How to Simplify Your Life So That Less Means More

Tips on how to use simplicity to support your health and wellbeing.

By anyone’s standards, these are challenging times. It would be very easy to feel like victims of circumstances outside of our control, but it’s important to remember, that doesn’t have to be the case. Instead, we could use the forced simplification of our lives that many of us are experiencing as a chance to look at what really matters and to make sure that we’re putting our valuable time, energy and money toward the right things for us. Fewer commitments, more time with those we love and the chance to bring it all back to the basics may not be such a bad thing. In fact, it could be a time to figure out how to simplify your life so that less means more.

To help us do that, I turned to Courtney Carver, an expert on how to be more with less and author of Soulful Simplicity and the recently published Project 333. Through this Q&A and her tips on how to use simplicity to support our health and wellbeing, we may be able to use this part of our journey to get back to ourselves and to become healthier and happier along the way.

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Peppermint Tea & Me: When you talk about simplifying our lives, what does that mean?

Courtney Carver: For me, simplicity is just one of the steps that I’ve taken to live a healthier and happier life. This means removing the stuff that weighs me down, removing the stuff that was really getting in the way of me being me, and for me, reaching a level of health and really purpose in my life. I was so bogged down with stuff and obligation and ideas – what we all do – we just pile it all on and keep piling and piling until one day, for most of us, we say, ‘This is enough’ and try to dig out.

PTM: In both Soulful Simplicity and Project 333, you talk a lot about remembering yourself and making you. What does that mean and what does it have to do with simplifying our lives?

Photo of Project 333 author Courtney Carver
Courtney Carver

CC: I think that in the busyness of our lives and in the very full lives that we build, in the process, we step outside of ourselves and inch by inch really forget who we are and what matters to us and what power we have over that. We just forget, and we make these little compromises. Whether it be in work or in relationships or in things that we say yes or no to that don’t really resonate with who we really are. Every time we do that, we just break away a little bit. I think that through simplicity – kind of peeling back those layers, we can start to remember what matters to us. So, I like to think about simplicity as something that doesn’t change us, it brings us back. It gives us that space to connect with our hearts, to remember what’s important to us. Once that happens, once you make that connection, then all the things that you thought were so hard, like saying no to things or going in a different path than people in your life might expect or approve of, that doesn’t matter as much as you thought it did. It becomes much easier to stand in your truth.

It’s not that I wanted to have a simple life. I wanted to use simplicity to have a healthy one.

Courtney Carver

PTM: What does simplifying our lives have to do with our health and overall wellbeing?

CC: I think it’s like the secret superpower of health. At least for me, when I started to become very intentional about becoming healthy, simplicity wasn’t on the docket of things to do. For me, the number one thing as someone who is living with Multiple Sclerosis was to eliminate stress. Stress can be very damaging – especially if it’s an overwhelming amount that you can’t begin to chip away. That level of stress has to manifest somewhere and it’s often in our bodies – whether it’s physical health, mental health; it shows itself. So, for me, it was all about eliminating stress.

Even outside of MS, just day to day energy and feeling well. I think that we forget that we can feel well.  So many people around me were tired and sick and overwhelmed and feeling like crap was their cross to bear. I just felt like I was part of that.  That this was adulting. I’m supposed to feel kind of crappy. Thankfully, that’s not the case. That’s not to say that we don’t get sick from time to time, but on a day to day level, most of us can feel better than we do.

Obviously, there’s exceptions to everything I say but for the most part, and certainly for me, eliminating stress was the answer. Stress with food, stress with clutter, stress with debt. As I was doing these changes, I started to see the connection. The thread that ran between all of these things was simplicity. Then I started to quickly apply that lens to all of the changes I was making. How can I make this more simple? It’s not that I wanted to have a simple life. I wanted to use simplicity to have a healthy one.

You don’t have to fill up all the space… I think there are answers in that space.

Courtney Carver

PTM: When you say we don’t have to fill up all the space, what do you mean?

CC: What I mean by not filling up the space is that so often, and I did this for years. I would declutter and then I’d see an empty space on the bookshelf or in my closet and I’d think automatically that this is an invitation to add something to that space because it shouldn’t be just empty. That feels uncomfortable. I think we often try to fill the empty spaces for fear of that discomfort – it could be physical spaces like I mentioned, but they could also be spaces in between waiting at a red light or waiting in line somewhere. The natural tendency is to pick up our phone. We have so many availabilities to fill up all these spaces. If we’re heartbroken or feeling really down, I think we fill that space with alcohol, with food, with reality TV, whatever it is, we just don’t want to be in that empty space. I think there are answers in that space, so I think it’s worth thinking about. When you feel like you have to fill up the space to be comfortable, pause and consider what it would be like just to sit with how things are, the way they are.

