- Michael Thompson
I became an essentialist the old-fashioned way — I lost all my money.
At the time, having my ex-business partner’s dad steal $250,000 from me sure wasn’t fun. But in hindsight, after finally dragging myself off a barstool, it turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to me.
There’s something liberating about having little left to lose. Having no choice but to start over from zero gave me a clean slate to think about what and who I wanted in my life while handing me the life experience to know what and who I didn’t want in my life.
My life today isn’t perfect. At times, I still over-commit and pursue too many interests which can land me in trouble. But compared to where my life was a decade ago, even though I may not be what society deems as mega-successful, most days I feel like I’m doing pretty good and I consider that a massive win.
Like most online advice, I don’t expect you to connect with all the suggestions below. But if you find a few that you see value in, give them a shot.
Just keep in mind that even though the majority of them take no more than ten minutes, like all good things in life that result in positive change, you gotta do them consistently.
1. Steal this “clean closet” trick from my mom
“Go into your closet. Take all of your shirts and hang them so they’re all facing the same direction. When you’re done wearing one, hang it up so it’s facing the other direction so you have a ‘worn’ camp and an ‘unworn’ camp. After 90 days, grab all of your unworn shirts, and give them to someone who will wear them.”
When it comes to simplifying my closet, my mom’s suggestion has been a godsend. Not only does every single piece of clothing I own serves a purpose, but when thinking about buying something, I pause and ask myself if I really need it or just want it. After some time, if I discover that something isn’t being of use, I get rid of it.
This simple action can serve as a strong reminder to keep the other aspects of your life as clean as your closet too.
2. Practice the “Last Time” technique
No matter our titles we all have the same job: live in the present moment. If you struggle with this, embrace the “last time” technique and envision that whatever you’re doing right now is the last time you’ll ever do it.
Whether we like to think about it or not, everything is temporary and even though this thought can sound depressing, it can also be extremely liberating.
The next time you have to change your kids’ diaper, imagine it’s the last time you’ll ever do it. The next time a co-worker gets on your nerves, imagine it’s the last time you’ll ever have a chance to speak with them.
Not only will your breathing slow and your shoulders drop. But in the end, you may end up creating a positive memory out of something you once found mundane or even annoying.
3. Embrace the “Two Beers and a Puppy” Test
Ask yourself — “Would I have two beers with this person?” and “Would I allow this person to look after my puppy over a weekend?
If the answer is no and no, it’s a solid sign the person isn’t for you. If the answer is yes and no, this person may be someone to hang out with here and there but according to Ross, they may not be someone you want to share your deepest secrets with. If the answer is no and yes, this person may be good for humanity, but maybe not someone you want to spend a lot of time with.
Lastly, you’ve got the people who are a resounding yes and yes, and you probably don’t need Ross to tell you that you should collaborate and enjoy these people as much as possible.
Give this exercise a shot for yourself. In addition to being kinda fun, it can also be a seriously valuable tool to help you gauge how you feel about someone so you can better prioritize the people who light you up.
4. Use your phone for what it was originally made for
I talk to more people on the phone than anyone I know unless they’re in direct sales. I also spend the least amount of time on my phone than anyone I know. The reason for this is because I use my phone to call people and send text messages and that’s it.
Set your phone to “Do Not Disturb” and activate the filtering system that allows certain people to ring through like normal when they call you.
My wife can get through to me twenty-four hours a day. The same goes for half a dozen other people who I will drop my work no matter what I’m doing to talk to. The rest can send me a message if they need me and I’ll get back to them when I can.
Take a minute and write down the people you both want and need to answer when they call and then block the rest. This exercise is not only an effective way to get clear on which people in your life are a priority, but it can also help to make the noisy world we live in a little bit quieter.
5. Keep a “Love / Hate” list
When it comes to self-awareness — a major aspect of simplifying your life — pattern recognition is the name of the game. An easy way to get started with this is by identifying the actions and people who bring light into your life and the actions and people who stamp it out. Taking a few minutes each day to write out a “Love / Hate” list is a great way to get clarity on this.
Simply draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper. Then on the left-hand side write down all the tasks, habits, and people that made today a good day, and on the right-hand side, jot down the things that stole your energy.
