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Almost everything worth accomplishing in life is difficult.

Think about it: a successful marriage, intentional parenting, a growing career… they all require effort and discipline to overcome obstacles.

Even smaller goals: staying physically healthy, living on a budget, or crafting a focused life are not easy in the world we live in. These lifestyle goals, which are certainly worth accomplishing, can be difficult and require purposeful living.

Most of the things worth accomplishing in life are difficult—at least, to some extent.

Because of this fact, it seems to me, there will always be stumbling blocks that stand in the way of us accomplishing meaningful pursuits.

A number of years ago I attended a conference that featured the world-renowned, critically-acclaimed, and prolific writer, Anne Lamott. During one particular Q&A session, Anne was bombarded with questions from aspiring writers struggling to overcome obstacles.

One such attendee (I remember vividly to this day) asked the accomplished writer this question, “How do I find time to become the writer I want to be? I am a new mother, tired and ragged, and I just can’t find the energy to write during this phase of my life. Should I wait until it passes?”

Anne’s response was swift, pointed, and memorable.

She replied, “Listen, there is always going to be an available excuse as to why you can’t do your writing. You are newly-married, or you have a young child. Next, you will have more than one child, or you will be parenting teenagers, or beginning a new career, or traveling too often, or involved in this or that. There will always be a reason why you think you can’t do what you need to do. The pursuit is to overcome these obstacles in order to realize what you are called to accomplish.”

I’ve never forgotten Anne’s words of wisdom that day. Anything worth accomplishing in life is going to be difficult. And there are always going to be reasons why you can’t accomplish it.

That’s why, it is vitally important to discipline ourselves to focus our thoughts on the reasons we can, rather than the reasons we can’t.

There’s not a doubt in my mind there are countless reasons you can’t accomplish what you most want to do:

You can’t get into physical shape because you don’t have the time, your body hurts too much, or it will take too long.

You can’t live within your means because you don’t make enough money, you’re supporting too many, or life has not been fair to you.

You can’t be a faithful, loving spouse because your partner has made it too difficult, you never had a proper model growing up, or you’re just too tired at the end of the day.

You can’t accomplish your greatest career goals because you’re not smart enough, you started too late, or other people are conspiring against you.

You can’t declutter your home and get your physical possessions in order because of this spouse, or those kids, or that family you grew up in, or your love for figurines means you can never overcome consumerism in your life.

As I said before, there’s not a doubt in my mind there are reasons why you can’t do any of the difficult things you want to do. And if you continue to focus on those obstacles, you never will.

However, I also know there are countless reasons why you can do exactly what you want to do.

And those who focus on the reasons they can are the ones who reach the mountaintop.

Yes, you can get in better physical shape. If you can still move your body, you can begin making strides in that direction. Sure, it may hurt at first. But others have turned their life around, and so can you.

Yes, you can live within your financial means. It’s going to take sacrifice and effort and discipline. But others have done it, so can you.

Yes, you can be a loving and faithful spouse. It’s going to require humility, a decision to love someone despite their flaws and imperfections, and maybe some outside advice and help. But others have done it, so can you.

You can accomplish your career goals. It’s going to require initiative, hard work, perseverance, and pushing through your personal boundaries every single day. But others have done it, so can you.

And yes, you can declutter your home and minimize your possessions. It’s going to require finding time to get started, internal reflection, and finding the ability to make hard decisions. But others have done it, and so can you.

Your most important work is rarely the easiest work. In fact, just the opposite is more true. Your most meaningful and significant work will be the hardest for you to accomplish.

Those who focus on the reasons they can’t will forever remain paralyzed by their pessimism.

But those who focus on the reasons they can, find hope and energy and perseverance. And in the end, they are most satisfied with the life they have chosen to live.

What significant goal are you pursuing in your life? Write it down somewhere. Now, just below that pursuit, write down all the reasons you know it’s possible to achieve. Think of the factors within you and the factors outside of you.

And then, for your sake and ours, focus on all the reasons you can achieve your most meaningful goals.

Because we all desperately need you to live your best life.

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Note: This article was originally written as part of our 10 Simple Ways to Simplify Your Life email series.

“A man seldom thinks with more earnestness of anything than he does of his dinner.” —Samuel Johnson

Keto. Paleo. Raw vegan. Intermittent fasting. With ever-changing diet fads and “superfoods,” it can be tough to keep straight on what’s best to be putting into our bodies.

Plus, there are countless other questions that might swirl in our mind: What’s affordable? What’s tasty? What’s healthy? What are my values? What are the unique needs of my body? And what impact does what I’m eating have on the world?

There is a special passion reserved for food shared by all people. Our circumstances, preferences, and morals are as vibrant and diverse as we are. As such, there’s no universal approach that works for everybody.

Well, other than… we all know not to eat junk. And yet, how we define what junk is even varies radically from person to person.

Is there a way to approach this entire conversation in simpler terms?

I think so.

