Developing the Habit of Simple Living

posted by Andrea | 01/20/2017
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developing the habit of simple living

If I asked who would like to live a simpler, more organized, less chaotic life, I have a feeling the majority of you would raise your hand. Am I right?

However, if I asked how many of you absolutely LOVE cleaning, organizing, purging, scheduling, meal planning, cooking, grocery shopping, planning, list making, etc. I’m fairly confident a few of those hands would go down — probably more than a few if we’re really being honest!

I get it, we want the end results without the massive amount of work it can potentially take to get there (that’s actually pretty normal.)

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Simple living can sound like an overwhelming task for many of us… and it CAN be at first. But in order for simple living to actually feel “simple” we first need to become consciously aware of our situation and force ourselves to be on the lookout for little shortcuts or opportunities to simplify and streamline.

This is NOT to say that we should completely devote every moment of our lives to cleaning, organizing, simplifying, and scheduling — please DO NOT do that!! However, over time (yes, it will take time) some of those “simple living” tasks will likely become less conscious and more like those other mindless tasks we do “because we’ve always done them”.

Picking up after yourself, quick mini purges, meal planning, making daily to-do lists before you go to bed, setting up schedules, tweaking something so it functions more efficiently — those tasks that used to be super labor-intensive and totally overwhelming — will start to come more naturally.

Soon, they might even become second nature, or dare I say… a new habit!

For the record, this is how it usually works for any new habit you’re trying to incorporate into your life — healthy eating, exercising, growing your savings account, getting more sleep, waking up earlier, finding more time for a hobby, etc. etc.

It starts with lots of labor-intensive conscious decisions that most likely will not be easy or fun. However, over time, those conscious decisions becomes less labor-intensive… then less conscious… then just one more thing you do… then a habit!

It certainly won’t happen overnight — and for some people, it might be years in the making. But the point is that we’re working towards something better instead of sitting back and doing nothing because we feel overwhelmed. 

Certainly, nothing horrible can happen from trying to consciously simplify and organize your life. And if you fall off the bandwagon for a few days (or weeks or months) just hop back on again and don’t worry about any lost time.

All of a sudden, you might realize that you just planned your weekly menu and made a coordinating grocery list in about 15 painless minutes, or that you folded a load of laundry immediately after it finished drying without even a second thought for procrastination, or that you got loads of happiness from the 5 minutes you just spent reorganizing your husband’s sock drawer — not that I can relate to that at all 🙂

The definition of a “habit” is:

“A recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition.” (source)

So like I said earlier, for simple living to actually feel “simple” we must take the time and put in the effort to create that habit.

It will not feel simple at first, and you might secretly hate me for convincing you to try; but I know from personal experience that when simple living becomes an “unconscious pattern of behavior” it just feels right, and easy, and oh so simple you won’t even be able to imagine living life any other way.

Pick one simple living habit to work at this week… then, throughout the rest of the year, apply this habit-developing “formula” to those other goals on your list. It might not be easy (especially at first) but I know it will be worth it in the end.

What habit will you work to develop first?

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39 comments

  1. Marisa

    01/25/2017

    Excellent reminder. Of course you’re right on target.

    I think I want my new habit to be stretching every morning. Yoga, working out, all that–it’s too overwhelming intimidating. But 5 minutes on the floor with my preschooler, stretching: that’s doable and good.

    I’ve noticed that the new habits which are easiest are the ones with immediate benefits. Like making the bed or meal planning. The hard ones for me are the ones you have to do a long time before the benefits start to come. Like exercise.

    But I’ve also noticed that good habits can lead, unintentionally, to other good habits. Making my bed means I’m more likely to dust the bedroom. Dust is so unsightly in a pretty room with the bed made, but so unimportant in a disheveled room. Maybe stretching will someday lead to something as substantial as yoga or working out. 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    YES! exactly Marisa!
    In my opinion, stretching each morning is better than doing nothing at all — and I believe you’re right that stretching could lead to other healthier habits too! Good for you!

