How to Live a Better Life with Less

By Leo Babauta

I’ve worked for more than 5 years now to simplify my life, and while I’ve discovered the sublime joys of living a simple life, I’ve realized most people don’t get it.

“Why would I want LESS?” they ask themselves. “Less is less fun, harder, monk-like, boring.”

The simple answer: because life can be so much better with less.

That’s hard to believe if you haven’t tried it, but today I am happier than ever. I’m better off financially than ever, now that I’m out of debt and living blissfully debt-free. I am unencumbered by a crapload of stuff, and I have room in my life for what’s truly important: my family, my writing, and my twin loves of reading and running.

The beautiful thing is that you don’t need to earn more money or buy a bigger house or car or have a bigger company in order to have this better life — you need less of all of that. It’s attainable simply by cutting back.

Here’s how to do it — briefly. This will be familiar to long-time readers, but it’s a necessary primer for newer converts.

Do less. Cut back on your workload, on your commitments, on your schedule, on your todo list. Focus on the things that make the highest impact, and drop everything else. You can do this slowly, over time, but do it consciously. The result is you’ll have more room in your life for other things, you’ll be more effective with your time, and you’ll be less stressed out. Read more.

Have less. If you learn that enjoyment of life isn’t having stuff, you’ll be able to let go of it … and declutter. Having a life with a minimal amount of clutter is so enjoyable, so peaceful, it’s hard to describe. It leaves you feeling free, without the stress that comes with an overwhelming amount of stuff, and leaves room in your life for relaxation. Less of a focus on buying stuff means you also have more money, or less debt, or you need to work less in order to live the life you want. Any of those options are good.

Produce less. This is nonsensical to a lot of people — after all, aren’t we all trying to Get Things Done? To Get More Done? Well, that’s the norm, I’ll grant you that — people seem to think that producing grand amounts is great — to write a prodigious amount, to code a prodigious amount, to create a ton of products, to churn out services at an astronomical rate, to have more billable hours than anyone else. Well, that’s fine if you want your life to be all about churning out stuff, but not if you’re concerned about quality, about beauty, about meaning, and about having a life outside of producing. Instead, try producing less — spend more time making better things. Spend more time editing your work down to less, leaving only the most essential parts. Embrace a philosophy that work which is edited down to a minimum is better than volume.

Consume less. This is about how many resources we consume, how much we eat, how much waste we produce from our consumption. Instead of consuming, focus on enjoying what you have, preserving the beauty in what you’ve attained, being content with what’s already around you.

Connect online less. I love connecting with others online. Unfortunately, it consumes our lives if we let it. So if you do a lot of connecting online, through email and web surfing and blog reading and Twittering and Facebooking and what have you … cut back a little. Disconnect from time to time.

Connect with others, and your passions, more. Ah, here’s the good part. This is how your life becomes better, not worse, in living a life with less. It’s better because you disconnect from the online world in order to connect with what’s truly important: your loved ones, real people in the real world, and the things you really love doing. You’ve cut things out of your life not just for the sake of cutting, but for the sake of making room for what you’re really passionate about.

Edit, edit. Simplifying isn’t a one-step process of cutting things out. It’s an ongoing process, not only of simplifying but of putting a focus on what’s essential … and then continuing to edit. Think of your life as a work of art, and you as the artist. Come back to it and make it more beautiful by whittling away the unnecessary. Then come back and do it again, and again, until all you’re left with is what’s most beautiful, what’s most essential.

Life can really be better with less, if what’s left is what you love.