Reducing input – the secret to simplifying your life

If there is one tip or trick I could recommend for creating the illusion of more time and space in life, it’s this: reducing input. What do I mean by ‘input’? any data that is coming in through the senses, basically. In the current age of technology, fast food, advertising, soundbites and social media, our senses are being constantly bombarded with information, visual data and noise.

I’ve already posted about getting rid of my TV, but it’s more than this. There is a Buddhist term: “guarding the doors of the senses” – being really selective about what you are consuming through each of the senses. This doesn’t mean living in some sort of white box, with no stimulation or contact with the outside world! Rather, bringing more intentionality to what you are taking in.

As an example, having the radio burbling away in the background is something many people do, particularly at mealtimes. But are we really listening to the radio? Or is it on for some other reason – to fill the space, for company, that’s what we have always done… Are we looking for some distraction by always clicking ‘on’? Can we allow ourselves time to really sit and listen to a good radio programme, without feeling the need to ‘do’ something else simultaneously?

At mealtimes, can we just eat, focusing on the smells, colours, textures and flavours in our meal, rather than stuffing it down whilst watching the box or scrolling through social media?

Reducing input means bring intentionality to what we are doing, which really means bringing more awareness to our lives. Doing one thing at a time, but really concentrating on that thing, whatever it happens to be – mopping the floor, sending an email, walking to work (without headphones!). I definitely notice when I’m feeling stressed, it’s because I feel there are too many competing demands. If I reduce those demands down to one thing at once, the stress subsides and a sense of more space opens up. This is the ethos of the slow movement – bringing intentionality to our actions, preferring quality over speed.

If this is new to you, this may not happen overnight. But if you catch yourself turning the radio on or reaching for the smartphone, can you catch yourself and see if there is an opportunity to reduce the input of data to your senses, and reducing any feelings of overwhelm.

What exactly is slow and simple living?

We hear these terms “slow living” and “simple living”, but what exactly do they mean?

The idea of slow living began with food, and was sparked as a reaction against the fast food industry, preferring instead eating seasonally, organically produced traditional meals. This spread from a love for slow food (home-cooked from scratch, with love and attention) to all areas of life, and featured in Carl Honore’s book In Praise of Slow, the first place where the term “Slow Movement” was coined. This doesn’t mean we do everything at a snail’s pace, but rather we bring intentionality to our actions, preferring quality over speed. Carl is also passionate about the role of community in slow living, getting to know the person who works at the farmer’s market selling you your seasonal veg, knowing your neighbours, etc.

This has spread out to all areas of life, from parenting to fashion, from travel to how we manage our money. People are reacting against the fast pace of modern life, and choosing to slow down and value what they have, rather than mindlessly consuming. More and more people are choosing to live life at a different pace, enjoying the quality of their experiences, rather than passively going from one thing to the next on life’s treadmill, feeling that we have to keep up with the Joneses.

Slow fashion is a reaction against the ugly world of fast high-street fashion, which relies on sweatshops and unethical practices and a throw-away attitude to “out of fashion” clothing. Slow fashion might mean making your own clothes from scratch, or choosing to buy from an ethical producer, one who considers the environment in their manufacturing methods, giving a fair deal to the producers and buyers alike. It might mean having a capsule wardrobe, of your own style, rather than keeping up with seasonal fashion trends.

Related to slow living is simple living, which means choosing to live with less. This often takes the form of minimalism, not hoarding tons of unnecessary stuff, decluttering and only having what you really need. Minimalism does not necessarily mean you live in an empty home, but that you only have what you truly need and actually use. Marie Kondo (author of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up) says we should keep only what sparks joy, and has a systematic plan for decluttering every area of your home.

Again, this can extend to all areas of life, from technology (clearing your inbox each day, going TV-free), your work-life balance and how much time you choose to spend at work, downsizing your home and becoming more environmentally aware. The whole zero-waste movement is a massive step towards simple living in terms of leaving a lighter footprint upon the earth through reducing food waste and plastic packaging, or choosing to make your own beauty or kitchen cleaning products.