Just do yourself a favor and focus more on what drags you down and work hard to eliminate them from your environment. After all, it’s much easier to be happier if you get a good handle on what or who makes you miserable.
6. Choose a one-word theme for the year
My friend and partner on a new project, Niklas Göke, told me a few years ago about an exercise that allowed him to better focus and make faster decisions. In short, think hard about the “one word” that best represents your goal for the next year and get in front and center.
For me, my one-word theme for the year is “Moments.”
I want to better appreciate what I have instead of thinking about what I don’t have. In order for that to happen, I need to do a better job of reminding myself to be more present and enjoy what’s directly in front of me. Having the word “Moments” on my screensaver and chalkboard makes accomplishing that tough task a little less hard.
7. Write out an “Admirable” and “Unadmirable” list
One of the best decisions we can make is to mirror the qualities we like in others while doing away with the qualities that we don’t.
Much like the “Love / Hate” list mentioned above, a very simple way to accomplish this is by taking out a piece of paper and creating a list of the qualities you respect and appreciate in others and the qualities you don’t respect or appreciate in others.
Think about your closest friends and write down the one quality you admire the most in each of them. For me, traits like generosity, bravery, and optimism come to mind. Then flip the script and get clear on which character traits turn you off. Again, for me, dishonesty, cutting corners, and people who talk more than they walk come to mind.
None of us are born with any of these positive and negative traits. Each and every one of us can work to improve upon the qualities we admire in others while being more conscious of the actions we don’t.
8. Get visual reminders of what matters most directly in front of you
My family and I have our favorite photos cast onto our TV and they’re rotating for a few hours each day. Watching my favorite memories each morning during breakfast and every day after work for a few minutes serves as a strong reminder of what the real goal is.
“Husband.” “Father.” “Friend.” These are the only titles that matter. If you agree with this, get the reminders of what matters most to you front and center too and take a few minutes each day to sit with them.
Warren Buffett defines success as when the people you love, love you back. I like this definition. In fact, I think it’s the best one I’ve come across. Doing something as simple as taking a few minutes each day to think about who makes your life beautiful can help.
9. Make healthy food options the only option
When I moved to Spain a decade ago, I lost 60 pounds in a matter of a few months. The main reason I was able to accomplish this is I focused more on setting up a healthy environment than I did on losing weight.
If you want to run more, put your running shoes next to your front door and begin by running for 10 minutes in one direction as it’s a pretty effective way to run for 20 minutes as you’ll need to eventually get back home.
If you want to make healthier food options, put pieces of fruit in your direct line of sight. Oranges on your kitchen counter. Bananas on your desk. Mangos everywhere.
There’s a lot of truth to the words, “We’re the average of the five people we spend the most time with.” But as we get older, there’s also a lot of truth to the idea that we’re also the average of the five foods we eat the most and getting the cookies out of sight can seriously help to make the right choices easier.
10. Control your money instead of allowing your money to control you
Print out your spending for the last month and circle the times you bought something that you could have lived without and make a point to not make impulse buys again. Automate your big payments. Set aside the amount of money you need for food and entertainment and try to stick to it.
Then, and this is really important, make a list of the activities that you enjoy that are free or relatively cheap and do everything in your power to sprinkle a few of them throughout my day.
“Wanna feel wealthy? Take away everything money can buy and look at what you have left.” — Sean Swarner
My wife. Our kids. Long walks that result in great views. Sunshine. Green grass. Talking with friends and meeting new people. Soccer. Ping pong. Snorkeling. I’d be willing to bet our interests differ but we have a lot in common when it comes to the simplicity of what makes us smile.
One of the best life hacks you can use is making your coffee at home and never have more than $10 in your pocket at any given time.
11. Never underestimate the power of a peach
My kid and I were walking home from the Tuesday market in our town. I still had to work. He didn’t. As we got close to our apartment, he asked me if we could have a peach. “I got work to do!” I replied. “It’s just a peach!” he shot back. Needless to say, he won that argument.
Today the image of the two of us sitting together on a park bench under the sun for five minutes eating our delicious peaches is one of my favorite memories.
The world is moving fast. You absolutely have the control to slow it down.
Find your own version of having a peach in your life.
Something that makes you pause every time you see it.
Something that reminds you that the key to a good life is found in embracing a simple life.