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  2. Meghan

    01/21/2017

    Great post! I haven’t realized it, but based on your descriptions of simple living in this post, I realize I have a lot of systems and habits that really streamline life around here. I always saw it as I didn’t have another option because I work full time and my husband has a demanding career so I don’t have help in the afternoons and evening. Our nanny does all the kitchen and kids’ laundry, picks up the downstairs, and cleans up the kitchen every day, but I always pick up at night because I can’t leave the house worse in the morning than when she left the previous afternoon. I have to make things easy to find and organized because I (thankfully!!) an outside person who is here every day. I don’t want to make her job harder!

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    Andrea Reply:

    That’s great Meghan! and honestly, you’d be surprised how many people are in your situation but do NOT have systems like you do. Their lives are crazy and completely chaotic! I agree with you though — the busier I am, the more systems and organization I need to put into place so I don’t co crazy! Glad you have some systems that work for you!

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  3. Candis

    01/20/2017

    My first habit development is to exercise on a regular basis!

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    Andrea Reply:

    that’s a good one!

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  4. Lynn O.

    01/20/2017

    Great post! I have purged over the last few years our kitchen and most of our house. However, my biggest challenge is my filing. Trying to find the best way to efficiently file and keep important documents and when to get rid of other documents.

    [Reply]

    Nicole Hodge Pittaluga Reply:

    If you are a paper person, Freedom Filer is a great, self-purging system with preprinted labels and comprehensive categories for households and small Businesses.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks for this suggestion Nicole — I haven’t heard of that system yet!

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    Andrea Reply:

    you are not alone — SO many people struggle with paper clutter! AND… I’ll be talking more about how I organize my important documents next week!

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  5. KJ

    01/20/2017

    Hi Andrea!
    I started with making my bed everyday after years of never making it. The game changer was actually timing myself and realizing the task takes 1 minute. One minute! And the payoff throughout the day for my one minute investment was huge. I always get such an emotional lift whenever I walk in the room and see a made bed. I am happy to say it is now a habit because it feels completely unnatural to not make the bed as soon as I get up. And whenever there is a day I feel a backslide coming on I tell myself “Get over it. It’s only 1 minute!” I time myself initially whenever there is a task I don’t want to do and most often the things I am dreading the most or putting off the longest are under 5 minutes. I constantly remind myself of that as internal pep talks to keep going.
    Great post and thanks for the inspiration. It is so true about just hopping back on when (not if) you get off track. Be kind to yourself, give grace, and get on with it. 🙂
    Happy Friday from stormy and wet California.
    KJ

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I was JUST thinking about this today — I get SO much joy and satisfaction from my nicely made bed. Every time I walk past my bedroom I feel a little boost — totally worth the 1-2 minutes it takes to make the bed!

    Thanks for sharing this KJ!

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  6. Janice

    01/22/2015

    This is an excellent post! Good time of year for it also. I have been working on major purging in our upstairs storage and kid playroom. I was working wonders up there until my husband’s bachelor brother passed away. Everything has been put on hold now so that we can deal with the possessions of my deceased brother-in-law. We found out he was a hoarder when we entered his home. Unbelievable! There was barely a path to walk through the house since he had not thrown anything away in 20 years, not even trash. This will give one a brand new perspective on the need for purging. Thankfully, we have had additional family members to help. We seriously would just rather have the house bulldozed, but important legal papers have to be found first.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    WOW, that sounds like a lot to deal with! I can’t even imagine being responsible for finding anything in a hoarder’s house (let alone important papers). I’m so thankful you have other family members to help!

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  7. JoDi

    01/22/2015

    I’m going to try to start meal planning again. I used to do it years ago but stopped. It made dinnertime so much easier!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    YES! Meal planning takes so much stress out of daily life. And once you get in the hang of it, it will probably only take you 10 minutes a week to plan things out!