A good starting point, I suppose, is to avoid heavily processed foods. Many foods are processed and come in packages, but “processed” generally refers to foods which have been processed with artificial ingredients and chemical preservatives. Processed foods tend to be high in sugar and sodium, both of which can be fine in small quantities, but can lead to a host of problems when eaten excessively.

Moving beyond that starting point, I have found that with just a few tools in our arsenal, we can all be better equipped to make simpler, more nutritious selections at the grocery store.

Here are 7 Steps to Simpler Nutrition:

1. Spend more time shopping in the perimeter of the grocery store. Most of the fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, dairy, and seafood are found near the edges of the store, with packaged items tucked into the aisles.

2. Get into the habit of reading ingredients. Generally, the less ingredients a product has, the better. Here are some ingredients to avoid eating often: trans fats, excess added sugar or other sweeteners like corn syrup, artificial dyes, nitrates and nitrites found in preserved meats, artificial sweeteners, and other artificial preservatives.

3. Cut the sugary drinks. Risk of childhood obesity increases 60% with each sugary beverage consumed daily. They are also highly correlated with adult obesity and Type 2 Diabetes. Sugary drinks include sodas, sweetened coffee drinks, and even fruit juice.

4. Balance protein, fat, and carbohydrates. This one means something different to everyone, but bodies rely on the nutrients of all these categories, so it’s important not to eat too much or too little of any of these. Fiber is also essential for good health.

5. Plan occasional treats. Just like cutting back on spending, the surest way to end up hating your food routine is to forgo having any fun. Instead, make treats intentional and special. Instead of having desserts every day, have one once or twice a week. And if you’re celebrating? Live in the moment without guilt.

6. Practice meal planning: Marching to the grocery store with a list in hand and tasty meals in mind will make grocery trips efficient. Making large dishes can cut down on cooking time during the week, conserving energy. Planning meals with similar ingredients will prevent food waste (and extra spending). Avoid shopping when hungry, as you’re much more likely to make unhealthy impulse decisions. Here are some great tips to get started with meal planning.

7. Don’t fear leftovers: Leftovers are great, especially for busy families that don’t have time to cook every weeknight. If you tend to get bored with eating the same thing, try freezing extra portions in individual containers for quick meals in the future. Another tip for quicker cooking is prepping ingredients, like washing and chopping vegetables, when you bring them home from the grocery store.

It’s okay to grab something convenient or enjoy a night out from time to time, but if you find yourself leaning on these on a regular basis, it might be a good time to re-evaluate your food lifestyle.

Preparing and eating food mindfully with your family and friends helps forge deeper social bonds, too, so fire up the stove, break out an interesting recipe, and let the magic happen.

It feels excellent to put together healthy fare that is nourishing, delicious, and homemade.

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There’s more to life than buying stuff.

There are many wonderful people pursuing and promoting simplicity. Fortunately, some of them are gifted in communication and choose to encourage and inspire us with their words. I enjoy reading their unique perspective. I’m sure you will too.

So fix yourself a nice warm cup of coffee or tea on this beautiful weekend. Find a quiet moment. And enjoy some encouraging words about finding more simplicity in your life today.

9 Ways to Protect Kids from Consumerism and Why It’s Important | Buy Me Once by Tara Button. Unfortunately, the 5000 marketing messages our kids are receiving every day are “you are a consumer,” “buy this,” “eat this,” “watch this.” So, what can we do as parents?

Baby Boomers Are Downsizing and There’s A Problem: What To Do With All Their Stuff | Wall Street Journal by Robyn A. Friedman. As baby boomers move to smaller homes, they’re learning how to sell possessions accumulated. It’s a similar conundrum faced by heirs who must dispose of assets like Patek Philippe watches, planes and couture after a loved one dies.

How Minimalism Can Enhance Your Life | Canadian Living by Paula McKee. A little minimalism is better than none at all.

10 Things I’ve Done To Simplify My Life | Allie Casazza by Allie Casazza. I’m all about asking the question: What can I remove from my plate in the different areas of my life?

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Note: This is a guest post by Rachelle Crawford of Abundant Life With Less.

I’ve got to level with you. This simple living thing isn’t always so simple.

What began as a quest for less unlocked a world of wonder.

In one course-altering, divine, yet unlikely encounter, I awakened to the realization that minimalism was the solution to my chaotic and overwhelming daily life.

I’ve never looked back. It is a moment I will forever be grateful for.

I intensely and ruthlessly purged our belongings, and it did not take long to feel the impact of living with less. It was the unfamiliar feeling of relief.

I could breathe again.

This newfound peace soon began to migrate into the way I was spending my time. I found myself clearing my schedule with the same intensity I did my belongings. I figured that was it.

Then, well, one thing leads to another. I should have known. It always does. Here I am, a year and a half later, and a completely different person both inside and out.

You see, this minimalism is a tricky thing. She waltzes in dressed as simplicity, and the next thing you know she’s unraveled your soul.

