Jul 17, 2016 · 9 minute read

By: Colleen Valles

When you think of someone living a simple life, what do you think of? Do you imagine a woman lying on a hammock in a meadow, sipping a homemade herbal infusion, reading a book but still keeping a watchful eye on her children as they share toys without being told and romp playfully nearby, enjoying their perfect childhood?

Maybe you think of a person meditating, having just whipped up a batch of natural cosmetics while the kombucha ferments in the kitchen that contains only exactly the items needed for gourmet meals and has nothing but a bowl of tomatoes on the counter as much for cooking as for the “pop of color” they bring to the all-white, spotlessly clean interior.

Why do our visions of simplicity reflect a Pinterest aesthetic? Why do they embody an ideal of perfection and idyllic life that few, if any, of us can or want to lead? I mean, if I had to do all the relaxing I see in visions of simple living, I’d be catatonic!

I embarked on my simple living journey a couple of years ago. That was back when my life was definitely not something you’d put on Pinterest – chaotic, stressed, full of overwhelm and had me in an almost perpetual state of crankiness.

Well into this experiment, my life still isn’t something you’d put on Pinterest. While it may not be picture-perfect, or even kind of pretty, my simple life is full, fun, challenging and stimulating (that last one is important to keeping me going each day).

More importantly, simplifying has allowed me to focus on the things that are important to me. I’ve slowed down in some areas to allow myself the opportunity to do more in others that are more important to me. From getting involved in the tiny house movement to taking a writing class, these things that would have seemed impossible to me two years ago are now a part of my life and bring me fulfillment and joy and allow me to give back to my community, both locally and online.

What brought about this magical change? What did I do that cut down on the unimportant things and left me time for creativity and other things that are more important to me?

There were a number of steps, and while they all took some time, I’m sharing them because I think embarking on these steps now can help others make the changes they need to start living the life they want.

Step 1: Whining time and excuses extraordinaire

Approximate duration: 3 years.

Getting to the point of starting on a simple journey took a long time. During that time, I did a lot of whining: my commute takes an hour to go 13 miles! How do people find the time to take their kids to after school activities? I can only get home, cook dinner and then it’s time to put my daughter to bed! Sure, whatever solution you just suggested works for you, but you have a husband to help out, and I’m a single mom! etc., etc., etc.

Everyone needs to go through a similar period. This is the time when you acknowledge there is a problem, and you narrow down exactly what it is. You might not do that by whining to everyone who will listen, but talking through the challenges helps you identify what needs to change.

This is also the time where you develop the motivation to make the changes that you’ve identified. In talking to loved ones about your challenges, you’ll hear a lot of “Why don’t you just __?” Like, why don’t you just move? Why don’t you just get another job? Why don’t you just stop doing x, y or z?

If you’re anything like me, someone asking “why don’t you just x?” leads me to all kinds of excuses about why I can’t follow their suggestion. I mean, if it were that easy, I would have done it by now, right? Take a deep breath. They’re just trying to help, and it’s easy to suggest changes when it’s not your life. But it’s possible that they’re frustrated with your situation too and are ready for you to make some changes so you all can start talking about something different. I got to that point. Eventually, I realized that maybe people didn’t want to hear about my commute anymore, so It was time to act.

Step 2: Take action

Approximate duration: 2 years.

For me, taking action meant finding a new job closer to home. I could have moved closer to my job, but there were other considerations, like not wanting to be on call 24 hours a day, and wanting to keep my daughter in the same school and stay close to my family and friends. There’s a lot to be said for a support network, especially as a single mom.

But because I live deep in the suburbs, there aren’t many jobs in my field around here. I searched constantly, and interviewed three times over two years for jobs at the company I work for now. The third time was the charm, but it was an effort that required loads of patience, which I didn’t have. I kept at it though, because the alternative wasn’t working for me, and sometimes the promise of the status quo is enough to push you forward.

Step 3: Get up earlier and set a morning routine

Approximate duration: 6 months and ongoing

I finally got a new job, and cut my total daily commute by an hour and a half. What did I do with that time? I’m not really sure. For the first six months, I frittered it away, without focus and with a lot of TV watching. While I gained more time in the evening, I realized that I still didn’t have time to write (my brain is useless in the evening) or exercise.

I made another change — I started getting up earlier so I could write for an hour, and then I streamlined the rest of my morning routine so I was doing just what I needed in order to get ready for work. It took about six months of setting my alarm a little earlier each week to stick with it, and it took about that long to tweak the rest of my routine to figure out the most efficient way to get ready for work.

But the benefit has been time for exercise, meditation and writing in the morning, and if I miss any of those, I tend to feel unfulfilled the rest of the day. Getting up early and executing my routine have become integral to setting the tone for my day and for me getting to exercise my creativity.

Step 4: Tell people what you’re doing

Approximate duration: immediate to 3-4 months, depending on your people

A lot of advice tells you to just say no to the things that don’t bring your life value. But there’s more to it than that. Just saying no without informing those close to you of the changes in your life will lead to you alienating a lot of people.

Opt for information instead of alienation. Tell people what you’re doing, and you’re likely to garner their support. I stopped having wine when my friends and I would get together after work. We would have a glass or two with dinner at one person’s house while our kids played and we chatted. It’s great and fun for everyone, but it also stripped all my motivation for the rest of the evening and kept me from getting up early the next day. Add to that my partner and I were trying to conceive, and I just wasn’t getting any benefit besides the immediate.

So I told them I was going to stop, and they were fine with it. They understood, and it wasn’t weird when I refused a glass of wine. Depending on your friends and family, you can see immediate results, or you might need to tell them repeatedly before they understand that you’re serious.

Step 5: Say no to what you can’t afford

Approximate duration: 3 months to 1 year

If you’ve already primed your friends for understanding that you’re trying to focus more on the things that are important to you, they may understand quickly when you refuse to do something you can’t afford, like go for a weekend away.

Then again, they may not. It might take a long time of refusing shopping trips before they catch on. But try suggesting something different, like a free concert or festival to attend instead. That’ll help ease the blow and allow you to continue hanging out with them.

It’s important when simplifying to remember your finances. It’s really tough to focus on what you love when your brain is stressed about debt and paying bills.

Step 6: Whine about the next problem

Approximate duration: 2 years

Overlapping these changes I’ve made is another challenge— affordable housing in my area. I’ve had to move twice in the last two years, and as anyone who has moved knows, moving can be stressful.

So I’ve spent some time whining “Rent is so expensive; I spend more than half my take-home pay on a place that’s not even nice!” and “I’ll never be able to afford a house!” and so on.

But like my commute, people don’t want to hear about my rent, so it’s time to take action again. Hence our moving into a tiny home, which people are curious to hear about, and which is way more fun to talk about than complaining about rent.

The results are in

Because of these changes I’ve already made, I can spend my time doing what’s important to me: spending more time with my daughter, getting exercise, taking a year-long writing class, working on my tiny house and advocating for better housing options in my area to help not just us, but others as well.

Simplifying for me doesn’t mean a Pinterest-perfect life, but it does mean more focus on doing what I love, better relationships, and more opportunity to give back.

It’s been a long, slow road, and I’m still on it, but it’s been worth the effort, though I’m not sure my friends and family would agree it was worth listening to all the whining …

What has simplifying allowed you to do?


Colleen Valles
I'm Colleen, a writer, mother, knitter, pet mama and tiny house enthusiast who truly believes that everybody should slow down and simplify to make room for the things that are most important in their lives. I'm on a journey to do just that, to be able to spend more time with family and friends, riding my bike and working in the garden. Sign up to get awesome content right in your inbox, or follow me on social media.