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  8. Heart and Haven

    01/22/2015

    This reminds me a lot of when my oldest went off to BMT for the Air Force. For his calls home, we’d ask if things got easier week over week (referring to the many chores such as making their beds per military regulations, cleaning chores, getting ready for inspections, etc.)…his response was, “It doesn’t get easier, we just get better at doing it.”

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks for sharing this — I love your son’s quote. “It doesn’t get easier, we just get better at doing it.” — yup, that’s pretty much sums up almost all those things we don’t necessarily love doing but know we have to do them!

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  9. Debby

    01/22/2015

    The first of my goals for this year is to rid myself of some unwanted weight. So I am eating a cleaner/fresh foods diet. This involves planning and prepping. Otherwise you can easily just start grabbing the first food available. I am 18 days in and I can feel it becoming natural whereas even just a week ago, I had to “force” myself to take the time to wash and prep. Now it feels so calming knowing what I have to eat and what I am taking in my lunch for the next day. I have also applied that to cleaning up in the evening. I like my TV shows between 8-10. I am not a big fan of the news so at 10 I go in the kitchen and tidy up, make my way around the house for stray objects and put away, or fold laundry and put away. At 11 my lunch is packed, my house is picked up and I can go to bed without nagging tasks bothering me. I love your blog!!! Keep up the great post!

    [Reply]

    Janice Reply:

    Your 18th day reference reminds me of the only way I learned to wear my dental night guard. I hate the thing, but I know it is absolutely necessary to prevent the grinding from ruining my teeth. So, I set out to make it to 21 days as I have heard that time period can help one make a habit. Night by night I persevered thinking that I only had to do it one night at a time. Hallelujah! Now I don’t feel right going to bed without it, even though I still dislike wearing the thing.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I love your system of cleaning up the house at 10:00. I’m sure it feels FABULOUS to wake up to a clean house and a packed lunch every morning!

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  10. Martha

    01/22/2015

    Im amazed how the habits that I have started years ago have really changed my life and the way I look at things. Just the other day we were creating our family closet and we had such a great time because we just had the only essentials. It made me really realize how these small changes make a difference.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Amen Marth, I couldn’t agree more! Small changes can (and do) turn into life-changing habits!

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  11. Amy

    01/22/2015

    I decided I needed to simplify my life 11 years ago. I was a young single working Mom at the time who was in school. It was the best decision I ever made. I’m not married with two more kids and a crazy active dog. We still live a simple life. I can clean our apartment in 45 minutes with the little children (5 & 3) “helping.” If I can do it on my own it’s only 25 minutes. Part of simplifying my life was getting rid of what we didn’t need or use. Our meals are simple and rarely take more than 30 minutes to prepare. I love the simple life.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Wow, you’re amazing! sounds like you have your system down to a science and it’s working really well for you! congrats and thanks for sharing 🙂

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  12. Lauren

    01/22/2015

    Thanks for the motivation! I took the door off our small closet in our even smaller entrance from the garage. Already I am finding fewer coats on the kitchen chairs and hats andittens where they belong now that we can SEE where they need to go! This is such a great reminder to re-work what you are doing to make it for for you!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Isn’t it crazy that something SO simple as removing a door can make a big difference in your home’s function and organization? Yay for small simple changes!

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  13. Karyn

    01/22/2015

    Wow – honestly didn’t know that simple can come from things that are hard work becoming a habit. Thank you Andrea! That helps!!

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  14. Deanna

    01/22/2015

    I am striving for living more simply with less ‘stuff’, but it seems like my husband and children (ages 6 and 16 months) are not on the same page. My six year old wants to keep every single item that anyone has given him, ever. My husband is very handy and likes to keep things ‘just in case’, while that has come in handy a time or two, our garage is out of control. And it’s not just them wanting to keep their ‘stuff’, it is getting help with the daily chores as well – I’ve tried a number of ways to ‘light a fire’ under them but, I haven’t found anything that works consistently. Trying to keep up with them and all the ‘stuff’ is like trying run up the down escalator, I’m getting no where fast!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Hi Deanna,
    Thanks for sharing — and sorry for your frustrations. I can understand why you are frustrated — but unfortunately, I don’t have the perfect solution. I definitely think it must start with YOU constantly modeling positive behavior for them (picking up, staying organized, cleaning up messes, etc. ) Encourage your kids to help and try to talk openly with your husband about how much it would mean to you and how important it is for you to be more organized.