There’s nothing simple about that.

While minimalism is about your stuff, I’ve found it has very little to do with your stuff. 

As I journeyed toward a life of less, I was surprised to discover a world of complexity along the way. This not so simple life kept challenging my assumptions about myself. It pressed me to transform areas of my life that, for so long, I let operate on autopilot.

This not so simple side of less just may stir up parts of you that you’ve long given up on.  Here are a handful of mine.

Adventure

For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt the pull toward adventure.

As I grew up, the love of adventure was replaced with a fear of losing it all. I preferred predictability to chance in order to maintain this tight grip on all that I cherished.

This simple life has awakened my once dormant passion to dare greatly, get uncomfortable and take an alternate route. It has inspired me to loosen my grip in order to take big leaps.

While you won’t find me on the latest episode of The Discovery Channel’s Naked and Afraid anytime soon, I’ve discovered little ways to uncover adventure in my daily life. Because in the words of Moana,

“The call isn’t out there at all, it’s inside me.”

Self-Discovery

“You either walk into your story and you own it, or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.” – Brene Brown

I was hiding behind my clutter and busyness to avoid self-reflection for fear of what I’d find. If I kept myself busy enough, and my life packed full to the brim, I wouldn’t have time to be accountable for the state of my soul.

Well wouldn’t you know it, with less on my plate and more time on my hands, I had nothing left to do but dive inside. I wasn’t too pleased with what I found.

While once filled with curiosity, adventure, leadership and bravery I had grown into an unteachable, worry-prone, perfectionist, hiding from my skill set and attempting to prove my worth through the art of doing.

My worth was entwined in my ability to be perfect, and it left me lost in the “try hard” life.

Doing the hard work of diving inside allowed me to find the truth about who I am and the source of my worthiness. I’ve become delightful company. 

“It’s a wild and wonderful thing to bump into someone and realize it’s you.” -Fil Anderson

Learning

I lost my desire to learn a long time ago. With my nursing degree came quite an educational hangover, which lingered for many years. From my faith to my parenting, I thought I had it all figured out. In turn, I became invested in eliminating variables and preventing change.

“Once you stop learning, you start dying.” – Albert Einstein

Becoming a minimalist was one of the biggest transitions I had yet to undertake. It led me to discover I could change and that a willingness to change is the first step toward growth.

Bravery

I used to do hard things. I remember them well.

Somewhere along the way I became a worrier. I tried to pretend that my worry was actually responsible parenting or productive planning, but the long and short of it was, hard things terrified me.

Call it a need to control or self-preserve, but eventually worry turned into fear and fear became my go-to.

Nothing good grows from a place of fear, and this not so simple life helped me uncover my bravery again.

Generosity

“Legacy is not leaving something for people, it’s leaving something in people.”  -Peter Strople

This simple life has me looking at material possessions in a whole new light. I find myself valuing my time and resources not by what they can offer me, but how they can be used to bless others.

More than that, I want to be generous with my story in hopes of sharing exactly that, hope.

“Our story isn’t for us in the first place. It never was. It’s for others, and those others need you to own it and share it.” – Joy McMillan

#NotSoSimpleLiving

Sure, simple living will lead to less. Less to do, less to want, less to need. However, I found the place of less to be a decoy. If less is really all you’re after, then watch your step because the simple life is riddled with rabbit holes. 

Don’t confuse simple living with an easy life.

It’s simply where the adventure begins. It’s where we find purpose and in turn, the capacity to discover what makes us come alive.

Now that I know a bit more about myself I’ve been thinking, maybe the simple life was never what I was after anyway.

***

Rachelle Crawford blogs at Abundant Life With Less where she encourages others to ditch the excess in order to find freedom, joy and purpose in the everyday. For more inspiration, find her on Instagram

 

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Note: This is a guest post by Michelle Summerfield of The Classy Simple Life.

I’m no stranger to rushing around, operating on overload, and essentially being a chicken with no head.

In my previous corporate life, I lived life at light speed and in complete chaos for sixteen years. I felt I never had time for the good things I knew I “should” be doing. But running at light speed and neglecting self-care eventually catches up with you.

You burn out.

That’s when your mind and body scream, “Hey, human, please get me off this darn merry-go-round. Now!”

One of the most important things I ever did was to listen to my body and create a calming evening routine. It has made such a difference.

Now, I turn my phone off at least an hour before bed to let my mind unwind. I do a peaceful P.M. yoga routine followed by a 5 or 10 minute meditation session which relaxes my body, relieves the stress of the day, and puts my mind into a peaceful place.

I use the quiet time right after to wash my face and practice gratitude before going to bed.

If my mind is still a bit over-stimulated, I’ll read a chapter of a book, which usually has me nodding off.

Now, I get it, not everyone has a lot of time in the evenings, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create your own simple routine by starting small. By making just one change to your evening routine, you’ll be on your way to bringing calm, peace and stress relief into your life.

