❝The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.❞ -Hans Hofmann
I'm at my computer, creating a complicated spreadsheet to track all of my credit cards. It's 2005, and I just moved to the Minneapolis area. I have a lot of credit card debt left over from college, and I don't have a job yet. One thing I try to do to save money on interest is to regularly open up different credit cards. Then I transfer balances to the new cards to get an introductory rate. To do this, I have to track all the cards I have in my spreadsheet and when the introductory period closes so that I know to open up a new credit card and transfer the balance again.
Eventually, the spreadsheet gets so complicated that it's hard for me to understand - and that is saying something because I'm the one that developed it. At this point, I realize I spend an enormous amount of time and energy fiddling around with this spreadsheet. It's too complicated and takes time away from other things I would like to do - more meaningful things I could use my time on.
I may have saved a couple hundred dollars in interest, but I spent a lot more time and mental energy than that was worth. I would have been better off with a simple system.
LIFE IS SHORT
Life is short and finite. As obvious as it sounds, many people live their lives trying to avoid thinking about this fact. People live their lives as if there will always be more time. By living life through the lens of always having more time, it's easy to get caught up in things that don't matter. It's easy to pay attention to the noise and ignore the signal. We tell ourselves we can get to the meaningful stuff as soon as we...whatever...there's always stuff to do, so we never get around to the important stuff.
By reminding ourselves that our time is finite and short, we can cut out a lot of the complexity that complicates our life and distracts us from what is truly important to us. Simply remembering that we are going to die and every single person we love will die can be motivation enough to get us to start focusing on the things that matter to us - now.
MOST THINGS DON'T MATTER
As you reflect on your life from your deathbed, you'll realize that most things didn't matter. In the grand scheme of things, most of the stuff that we stress about is insignificant. Most of the stuff that we spend a lot of our time on are things we do to make ourselves feel better, but they aren't actually relevant to anything in our lives or the lives of anybody else.
That may sound bleak, but we know that our time is limited and that we only have a certain amount of time on this planet. One of the easiest ways to live a life of meaning is to stop using your time on things that don't matter to you.
One example you see is people setting up complex systems for themselves. They might have a very complex budgeting system or a complex set of investments - or like me, a complicated debt repayment spreadsheet. In some relatively specific situations, the complex system will be better. However, for most people, this complexity is not worth it.
ELIMINATE WHAT DOESN'T MATTER
One of the biggest bangs for your buck when trying to design and live a meaningful life is to start by eliminating things from your life that don't matter. This could be activities, tasks, people, or even various metrics, including how many social media followers you have.
This may take some practice because it often feels like things that don't matter to us are things that should matter to us. It's easy to think that way because that's what we see. It takes some time to get comfortable with the idea that everybody has different values, and therefore, will find different things meaningful.
But to cut out the things that don't matter, you must first understand what does matter.
FIGURE OUT WHAT DOES MATTER
It can seem daunting to figure out what is most important to you, but it need not be that difficult. You can think back on your life and think of the most meaningful moments you've experienced so far. What similarities lie in those moments? How did those moments enrich your life?
Alternatively, you can imagine sitting at your 90th birthday party and watching all your closest loved ones take turns toasting you. What do you want them to be able to say? What do you need to do now to make that happen?
Figuring out what matters to you involves connecting to your most personal values. Once you get in touch with what's important to you and the kind of person you want to be, it is easier to cut out all the noise. It makes it easier to simplify your life and focus only on what matters.
Choosing to live a simple life means living in a way that is authentic. It means bringing things into your life if and only if it adds value. Living simply means letting go of unnecessary complexity and not letting the quest for perfect get in the way of good.
You get one life; live intentionally.
If you know someone else who would benefit from reading this, please share it with them. Spread the word, if you think there's a word to spread.
Related Money Health® Reading
References and Influences
Ben-Shahar, Tal: Choose the Life You Want
Burkeman, Oliver: The Antidote
Burkeman, Oliver: Four Thousand Weeks
Fischer, John Martin: Death, Immortality, and Meaning in Life
Hagen, Derek: Your Money, Your Values, and Your Life
Haidt, Jonathan: The Happiness Hypothesis
Hanh, Thich Nhat: You Are Here
Kinder, George: Transforming Suffering into Wisdom
Manson, Mark: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck
McKay, Matthew, John Forsyth, and Georg Eifert: Your Life on Purpose
McKeown, Greg: Essentialism
Millburn, Joshua Fields & Ryan Nicodemus: Essential
Solomon, Greenberg & Pyszczynski: The Worm at the Core
St. James, Elaine: Simplify Your Life
Ware, Bronnie: The Top Five Regrets of the Dying
Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.