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Simplify Your Life: Knowing Where to Start

Aaron McHugh

Simplifying my life started with pocket knives. Two years ago our lives were extremely complicated, extremely expensive and going too fast in too many directions.

We knew things had to change, but it felt impossible to know where to begin. We needed to simplify our whole life and at a deep soul level, we knew it had to start with our stuff. Our stuff owned part of us and our prosperity was sucking part of our life away.

After twenty years of marriage and ten years living in the same house, we’d accumulated a lot. Every drawer and every closet were full of “one day” and “I might use”.

But it felt overwhelming to know where to begin. It felt like the yard size Jenga game-if we pulled out the wrong piece-we could be buried. I took an inventory and realized I’d unknowingly accumulated five pocket knives. I decided to locate each of them, line them all up and eliminate and retain only the “essential few” as author Greg McKewen says in his book Essentialism.

Starting small with pocket knives felt manageable. I choose a starting place that had very little risk. I meet a lot of people who like the idea of simplifying their life but they quickly get paralyzed by the idea of the movement towards simplification.

It is important to start small, but you do have to pick something. Don’t spend a week belaboring where to start. Make a decision to start with one drawer, one shelf in the garage or your glove box in your car. Progress will build upon itself once you begin.

Don’t start with the most sentimental box of keepsakes or your record collection you’ve curated since you were in high-school.

Our external life reflects upon our internal life. When we desire change, like simplifying our life internally-reducing the chatter and noise, it helps to begin by reducing the clutter and chaos of our external world first.

Owning five pocket knives was a microcosm picture of how bloated the rest of my life had become with TV’s, couches, clothes I didn’t wear and stuff I had to manage. Internally,  I spent most of my energy doing things I no longer enjoyed and managing my life more than actually living it.

I decided to keep three of my five pocket knives. Each were gifts from special people. Three pocket knives are still two more than I need, but I simplified my choices by 40%.

Simplifying your life is an inside job and it helps when your external world matches your internal desired state.