My routine starts an hour before bed, but only takes 20-30 minutes total. Finding just 5-10 minutes to do one calming activity will get you started.

If you’re looking for stress relief from your busy day, I highly recommend creating a calming evening routine that works for you.

Here are 7 ideas to try out:

  1. Turn off your phone and be still for 5 minutes. During that quiet time, tell yourself you deserve peace and calm. You deserve to take care of yourself. Always putting everyone else first isn’t fair to you or to them. I turn my phone off at least an hour before bed to calm my mind (and eyes) from all the technology I’ve been using throughout the day.
  2. No TV or news before bed. I don’t watch the news at all anymore. As a sensitive person, I know how negatively it can affect me, so I keep it out of my life. Think of it — that time sitting in front of the TV could be used doing something to better your mind, body, and well-being instead. I know, we all love Netflix. The key is to be mindful of your TV use and know when it’s not giving you the peace and calm you need.
  3. Read a chapter of a book. This is one of my favourites! I recently got rid of my TV so I could have a reading nook in my room instead. No matter what book I’ve read, it’s never been a waste of time. In fact, most have changed my life for the better. It doesn’t matter what type of book, although I do recommend something that won’t get you thinking too much. The idea is to calm down. I’ve got two types of books I read in the evenings: spiritual self-help or a trashy romance novel.
  4. Yoga. I added yoga to my evening routine about six months ago and it is so relaxing! It focuses my mind and my awareness on my body. If you’re new to yoga, it’s not super difficult. If you’re worried about flexibility, start off with a beginner practice. I use the free Yoga Studio app on my Apple TV. I started with the beginner practice until I felt comfortable to move to intermediate.
    Yoga is a great way to not only add some relaxation to your day, but also exercise! And if you’ve been sitting at a desk job all day, the flexibility practices work wonders.
  5. Meditate. I don’t meditate regularly. In fact, I find it extremely hard to sit still for more than 5 minutes. My cat distracts me by sniffing my hand or the movement of family around the house keeps me aware of every noise. When I do manage it, it’s calming and grounding. The constant stream of thoughts in my head slows down and I feel peaceful after.
    You don’t have to do anything special or buy an app — simply focusing on your breathing and saying “breathe in” “breathe out” as you breathe is good enough. When I do my P.M. yoga, I’ll follow it up with a 5 minute relaxing meditation.
  6. Practice gratitude. This is one of my favourite parts of my evening routine. Every evening, I take a few moments to think about what I’m grateful for and who I’m grateful for in my life.
    This practice has the power to change your mindset and your life! It calms me and helps me appreciate everything I have. It works so well that I use it to combat my desire to buy new things. Whenever I have the urge to go back to old habits and buy something, I practice gratitude. It reminds me of all I have — the people, the roof over my head, the healthy food — everything. And the urge to shop falls away.
  7. Journal. Did you do a Dear Diary when you were a kid? Well, there’s no reason not to try the adult version. Simply getting your thoughts on paper or reflecting on your day has amazing calming and healing powers.I reflect on my day by asking three questions: What went well? What can I improve? What was I grateful for?

Creating a calming evening routine was the best thing I’ve done. Now I wake up feeling refreshed, and fall asleep faster without a million thoughts rushing through my head.

***

Michelle Summerfield is a blogger, writer, and speaker. She has been blogging about money, minimalism, and lifestyles for over six years at The Classy Simple Life. Michelle left her sixteen year corporate career to embrace simple living and inspire women to create a wholehearted lifestyle that’s simple yet stylish. Her work has been featured in Toronto Life, The Globe and Mail, Credit Canada, and on the CBC.

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Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Tara Button of Buy Me Once and A Life Less Throwaway.

Imagine there was a pill. It lessened your debt, made you more fulfilled, saved the planet, and tidied up your house for you. (Side effects might include smiling more.) What if that pill existed…?

I mean, everyone would be taking that pill. People would pay big bucks for that pill. All you would see on TV would be ads for this pill. All the big pharma companies would try to patent it.

But here’s the best part: the pill is free!

Minimalism, which I define as only bringing objects into your life which you have mindfully chosen to help you live your unique purpose, is a magic medicine.

So why hasn’t the whole of the USA swallowed the pill? Why has the minimalist movement, while passionate and growing, not been taken on instantly across America and the world?

I reasoned that there must be something fighting against us taking that magic medicine. While making my own minimalist journey for my book, A Life Less Throwaway, I found out what that was.

As we try to get the pill to our mouths, there are four jabbering, distracting, monkeys hanging off our arm. Yes, really.

Let me introduce you to the four monkeys of materialism and what we can do to overcome them.

Monkey One – The Advertising Monkey

The first monkey is insisting, hundreds of times a day, that buying this thing or that thing will make us happier, healthier, more beautiful and likable. We mainly ignore this monkey. We think we can’t hear it and that what it’s saying isn’t going into our heads, but it is. (Otherwise advertisers wouldn’t spend the money to make ads.)

