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3 Interesting Ideas to help simplify and enhance your happiness

October 29, 2010

Photo Courtesy of Robert Scoble

A big thing Amie and I are working on is the overall simplification of our lives.  For a long time now we thought the key to happiness was to own more things and make as much money as possible.  We focused our efforts on having high paying jobs, and buying cars & houses.  For a long time we worked hard at studying Real Estate Investing so we could buy a bunch of properties and one day cash in on all our hard work.  In short, we thought that the key to happiness were the things we owned and the feeling of security we got from having those things.

Having gone through some really rough times as of late, we were forced to slow down and reflect on these ideas in depth.   By following what we thought was important to us in life, we managed to end up with well over $35,000 in unsecured debt, 2 houses worth 50% less than what we owe on them, and no immediate income to speak of.  Its easy to lean towards a feeling of despair when you look at it like this.  After all, we really have no clue how we are going to pull out of this mess.  However, every cloud has a silver lining (so they say) and for us, this is just the situation we needed to seriously re-evaluate our lives and get on a track that is true to ourselves and our goals in life.

It’s time to simplify.  Simplify so we can focus more on the things that really matter to us in our lives.   Simplify so we can focus on learning, experiencing new things,  and on spending time with our family & friends.  Simplify so we can enjoy life now and enjoy life later instead of one in exchange for the other.

The following are three principal ideas we are following that have really started to make a positive impact on our lives.  It is my hope that they give you some ideas you can use or adapt to benefit your own life and your own search for happiness.

#1 – Less Is More

Having moved three times in the past two years, we are really starting to realize the value of having less stuff.  On the surface that sounds like a no brainer.  Of course having less stuff makes moving easier!  You have less stuff!  However, if you stop and really think about it, having less stuff not only makes it physically easier to move, it also makes it mentally easier to move.  The more stuff we get rid of, the happier we seem to be.  It isn’t that stuff in itself is bad.  Its just that there seems to be a connection between the physical stuff that we own and the mental space that it corresponds with.  By clearing our physical spaces, we simultaneously opened the mental spaces and are becoming more open to true change.

Now I’m not advocating selling all of your worldly possessions and living like a monk.  On the contrary, we all need stuff to survive.  We still need a roof over our heads where we can be protected and have a place to sleep.  We still need basics like the clothes we wear and the shoes on our feet.  What I am saying is it might be time to re-evaluate what you own and whether that thing really provides any type of real value in your life.  Chances are, if you haven’t used it in the past 6-8 months, you can afford to let it go.

Try This: As an experiment in simplifying, pick one room in your house or apartment to do a test run on.  Don’t pick the biggest room in your house.  Try your bedroom, your office, or maybe even your laundry room first to get some practice.  You are going to go through this room and do the 6 month test.  Go through every cupboard, drawer, closet and corner.  For every thing that you have in this room, ask yourself  “have I used this in the last 6 months?  If the answer is yes, go ahead and leave it there.  If the answer is “no” ask yourself if you will TRULY use this within the next 2 months.  If you can’t give yourself a 100% “Yes, I definitely WILL be using this for X” then put it in a box labeled “extra stuff”.  Don’t lie to yourself!!  You are going to go through all of the items in this room and put everything that doesn’t pass the 6 month test in to this box.  If you need more than one box, that’s fine too.  Once you have gone through every item and either put it in the box or left it in its place, its time to do something with the boxes.

If you are a pack rat or hoarder, I can already see you starting to sweat.  Your mind is probably running a million miles a second, trying to think of a scenario when you’ll NEED a hot pink and white polka dot CD Case.  If you are this type of person, I want you to take the box(s) and put them in your garage, a shed, your basement or whatever.  Store these boxes for exactly 6 more months.  If you ever find that you do have a use for one of your items in the box downstairs, go ahead and get it.  You deserve it.  However, once your six months have passed, get rid of the boxes.  JUST DO IT.  If you haven’t used these items in over a year, how much of a chance do you really have of needing one item – let alone boxes full of items – in the coming year?  The chances are slim.  Get rid of the boxes and start to realize how good it feels to have the extra space.  Chances are, you already like life more now that your laundry room has been clear of clutter for 6 months.

Of course if you are more daring (and I really hope you are) you can just get rid of the box right away.  Most likely you’ll never remember all the crap in the box anyway.  Notice how good it feels to practice letting go.  If you like the way it makes you feel, branch out and start tackling the other rooms in your house.  Not only will you free up your physical and mental space, you might also make enough money selling your stuff to finance a small vacation!

#2 – Value experiences over things

Having made the decision to live with less, Amie and I have started to notice a lot more free time in our lives.  As mentioned before, having less things has cleared our space so to speak and is opening new doors that we didn’t notice were open before.  When we look back at the things that have had the greatest impact on our lives, we realized that the material possessions we had, held absolutely no significance in and of themselves.

Lets take my old snowmobile as an example.  Sure, having a snowmobile was fun but it wasn’t the snowmobile itself that I loved.  It was the feeling I got from going on rides with my family and friends.  The experience itself is what I remember.  The memories it created continue to bring a smile to my face any time I think about it.  Another way to put it is that the experience itself appreciated over time.  As for the snowmobile itself?  Well, that’s another story.

