Inner Simplicity: Where to Begin

Hood River
© 2013 Christy King

“Inner simplicity is a lifelong journey.”

- Sara Noel

Minimalism isn’t about having fewer things and being more organized so much as it’s about inner simplicity. Decluttering, downsizing and organizing are just tools to help us live fuller lives, not ends in themselves.

Of course, most people find it a lot easier to achieve a neat closet than inner peace, and few succeed in being at peace all the time.

Just as there’s no need to give up on decluttering because you can’t imagine yourself living in a tiny house or out of a backpack, there’s no need to give up on inner simplicity because you can’t picture yourself spending your days with the serenity of a monk.

“Simplicity means stopping for a moment and asking what the heck we are doing with our lives.”

- Janet Luhrs

The first step to inner simplicity is figuring out what makes you feel happy and fulfilled. Sounds obvious, right? But it’s hard to know what really makes us happy, especially if we’ve lived our lives chasing what most define as success.

To start, you’re going to make three lists. Yep, more lists. You can do them on paper or on your computer, but do record your thoughts. You’ll need to refer back to these lists later.

What Makes You Happy? What Doesn’t?

The first list will be of things that make you happy now. The second list will be of things you don’t have now but think would make you happier if you did. The third list will be of things you have now and wish you didn’t.

When you’re making these lists, don’t worry about filtering yourself. This is more of a brainstorming process. Just try to list as many things as you can as fast as you can without over-thinking it.

List experiences, activities and possessions – even the ridiculously expensive and self-indulgent possessions you might dream of buying if you win the lottery, like a yacht and a vacation home in Paris. You’re probably wondering why, if this is a minimalist living blog, I’m encouraging you to put “stuff” on your list. Don’t worry – you’ll understand when, in the next post, you find out why I asked you to make these lists.

It’s okay if some of the things seem contradictory, and don’t worry about the order of things on your lists. Without obsessing over it, try to be specific. For example, say “an hour a day to knit” instead of “more time for me” or “spending one evening a month alone with each of my kids” instead of “quality time with kids.”

Some of the items will be deeper, maybe finding a soul mate or a new job. Others will be lighter, maybe M&Ms or BBQ ribs. List everything, not only the things you believe will lead to inner simplicity.

How Much Should You Write?

You might have a million things running through your head. If so, write down as many as you can before you hand cramps up. If, on the other hand, you have trouble with exercises like this (as I often do, over-thinking everything), try keeping your lists somewhere you can add to them over the next few days as you think of things.

When something makes you smile, write it down on list 1. When you catch yourself wishing something were different, write what you didn’t like on List 3 and what you wish you had on List 2. Even if this is hard for you, try to get at least 30 items on each list.

Why 30? Most people will find it pretty easy to come up with 10-15 items for each list without too much thought. The point of this exercise is for you to have to think seriously and deeply about the things that make you happy and unhappy. If you come up with 30 easily, take a little more time and make your lists long enough that you’re beginning to have trouble adding to them.

To help you get started, I’ll share 10 items from each of my lists.

Things That Make Me Happy

  1. sitting in the sun
  2. talking to my husband on the porch swing in the evenings
  3. our son’s satisfaction when he succeeds at something he’s worked hard on
  4. our pug’s happy noises
  5. the feeling when I first lie down at bedtime
  6. our cat purring
  7. knitting and chatting with my knit-spin group
  8. our heated mattress pad
  9. the pride I feel after I’ve pushed myself to do something that’s hard for me
  10. dark chocolate

Things I Think Would Make Me Happier

  1. more travel
  2. a cleaner house
  3. time to spend at least a few hours a week with friends
  4. early retirement
  5. being more active in the community (volunteering and church)
  6. a spinning wheel
  7. living somewhere with less rain and more sun in the winter
  8. living on large acreage in the middle of nowhere
  9. living in an urban area so I can walk everywhere
  10. an extra hour of sleep on weekday mornings

Things I Don’t Like and Don’t Want

  1. money worries
  2. unloading the dishwasher
  3. being stuck inside on a beautiful day
  4. my mind racing when I’m trying to sleep
  5. being responsible for making breakfast for the family almost every day
  6. when people don’t appreciate what I do for them
  7. blind corner cabinets in the kitchen
  8. all 3 dogs and the cat following me into the bathroom
  9. carrying groceries up the stairs
  10. teen back-talk

Now It’s Your Turn

Spend the next few days working on your lists a few minutes at a time. In the next post, we’ll discuss how you can use these lists to start working toward inner simplicity. I’d love for you to share some of the items from your lists in the comments.

P.S. Raymund Tamayo shares his three lists on his blog - check it out.

4 thoughts on “Inner Simplicity: Where to Begin

  1. Another fabulous post Christy! I have been struggling lately with my own inner peace and thus the simplicity I had achieved when living overseas. This exercise is a wonderful reset for me and has helped me to feel a little more focused on my goals both in my physical world around me and for myself. I look forward to more inspiration!

  2. Thank you. Just discovered your blog – I really love your post about not judging. I can’t say I’m all that good at mindfulness yet, but, even as a beginner, I can see how much it brings to my life.

  3. I think this is a wonderful way to re-direct our attention back to what is important. I write quite a lot about de-cluttering but the principle of de-cluttering goes, as you highlight, far beyond the material items but instead reflects the workings and effectiveness of our minds. Great post!

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