Some of the poorest people in the world are the happiest. I’ve seen it while travelling in the Philippines, Cuba and other parts of the world. Simple living is happy living.
Below are some thoughts and personal experiences in my quest along this road.
1. Reduce Noise and Distractions
Everyday life is full of small and unnecessary distractions – people trying to sell stuff, irrelevant information or activities that don’t add value. These things distract you from doing meaningful activities. Take a hard look and ask yourself; what can I eliminate?
If you already have a “No junk mail” sticker on the post box then go after the email inbox. I unsubscribe from 95% of the stuff that hit my email. Anything that persisted was marked as spam. Hate those Telemarketers calling at dinner? Find a service that bans or blocks them from calling. Absolute Gold!
Next look at non value adding activities. I was a News junkie – checking the news 5-6 times a day. Knowing 100 people were killed in Peru or what Trump said on Twitter wasn’t helping my day. I deleted my news apps from the phone. Surprisingly I didn’t miss anything – I would hear the most important stuff from conversations during the day.
Spending too much time on Facebook? I found a 5-10 minute look a few times a week was enough. I removed half my connections on there. Many of them I could not even remember who they were. I started to enjoy my feed more when it became more focused.
Still watching hours of TV? I got rid of my TV years ago. A Netflix movie every now and again is good enough. Be ruthless and eliminate. It will free up a surprising amount of time.
2. Give the Best hours of the day to Yourself
Most people give the best hours of their day to their employer. By the time they come home in the evening their brain is baked. The only thing they can do is watch TV until they are tired enough to sleep. Realize you are useless in the evening if you want to be mentally productive.
Go to bed early enough to get a full night’s sleep and get up 4 hours before you need to be at work. Physical exercise is always a great start to the day. I walk my dog in the forest and enjoy the quietness of the early morning. It’s a great time to think and collect your thoughts for the day.
Use an hour every morning to study something new – the mind is more likely to absorb new things when it is fresh. Continuous learning keeps the brain active and provides skills that can improve future prospects. It doesn’t really matter what you learn as long as you find it useful and challenging.
I love reading and have used my time to study books on Aviation, Personal finances and a bunch of other stuff. I also spend 30 minutes a day studying Finnish.
3. Get rid of Half your Stuff
We are a far cry from our nomadic ancestors – very few of us could fit our belongings in a full size semi-trailer, let alone on the back of a horse. How many people do you know that can’t park their car in the garage? Some even rent an additional storage unit to fit all their stuff. Things you don’t use clutter your life – plain and simple.
At Christmas I went through the boxes from my childhood – there were a few fond memories and keepsakes but most of it was junk. I got 3 boxes to 1 box with out much effort. I took that momentum and cleaned out the entire house. What an amazing feeling! You are left with the stuff you really like and there is no need to be bothered by the stuff you wish you had never bought.
If you haven’t used something in the last 12 months probably aren’t going to use it. If you feel sentimental about it put it aside for now. Convert everything else to cash on your favorite flee market website or a donate it to charity.
4. Put your Finances on Autopilot
Worrying about finances is a big cause of misery among people. Most financial stress comes form living beyond ones means or carrying too much debt.
A good rule of thumb is to allocate 60% of your income to living expenses, 20% to activities that you enjoy, and 20% towards improving your financial position (paying off debt or investing). If you are spending more than 60% on living expenses (housing, utilities, food, transport) then you either need to downsize your living or increase your income.
My wife an I had a big exercise to reduce our living expenses. It surprised us how much money we were spending on things we didn’t need: over-sized phone and internet packages, useless types of insurance, expensive lunches, the list goes on.
When the basic budget adds up and you have a plan to pay off debt and invest, then just automate the bill paying and enjoying your life.
5. Spend Quality time with the People you Love
When was the last time you spent quality time with your family – playing games with your kids, actively listening to your spouse or going out on a date together? It’s easy to get disconnected and be too busy for the most important people in your life.
I remember when my dad would come home from work, whacked from a long day, but still happy to go for a walk or wrestle on the floor. It’s those things I remember now and model with own kids. I also involve them in preparing food and after make a game out of cleaning the kitchen.
You don’t have to spend hours with everyone. 10-20 minutes of quality time is enough. Be present and involved a little before you head for your cave.
6. Guiltlessly Pursue your Passions
Not everything has to be about slogging your guts out. Find three hobbies you enjoy, schedule them in and make them happen. It’s called Guiltless play.
I love motorcycles, aircraft and writing. My wife prefers writing because it is my cheapest hobby. I try to fly 2-4 hours a month and ride the motorbike at least one weekend a month. Writing I mostly do in the winter when I can only think about my hobbies.
For you it might be jamming on the guitar, collecting stamps or eating moldy cheese – it doesn’t matter as long as it brings you joy.
7. Do something Meaningful
We feel good when we help people. Putting €10 in an envelope once a month and sending it off to a charity is too easy – there is a lot more we can do, and probably closer to home.
We all have skills and knowledge that can help others. Teaching people new skills is one of the most valuable contributions. It not only helps them today but will continue to help them in the future.
My mother and step father volunteered to help children in their local community with literacy problems. A small amount of intervention made a big difference to these kids. Who knows the knock on effects of their efforts.
It’s easy to get busy looking after our own families and to forget to help others. Just like pursing our passions, it needs to make it into the weekly schedule.