Over the past few years, it seems as if “simplifying” has become a panacea for all of your problems. If you’re stressed, unhappy, busy, bored, whatever, you just need to simplify and everything will suddenly be better. I’m not convinced it works quite like that, but I am a proponent of simplifying. So where’s the balance between unrealistic expectations and a realistic approach?

I think it comes down to defining the term “simplify” and starting with why we want to simplify in the first place. To simplify is to make something less complex or complicated. It’s to get rid of excess so we can appreciate the essential. But it’s not necessarily about having less of everything or counting your possessions. It shouldn’t be about jumping on a bandwagon, winning a prize or making everything perfect. It should be about bringing our life into sync with our priorities.

That means eliminating clutter—not just stuff, but commitments, expectations, emotional baggage and so on—to make room for the things that really matters.

It’s about knowing what’s important to you—which, by the way, may be completely different than what’s important to me (a theme you’ll hear me repeat often)—and then taking steps to eliminate or reduce the things that don’t make that list to make time and space for the things that do.

That’s why, for example, simple living for one family can include gourmet, farm fresh meals while for another family it means “half homemade” meals that take advantage of packaged ingredients.

It’s why some families have rooms devoted to their art or craft while others donate all of their supplies to focus on time in the great outdoors.

And it’s why trying to follow someone else’s list of ways to simplify will often leave you stressed and unhappy rather than fulfilled like they promised!

If you don’t first identify your priorities, your simplifying will feel chaotic, like a wanderer without a map. Do I get rid of all of our board games even though our family loves game night, just to “simplify”? Do I say no to an opportunity that I’m really excited about because it will fill up our schedule for a season?

And it’s not just about prioritizing things or activities, but even our values. Creativity, justice, community, spirituality, entrepreneurship—there are hundreds of good values, but knowing which are most important to your family can help you make decisions about simplifying.

Simplicity isn’t a goal, but a journey, and simplifying is an ongoing process. The things you do today to simplify may look completely different than your focus in ten years. And they will definitely look different than mine or Andrea’s…or your neighbor’s…or even your best friend’s.

So before we begin simplifying, we have to start by identifying those values and priorities.

Once those things are defined, making the decisions about what to simplify will be easier. That doesn’t mean simplifying itself will actually be easy because the truth is that—like most good things—it takes a little good ol’ fashioned hard work. But it will help simplify those decisions, if you will, by giving you a yardstick by which to measure them.

ACTIVITIES & QUESTIONS

  1. Make a list of the things that are important to you. Not the things you think should be important or the things that are important to other people but the things that really, truly matter to you.
  2. If you had unlimited time and no other obligations, what would you spend your time doing?
  3. If you had unlimited money and no expenses, how would you spend your money?
  4. How do you want other people to see you?
  5. If you’re a mother, what type of people do you hope your children will become?
  6. When have you been happiest in your life? The most proud? The most satisfied and fulfilled?
  7. What causes do you strongly believe in?
  8. Use this sheet to identify the values that are most important to you. Choose 7-10 words and then prioritize them from most important to least important. Write down what each value means to you.

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