While our conscious brain might be musing other things, this monkey is clever. It speaks directly to those bits of our brains we don’t control, the bits that create deeply hidden urges and impulse buying.

We must mute this monkey if we can, and teach our kids to mute it on the TV and internet, too. Where ads are unavoidable, like on the street, break their power by becoming mindful of them. Look the monkey straight in the eye and say, “I’m good just the way I am, thanks.”

Engaging this monkey consciously and confidently is the only way to quiet it.

Monkey Two – The Trend Monkey

The second monkey makes fun of your shoes! It’s telling you, “You can’t possibly wear that again, everyone has seen you in it. Besides, it’s out of style.”

It’s the monkey that points out that your couch is “a bit 90’s” and hypnotizes you into thinking that things you used to love have somehow stopped being beautiful and interesting.

This monkey can be silenced by taking the time to dig deep into your unique sense of style.

Spend a few hours really considering which colours look great on your body, and calm and inspire you in a home environment. Put in a weekend to nail down the shapes and textures that make you happiest.

When you consciously build a sense of your own aesthetic, you can then dismiss the fads and tell the trend monkey you don’t give a hoot if “spots are in” and “stripes are out” because you’ve taken the time to find what makes you feel fabulous forever.

Monkey Three – The Status Monkey

The status monkey is the trend monkey’s evil twin. This monkey lives inside your head and is constantly pointing out to you what other people have and whether they are “above” or “below” you.

This monkey is obsessed with being on top, because in ancient times, a human with low status might get kicked out of the tribe and starve. This is one paranoid monkey!

So now it hisses in your ear, “We have the worst house on the street, the oldest car. Look how big that woman’s engagement ring is. Everyone else gets new backpacks for their kids each year.”

The status monkey is massively encouraged by the advertising monkey. Models look haughty in advertising and on the catwalk because, whether they know it or not, they are trying to activate this monkey in your head.

The monkey sees the ad and says, “See how she’s looking at you? That means you’re below her! If you buy this designer bag, then we can go up a level and feel higher, too.”

Kids can suffer cruelly under the tyranny of the status monkey. “Everyone else has one!” is a familiar cry.

Working on getting self-worth from what you do and who you are, rather than what you have, is the only way to quiet this monkey.

Ask your kids why they are pals with their friends. It will never be because they have the latest toy, but because they are fun or kind – intrinsic things. Reassure your kids that it’s this stuff that other kids care about too. Reassure yourself of this too, while you’re at it.

It’s been shown that whether you’re rich or poor, how you feel about your status can affect your immune system and actually shorten or lengthen your life.

So please, don’t let the status monkey trick you into thinking that people with more stuff or more expensive stuff have higher status. You give yourself your status.

Calm this monkey by telling it that you appreciate it looking out for your survival, but it doesn’t need to worry because you’re king of the jungle where it counts.

Monkey Four – The Attachment Monkey

Many of us want to declutter and let go of excess items that aren’t adding to our happiness. However, the attachment monkey clings hold of all of your possessions, no matter what, and makes big monkey eyes at you.

“How could you possibly let this go! It’s yours! You spent money on it! It’s worth something! What if you need it? It reminds you of someone. Maybe you’ll use it someday!”

This monkey needs to understand that objects which aren’t being used or appreciated are non-objects. In fact, they are draining, negative objects. They’re just clutter, and a waste of the materials and time that went into making them. The mere fact that you own them isn’t a reason in itself to keep them.

How can we beat this monkey?

Well, if the monkey says you might use an object one day, choose a specific time limit. Write the date on a sticker and put it on the object. Make a deal with the monkey. This is that objects expiry date. If you haven’t used or appreciated it before the date goes up, it goes.

If it is the waste of money that bothers the monkey, try and sell it to make a return. But think of it this way, it’s even more a waste of money if it’s sitting there making you feel guilty. Who wants to spend money on an object that makes them feel bad every time they see it?

When it comes to mementos, instead of clinging to them all, satisfy the monkey by picking one or two special items that can do the job of all the items you don’t use or look at.

These four monkeys all claim to have our best interests at heart, but at the same time they’re all trying their very best to stop us doing what will actually make us happier, less debt-ridden and more connected to what really matters.

Treat them as you would treat any monkey: kindly but firmly.

Say, “Thanks so much for the advice, but at the end of the day, you do not know what’s best for me… you’re a monkey.”

Then take the pill.

***

Tara Button is the creator of Buy Me Once, which was recognized by the Guardian as “[the] holy grail for those looking to prioritize quality over quantity.” She is the author of the new book, A Life Less Throwaway: The Lost Art of Buying for Life, out now. Through her writing and speaking, she inspires a lifestyle of reliable and responsible consumption.

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Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it. It requires a conscious decision because it is a countercultural lifestyle that stands against the culture of overconsumption that surrounds us.

