Less is more. It’s a cliche that you’ve heard so many times that it’s likely lost any meaning. But all good cliches come from a place of truth, and “less is more” is no exception.
Whether you call it simplicity, minimalism, downsizing or rightsizing, the benefits are well-documented: In a recent review, more than 80 percent of the 23 studies considered reported a connection between simplicity and well-being.1
And yet, there is a common perception that success in life is measured by our stuff: how much we have, how nice it is, how hard we worked to get it. Simplifying our lives becomes especially challenging as we get older. The years bring more and more belongings, and our personal sense of identity often becomes linked with these things. Moving out of the large homes where we’ve built lives and raised families makes sense from a practical purpose, but it can also signal a change that goes far beyond your address.
Why, then, is simplicity so sought after? American authors and public speakers Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, collectively known as The Minimalists, sum it up as “a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom.”2
The question is this: Recognizing the clear value in simplicity, how can we let go of both an accumulation mindset and the way our things define us? In this article, we’ll try to answer this by outlining not only some key principles of living simply, but also practical tips for how to embrace them.
“Simplicity boils down to two steps: Identify the essential. Eliminate the rest.”
— Leo Babauta, The Power of Less
Principle 1: Prioritize
This applies to both your stuff and your time: identify what matters most to you so you can let go of what doesn’t. Think of your life like a museum for which you’re the curator. Choose your possessions and your commitments carefully based on the value they bring you.
When you’re decluttering, ask: Is this something I use often? Does it truly bring me joy? Am I keeping it “just in case”? When it comes to your schedule, think about why you say “yes” when you want to say “no.” It’s human nature to see demands on our time as evidence of our value as people, but burnout is real, leads to stress and can even lower our immunity, leaving us susceptible to illness.
The takeaway: Don’t get caught in the all-or-nothing trap, or mistake prioritizing for sacrificing: you determine what is valuable, meaningful and necessary for your life.
Principle 2: Purchase with purpose
Researchers have untangled the connection between shopping and happiness, discovering that “happiness does not come specifically from the objects we buy. It is an emotion associated with our motivations for making those purchases.”3
Purchasing with purpose can be as simple as taking a moment before you buy something to ensure that whatever it is will add value – not clutter – to your life. You can also use the guideline of “quality over quantity” to help cultivate a simpler shopping experience.
Other minimalist shopping tips include setting limits (on how much money you spend or how many things you buy), shopping only with cash or gift cards, and deleting credit card information for online shopping sites. If you’re an emotional shopper, find more meaningful feel-good activities, like exercising, listening to music or taking in nature.
The takeaway: Habitual, impulse shopping is tempting, and easier than ever before. Take steps to be intentional and focus on adding value with every purchase.
Principle 3: Embrace the journey
Perfectionism is a double-edged sword: It promotes a continuous improvement mindset –– which is a good thing! But it can also keep us focused on some vague, unattainable mirage of a goal, and that robs us of our ability to appreciate where we are and what we have right now.
One of the best ways to quell the anxiety of perfectionism is by practicing mindfulness, a principle founded in Eastern religion and philosophy that has worked its way into Western models of self-care, wellness and even clinical and therapeutic approaches.
Simply put, mindfulness is about awareness and acceptance, and it’s been shown to help regulate emotions, lower stress and improve relationships. And while it may sound abstract, it can be found in simple acts like embracing mantras.
When you find yourself worried about the past or the future, stop and say to yourself something like, “This moment is perfect, whole, and complete.” You can create your own list of calming mantras to help you find peace in the here and now for whatever situation is causing stress.
The takeaway: Use mindfulness techniques to keep you in the present moment, focused on the journey and the process instead of some unrealistic goal of “perfect.”
For older adults, finding joy in simplicity can range from smaller steps like those outlined above to larger efforts, such as relocating to a maintenance-free active adult community. At Aspens Senior Living, we take care of the chores and responsibilities that come with traditional homeownership so you can truly focus on the things that bring value and meaning to your life.
Discover how our premiere active adult communities, with flexible amenities, customized activities and luxurious surroundings, will make you feel right at home.
- Joshua N. Hook, Adam S. Hodge, Hansong Zhang, Daryl R. Van Tongeren & Don E. Davis (2021) Minimalism, voluntary simplicity, and well-being: A systematic review of the empirical literature, The Journal of Positive Psychology, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2021.1991450
- “What Is Minimalism?” The Minimalists, https://www.theminimalists.com/minimalism/. Accessed 21 December 2022.
- Is Happiness Having What You Want, Wanting What You Have, or Both?, Jeff T. Larsen and Amie R. McKibban, Psychological Science, Volume 19, Number 4, 2008