“God grant me the serenity to accept
the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.”
~Reinhold Niebuhr, The Serenity Prayer
By Leo Babauta
Probably the most frequently asked questions for those trying to simplify their lives isn’t How Do I Simplify, but rather What If Others in My Life Don’t Want to Simplify?
It’s an amazingly common problem, and one that doesn’t have an easy answer.
However, there are things you can do if your significant other, family members, friends, co-workers or others in your life are standing in the way of finding simplicity.
I’m lucky in that my wife, Eva, is incredibly supportive and in fact has joined me in my journey to simplify. She has eliminated a lot of her stuff, has streamlined her life, and while she’s not quite as minimalist as I am (who can blame her?), she’s come an amazingly long way and I’m proud of her.
But that didn’t happen by accident — I engaged Eva from the beginning, got her on my side, and didn’t push or try to force her to do anything (well, usually — I don’t claim to be perfect). And of course, what’s most important is that she genuinely wants me to be happy and to succeed in anything I do. Again, I’m really lucky.
I’ve had success in getting my kids on board, at least a little bit, with a lot of what I do, and I’ve also had success in letting them live their lives differently than I lead mine. I’ve also had to deal with other family members and people in my life who haven’t been so supportive — in a few cases, actively against some of the things we’ve tried to do.
Leo’s Simple Methods of Dealing With Others
How have I dealt with all of this? I’d like to share some of what’s worked for me, in hopes that it’ll help some of you. As always, your mileage will vary.
1. Model behavior. The most important thing you can do to convert others to your ideas is to be the best model possible. Walk the walk, and do it visibly, so others can see what you’re doing. This goes for your spouse, for your kids, for family and friends, for co-workers. Just showing how to do it can be a powerful tool indeed. Declutter your life, live more simply, and you’ll go a long way to converting others.
2. Share how important it is to you, and the benefits. This is really the second part of being a role model: as you start to live the simple life, show others how great it is to you, how important a part of your life this is. Talk with them about it, and tell them why you’re doing this. When people understand your motivation, they can start to get on board, or at least stop feeling so threatened. And when they see how great it is for you, how happy it makes you and all the great things it brings into your life, they’ll move closer and closer to your way.
3. Ask for help. One of the first things I did with Eva was ask for her support. Not just her consent, but her physical help. I confessed that I can’t do it on my own and I need her. Many people, if they truly care about you, want to help you. They want you to be happy, and if you tell them how they can help you succeed, they’ll do their best. If possible, make simplifying a team effort — not just something you’re doing, but something you’re all doing together. And make it fun!
4. Educate. The best way to educate others is, as I said above, by your good example. But beyond that, you may want to share books and websites and blogs you’re reading, not in a way that insists that they change, but just to show what you’re interested in and how they might learn more if they’re interested. Documentaries, podcasts, magazines, and other good sources of information are helpful as well. You can’t force people to read or watch, but you can make it available. In addition, talk with them about it — again, not in a pushy way but in a way that shows how excited you are and how you’d like to share what you’re learning about. If they seem put off, don’t drone on and on.
5. Help them succeed. If you do have some success converting some of the important people in your life to your way of thinking, at least to a minor degree, don’t criticize when they don’t do it as well as you’d like, or to the extent you’d like. Instead, be encouraging, be happy for them, and support them in any way you can. Again, make it a team effort.
6. Realize you can’t control or change others. One of the most common frustrations comes when people try to control other people, or force them to change. It’s a recipe for disaster. You can try to control others, but there will always be a struggle, and you’ll always fail to some degree. This applies to your significant other, even to kids. We try to control them but we can’t, not really. Instead, try to influence others, encourage them, support them, help them find happiness. And let go of the need to control. It’s difficult but really essential here. Once you can release that need to control, you’ll find much more happiness.
7. Set boundaries. Once you stop trying to control others, you have to find ways to live together with different goals and different ways of life. If you want to simplify and the others you live or work with don’t, how can you peacefully coexist in the same space? Some possibilities (but nowhere near an exhaustive list): decide who owns what and just simplify your own things; split up the house or office into your area and theirs; find a happy compromise between simplicity and major clutter.
8. Have patience. Don’t expect others to change overnight just because you have. The important people in your life might not get quite as excited about this change, because it’s not coming from them. They might not learn it as quickly as you have, or go quite as far. Or they might not want to change or support your change at all, at first … but later, they might come around. Again, don’t push or be obnoxious about it, but instead be patient, encouraging, with an attitude of sharing what you’re learning and excited about.
9. Change what you can. Sometimes you can’t change everything you’d like, and you have to learn to accept that. Find areas you can control, find places that others will allow you to change, and focus on those. The other areas might come later (or they might not). This is what comes from having others in your life — you give up complete control, but you also get the wonder of sharing your life with other human beings, something I’d never give up.
10. Find support. If you can’t get support from some people in your life, find it elsewhere if possible. This might be from others who are doing the same thing as you — friends or family, or people in your community. It could be from online communities, such as social networks or forums. There are tons of people out there who are trying to simplify (the Zen Habits forums are just one example). Share your progress, challenges, frustrations with them, and you’ll find help from people who understand.