Since I bought the snowmobile from my sister over 11 years ago, I’ve spent at least $10,000 – $15,000 dollars on it.  When I add up the original cost, the cost of repairs, maintenance, fuel, and interest, I’m sure I spent at least that much if not more.  In fact, the original debt I had from buying that machine has been refinanced at least three times (along with other debts) and I am STILL paying that down.  It hurts to think about it, especially seeing as how I sold the thing over 2 years ago!

The point I’m trying to get to is this.  The real value in the snowmobile was the experiences it allowed me to have.  If I wasn’t so hell bent on owning my own snowmobile, I might have realized that there was an easier and cheaper way to get that same experience.  Even if I had rented a snowmobile every time I went out, I would have paid far less in the long run than I’ve had to pay to own it.  Not to mention the mental benefits I would have gained not having to worry about it (where to store it, how to transport it, keeping it maintained, etc…) over the past 11 years.

In short, the snowmobile itself has depreciated over the years and the money I paid to have it does nothing to sustain me today.  The experience of snowmobiling however has appreciated over the years and only grows in value to me the older I get and the more stories I’m able to tell about it.

Try This: Think about all the toys you spend money on right now and add up how much you pay for these items each month or each year. Don’t forget to include things like maintenance costs, insurance if applicable, registration fees or any other costs associated with the toys you like to play with.   What is the total that you spend every year?  A few hundred bucks?  A few thousand bucks?  Now, how many times did you do that activity this year?  Divide the amount of money spent by the amount of times you did the activity.  That is your “per activity cost”.

Only you can decide if the cost vs. the benefit is worth it to you.  If I added up the cost of owning my snowmobile the first year ($3,000 in payments + $400 in gas + $35 Registration + $200 in maintenance = $3,635) and then divide that by the amount of times I went snowmobiling (7 times at best?) then my “per activity cost” is right around $520 dollars per time I went snowmobiling.  Considering I could have rented a snowmobile for $150 a day, I probably could have done better just renting.  But that was a good year!  There were many years that I only went snowmobiling 2-3 times.  In that instance, I was paying almost $1,211 per snowmobile adventure!  Don’t you think I could have used that money differently?  What if I saved all that money and spent 2 months in Ecuador surfing instead?  For that kind of money I could have done that and lived like a king!

Think about the things you pay to keep in your life.  Then decide whether you want those things – and the true cost of owning them – or whether you’d be willing to live with the experiences those things provide instead.

#3 – Redefine Success

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I used to have a completely different idea of what success meant to me.  I thought success looked like six figures a year, a nice house (or two or three), a couple of cars and all the toys I could handle.  After pursuing that idea for over a decade (with limited success), I’ve finally realized that isn’t my truth.  So what is my current definition of success?  I’m still working on it, but it goes a little something like this:

Living a location independent lifestyle that allows me to live anywhere I want, at any time that I want.  Having a small but successful business that lets me focus on what I’m passionate about (writing!) and makes enough money to support my family, put a small amount in to savings and donate a bit to worthwhile causes.  No more.  No less.  Lots and lots of free time to explore new areas and learn new things.  All spent with the family & friends I love and the others I’m bound to meet along the way.

Sound reasonable?  I think so!  With determination, perseverance and a little bit of encouragement, there is no reason that can’t be attained.  Notice how I didn’t mention anything about a big house on the beach or a condo in Aspen?  These are all just THINGS and have no bearing on what makes me truly happy or successful.  My job is to keep reminding myself of that fact.

Lucky for you, you are the only person in your life that can define your own definition of success.  Everyone will be a little different and what a great thing that is!  You and only you get to decide what is important to you in life.  Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

Try This: Get out a pad of paper and write down 3-5 things you would do with your life if money were no obstacle.  Don’t hold back.  Put it all out there and have fun with it.  The only twist is this.  focus on what you would DO, and not on what you would HAVE.  What are your results?  Would you go skiing 200 days a year?  Perhaps you would sail around the Caribbean for 3 months straight?   Maybe you would learn how to become a master brewer and open your own brewery.  Whatever it is to you, just make sure its something you would truly LOVE to do.  Surprised by the results?  For most people, the things they want to do are actually much more attainable than they thought.  Skiing 200 days a year doesn’t require you to own a house at a ski resort.  All you really need is a part time job at a ski area (to get your free season pass) and a house to rent on the cheap.  To become a master brewer, you just need a passion for beer, some cheap brewing supplies and a dedication to experimenting and finding that perfect recipe.

If I were a betting man, I would bet your definition of success isn’t simply to have lots of money.  You probably are more interested in the experiences money can buy.  Once this fact is evident in your own eyes, the possibilities of what you can do with your life are absolutely limitless.  You just have to be willing to define success in your own terms.

What are your thoughts on simplifying and redefining success?  What thing is hiding deep down beneath the surface that you could really get excited about?  I really want to know!  Writing it down always helps me to straighten things out.  Give yourself a chance by starting in the comments below.  I look forward to it.


Thanks for reading my friends.  If you liked this post, please feel free to share on Facebook, or Twitter using the links below.  To subscribe to my weekly updates, go to my site and enter your email address on the right hand side to Join the Clan.

– Bryan

One Comment leave one →
  1. Amie Wilson permalink
    November 8, 2010 8:44 pm

    The art of simplifying seems so easy and freeing! I truly look forward to sharing this experience with you!!

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