2018 for us was the year of less. I would say that it took a year of experimenting after dental school until I finally found my focus. This past year was the second year since leaving school and it was also the year that I finally identified myself as The Debtist, accurately reflecting just how much the student debt has shaped my life. When I left school, I was suffering from a feeling of overwhelm, and not just because I was an introvert. There was just too much of everything. Some were good, like accomplishments and accolades that I was proud of, but with the good comes the bad, such as obligations tied to those accomplishments and accolades. I owned too many things, knew too many people, had too many social events to go to, and I was drowning in debt. After a year of soul-searching and experimental living, we finally found our groove and spent all of 2018 perfecting our lifestyle by design.
Here’s the truth. Balancing all aspects of your life can be exhausting. Trying to make sense of your financial life can be difficult enough as it is, especially if you are trying to control your spending, get rid of debt, save for a financial goal such as a house or your child’s college tuition, and plan for retirement all at the same time. Imagine doing so while balancing a job, spending time with your friends and family, and stealing time for your own health. Oh wait, you probably don’t need to imagine. Where, then, do you have time to add to your life? By the time the work day is over, most Americans are just praying to get to bed at an early enough hour in order to do it all over again the next day. Some desperately crawl their way to the weekend ahead.
That’s not the life I want to live. I can argue that’s not much of a life at all. The problem is, the American Dream emphasizes the importance of having more to the point where our lives are over-extended balloons and we are all about to pop under the stress. When in reality, we can all benefit from less, and simplifying our life is one of the best ways in which we can enhance our focus, reach our goals, relieve our stress, and take our life back.
The average American lives surrounded in clutter, both physical and mental, completely unaware. I know I was. Clutter comes in many forms. It can manifest as excess stuff in our homes, uncontrolled spending and consumerism, unhealthy relationships and habits, debt (can I get an Amen?!), unwanted obligations, unsatisfying jobs, mental clutter in the form of anxieties and worries, digital clutter, and more. Controlling all of this clutter can make life very chaotic, and when life is chaotic, it’s hard to focus on things that actually matter, such as close relationships, health, and personal growth. When I graduated, I didn’t know that I was suffering from excessiveness but I knew I had to change something or go ape. I landed on simplicity, accidentally, and it was my saving grace.
After an entire year of stripping our lives to the barest minimums, we found that bare minimum kind of suits us. We de-cluttered, dropped relationships, said no to a million obligations, rejected lifestyle creep, avoided consumerism and subscriptions, and meditated and created our way to unearth versions of ourselves that were buried beneath all the responsibilities; versions that were unable to be born and grow under all the stress and the duress. What resulted was not only a self-discovery but also a forming of community, interested in our lifestyle. It shows that many people are just searching to be humans again, to escape the hamster wheel, the robotic interactions, the black hole of the American Dream that is so difficult to escape.
Soooooo maybe 2019 is the year to simplify, if you haven’t experimented with it already. Simplifying looks differently for everyone, but here are some processes that I addressed in order to simply my life. I hope it finds you well in the year to come.
- De-clutter (or downsize!) in 2019. This addresses the physical aspect of clutter. Studies have shown that houses full of clutter actually affect our ability to connect with our homes and prevent us from associating the home with a place of refuge from the outside world. Meaning, having too much stuff surrounding us keep our minds constantly over-whelmed with stimuli, and thereby prevents us from fully re-setting. Additionally, cleaning up after our stuff takes up a lot of time when we just have too much. Plus, we have to deal with the paradox of choice. Having less stuff simplifies the decision-making process of trivial things (such as what to wear today), thereby allowing us to focus on making decisions for more important, and bigger life commitments. Lastly, de-cluttering (or down-sizing your home) will save you money, too! There are many pros with small-space living, and simplifying your life is just one of them! To read more about my thoughts on less and happiness, right this way.
