There is something in your life that could be made simpler right now. I know this because you are human, and we humans tend to make things more complicated than they need to be.
In our homes, in our work spaces, in our cars, in our routines, in our calendars, in our closets, in our garages, even in our relationships—if we aren’t paying attention, the less-important details will crowd out the essentials, every time.
Our counters get piled with mail and keys and that book we finished but never put back on the bookshelf. Our desks get covered with notes and invoices and drained coffee cups and empty tissue boxes. Our computer desktops get covered in files we haven’t opened in who-knows-how-long. Our calendars get packed with activities we never should have said yes to in the first place.
No matter what needs simplifying in your life—your wardrobe? Your morning routine? Your kitchen cupboards?—you can follow these same steps to figure out what you need, what you want, and what to let go of.
1. Clear the room.
If you can, start with a clean slate. Take everything out of the space you want to simplify. Empty your desk, or box up everything in your closet, or clear the calendar for the next week.
It sounds like a lot of work, and you might be tempted to skip this step. Don’t. Our belongings and our routines seem more important than they really are when they’re in their usual places. When you take them away, even just temporarily, you’ll be shocked at how few of those things you miss.
Plus, you might like the openness you discover. All that openness is not empty, and it does not need to be stuffed full again. All that openness is possibility. And isn’t that where you want to start? With a whole realm of possibility?
2. Choose a purpose.
This thing you want to simplify—this room, this counter, this calendar—what is the point of this space? What’s its purpose? What do you want to see happen here?
Right now this thing you want to simplify isn’t working for you the way it should. (If it was working, you wouldn’t have cared that it wasn’t simple.) Something about this area of your life hasn’t been serving its purpose, and the first step to fixing that problem is to decide what its purpose IS.
If you want your home to be a gathering space for friends and family, you’ll make different choices than if you want to create a private retreat from the world. If your purpose for your calendar is to be open to spontaneity, you’ll schedule things differently than if you want to maintain a comfortable routine. If your goal for your desk is to be ready for creative work at a moment’s notice, set yourself up to make that happen.
When you know what the point of the space is, you can make choices with that purpose in mind.
3. Check your heart.
Before you start to think about what you “need” to keep, ask yourself what you mean by “need.”
You don’t need to keep something because your mother expects you to, or because your neighbor keeps one, or because your best friend says you should. You don’t need to keep things because you might miss them, or because you might want them someday. You don’t need to do things just because everyone else does, either.
Designing your life around expectations, guilt, or fear of missing out will never lead to the simplicity you’re after. If you’re going to make things simpler, try letting go and making decisions from a place of curiosity, joy, or intention instead.
4. Know your needs.
Once you know what you want for this area you’re simplifying, and now that you’re watching out for those sneaky motives that might be throwing you off, you’re ready to start bringing things back in.
If something is useful and you use it, bring it back in. Find it a place in your life, give it a space in your desk drawer, set aside time for it on the calendar. The trick here is to not bring in things that seem useful but that you do not actually use (I’m looking at you, long-arm stapler).
You do not need to keep everything you’ve ever used. You do not need to keep every routine you’ve ever started. Only bring back what you need now.
5. Bring in the beauty.
“Simple” does not have to mean “only useful things forever amen.” Simple does not mean stark. Simplicity is about letting go of what isn’t essential so you have more time and space and energy for what matters most to you.
Usefulness isn’t the only thing that matters. Beauty matters. Art matters. Nature matters. Creativity matters. Whimsy matters. Surround yourself with whatever brings you joy, because joy is essential.
You know the old William Morris quote: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” No matter what you’re simplifying, you can make room for both.