One of my philosophies here is "live simply" - easy words to say, but what do they mean? And why would you want to live a simpler lifestyle?
In a nutshell, living simply involves cutting away the crap, de-cluttering, and living a more peaceful, tidy lifestyle. It isn't about throwing away so much of your stuff that you live in a plain white room, bored out of your mind - it's about realising that you could probably do without half the things that take up your time and get in your way when you're trying to find that important piece of paper. It's about organising and prioritising - which is why the rest of the article will be in nice, numbered points rather than a wall of text!
1. It will make life much less stressful.
When you have clutter, you have stress. A chaotic house reflects a chaotic mind. I know that when I look at a messy room I find it harder to concentrate on working. This goes not just for items but for background noise and tasks. Who can focus when they have a million things going on?
When you de-clutter your life, you start to find time for yourself; time where you can simply "be", reflect and find peace. You'll also be far more productive without all those distractions. Not to mention when you're trying to find something and you end up wading through rooms full of junk - how much easier would it be if you knew where everything was, and all of it was stuff that you needed and wanted in your home?
All too often, our culture persuades us that more is always better - more possessions, more activities, more friends - but all this really does is place a massive amount of pressure on us. When you realise that life is about quality, not quantity, you'll find that you can spend time giving attention to the things that truly matter, rather than trying to spread yourself across ten projects and sixty "friends".
2. You can help others through your buying choices.
Few of us really give thought to the impact of our shopping habits on the rest of the world. How often do we stop to think of all the people who were involved in making the things we buy, and what kind of working conditions they have faced while making them?
On one side of the argument, buying more things gives more jobs to people - however, the public's mass demand for cheap products sends the message to big companies that it's OK to continue paying workers less than £2 a day to pick tea, because we seem to prefer buying a lot at low cost than to carefully consider each purchase we make.
As The Simplicity Collective explains; "We live in a world of scarce resources... One obvious way to share with others, then, is simply to take less, to try to take only what one needs to live a dignified life, and no more. Taking less may not be easy, of course, especially in cultures that celebrate extravagance. But it is hard to imagine how the problems of poverty will ever be solved if the materially rich and materially comfortable continue seeking ever-higher levels of consumption."
By thinking about what we truly need and what we don't, by researching every item we bring into our lives, we can make more informed choices. By avoiding spontaneous purchases, you reduce the "we-don't-care-as-long-as-it's-cheap" message that most of us are sending corporations, even if just by a little bit.
3. It's good for the environment
A similar argument stands for being green - buying less unnecessary crap means fewer resources are used to create them. Increased consumption means increased demand on our planet in terms of materials and energy. This is why I like to buy second hand rather than new - not only does it reduce demand for new products, but it saves a perfectly good piece of furniture/clothing from being thrown away.
Living simply also involves looking at the way you do things and asking yourself whether you really need to go about it in that way; for example, do you really need to drive to the shops to grab bread just because it's a little more convenient than walking for 10 minutes? Do you really need to buy a ton of avocados and coconut water (flown from halfway across the world), while ignoring all the things that grow in your local area? Living simply is not just about the things you do, but about considering your impact on the world.
In 2002, the World Summit in Johannesburg found that fundamental lifestyle changes are required in terms of private consumption in order to achieve ecological sustainability. Consume less, do less that is unnecessary, leave less of a carbon footprint.
4. You'll save money!
This should really go without saying, although consuming ethically can sometimes mean spending a little more. Clearing out the clutter might lead you to making a fair bit of cash from old books or games (especially if you've kept things that have increased in value), while it's quite logical that buying less = saving more money. While the sad fact is that some people simply couldn't afford to rent properties or get around without borrowing money, I've spoken to plenty of people who have fallen into debt from buying clothes, games or items for their home that perhaps weren't really necessary.
Breaking away from this desire to always have more, the illusion that you can fill a hole in our soul with the things you buy, won't only make you happier but will free you up financially to do a lot of other things - spend money on learning new skills, travelling (on a "simple" budget, of course) or cutting your working hours and freeing up your time to pursue more of the things you're passionate about. For many of us, we wouldn't have to slave away towards a retirement we may never reach if we didn't consume so much here and now.
This brings to mind the story of the Mexican fisherman...
5. It will make you realise what's important in life...
Realising that you need less will mean you can save more money. This might help you realise you don't really need to work as many hours as you do - giving you time to reflect on what's truly important to you - this might be learning a new language or skill, setting up your own business, volunteering or spending more time with your family.
Clearing out unnecessary items from your to-do list might also help you to look at what is most important to you. So many of us live in a world of constant distraction - if we're not working or doing some kind of chore, we're looking at Facebook or watching something on TV. How often do we spend time reflecting on what's truly important to us, talking to the people closest to us or taking part in our communities?
It's easy to think of "richness" as being purely about how much money is in the bank, but who is truly richer - the businessman who works himself into a tireless stupor and never sees his loved ones so that he can afford a lifestyle of designer items and luxury holidays, or the person whose life is filled with friendship, healthy food, time for hobbies and authenticity, free (or as free as one can be) from the need to impress others and tell ourselves we're only worth what we can afford?
Finally, in the space left behind when you clear out all of your unwanted stuff, you might find something more meaningful. As the Simplicity Collective (I love this site) put it: "By shifting attention from the material to the non-material side of life, voluntary simplicity can facilitate a deeper awareness of the spiritual dimension of being... When we let ourselves be enchanted by ordinary experience, it quickly becomes clear that ‘a simple life’ is a profoundly beautiful life, one that is exciting and worth living. For simplicity is nothing if it is not an affirmative state of mind, an authentic celebration of life, and it is a state of mind that often seems to reflect a mystical interpretation of life and a deep reverence for nature." Couldn't have put it better myself.
If what I've said has made sense, then as well as staying tuned for my tips on living simply, I recommend that you check out these lovely sites:
The Simplicity Collective
The Art of Simple Living
Low Impact Living Initiative
Mr Money Mustache - an awesome guy who's retired in his 30's and now lives a "frugal yet Badass life of leisure."
Picture from http://tango-beat.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/simplicity-in-not-complicated.html