- Spend less time on social media. Logging off is one way to eliminate mental clutter. I’d be the first to admit that my ten fingers are miraculously glued to my phone. But after an experiment of logging off after a month, I was suddenly reminded of what life was like before I was endowed with constant connection abilities. I started to have time for things that I used to say I did not have time for. I even had so much time that there were moments where I had to sit and think of what to do! The average american spends 5 hours a day on social media. FIVE HOURS!! I mean, don’t get me wrong. I love connecting to friends, family, and you, readers, through social media. But there are days when I am seriously scrolling down my feed, eyes glazed, just because I had a long day of work and needed to soothe my tired brain with photos of pretty things and videos of cats. Hardly productive. I could have instead taken a nap and been energized from the rest of the day., I liken social media to useless carbs. We consume them because they make us feel good, but there is no way it’s good for us in the long run.
- Watch less Netflix/TV. We do not have cable, or a television for that matter. In fact, we lead a life of absolutely no TV. It saves us money, but more importantly, it saves us time. Similar to the social media rant, TV is one of those easy solutions to top off a stressful work day, but it’s a time waster. The average American watches 35 hours of TV a week, which I cannot even fathom because TV never was a big factor in my life. But I do believe it, since every social gathering has someone bringing up the latest news on TV or the most popular TV series. People even talk about funny advertisements, or trailers of new movies. And honestly, we can’t relate. Which is pretty awesome, because people ask about our lifestyle without TV and start to drift into topics of travel, being with family, tapping into creativity, and more. Sometimes, we even drift into politics, but rather than talking about what a politician just recently said or did, we talk more about the futures we want to see, and brainstorm our own imaginary solutions to problems that society faces. Instead of talking about other people’s lives, we become introspective of our own.
- Evaluate your relationships. We all know what unhealthy relationships are like. There are social obligations that we keep out of sentimentality or fear of cutting ties completely, but when you reframe your view and realize that these relationships can be keeping you from your potential life, it becomes much easier to let them go. You don’t have to do it in any awful way and the ties don’t have to be severed on bad terms. We’ve all had a falling out over time and it’s not that you don’t like that person, but just that they don’t really fit your lifestyle in this moment. They could have had a place in your past and maybe they will also have a place in the future, but maybe now is not the time. If they are your true close friend or family, they will understand the boundaries that you set. Evaluating relationships will let you know which are really worth your time. It gets rid of those social events that you dread going to, the awkward moments when you can’t connect with someone, or even the frustrating and bad moments where the drama happens. In the words of Bob Ross, “I can’t afford to hate people. I don’t have that kind of time”.
- Get rid of debt. I can talk all day about this. In fact, I’ve talked ALL YEAR about this. Debt can be restricting, taking away the freedom to live your life to the fullest. Especially when the debt is large like ours. It doesn’t matter if it’s student loan debt, credit card debt (ick! Those interest rates!), car debt, mortgage loans, or business debt. All debt is bad debt. Paying off all of your debt will greatly simplify your life. You will get rid of monthly recurring payments and you will alleviate some of that stress handing over you. Talk about mental clutter! Plus, getting rid of debt will give you more money to set-aside for longer-term financial goals, such as saving for retirement or investing for the future. If you have a large student debt hanging over your head like me and are ready to just get rid of it completely, try considering refinancing or switching to a different repayment program to save you BIG BUCKS.
- Organize, automate, and track your finances. Automating our financing has helped us a lot. Getting the help of a financial planner was the first step. Then we got our budgeting down with YNAB, which has helped us tremendously in paying down over $100,000 in student debt! We got rid of credit card debt (see #5 above), and automated all of our recurring monthly payments. We have focused our sights on paying down student debt, but have done it in such a way that we hardly have to think about finances at all. Everything is on auto-pilot, and the consistency of our work has showed some great results!