    Also, while I completely understand your desire to “live simply with less stuff”, I also feel that there are times in our lives when “more stuff” is just inevitable. We can still constantly declutter, but with your 2 very different aged boys, you most likely have very different clothes, toys, games, books, etc. And yes, handy-men husbands tend to hold onto A LOT. I know from experience with my dad 🙂

    Just keep plugging away and try not to give up. I promise your home and life will be worse off if you give up too. It might feel like you’re fighting a losing battle right now, but just keep going. You might be surprised where you find yourself in a few months or another year.

    [Reply]

    qfbrenda Reply:

    As a wife to one and a mom to 5 boys, I feel for you! I don’t have a good answer for the husband issue, honestly. My husband also likes to keep lots of stuff and there’s not a lot I can do about it. So I deal with the things I can control, like most of what is inside the house. Over the years (19 and counting) my husband has seen that keeping things to a minimum really helps and he keeps much less than he used to.

    As for the boys, I have some who love to declutter and others who will keep every rock they find. The best strategy I’ve found is to give them defined spaces to keep their treasures and then give them some control over what they keep. So they have XYZ space—crate, box, shelf, whatever—and they have to make their things fit within that space. If they want to keep something new, they have to choose something else to eliminate. We have made some exceptions over time. For instance the boys’ crates they were given when they were little will not fit the fishing poles my 15 yr old now treasures LOL, but overall that strategy has helped a lot.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    wow — 5 boys! You have your work cut out for you 🙂

    I love the idea of giving them a defined space. I’ve already started to see the need for that with Nora (she’s a mini hoarder!) If she has unlimited space, she WILL fill it all!

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    Meg Reply:

    Deanna, my daughter was the same way at age 6! I would purge her room while she was asleep and put everything in a box in the trunk of my car. I would leave it there for a week and if she asked where a certain item was, I would take it out of the box. Do NOT tell your child what you are doing! They are just not capable at that age to understand how unnecessary “extra stuff” is! They think everything is a dire need

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  15. Susie

    01/22/2015

    I already have the habit to clean the kitchen before bed and right away after breakfast. Now I need to work on doing a load of laundry everyday- wash dry and put away!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    That’s great Susie — one new habit at a time!

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  16. Julia K

    01/22/2015

    It is still summer school holidays here in Australia so I went grocery shopping with my 3 youngest kids in tow (aged 13,10 & 6). We were heading to the checkout when DD 13 scanned my grocery list. This is a preprinted Word document organised by supermarket category eg breakfast cereals, canned veg, sauces & condiments etc. Each week I prepare our meal plan – grab a preprinted list and highlight the items I need to buy. DD was quite taken with the fact that I shop the aisles first (where all the canned and drygoods are), then do the walls last (where all the frozen, chilled and lastly fresh produce is). It is SUCH a habit for me to shop in this way – in fact I think that list goes back to before DD was born !! I think she will leave home thinking EVERYONE shops this way LOL 🙂

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  17. Lynn O.

    01/22/2015

    Love this one! We (husband and I) are both getting everything re-organized, purged, etc. A little at a time. The last one I did was purchase some slide out bins from Bed Bath & Beyond and completely purged under the Bathroom sink, reorganized and only have what we use! We love it!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    doesn’t it feel great to have an area you use every day (like the bathroom) neat and organized! That was a great place to start!

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  18. Rebecca

    01/22/2015

    I love it when I realize that something that I was working so hard to make a habit has become autopilot and I missed the transition. I rely on technology to make changes in habits in the form of reminders. I found a way to make my morning routine run more smoothly and I am working now on changing those habits.

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