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Five ways to simplify your life

  • Be intentional about the choices you are making.
  • Simplify your time.
  • Simplify your family life.
  • Slow down and be present.
  • Give yourself the gift of quiet time.

“All of us yearn for a simpler life in which we can be more present,” says Mary Pipher, clinical psychologist and best-selling author. In this article, she shares advice on how to slow down, relax, and achieve a greater sense of happiness and peace in life.

Be intentional about the choices you are making.

Simplifying your life and maintaining a sense of balance and calm is a challenge, says Dr. Pipher. But it can be done. Here’s how:

Be intentional—purposeful. Set priorities and keep your deepest goals in mind as you make decisions about how you will spend your time, pursue your goals, and manage your expectations. What are the essentials that matter the most to you? Time with friends, family, people you love? Time for yourself? Time outdoors in nature? All of us are more likely to achieve simplicity if we keep our deepest goals in mind, says Dr. Pipher.

Redefine what wealth means to you. What makes your life truly rich? How would you define the richest of all possible lives? For you, wealth might be the number of times each week that you are able to sit down together as a family and share a meal. It might be the number of times you are able to visit with close friends. Dr. Pipher suggests that as you think about your own definition of wealth, have this as your goal: “More fun and less stuff.”

Simplify your time.

When talking about time, Dr. Pipher makes the distinction between minutes and moments. Minutes are the time we spend rushing through our busy lives—working, multitasking, and getting things done. “Moments are the times in which we’re fully present and we’re not aware of time at all,” says Dr. Pipher. “One way to define wealth is the number of moments we experience in our lives.”

To achieve a simpler life, you must simplify your time—by cutting back on activities and multitasking in order to carve out time for more moments. Here are some suggestions:

Block off time on your calendar to simply do nothing. Mark off a morning or a day on your calendar, in the not-too-distant future, to take time off to do nothing. Don’t make a plan. When you wake up that day ask yourself, “What do I truly want to do today?” That’s a harder question to answer than you might think, says Dr. Pipher, because we all have so many things we think we should be doing. Asking, “What do I want to do today?” requires you to go deeper and to think about what it really is that you need to be happy. Answer that question, and then use that time to do what you really feel like doing.

Set limits to protect your time. If you add an activity to your life, remove an activity that takes up an equal amount of time. For example, if you agree to start walking two mornings a week with a friend, subtract an activity that takes up that same amount of time. You can’t keep adding activities to your schedule if your goal is to achieve a simpler life.

Make time for small, simple pleasures. Watching rain fall, playing with the cat, or simply sitting and drinking a good cup of tea with someone you love—all of these things are deeply calming and refreshing.

Simplify your family life.

Too much information is coming at us all the time through too many channels, says Dr. Pipher, and that changes family relationships. In our tech-driven, rushed, multitasking world, nothing is simple anymore. Family holidays are more complicated. Vacations are more complicated. Even a simple walk around a lake is more complicated (we have our smartphones, kids have theirs, and everyone’s tethered to earplugs and music).

Here are ways to make your family life simpler, less complicated:

Unplug and spend a weekend living the way people did in the past. Turn off all your machines—no TV, computers, or phones. Read books. Play cards and board games. Sit and visit. Cook. Take walks. You don’t need to go away to a cabin in the woods to create an old-fashioned weekend (although that would be nice!). By simply turning off technology and living in the present for a weekend, you can create this kind of quiet time.

Protect time with the people you love. Have meals together without anyone picking up the phone or watching TV. Protect the time you’ve set aside to be with your partner.

Make time for the simple things. Research shows that what adults remember from their childhoods with the greatest happiness are vacations, time outdoors, and family meals. They don’t have to be elaborate but consider making those three things priorities in your family.

Create a “calmness space” at home. Set aside a specific room, corner, or chair where parents and children can go when they’re stressed or upset or when they need to calm down and want to be left alone. When someone goes to the calmness space, it lets others in the family know to leave that person alone so that they can calm down.

Help your child learn and understand gratitude. Find opportunities to ask, “What do you feel grateful for today?” Ask children what they feel grateful for after a visit to their grandparents or a visit to the beach. You might also suggest that your children keep a gratitude journal that lists things they’re thankful for. And set a good example by letting them see you keeping one yourself.

Slow down and be present.

By simply slowing down, it’s possible to orchestrate meaningful moments and to be present in those moments. When families slow down, turn off their devices, and talk to each other, wonderful things happen. Children become calmer, more peaceful. And families have more good moments. Practice slowing down. Here’s how:

Stop what you are doing. Step out of the busy flow. Just be still for a minute.

Take the time to look around and notice your surroundings. Look for one beautiful thing that you can focus on for the moment.

Breathe. Be aware of your body.

Be grateful. Look for one thing that you can feel grateful for at that moment.

Give yourself the gift of quiet time.

It’s more important than ever in these noisy, busy times to give ourselves the gift of quiet time.

Start your day with quiet time. When you wake up in the morning, before you jump out of bed, give yourself one minute to feel the miracle of your own life. Feel your heartbeat, feel your pulse, feel the energy moving through your body.

Give yourself the gift of quiet time by meditating or engaging in yoga or mindfulness practices.

Visit a museum and experience art.

Have contact with animals and with the natural world.

Appreciate silence. Teach your children that silence isn’t punishment, but an important gift with long-term benefits.

This article is based on an interview with Mary Pipher, a clinical psychologist and author of several books, including the bestsellers Women Rowing North and Reviving Ophelia. Her book, Seeking Peace, describes her personal quest for simplicity in her own life.