The world we live in is not friendly to the pursuit of minimalism. Its tendencies and relentless advertising campaigns call us to acquire more, better, faster, and newer. The journey of finding simplicity requires consistent inspiration.

For that reason, I hope you will make an effort this weekend to find a quiet moment with a cup of coffee or tea and enjoy some of these hand-picked articles to encourage more simplicity in your life.

The Importance of White Space in Life and Money | Simple Money Pro by Dawn Starks. As I continue to try to make my life simpler, I have focused on increasing white space. Having space around a few favorite objects on a shelf draws attention to the items, while a crowded shelf is overwhelming, and those meaningful treasures get lost.

5 Things to Remember When Simplifying Brings Up Complicated Emotions | No Sidebar by Karla Hildebrandt Kroeker. If you’re waiting until you’re not afraid, you may never actually begin.

How Far Behind? | Seth’s Blog by Seth Godin. There are people who have read far more books than you have, and you will certainly never catch up.

Also, want to preview my new book, The Minimalist Home? You can see it and download some of it right here: Sneak Peak: The Minimalist Home.

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Note: This is a guest post by Britt from Tiny Ambitions.

It’s weird to think I’m already six months into my year-long shopping ban, which means I’ve spent the last six months not buying anything other than the essentials: rent, food, and toiletries.

Is that radical? Some people might say yes, but I don’t think so. It was simply a reaction to my life situation.

Owing to an uncharacteristically spendy December (thank you, unexpected car repairs), I needed a refresh. I had felt the slow creep of my compulsive shopping tendencies start to slip back into my life.

It was time for a change.

After six months on the no-buy train, I’ve learned a thing or two about myself, my consumption habits, and the process of shopping bans themselves.

Shopping Bans Shouldn’t Be Controversial

It shouldn’t be controversial for someone to say “I’m not going to buy anything I don’t truly need for x number of days”.

Perhaps it just sounds radical because we’ve been conditioned to believe we need new “stuff” all the time, but really, we know that isn’t the case. It’s just clever marketing disguised as sage wisdom.

We’ve gotten to a place where over-consumption is normalized. It’s normal to own 300+ pieces of clothing. It’s normal to live in a house that is twice the size of what we actually need. And, of course, it’s normal to go into debt to keep up with the Joneses.

When consumption is viewed in these terms, it’s easy to see why embarking on a shopping ban of any length could be considered extreme. It’s so far outside the norm for most people.

I Have More Than Enough

This comes from an absolute place of privilege, but in no time over the last six months have I felt like I was lacking an item. I never felt like I didn’t have exactly what I needed, or I couldn’t make it work with what I had.

Because I knew I had to use my stocks of consumables, like toiletries, before I could replace them, it was easier for me to appreciate what I had. There was no easy gratification option.

Since I knew I couldn’t buy anything, I actually started to notice all of the “stuff” I did have in my life.

This is especially true for the cosmetics and personal care products we use on a daily basis. I never realized how many tubes of deodorant or body lotion I had in my bathroom cupboard until I started the ban.

I haven’t had to buy a new deodorant or lotion since January, and I suspect I won’t have to for a while. (I also discovered I had a stash of seven toothbrushes—in a two person house. How many mouths do I think I can brush at once?)

Mindful Consumption

When undertaking any sort of lifestyle change, it’s initially easy to view desires from a perspective of lack. “Why don’t I have this new, trendy dress?” “Why do I have to drive such an old clunker?” “I need this new shining possession to fulfill my life.”

Based on my experience, that mindset changes once you realize how much you do actually have in your life. All you have to do is stop to notice it, instead of moving onto the next sparkling item when the opportunity presents itself.

This kind of scarcity mindset is pervasive, and one that needs to be kept in check as often as possible.

Are you buying this item because it’s on sale? In the case of my seven toothbrushes, absolutely. But here’s the thing we always forget—if it’s on sale now (when you don’t need it), it will probably be on sale again (when you do actually need it).

This is another surprising outcome of my shopping ban. Rather than helping me reduce my focus on the stuff in my life, it has actually amplified it. Everything I own now exists under a microscope, waiting for me to decide how and if I can better utilize it in my life.

I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Being hyper aware of everything I own will help me make better consumption decisions in the future.

DIY Is An Essential Skill

I don’t know if it’s because of the shopping ban or if it is entirely coincidental, but I’ve had to repair a lot of my clothes over the last six months. My long underwear, cardigan, winter socks and yoga pants all developed holes.

None of these repairs were very hard. I grew up sewing and quilting with my grandmother, used to make most of my own clothes, and even took fashion design in high school.

However, being self-sufficient at something, even if it’s just something small like mending holes in clothes, is a really good feeling. And, it’s an indispensable skill when you’re trying to reduce your consumption.

If I didn’t have these skills, I would have had to replace those items of clothing (or do without). Sewing for the win!

