Inside: Live with fewer “shoulds,” more freedom; less hustle, more curiosity; less jumping through hoops, more putting your feet up to read.
For years I sought out kindred spirits or wisdom-filled guides for how to live an intentional but simple lifestyle in books and later the internet. If they were raising chickens I wondered if I should too. If they were baking homemade bread then I bought a grinder. I’d pour through homeschool books and try to model my plans after theirs – Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Classical Education. Everything appealed and nothing quite fit.
I needed to quiet the noise and carve out my own path.
I deep dove into financial books and natural health, into personality types and promises to order my life. I gleaned and tucked away knowledge hungrily, greedily, like an addict the night before detox begins. I kept hoping and trusting that someone out there had what I needed – the perfect answer to tidy up my life and make it all feel simple and easy.
I was highly principled, purposeful, and perfectionistic. And I was tired.
Perfectionism is sometimes a disguise for high-functioning anxiety.Nicola Pierre-Smith
I jumped through all the hoops yet always came up short. Forgot to have fun as I planned thoughtful activities for my kids and tried my darndest to live up to your standards and mine. I often forgot to enjoy the simple gifts in my beautiful, ordinary days. Somewhere along the line, I had adopted the lie that my worth was wrapped up in my performance and it was hard for me to breathe.
I yearned for a slow and simple lifestyle but complicated it by trying to measure up or keep up. I felt anxious and resentful; I didn’t realize yet that I was already good enough and had absolutely nothing to prove.
I was looking for freedom but kept picking up another set of chains.
In Search of Simple: Field Notes From Near and Far on Slow Living
Choosing a simpler, slower, sustainable way of life is a way of honouring my wiring in every season. A way of moving through the world that helps me feel safe, at home, and joyful in my body and life.
SIMPLE LIVING TIPS for the stressed out or recovering perfectionist
So although I don’t want you to blindly follow me, I will offer some simple living tips for the stressed out, worn down, or recovering perfectionist like me.
1. Choose Good Enough.
Lower your standards. And then lower them 2 feet more. I’m serious. Your brain will always scan for what could be better or how you should be doing more or better. Done is good enough. You don’t have to be the expert on all things, agonize over every decision, make everything from scratch, or research to the point of never taking action. You are allowed to put your feet up and rest, or to make room for play, and you have permission to leave the laundry awhile so you can tend to yourself like you matter.
Simple doesn’t always mean easy and staying aligned with your goals and values requires a conscious effort. When you take on a new project or decide to shift your lifestyle, be careful that you don’t become so hyper-driven or focused on the end game that you lose sight of your bigger values or underlying motivation and misplace joy along the way (ex. is a minimalist home the goal or is space to rest and breathe the goal? Is living with health and joy the goal or is living a rigid, no-tox, organic lifestyle the goal?).
Make peace with some mess. I see no way around it. If you want to raise creative kids, you need to make space for creativity. If you want to have meaningful conversations, you will be challenged. You can spend your whole life running a spotless and well-oiled home or striving for a perfectly balanced and ordered life and forget to make space for creativity or the work that truly lights you up. The way to simplicity can be messy.
2. Calm the Noise.
When you’re stressed out, worn down, or a perfectionist trying to break free, chances are you spend a fair bit of time comparing. You might wonder why it is that everyone else seems to move through life with ease or keep it all together. But you never see the full story. What everyone else is up to isn’t actually your business anyway. Your work is to do the messy inner work to identify your own compelling reason for letting go of stuff or hustle and then put blinders on and live in alignment with “your WHY.”
Create before you consume. Gleaning from others can be fun but what’s even more delightful is tuning out the noise that constantly calls you to keep up or measure up. Social media, books, DIY shows, friendships that leave you feeling less than – cull, cut, and unsubscribe until you can breathe again. And get honest about all the ways you are allowing procrastination (perfectionists’ dirty little secret) to hold you back from doing the work or going after the life you want.
Anytime you hear yourself saying you “should” do something, dig in to determine if you need to reframe (ex. “I choose to” vs “I should”) or challenge that story and move on. My Brain Download worksheet can help you build this skill.
3. Practice Self-Compassion.
You are likely your own worst critic. Learning to stop your negative self-talk and replace it with a kinder truth is imperative to living a simple and joyful lifestyle. Be your own best friend by getting clear on what you need for optimal wellbeing and stop feeling the need to explain or justify your decisions to others. You have a right to choose your own slow and simple path whether others agree or approve.
Be wary of becoming critical, rigid or controlling with others as you aim to simplify. You may be quite sure your way is right but make space for dialogue and listening to each other’s dreams as you move forward. Living with self-compassion often means spilling more compassion over onto others who are also bumbling their way along imperfectly. Make it a goal to work on accepting criticism without anger. When someone disagrees with or even dislikes you, it does not inform your identity or worthiness.
Learn to laugh at yourself. We’re all a little messed up in my opinion and learning to cut ourselves some slack is important. Deepening self-awareness and self-compassion will allow you to infuse your relationships and life with more humour. Own who you are, remember that you’re a work in progress, and enjoy a good belly laugh.