The main thing to take away is that there is no “one size fits all” way of slowing down and simplifying your life, it looks different for different people. Someone with children will have more stuff in their home than someone without kids, that’s a fact. One person may love the look of an almost-empty room, whereas someone else may have some carefully chosen and much-loved artwork and ornaments around. I personally don’t go for many ornaments around the home, as it’s just another thing to dust! Rather than letting slow and simple living become another form of keeping up with the Joneses, how could you bring more intentionality and quality to your everyday life?

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.

Could you go TV-free?

At the end of a stressful day, many of us love to lie back and zone out with our favourite shows. Switching on at the end of the day can become habitual, rather than doing it because we genuinely want to watch something. With the advent of streaming services, this has become another form of extreme consumption, with many people “binge-watching” whole boxsets of shows in a weekend. The old way of watching one episode a week of your favourite series, ending on a cliffhanger and having to wait a whole 7 days to find out what happens next is dead. Yes there is more choice now, but is that necessarily a good thing?

Research shows that binge-watching is bad for our health, interfering with sleep by preventing our brains from truly winding down before bed. Over time, this reduces our immune systems, and increases our risk of diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

When our TV broke about a year ago, we decided not to replace it. Our youngest child, who was 4 at the time, went through a 5-day withdrawal period where he asked for the TV constantly. But after that, he stopped. Gradually, he is learning the art of providing his own entertainment, rather than sitting passively in front of a stream of images (and often adverts for more stuff, which we are actively trying to reduce). He does watch a film of his choosing once a week (on the laptop), on a Sunday, which has become a special treat, rather than the daily exposure of before. He seems happy with this now, and never asks to watch anything else during the week, he loves looking forward to “Sunday Film Day”.

Some days I do miss that hour towards the end of the day, while trying to cook dinner, when small children are tired, when we used to put the TV on. But mostly I don’t miss it at all. My son listens to more audiobooks instead of watching stuff, and enjoys his Sunday Film Day. I am reading more books than ever, and also have some favourite podcasts. I have been catching up with crochet and knitting projects, and enjoying a good conversation or two. I do occasionally watch a programme, but I’m much more selective about what I choose to consume.

Could you go TV-free?

Book review: In Praise of Wasting Time

Let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand.

Thoreau

I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately, and in particular the challenge of doing nothing. So when I came across this little book, I had to read it. At only 128 pages, this is a must-read for anyone curious about the benefits of dropping everything and just being.

Professor Lightman outlines our fixation with time, with how long everything takes, with filling every minute of our waking time with activities and projects. He argues that our lives have become “frenzied”, that we get angry if we have to wait to see our GP. We have lost the ability to take the meandering way home, to daydream,

The problem, Professor Lightman argues, is that we are constantly plugged into “The Grid” – the internet, digital communication and social media (although he does also argue that the general pace of life outside of this has taken on a frenzied pace). Consumerism and an obsession with productivity have lead to a “heightened awareness of the commercial and goal-oriented uses of time” at the expense of genuinely free time for reflection and doing less. Even the speed at which we walk has increased in recent years.

He extols the benefits of unstructured time in terms of our creativity and mental “replenishment”. This non-stop stimulation from technology is having a detrimental effect on our mental health, leaving us with an inability to be alone with ourselves.

Lightman also talks about how childrens’ lives are overscheduled and the amount of pressure parents feel to have their children reach certain milestones by particular points in their lives, to keep up with peers. Play, both for children and adults, has many well-documented benefits. The joy of doing something simply for fun or amusement allows the mind to focus on means rather than ends.

The author outlines the well-known benefits of meditation on wellbeing, although he says that this is not strictly necessary, what is needed is simply downtime from The Grid. Downtime enables us to rest and develop our creativity.

Whilst this was an interesting read, I did not come away feeling like I had learned anything new. I think many of us are well aware that our lives and those of our children are increasingly overscheduled, and the disadvantages of technology for our mental wellbeing. What was most interesting to me was in the final chapter, Lightman talks about the difference between chronos – sequential clock time – and kairos – time created by human events, such as a meal or a relationship, a memory.