I Love Old Stuff

What? A minimalist who actually likes “stuff”? That can’t be right.

About one month into my shopping ban, I went into a local thrift store with my partner who was shopping for some work clothes. As soon as we walked into the store, I knew I was in trouble. Everything called out to me.

The vintage hard-sided luggage oozed of adventures once taken. Old kitchen appliances harkened back to delicious meals shared among friends.

That’s when I realized it. I love old stuff.

I love imagining the lives of the people who used to own these treasures. Each item is full of history and stories—a time I’ll never be able to experience.

This small trip to the thrift store helped me clarify exactly why it is I love certain things. And, I think that’s ok. There’s nothing wrong with loving any kind of “stuff.”

I’m a minimalist, not a soulless robot.

Certain things move me. Vintage, well-worn, beautiful curiosities are some of those things.

Now that I know this about myself, I can reshape my buying tendencies post-shopping ban to re-align with my values. As much as I can, I’ll continue to replace my possessions with second-hand items when the time comes.

Shopping Bans Are Not That Hard

When I first announced my ban, so many of the comments I received were from people who never believed they would be able to undertake such an extreme challenge in their own lives.

While I have had my fair share of temptation over the last six months (I am a reformed shopaholic, after all), once I got to the place where I knew a shopping ban was something I needed to commit to in order to get myself back on track, it has been relatively easy to stay the course.

If you don’t think you would survive a shopping ban, let me assure you, you absolutely would. Give yourself a little more credit. You can do anything you put your mind to.

***

Britt blogs at Tiny Ambitions. She is a minimalist, a simple living advocate and a tiny house enthusiast. You can also find her on Instagram sharing pictures of her adorable, cross-eyed rescue cat.

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Many people, when they first hear about minimalism, or as they begin their own personal journey towards it, typically run into this question: What do I do with the sentimental things I’ve collected over the years?

It is a question I am asked often. And an important one.

Here is my advice:

1. Remember that less is different than none.

No one is saying that you have to get rid of everything you have an emotional attachment to—but I do think you will find benefit in owning less.

Here’s what I mean by that: When my wife’s grandmother passed away a number of years ago, she came home with a small cardboard box of things collected from her grandmother’s apartment—items that reminded her of her beloved grandma. We then promptly put that cardboard box in the basement and would only notice it when we were cleaning up the basement—which rarely happened.

After we found minimalism and began getting rid of the stuff we didn’t need, we eventually ran into this cardboard box in the basement. When we did, my wife asked herself, “Okay, what am I going to do here?”

Eventually, she decided she would keep three things from the box, the three things that “most represented her grandmother.” She kept a candy dish. She kept a lapel pin, and she kept a Bible. The candy dish is now in our living room, and we see it every single day. The pin, she put on one of her coats, and she wears it occasionally. The Bible, she put in her nightstand next to her bed.

And now, because we own fewer things, they have brought a greater sense of value to that relationship. These items, now being used, serve as a more faithful reminder to us of her grandmother and her influence on Kim’s life. Less became better than more. This is often the case with sentimental belongings.

2. Your memories do not exist in the item.

The memories we cherish exist in our minds, they exist in our hearts and our souls, not in physical objects.

In our heart is where the memories live, where the influence of the person resides, or the accomplishment surrounding an event takes root. When we remove an item, we think sometimes we’re removing the memory—but we aren’t. The memories remain.

You may find it helpful to take a picture of the item before you get rid of it, just so you can look back and prompt that memory. But removing the item is not going to remove the memories.

3. Our emotional attachment to things can actually provide motivation for owning less.

Think of the sentimental things, and the things you have an emotional attachment to. They typically represent one of three things: 1) They represent an important relationship; 2) They represent an important accomplishment; or 3) They represent an important experience… so you bought the t-shirt to bring home with you.

These, you see, are the activities that add meaning, and purpose, and significance to our lives. Our relationships, our accomplishments, and our experiences. This is where the value of life resides.

But if all the things we’ve accumulated over the years are keeping us from relationships, accomplishments, experiences, then we should get reduce the number of things we own. Remove the burdens that are holding us back from those experiences, so we can enjoy even more of the things that mean the most to us.

Lastly, keep in mind, if you are beginning on your path to minimalism, and sentimental things is where you’re starting, you are going to have a hard time. Let’s start easy, okay? Get rid of some of the things you know you don’t need. Go through your closet. Or go through your kitchen.

Begin removing some of the possessions you know don’t need to be a part of our life anymore. Remove those, and as you do, you’ll find increased motivation to own less. You’ll learn the lessons that will equip you perfectly for when you do get to these sentimental things—and you’ll be far more equipped to handle them effectively when you do.

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Note: This is a guest post by Emma Scheib of Simple Slow & Lovely.

Embarking on a decluttering and minimizing endeavor can be difficult. In fact, it can be downright scary at times. This is because minimalism isn’t just about your stuff—it’s also about your why. Why you accumulated so much in the first place. And this is a difficult encounter for anyone.