I’ll share a secret with you: I procrastinated on publishing this post because I worried it wasn’t quite good enough (insert eye roll and chuckle). One of the best simple living tips I can offer is to own the truth of how you show up in the world and have a good laugh about it. Humor always helps.
4. Work With Your Personality and Natural Energy Ebb & Flow.
Honour your inherent wiring as much as possible and live as though you love yourself. There’s no sense trying to mimic someone else’s way of life if it totally goes against your grain. No matter how many simple living gurus get up at 4:30 am for meditation, you don’t have to. You don’t have to follow fads or live like the cool kids or try to walk out anyone else’s dream. The world needs you.
Design your ideal day and sustainable weekly rhythm. Get nitty-gritty here and consider crafting an environment and a life in which you can thrive. When do you do your best work; Do you need to see people often or do you crave solitude; Do you want to live amidst hustle and bustle or build a tiny home and live in the woods? Who are you and what you do really want? When you can answer this with a measure of clarity (we don’t need perfect clarity to take action), you can become more intentional about building a simple and sustainable lifestyle.
What makes you happy? Figure this out and infuse your life with more of it. Stop doing things out of guilt or because you’re worried about what people will think of you; life is way too short for that. Your life will feel so much simpler when you get honest about who you are and what you need. Of course, there’ll be compromise, especially if you share life with other interesting and messy people. But like Yogi Berra says, “if you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
5. Reduce Decision Fatigue.
Plenty of choice is not always a happy thing, especially for someone who’s stressed out or has a perfectionist nature. If you like a brand, stick with it. Set a time limit for researching before making a purchase. Learn to make a gut decision more often and ditch the self-doubt. Cull your inner circle so you’re spending time with the people you love most and who model the values or characteristics you desire. Rotate through the meals your family loves rather than recreating the wheel each night. Stick to styles you know you feel good in instead of following all the fads. Build routines into your day that help you live aligned with your goals.
Minimize, outsource, or automate choices/tasks to simplify your life. Enlist help and remind yourself that allowing others to help you does not mean you’re incompetent – it means you’re wise. Set up auto payments or auto-ship of items you regularly buy. Take an honest look at your calendar and as a family decide what you can let go of or at least don’t feel bad about not attending every single one of your kids’ rehearsals or games; your self-care and sanity matter too.
Clear, purposeful boundaries can lead to so much more freedom. Make a decision once so you can stop thinking about it. Examples of this could include creating a values-based spending plan that takes into account your personality and simplifies spending habits, crafting a minimalist wardrobe for you and your kids and deciding that if one item comes in then another goes out, or compiling a list of self-imposed rules that guide your health and wellness choices. Set clear limits on books and toys, saying yes to volunteering, kids’ activities, how many nights you’ll go out each week, etc., to de-stress and simplify your life.
6. Loosen Your Grip & Make Space for Joyful Possibility.
I’m taking a wild guess that you struggle with relaxing and letting go. Your tendency can be all work and no play. Avoid becoming too rigid or rule-oriented as you pare down and carve a simpler path. For my final simple living tip, I encourage you to let go and have some good old-fashioned fun (for my last birthday I bought myself a ring to wear as a reminder to enjoy myself and every birthday I choose a new mantra to help me remember who and how I choose to be in the world).
A full, beautiful life is composed of a million ordinary days – don’t wish them away. Remember to breathe and pause long enough to notice the beauty of each simple day. Look past the mess or the frustration, pull your mind back from what went wrong yesterday or where you’ll be tomorrow, and just soak in today. Your kids grow up so fast and you don’t have the promise of tomorrow. This is real life.
Hold the outcome loosely. No matter how hard you try, life will not go according to plan. But plan anyway and open up to the idea that sometimes life goes off-script but ends up far more beautiful than we could have planned for. Your joy might skyrocket if you accept that while you cannot control for every eventuality, you are resilient and strong and have what it takes to rise above when harder times come along. The truth is, sometimes simple living will feel busy and stressful.
Living simply when you’re stressed out or as a recovering perfectionist is hard work. Challenging and courageous work. Freeing work.
And honestly, simple living as a recovering perfectionist feels like a humorous contradiction in terms to me. Perfectionists are masters at complicating their own lives no matter what it looks like to outside observers. I’m not sure we ever completely overcome this aspect of our wiring but we can practice daily as we journey to freedom.
In my case, I’m mission-driven and love to learn which means I can easily tip into performing, comparing or simply stress over my desire to learn all the things. Choosing a simple lifestyle requires conscious effort and purposeful action each and every day. I choose rest. I offer myself permission to live in the tension of desiring growth but honouring my limitations. I lean into the ebb and flow of a full, imperfect, and beautiful life.
I hope you use these simple living tips as encouragement but take what serves you and ditch the rest,
Get all your swirling thoughts and to-dos out of your head and heart and onto paper where you can see them. Now triage. Not everything is for today, not everything is yours to carry, and not everything shiny idea needs to be followed.
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