Simple Pleasures

Five ways to scale back and get in touch with what's really important in life.
By Jackie Rabinowitz

Short on time and long on responsibilities? Overwhelmed by stuff? This year, resolve to simplify your life. The goal is to cut back on the clutter―both in your closet and your schedule―so you can focus on more meaningful things. "Living simply means less stress and leading the life you want," says Janet Luhrs, author of The Simple Living Guide (Broadway Books, 1997) and publisher of the Seattle-based quarterly newsletter Simple Living Journal. "It's about living consciously and deliberately."

To achieve the simple life, you don't necessarily have to quit your job and move to the mountains, switch to an all-veggie organic diet, or trade your Toyota for a ten-speed. It's not about sacrificing pleasure; it's about zeroing in on what really matters. Here's how to get started.

Remove 10 items from your closet that you haven't worn or used in the last year. Then do the same in your dresser, bookshelves, and even the medicine cabinet. All that extra stuff not only takes up space, but organizing and maintaining it can consume your time as well.

For one month, try buying only food and absolute necessities, suggests Elaine St. James, author of several books on simplicity, including Simplify Your Work Life (Hyperion, 2001). In the end, you may find you really didn't need most of what you would have bought if you had spent with free rein. By shopping with awareness, you'll also help spare yourself unnecessary debt and clutter.

Learn to say "no." Cut back on engagements and social commitments that have little meaning to you. Instead, give your time and energy to what you love most, be it family, a hobby, or a charity.

Do one thing at a time. Next time you find yourself juggling several tasks at once―watching TV and reading the paper simultaneously, for instance―stop. "When you do several things at once, you can't fully enjoy any one thing," Luhrs says.

Seek silence. Quiet time without television, telephones, or computers is scarce these days. Schedule a time without these distractions. Whether you meditate, walk outdoors, or soak in a tub, try to immerse yourself in total peace.