Once upon a time, I was a shopaholic. Uncomfortable in my own skin, I attempted to reclothe myself in whatever the latest fashion was, choosing clothes as a second skin to boost my confidence. In my early twenties, purchasing one or two new items of clothing a week was pretty normal.

And although I always felt great in a new outfit, the feeling never lasted. The temporary boost of confidence was just replaced by a bulging wardrobe. When I decided to minimize my possessions a few years ago the thought of working through these piles of clothing I’d accumulated was overwhelming.

Because it wasn’t just the clothes I had to sort through.

If I wanted to make a lasting change to a tidier, smaller wardrobe, I had to deal with why I’d accumulated so much in the first place. And as it turns out, my why was connected to my self-worth. The reason I found solace in shiny new things was that they made me feel accepted.

Acceptance of myself has never come easy and the lack of it stems from my start to life. Being given up for adoption at birth is something that has always tainted my worldview.

At the heart of many shopping trips was my limbic brain response to being given away. It was my inner baby, clawing at something, anything to prove my right to exist. If I looked good, I would be wanted, and not discarded.

Underneath our piles of belongings, we hide fears, loneliness, and insecurities. Behind a bulging wardrobe and piles of shoes, a fear of never being loved or even liked might be lurking. Beneath a pile of impulse homeware purchases, an overwhelming anxiety might be hiding.

Clutter and excess are rarely the root of a problem, they are the result. Even worse, the clutter compounds the problem, causing further stress and anxiety.

This is important to understand.

We can declutter all we want, making our homes magazine-worthy, but until we yank out the roots of what’s caused us to accumulate stuff in the first place, we’ll have little chance of making a permanent change. We’ll just wind up back at square one, surrounded by stuff that adds no value to our lives. A kind of decluttering Groundhog Day.

You can make a permanent change in your life, to minimize your belongings, but only if you deal with the roots.

Where does one start?

Identify Your Emotions

Begin by noticing what you feel when you reach for your credit card. Awareness of the driving forces behind these purchases is an important first step. It took me awhile to realize that I was trying to fill emotional spaces when I went shopping. But once I named the emotions, it became easier to forgo shopping trips.

It might take months of just noticing the reasons you accumulate before you feel ready to make changes. But when you do…

Engage With Your Emotions as You Declutter

At the heart of my bulging wardrobe was pain from feeling unworthy. I had to engage with this pain and move through it as I decluttered. This doesn’t mean that I still don’t feel the pain. But now that I’ve recognized this emotion as a trigger, I’m less likely to add to my wardrobe and find it easier to simplify.

What do you feel looking at your piles of belongings?

Do you feel anxious? Anxiety about what you might need in a hypothetical future will stop you in your decluttering tracks. People hold onto items ‘just in case’, thinking they won’t be able to afford to replace it if they need it again. This is where community toy and tool libraries can help. When our girls are done with their toys, I donate them rather than keeping them for the grandchildren. I know when that time arrives, I can visit the toy library instead of the attic.

Do you feel lonely? If your trigger to purchasing (or keeping) items is loneliness, try connecting with others. Many of us are surrounded by people but still feel incredibly alone. Make a phone call to someone whose voice you need to hear. Ask someone to join you on your daily walk or meet someone for coffee. Ironically, the upkeep of these piles of belongings is often what keeps us from making and keeping meaningful connection with others.

Do you feel stressed and overwhelmed? Some of us have lived decades without curating our possessions. In our never-ending busyness, we lack time and energy to spring clean, let alone declutter. Find a way to drop one or two things off your to-do list and calendar this week. Decluttering does take time, but you can find it if you’re intentional.

Take Care of Yourself

Whatever it is that’s hiding under your piles of clutter, tread carefully. Take the best care of yourself possible during this process. Take regular breaks to do things that fill you back up. It might be reading a book, taking a bath, or going for a long walk. These difficult emotions, the pain, the insecurities, the worry and the sadness, they need your tender loving care as you move them gently aside.

I’ve gone through several large purges of my possessions over the last few years. I’ve swept through my home twice, each time getting rid of over 500 items. And last year, when we prepared to rent our house out, I took several car loads to our recycling center. Each time, the process got easier. Each time, I’m a little more confident and a little less fearful of looking under the rug to check what’s hiding.

I’m inching my way towards a curated and intentional life with less of what I don’t need and more of what I want.

As I’ve become more aware of my insecurities and found other ways to cope with difficult emotions, it’s become easier to let go of things. I don’t need a new outfit for every occasion. I’m happy shopping at my local thrift shops and wearing well-worn favorites. I’ve survived the long-haul of decluttering because I’ve looked after myself in the process.

And my sum total of 6 pairs of shoes? Feels like one too many.

***

Emma Scheib blogs at Simple Slow & Lovely. She is a self-confessed introvert who craves the simple and slow things in life. You can also find her on Facebook.

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