SLR 079: Unmasking Our Fears About Essentialism and Simplicity

Simple Life RebootFear is deceptive. It often masquerades as something else, fooling us into believing an outright lie or otherwise thwarting our ability to make lasting positive change.

Far too many of us yearn to reboot our lives into ones of greater simplicity, but we are stopped short by fears we cannot bring ourselves to face.

Essentialism calls us to relinquish our armor of possessions and busyness. Unfortunately, such leaves us feeling vulnerable to unacceptable loss.  Bowing to fear, we hang on to the armor and forfeit what would have been a more abundant, joy filled life.


The goal of this post is to cut deeply into those noxious hidden emotional pockets. It’s only when we acknowledge our fears and contributing shortcomings,  that we can undergo the necessary surgery to heal and move forward.

Disclaimer and  Explanation

Many of the following articulations may seem overly harsh.  The list is not meant to discourage or condemn,  but rather to expose the full fear spectrum as it might relate in some degree to  us.  Also, this list is for personal reflection and application only. It is not properly imposed on others. Accordingly, the references are in the first person.  Finally, the term “stuff” is used as shorthand to comprehensively describe property, activities and overload of any nature.

So, without further ado…  fears hindering our ability to edit our “stuff”  so as to lead a simpler life include:

1.   Fear of Engagement.  Developing a genuine connection with people is costly and time-consuming. Focusing on my stuff permits me to limit my engagement with people.

2.   Fear of “Oblivion” or Lack of Significance.  Like Augustus Waters, a cancer patient in the novel “A Fault in Our Stars“,  my greatest fear is “oblivion”.  I am afraid of having no significance. My stuff is evidence that I exist and that I have an impact.

3.   Fear of  Missing Out or of Emptiness.  I cannot bear emptiness, empty space, or potentially missing out on anything. Besides, I’m sure the next thing will finally satisfy me and fill that nagging void.

4.   Fear of Being Overlooked or Underappreciated.  I crave recognition. I fear that people will lose interest in me. My stuff demonstrates my accomplishments,  skills, sophistication,  and worth to the world.  How can people appreciate who I am if I have no stuff to display?

5.   Fear of  Settling or Mediocrity.  I do not want to be like the fox in Aesop’s fable “Fox and the Grapes”  -pretending to despise “stuff” when the truth is that I deeply desire the stuff but cannot attain or maintain it.  If I “settle” for just the essentials, it will only prove that I lack ambition, work ethic and the ability to achieve.

6.   Fear of Lack of Control.  I fear letting go.  I need my old stuff to keep a connection to the past.  I need my current stuff to protect me against the uncertainties of the future.  Stated differently,  I must hang on to stuff  “just because” for my past and “just-in-case” for my future.  It’s the only part of life over which I have control.


If any of the above apply to you,  please do not  “feel the fear and do it anyway“.   Making major life edits before you have worked through significant fear is reckless.  The important takeaway is to commit to not being held captive by fear.  If you determine that living a life of greater simplicity and margin is best for you,  but are unable to act due to fear,  please consider seeking guidance from clergy or counselor. You are precious. Your life is precious.  The effort is worth it.


Do you have any suggestions?   What applicable fears did I omit or mischaracterize?  Please share in the comments section.


If you enjoyed this post,  please see  “What Are You Afraid Of ?”   and   “But What Will People Think?”


Originally posted at

SLR 078: Are You “in Control”? Try the Clutter Experiment!

Simple Life Reboot“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” – William Morris

When Sheryl and I moved from our large colonial home to smaller accommodations next door, we found ourselves faced with the necessity of reducing our possessions.  After a couple of moving sales and multiple trips to charities, we had sold or given away about 85% of our belongings.

What we did not expect from the process was the resulting feeling of self-determination and liberation.  But why?  What was it about the stuff we had accumulated around us, that over time, had begun to hold us captive?


According to psychologists, excessive clutter can be caused by or can cause flawed thinking.

Clutter can also be a symptom of seeking to control our environment.  Having more stuff sometimes gives us the false sense of having more options so as to have greater control over future events.

If you doubt this,  please consider:  How many of us have hung onto an inconvenient, unused item believing that “I might need this someday,” or “This might be worth something someday?”

According to Dr. Simon Rego, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y., a healthy approach to letting go of unneeded items is to substitute the fearful thought with intentional action that might benefit another,  as “Somebody else could use this now, so I will give it away.”

What we discover is that retaining the unused item does not give us control or well-being, but rather hanging on to the item holds us in the grip of burden, regret, shame or fear.  In contrast,  letting go of an item to benefit another gives us a sense of  self-mastery,  greater control over our environment, and improved well-being.

If you want to find out if this is true for you,  please try the following experiment:

Clutter Experiment

1)  Start becoming aware of the things around you that do not add to your life.  These may be items you have not paid attention to or used in the past 3 months.

2)  Start placing these items in a box, one by one, as you become aware of them.

3)  Discover over time how many of the items you retrieve from the box to use.

