Consistency is important when we are developing helpful habits to automate desired behaviors. But mindlessly following a set of behaviors that do not serve us is, well, foolish.
Philosopher Brian Johnson at optimize.me encourages us to think of the River of Flexibility flowing between two banks. On one side is Rigidity, on the other, Chaos. If we get too far toward the first bank, we become inflexible. Too far to the other side and we lose all structure. The ideal is to keep to the middle of the stream so we enjoy both structure and spontaneity. “Keep in mind,” says Karen, “that there’s a fine line between being flexible, being wishy-washy, and being rigid. It’s a line worth exploring!” [Levine]
When you feel overwhelmed with too much stuff and too much to do and everything seems critical, it can be hard to decide what to do first, what to do next, and what to do not at all; or even to think you have the time and space to make a decision.
Dr. Stephen Covey explains in his book, The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People, that we have a “circle of influence” and a “circle of concern”. By working in the circle of influence – those things we can change – the circle gets larger and the things over which we have some control increases. [Covey]
“Clearly, we all have things we must do that we wish we didn’t have to do,” Karen writes. But you may “. . . be surprised to discover just how much choice you have about where your energies go.” [Levine] Especially as you begin to work in your circle of influence. Taking even a few minutes to prioritize can help you gain more control over your time and your life.
“As a rule, when we crawl into bed at night our sense of satisfaction is rarely commensurate with the amount of energy we’ve expended just doing all the things we’ve needed to do to make our way through the day.” [Levine]
To cope, we look for shortcuts, seek ways to become more productive, try to work harder or work longer. But, says Karen, a better way may be to examine how we spend our time and what we are doing with it.
Here are 5 questions to ask yourself periodically, especially if you feel you are being dragged down by too much to do.
- What am I doing?
- When am I doing it?
- How satisfying or pleasurable is it?
- How efficient am I?
- What role am I in?
Less Is More
Clutter – whether it is physical stuff, activities, or other peoples’ demands – consumes our time and complicates life. As Karen reminds us: “Our goal is to have a little breathing room, timewise. We’d all like more time to spend on more satisfying activities. In order to do this we must simplify – reduce the time spent on unrewarding activities or, where possible, eliminate them altogether.” [Levine]
While there are things you must do, whether you like to do them or not, this doesn’t have to define your life. Excelerate with Karen Levine and the 7 principles for keeping life simple. Simplify and gain time to do more of the things that bring you joy. That is embracing the Excelerated Life™!
Excelerated Simplicity™ — freeing yourself from unnecessary complexity — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing and well-being and a life of meaning, purpose and service.
Covey, Stephen R. The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989.
The Harwood Group. “Yearning for Balance – Views of Americans on Consumption, Materialism, and the Environment.” Sustainable Consumption & Production. IISD Reporting Services, a division of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), July, 1995. Web. July 10, 2020.
Katie, Byron. Loving What Is. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2002.
Levine, Karen. Keeping Life Simple: 7 Guiding Principles, 500 Tips & Ideas. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc. by arrangement with Storey Publishing LLC, 1996, 2003.