Surprisingly, despite mentioning meditation, Lightman does not really mention mindfulness, which I think is the key to what he is getting at – when we are aware of what is happening right now, in this moment, then we can truly slow down time (as it were) and begin to create some space in our lives to appreciate the little things, to create gratitude, appreciation and the sense of kairos he mentions.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.

My journey towards slow and simple living

I’ve never really been one for keeping up with the Joneses, never really felt the need to have the latest tech device or strictly follow fashion, never been one of those folks who has to have a holiday abroad every year. Having my first child 13yrs ago opened my eyes to the potential of a slower lifestyle – with a new baby (and even in pregnancy) you really have to slow down. I enjoyed this new pace of life, and cut my hours at work to the minimum I could afford to work.

However, with having children comes a great accumulation of STUFF – clothes and toys, and I found myself hanging on to things “just in case” I ever needed them for a future child. Once I ran out of space in my small flat, I began to store things in my parents’ loft (out of sight, out of mind).

It wasn’t until several years later that I discovered meditation, through a tutor on a counselling skills course I was doing. I began to develop the ability to create mental space, life-changing skills in mindfulness and self-awareness. Creating space allowed me to notice the little things, to appreciate more. This was definitely the key for me in slowing down.

We had moved into a “nice” house in the London suburbs, because that’s what you do, right? However, we never really felt like we fitted in there, spending much of our time in much hipper areas further into the city.

After my second child was born, I was determined that I didn’t want to return to work. I had always had home education on my radar, but never felt in a position to do it. But now I was going to be at home, we could give it a go. At first, we went on all of the educational trips I could find, but after a while we settled into our own rhythm, with a much gentler pace.

After a couple of years, my husband began to get ill with what later turned out to be an auto-immune disease. We began to reevaluate our lives, to think about what really mattered. We knew we weren’t happy in our current state, and began to make plans.

After much deliberation, we decided to take the plunge and sell our spacious semi-detached surburban house and downsize to a terraced house in central Brighton. On paper, it was “risky” – we didn’t know Brighton that well, had lots of friends in London. Some people thought we were bonkers moving into a smaller house with 2 children, but to be honest we had rooms in our bigger house that we weren’t even using.

During the moving process, I discovered Marie Kondo‘s book: The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I began to declutter, and it felt really cathartic getting rid of all of this stuff I’d been keeping from the past. So many kids’ clothes and papers! We had to get rid of most of our furniture as well, as it just wouldn’t have fitted in the smaller house.

Two years later, we are loving our new life by the sea. My husband took a part-time job, which was lower paid, but which allows him to be more hands-on with the home education, which he really enjoys. So many Dads of home ed families are working long hours to support that lifestyle, but are unable to be very involved. Working part-time has allowed him to reduce his stress levels, which has had a positive impact on his health.

Our most recent addition to our slow and simple journey is reducing waste, particularly plastic. This is very much a work in progress, as is this whole journey. What small step could you make today to slow down and simplify?

Slow and simple living

Thanks for joining me here. My intention for this blog is that it is a space for my continuing journey towards a slower and more simple life. I’ve been on this path a good few years now, with my husband and two children. A couple of years ago, we were living in a nice house in the London suburbs, but we felt that something was missing. Life just felt a bit ‘flat’. We were spending a lot of our time commuting, and even on the weekends, we’d find ourselves taking long drives to spend time in more hip areas.

So we took the plunge, we got rid of all the clutter we’d accumulated (we had expanded to fill the space available), sold most of our furniture (it would have been too big for the new place) and sold our semi-detached house. We moved down to Brighton, to a smaller terraced house in the city centre, 15 minutes walk from the sea, and paid off the mortgage (which is pretty life-changing, in your early 40s). Some people thought we were mad, downsizing with two young children, moving to a new area when we seemingly “had it all”. But it felt like coming home, and we haven’t looked back.

The secret of happiness you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less

Socrates