Face Fewer Dragons with Simple Living

Meet Gregory, a writer and the brains behind Face Dragons. He's the go-to guy for getting things done.

Gregory's been living the digital nomad life in Asia for as long as anyone can remember, helping clients smash their goals. He writes on topics like software, personal knowledge management (PKM), and personal development. When he's not writing, you'll catch him at the local MMA gym, nose buried in a book, or just chilling with the family.

When I think about who might be reading this, I think of someone like me. Someone trying to be the best they can be but often failing to live up to their own standards. Someone interested in all sorts of things but without the bandwidth to go deep into them all. They say everyone gets 24 hours a day, but for me, 24 hours never seems enough.

Modern living has you with more stuff, more responsibilities, more things to worry about, and more problems. There’s nothing wrong with trying a new diet, starting a yoga class, and joining that weekly board game night. And no one is saying you shouldn’t start that business or side hustle, get into single-location coffee, vintage wine, or Cuban cigars, but as you complicate your life with all these things, you have to ask yourself, is it making life better or worse?

Simple living is the antidote to consumerism and modern living, and you can implement it instantly to make your life more straightforward and directionful.

This is not about getting rid of your stuff. Throwing things away is just a temporary fix – in six months, you know you’ll have replaced all that stuff with new stuff!

To reduce the chaos of things that don’t matter and make real progress in a few areas instead of treading water on everything, you must address something deeper. And there are only two steps to achieve it.

  1. Removing superfluous parts of your life
  2. Simplifying what’s left

Let’s start with the fundamentals.

The Fundamentals of Your Simple Lifestyle

In life, there are certain things you can’t cut out.

Your family, eating, and making money are necessities for almost everyone (unless you live off the grid or have billionaire parents).

And although your passion for collecting retro gaming machines seems all-encompassing right now, it’s never going to be more important than your family.

Don’t worry; you can live a simple life without giving up MarioKart 64! I’m not advocating becoming a monk and renouncing the world. But you can become more conscious of what you do with your 24 hours and learn to say no to everything else.

So start with this simple question: What are your fundamentals?

These aren’t just things you have to do that are really important. They are the parts of your life that you will never complete and wouldn’t be able to live without.

Here are mine:

  • Family
  • Faith
  • Food
  • Finance (I mean making money, but having four fundamentals starting with F was too tempting.)

According to the British Heart Foundation, just writing them down can reduce your stress levels.

If you’ve written down more than five things, you’ve likely included some non-fundamental areas of your life. Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone.

But those aren’t the only things I put my focus on. I still have the “non-fundamentals.”

Everything Else

Now you know the essential parts of your life, breathe a sigh of relief. Those things will always be with you and are the only things you must prioritize. Everything else is optional.

Take a second to let that sink in. You can give up everything else in your life, and you’ll still have your fundamentals. When things go wrong, or you’re feeling burned out, you can retreat to those parts of life and put everything else on hold.

But most of the time, your life will consist of more than your fundamentals: your hobbies, friends, spending habits, and passions, but they’re all optional.

Living simply doesn’t mean reducing everything you do and everything you own till you’re alone in an empty apartment with nothing to do. Simple living is about giving yourself the space to focus on the things important to you.

If painting is your passion, how many more hours could you spend with your paintbrush in hand if you only stopped doing all the fluff in your life?

List Everything

Start out with a simple brain dump. It shouldn’t take very long.

Write down every area of your life.

Don’t include things to do like “clean the car,” but instead, ask yourself what area it belongs to, i.e., “car.” I have a whole article listing examples of areas of focus, but here are a few to get your thinking:

  • Car
  • House
  • Health
  • Fitness
  • Learning Martial Arts
  • Coffee Appreciation
  • Tennis
  • Pokemon Cards
  • Music
  • Piano
  • Films
  • Cocktail Making
  • Travel
  • Sketching

Of course, your list will look very different to these examples. Keep writing until you have every area of your life written down.

Count up your areas and add your fundamentals.

What’s your total?

  • 1-2 Hermit or Monk
  • 3-6 The Simple Life
  • 7-10 Manageable Complexity
  • 11-15 Stress Inducing
  • 16+ Ahhhhh!

Let’s get one thing straight: living a complex life isn’t necessarily bad. You may be able to cope with the complexity, especially if you’re high energy and able to compartmentalize your time and life appropriately. For most people, however, a day cluttered with work and errands is a recipe for stress and its associated health problems.

People were not designed to play on three sports teams, attend band practice, and maintain a discord server about a niche game that no one plays anymore while juggling their family, social life, job, and trying to build a passive income stream on the side. Just reading that sentence gives me a little dose of cortisol.

Time to Make Some Tough Decisions

Looking at your list of areas, you undoubtedly see a few that you know you can lop off. Start with those. Cross them out, put an X next to them, or do whatever you need. Those are gone.

Now, what’s left are decisions you need to make.

Remember, these aren’t permanent decisions for the rest of your life but will impact the near future, so choose wisely.

Removing things is never as easy as choosing things. So, Just select the areas that stand out to you first. Aim to have seven total areas (including your fundamentals.)

If you have an organizer or planner, and I recommend you do, write down your new areas of life on the front page. This is your new life.