- Stop searching for external sources of happiness. There are three things we are constantly being sold: time, money, and happiness. Advertising agencies know that in order to sell a product, they need to frame that product in a way that makes life more convenient, richer, or happier. Many people subconsciously believe that they would be much happier if only they had a new car, or a home, a new tech gadget, or even something as simple as a new outfit. But we need to stop searching for external sources of happiness. We can’t just buy our way into being happy. I mean, I guess we caaaaaannnn, but that also means we are spending unnecessarily (and constantly!) whiletying ourselves more to our jobs than we need to. Happiness is a mind set. You can cultivate happiness with something as simple as a breath.
- Stay organized. I streamline my life in as many ways as possible. In order to do that, I try to stay very organized, which is very difficult for someone endlessly overflowing with ideas and thoughts! I carry a planner with me at all times, and jot down any notes or errands that require noting, before it slips away into the recesses of my memory, waiting to be discovered at the most opportune times. If you aren’t the type to keep a planner, maybe 2019 is the time to start (right this way!). I mean, when you look at the following statistics, it’s hard to imagine why you wouldn’t want to be more organized!
- The average person spends 12 days per year looking for things they can’t find.
- Every day, the average office worker spends 1.5 hours looking for things.
- In a recent survey, 55% of consumers stated they would save anywhere from 16 to 60 minutes a day if they were more organized.
- 23% of people pay bills late and have to pay late fees because they are unable to find their bills.
- Practice saying no. Saying no is probably the best super-power in the world. That and teleportation, which I have yet to meet someone who has discovered just how to make that dream a reality. Saying no kind of gets a bad rap, but it seriously shouldn’t. Think of saying no to things as the equivalent of saying yes to other (more important) things. We live in a world where saying no means that you aren’t capable, and I say to that, SO WHAT?! We are human. We aren’t capable of all the expectations that society sets up for us, because to be frank, they are perfect little impossibilities! Instead of stressing ourselves out by adding as much as we can to our plates, and then some, we need to start limiting what we introduce into our lives to those that add meaning.
- Be kind to yourself. It is human nature to be too hard on yourself but a great way to simplify your life is to be kind. Sometimes, we grade ourselves using a metric system that is extremely difficult to beat. It is easier to be forgiving of others but when it comes to ourselves, we are our own worst critics. We need to trust that we are where we need to be, and that we are enough. Stop comparing yourself to people in tiny perfect squares. Simply trusting the process can get rid of the anxieties that we typically face, and the negative thoughts that we have towards ourselves.
- Avoid multi-tasking. It can seem like multi-tasking is the best thing to do when life gets busy but multi-tasking can actually make life more difficult. Studies have shown that we are not built to multi-task. In fact, we cannot truly multi-task. Our brains can only focus on one thing at a time and when we think we are multi-tasking, we are really just switching from one task to another, at a very fast pace. Talk about over-stimulation! If our brains are trying to do ten things at once, we actually slow down real progress while putting ourselves under a lot of stress. Focusing on one thing at a time will deliver better results and will help with the mental clutter.
- Make your money work for you. I am all about passive income streams. I want my money to work for me, and not the other way around. We all need money to uphold a particular lifestyle. However, I don’t want to spend my entire life trying to make money. Instead, it’d be nice if the money makes itself, without me having to put in too much work. Investing is one way to make your money work for you. Mr. Debtist and I are in the habit of paying ourselves first. Before we even get a hold of our paycheck, we take away a percentage of our income and stow it away in our 401ks. Another way we make passive income is by co-housing. Each month, we earn $700 just by letting a roommate live with us. Sometimes, we let dogs stay with us too, via Rover, and that’s another way to earn money (almost) passively. If you feel the same about work, maybe this is the year you start looking at passive income!
- Meditate. I used to have a monkey mind, jumping from one thing to the next. I used to live in the past and in the future, but never could keep myself in the present. Meditation was the best way for me to get rid of mental clutter. Deep breathing techniques and yoga are two ways I calm my mind. Sitting silently and reflecting, or practicing gratitude are other ways to hone in your focus. You may find that meditating allows your mind the space it needs to finally get something done!
How about you? How are you planning to simplify in the New Year?