PTM: You say that “Simplifying with the goal of becoming as simple as possible will prove to be as empty as changing your diet to be as skinny as possible.” Please explain what you mean by that?

CC: Simplicity sometimes makes me think of dieting, which I used to do to lose weight and to be thinner because that’s just what we did. Once I was diagnosed with MS, I started thinking about my diet in terms of health. How do these things fuel my body? How do they make me feel? And not worrying so much about the weight. I remember in those moments when I could stick with a diet for any length of time, and I would reach a goal weight or feel very skinny. It would last for a fraction of a second and it was never enough. Even as thin as I could get, I would always think ‘I should lose another 10 pounds, or I should be more fit’ because the focus wasn’t on the right things. It was on this superficial version of how I thought I was supposed to look to fit in the world. And then with simplicity, I noticed, at least when I was first starting out, there was a lot of competition around living with less and how a simple life should look or if you want to be a minimalist, you have to own this number of things.

I realized that it has to look right for your life. There aren’t a correct number of things to own to have a simple life. If you live downtown in the city, your life is going to look different than if you live in the suburbs or in a more remote area or depending on what your interests are. if you love baking, you’re going to have more items that contribute to that love in your life versus someone who doesn’t care about baking. It’s really not about the end result of how many items you have or how much you weigh, but rather how you feel in that process and how the things that you own are supporting your life.

Courtney’s Most Important First Steps to Simplify Your Life

  • Have a great reason to simplify. Really identify why you want to simplify your life because that will keep you motivated and on track.
  • Start small. It doesn’t matter whether you start with your closet or your kitchen or your garage but start small. To say, ‘I want to simplify my life,’ sounds out of reach for a lot of people. It did for me in the beginning as well. But simplifying my junk drawer or reducing some of the toiletries in my bathroom or working on one shelf of my bookshelf – those things are something that you can say, ‘Okay, I can do that today.’ Don’t make it this big stressful thing, just focus on these small changes. Whenever you can make big change small, there’s a much better opportunity for success.

Courtney’s Steps to Simplifying Your Wardrobe

Courtney believes that in order to make permanent change when it comes to simplifying your wardrobe, you have to own up to your behavior around shopping and clothes. Here are her steps to help you do that.

  • Dump everything on the bed so that you can see everything you own in one space. For me that was like an ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’ve actually spent this much money on this stuff where I only use a percentage of it.’ I needed to have that realization.
  • Watch your behavior around shopping. Think about why you shop. Do you really need something new or are you just in a bad mood and want to shop your way out of it?
  • Create distance between you and your clothes before making decisions on donating or selling. I recommend boxing up everything that you’re not wearing in that moment and getting it out of sight for a good three months. There’s an emotional connection that develops when we’re looking at our stuff every day. We think it belongs to us, like it’s a part of us, but when we separate ourselves from it for a while, we feel differently when we look at it. You may say, ‘What was a I thinking?’ or ‘Of course, I never wear that’ and it becomes much easier to make those decisions.
  • Keep what fits you and your lifestyle now. This isn’t what fit you and your lifestyle 10 years ago, five years ago or yesterday. The same holds true for moving forward. I mean sometimes we can have these aspirational wardrobes or aspirational ownership of other things where we buy things for the person we want to be or the person we hope other people perceive us to be. In reality, you’ll be much happier if you own what actually fits you, your body and your lifestyle now.
  • Ask for help if you need it. If you’re having trouble making decisions, consider asking someone you trust for help – not on what you should wear but on how things fit. If you have three pairs of black pants, and you’re not sure which ones to keep, somebody on the outside may be able to help you make that decision.

My Notes – Resources to Help Simplify Your Life

  • Project 333 is a minimalist fashion challenge that Courtney created for herself to dress in 33 items or less for three months. Those items include clothing, jewelry, accessories and shoes. They do not include things like underwear, sleepwear and workout clothes. The catch – your workout clothes have to work out if you’re not going to count them in your 33 items. The project has become so popular that tens of thousands of people from all over the world are practicing it as well. You can find out more about it through Courtney’s new book, Project 333: The Minimalist Fashion Challenge That Proves Less Really is So Much More (Affiliate link).
  • Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More (Affiliate link) was Courtney’s first book and the way I found her. It not only walks you through the practical steps of simplifying your life, it also walks you very gently through identifying the most important part – why you want to simplify your life.
  • bemorewithless.com is Courtney’s website and a valuable resource in how you can use simplicity to help live the most authentic life possible for you.
  • Pinterest. Get ideas on how others have done the Project 333 challenge by searching for Project 333.

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