Cultivating Simplicity

Because we are often consumed with the busyness of daily life, most of us give little thought to the bigger questions of where we are going in life and how we will get there. We let others around us set our goals for us because that is how life starts out in childhood. With the coming of adulthood, we are supposedly prepared to know what we want and to think for ourselves about how we will obtain it. However, human nature complicates this in various ways.

For most of us, our lives go through predictable stages.

We all need food, shelter, and clothing. Living in a developed society, it is necessary to become educated in a specialized skill while we learn about the broader world and its context. We do what are supposed to do. There is also the element of risk. Bad things happen, so there is the tension of living for today vs. living for some unknown future. Our time is limited. Despite it all, we yearn to make something more of life. We are caught up in the business of life, with the idea of earning, having, and achieving, and we begin to look for shortcuts to success.

It is this impulse that can make a person look for clever solutions to things like weight loss or investment returns, fad diets, and complex multi-factor theoretical models. It can ultimately lead to fraud and disaster. Thankfully, most of us can resist those wrong turns, though we might still search for shortcuts. We listen attentively to those who tell us there is a better, easier way. Sometimes, there are better ways. More often, the right path is often simplest, yet not the easiest. Diet, exercise, and saving are never popular, but they always work.

We can become confused about what we want or need because we listen too much to those around us. How do we cut through the clutter of life to focus on what we really want, what is most important, and the best way to get it?


Simplicity may not be the easy way to live, but you can be more happy, more focused, and waste less energy.

Here are some ways to simplify life:

  • Set goals for a shorter time period (e.g., a week instead of a year). Keep the long term goals but simplify them by paying the most attention to the next step. Break big goals into smaller, more manageable goals.
  • Set fewer goals. Limit yourself to work on a few at a time, no more than six.
  • When you are working, work on one thing at a time.
  • Have a written plan. Write things down, whether it is on paper or your phone. This is equally true of a grocery list as well as your life plans. If your plan is written, you can check it and change it. If it is only in your mind, you can avoid thinking about it, or doing anything about it. Plans change, and when they do, next steps change.
  • Cut down on screen time. This may seem impossible. If so, consider taking a block of time off each week. Call it a “digital fast.” That includes social media and old-fashioned TV.
  • Pay bills and make savings deposits automatically wherever possible. Limit the number of accounts you use to pay bills. Make a single annual payment instead of monthly payments.
  • Own fewer investments and have fewer accounts. Just make sure they are the right ones for you.
  • Say “no” whenever possible. Make choices to slow down. It is not always possible, but it will never happen unless we ask the question, “do I really need to do this? What is it leading me to?”
  • Consider your circle of influence—the things you can actually control—vs. your circle of concern. Everyone is concerned about big events outside our control (think COVID-19). While there are some things we can do (wash hands, wear masks, social distance) whether any one of us ultimately gets sick is largely beyond our complete control.
  • Declutter or downsize. Ask yourself: would I buy this again? Would I keep it if I were moving to a new place?

At first, knowing what goals to choose will be hard for most people. It is an iterative process. We must begin with teaching ourselves to listen to the world around us. Only then can we start thinking accurately about what we want for ourselves.

Source: Michael Garber, CFP®, San Jose, CA