Three Simple Rules for a Simpler Year

Categories Productivity

In today’s consumer culture, we are inundated with advertisements. I’ve seen claims that we are exposed to more than 5,000 ad and brand exposures per day.

It’s little wonder we have so much stuff.

In an effort to simplify our lives this year, Beth and I decided to purge a lot of what we find cluttering our 1200 sq. ft. home. But as I was thinking about releasing some of this “stuff” that we seem to hold on to, I was also confronted with the idea that part of staying simple is to limit what enters our home as much as identifying what we take out.

So what if all these “deals” we see every day are part of the problem? My daughter sees a new toy commercial while watching Disney Jr. and says “I want that for Christmas” (It’s January, mind you). I get the daily email from four different retail outlets about the best deals to ever be available in the history of mankind, but if you don’t act in the next 12 seconds, the email will self-destruct. We buy 48 rolls of toilet paper because you can get it for $.07 less per roll in bulk.

Obviously, I’m exaggerating (a little), but I do think the point is applicable. If we’re not careful, we get so used to seeing everyone’s curated life on Facebook, the pictures from every house cooler than ours on Pinterest, and the best deal of the season on clothes at our favorite store, that we give in just a little. And before we know it, our homes are full of stuff we don’t really like that much anyway.

So here are a few of the strategies we’re trying to use to help us beat the clutter and avoid falling for the great deals on stuff we don’t really need.

Do you love it, need it, or think it’s beautiful?

I’ve heard this approach many times before, but I think I heard it first from my wife. The idea is that you shouldn’t feel obligated to keep that sweater Aunt Ruth gave you four Christmases ago if it doesn’t fit into one of those categories. If you don’t love it, need it, or think it’s beautiful, off to Goodwill it goes.

I’ve found this can help you process a lot of the things you own. I’m actually giving thought to releasing most of my baseball card collection for this very reason. I’ll pull out the cards of my favorite players and team (because they are valuable/sentimental to me [love]), but by getting rid of the rest, I’ll be able to decrease the space needed to store them by close to 80%.

So ask yourself these questions and be honest. Do you REALLY love that frame that you’ve had since your wedding even though it still has some really photogenic couple in it you don’t know? Do you REALLY need the whatchamacallit that slices cantaloupes or would a knife do the trick? Do you REALLY think the 6th blue shirt in your closet is beautiful, or are you keeping it because it still sorta fits?

This is a great way to diminish clutter that already exists, but it also is a good way to decide on future purchases. If the item doesn’t fall into one of the three categories (love, need, or beautiful), leave it on the shelf.

One in, One out.

This is not a new concept either. I think I’d heard this one before, but I specifically remember it from the Simple Life Together podcast Beth and I started listening to a few months back. The rule is that for everything new you bring into your house, you have to get rid of something. We haven’t completely implemented this rule yet (though we’re trying to get rid of way more than we’re bringing in at the moment), but it’s a good one and something we’re especially going to use with our kids. This means we don’t begrudge my son when he wants a new football, but as a response, we ask him to donate one of his other toys. Not only does it help keep his room from piling up with toys he barely plays with anyway, but we also have a chance to talk to him about giving and need.

Unsubscribe to Virtually Everything

I took some time over Christmas to significantly decrease the number of emails coming into my inbox every day. I’ve still got some work to do, but it’s so refreshing not to see the number of emails in my personal email balloon to 30+ every day from (mostly) marketing emails and sales ads for some company that I’m sure I did business with once upon a time but who simply want me to spend more of my money today.

Not only does this practice decrease the number of REALLY GREAT DEALS I see (helping me not be tempted to buy a Groupon that may never get redeemed anyway), but it also decreases my digital clutter. Digital clutter can be just as distracting and debilitating as physical clutter, and I’ve found my email inbox to be a much more enjoyable place when I can manage it daily with only a reasonable amount of time invested. I still have a few (very few) email lists that I’m a part of because I actually care about the messages I receive, but I try to limit those to lists that aren’t always trying to sell me more stuff that will further complicate my life.

PRO TIP: If you are struggling to keep all those emails you’ve subscribed to under control, take care of them in bite size chunks. Every time you check your email, unsubscribe from three lists that you don’t want to be a part of anymore. Select all the emails in your inbox from that address, and click ‘Delete’. It will feel so good, I promise. Gmail offers an “unsubscribe” button, but every email sent to you through another business should also have an unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email as well. It only takes a few seconds, and it’s totally worth it for the time you’ll save in the long run.

So what are the steps you’re taking to simplify your space (physical and digital) this year? We’re only just starting on the journey, but my wife and I both agree that our lives are more fulfilling and less stressful when we have fewer things to worry about and when we are working toward having a home assigned for everything we own. I’d love to hear about what is working for you in the comments below.

Brandon is the founder of A Life to Lead. He is also the husband of Beth, father to Ethan and Kate, and the coordinator of the D6 Conference.

2 thoughts on “Three Simple Rules for a Simpler Year

  1. I’ve started doing this myself, beginning with my office at the church. I’ve cleared out years and years of sermon, teaching and other lecture notes. Bookshelves have been thinned, with more to come. And I also have done your third suggestion and unsubscribed to almost everything. It is nice not having email notifications coming in every 10 minutes.

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