Commit to your newly defined simple life for at least the following year. Then if you want to bring something back, have at it.

Everything that didn’t make the cut needs to be left in the dust for now. That means calling people or groups and letting them know you’re taking a break, saying no when those activities arise, and possibly letting go of some of your possessions related to them.

It’s tough, but it will be worth it. After this cull, you will be free to focus on the parts of your life you love most.

Simplify What’s Left

After simplifying the areas of your life, it’s time to get a little more practical.

Look at the areas you decided on and ask yourself, “How do I over-complicate this?” Let’s look at some examples.

A Simple Family Life

You can’t abandon your family, stop eating, or go off the grid and grow your own food (OK, maybe you can.) But that doesn’t mean you can’t simplify these areas of your life.

You need to teach your kids right from wrong; you need to keep them healthy and happy, but everything else is optional.

I was terrified that my son didn’t get enough intellectual and physical stimulation, so I would read him classics, find different genres of music to listen to with him, and encourage him to play musical instruments, sports, martial arts, card manipulation, rubix cubes, and many other hobbies and activities.

The truth was, though, he was fine. All I was doing was making my life harder. I spent hours researching what I should do next and bought him equipment. He didn’t enjoy being pushed to do so many things, either.

Relief came quickly when we moved, and I changed a few things.

  1. I started listening to him.
    Rather than finding activities for him, he tells me what he wants to do. I no longer need to look for activities, games, or books. He does it all for me automatically. I don’t need to push him to come to play chess. I just play whatever he wants instead.
  2. I outsourced the responsibility.
    I’ve taught martial arts for many years, so it was natural for me to teach my son. He didn’t take to it the way I wanted. I kept pushing and could see that I was making it worse. After moving, I found him a fun jiu-jitsu class with other kids where they play games, and he loves it. It takes a load off me and gives me more free time.
  3. I chose one thing.
    In the past, I tried to be a teacher, friend, instructor, and parent. Now, we have one thing that’s ours. I read with him, that’s our thing. I still play games and do other everyday parent things, but I no longer take responsibility for researching, buying, and implementing those. I just do them when they arise.

This simpler relationship with my son is more fulfilling for both of us.

You can implement something similar with your parents, spouse, or friends. You don’t have to organize the next get-together. Take responsibility for one part of your relationship and let the rest happen naturally.

Simplify Mealtime

It’s the same story when it comes to eating; it’s not that you should eat like a Tibetan Monk (I’ve lived with Tibetans, and the food is nothing to aspire to) but as something that you do three or more times a day, simplifying your meals might take a considerable load off your shoulders.

Then again, with the added space from curating the areas of your life, perhaps you want to spend more time making meals and learning to cook.

Here are some interesting ways to simplify meal times.

  • Set a weekly rotating meal schedule – Monday spaghetti, Tuesday curry, etc. You’ll never need to wonder what to make or what to buy at the store.
  • Choose one cuisine and cook it to perfection – Maybe it’s Chinese food or Italian, whatever you decide, limit yourself to learning the dishes of that locale. It means fewer decisions, fewer ingredients, and a deeper understanding of what you’re eating.
  • Meal Prep – It’s not only for gym-bros making chicken and broccoli. Spend an hour or two cooking three big portions and rotate them throughout the week. Just heat up your meal in the week. How simple is that?

Remove the Complexity from Your Hobby

Your passions don’t need to be that complicated!

I know you enjoy wine, but can’t you just drink it? Do you need the books, the trips to vineyards, the temperature-controlled cellar? Do you really need to write that review? Would it be so bad if you just bought a bottle, drank it (hopefully not all at once or alone), and didn’t tell anyone?

We tend to waste time and money on the things we love, but often, they don’t actually improve the experience or make us feel any more fulfilled.

Those three wine bottle stoppers and the antique bottle opener you never use are just stuff you have to worry about. It doesn’t improve your drinking experience, does it?

It’s not that you should throw away everything you don’t need; it’s not about minimalism for its own sake, but could you be more conscious about the things you own and the things you do?

How could you simplify your hobby without degrading your enjoyment of it?

For a juggler, it might mean throwing away some old, beaten-up gear that’s just sitting around. Or it might mean to stop practicing juggling rings. You never enjoyed rings anyway; they hurt your hands and just lead to frustration. You much prefer juggling clubs. But your idea of yourself as a “juggler” has told you that you must also juggle rings to be a real “juggler.”

Here’s the question everyone should ask themselves about their hobbies.

Do you want to be a “juggler,” or do you want to enjoy juggling?

A Few Quick Tips for Simple Living

Give Up a Hobby

Yes, the one that just popped into your mind. It takes up way too much time, and you don’t really enjoy it. Quit it and give your life space to breathe.

Reduce Your Wardrobe

You only wear three things, so why is your wardrobe full of clothes you don’t like? Decluttering a little makes a huge difference to how you feel when you open the wardrobe door each morning.

Learn to Say No

If you give up parts of your life, learning to say “no” to people is something you must learn. Remember, every time you say “no,” you’re giving yourself free time for the things that matter most to you.

Do a Digital Declutter

If there’s one part of people’s lives that doesn’t get enough organization, it’s their devices. A digital declutter will make your phone, iPad, laptop, and all those hard drives a delight to use again.