4)  After some period of time, sell, donate or discard the items in the box you have not retrieved.

5)  Then,  please report what you discover to your loved ones, and/or to us here at Simple Life Reboot.

Note:  Ryan Nicodemus (The Minimalists) tackled this problem in reverse order.  He placed virtually every item in his apartment in boxes.  When he needed an item, he would retrieve it. Check out the moving TEDx talk to hear the full story.


Originally posted on


SLR 077: 7 Steps to Help a Loved One Embrace Change

Simple Life RebootOne of the most difficult questions we get is:

“What do I do when I want to make changes,  but my loved one does not?”

Whether the desired change is to rightsize, de-clutter, reduce activity  or financial overload or otherwise,  we generally encourage the inquiring party to make individual changes, and then wait patiently in the hope that demonstrated benefit will persuade the reluctant party to embrace mutual change at some point.

While we continue to recommend this approach,  we recognize that additional advice might be helpful, particularly when the “just-be-an-example” approach appears to be failing.

We have boiled our recommendations down to the following 7 points:

1. Maintain the relationship as the priority.  As a starting point, resolve that if a choice must be made,  your relationship with your loved one will always trump your desired life edits.  The greater purpose for the desired change should be to benefit the relationship.

2. Identify loved one’s pain.  Many of us become so accustomed to bearing a burden that we fail to recognize that such even exists.  Be sure to identify what pain your loved one is experiencing that your desired changes will relieve.  Resistance may be lessened if changes are understood to be a mutual solution,  as opposed to a life change that is simply your personal preference.

3. Do NOT pressure loved one.  Resist the urge to pressure (or nag) your loved one into making changes s/he is not ready to make. Making significant life changes and edits is complex and often involves deeper issues of security and identity.  Attempting to coerce or shame a loved one into letting go of cherished items and/or activities will be counterproductive at best.

4. Maximize individual changes. Implement as many individually-impactful changes as possible. Such increases the likelihood that there will be measurable,  persuasive benefits that can be observed over a period of time by the reluctant party.

5. Use “Season in Life” as context for change.  Provide a new perspective on desired edits.  Change might be easier if it is understood as a natural transition or transfer as opposed to  “loss” or “letting go”  of something.   Examples might include donating outgrown baby clothes or selling an oversized empty-nesters’ house to a growing family so that such property can again be used and enjoyed as intended.

6.  Propose a trial period or game approach. Consider proposing a limited, no-commitment trial period.  An example would be Courtney Carver’s 3 month fashion challenge, Project 333.  Other approaches include permanently editing items such as playing the Minimalist’s game for a month,  or trying Simple Life Together’s year long “Edit and Forget It” challenge.

7. Inspire and encourage.  Keep two words in mind when trying to help a loved one with change.  To “inspire” is  to breathe life into someone.  To “encourage”  is to imbue with courage.  Recognize and celebrate how momentous even small changes can be in you and your loved one’s life.  Commit to serve, inspire, encourage and be a source of hope for a better future.


Originally posted on




SLR 076: A Shout Out for SimpleREV 2014!

Simple Life Reboot

Joshua Becker delivers opening remarks. Joel Zaslofsky and Dan & Vanessa Hayes in background, front row.

Having just returned from Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.A.  a heartfelt “THANK YOU!” to Joel Zaslofsky and Dan Hayes for putting together the first ever SimpleREV conference where folks from around the world came together to share stories and discuss how the simplicity/minimalism movement is changing lives and communities.

Sheryl and I were honored to speak.  We told our story of how we came to realize in May of 2013 that we needed to move from a life of chasing after more stuff, to a life enriched by quality experiences and deeper relationships.  Even though we had a great time telling our story at SimpleREV,  we were even more thrilled and inspired by others’ stories.

One of the many takeaways from the conference was this:  people in this simplicity/minimalism movement are well grounded folks seeking to serve others.  The spirit and passion conveyed by attendees was tempered only by their insight and wisdom.

Nobody embraces the simplicity/minimalism movement without having pondered the most basic and critically important questions regarding what makes life meaningful.  People, not things.

Bring simplicity folks together at a conference in a friendly city like Minneapolis, and what you get is several days of unforgettable stories, inspiration and long lasting friendships.

We were so honored to participate!

Again, thanks Joel and Dan!

And thanks to all the volunteers that made this great event possible!


Originally posted on

SLR 075: 5 Proven Strategies to Crush the “Sophomore Slump” of Lifestyle Design

Simple Life RebootHave you had this experience?  You start out strong, buoyed by the excitement of a new challenge and the promise of better things to come.  Then,  somehow,  as you move beyond the initial phase,  the load intensifies, progress slows and you lose some degree of confidence in the attainability, if not the desirability, of the objective.

It can happen to the best students, athletes and artists,  and it can certainly happen to those of us seeking to increase margin, de-clutter and otherwise simplify or “re-boot” our lives.

Instead of beating ourselves up,  we need to recognize a “slump” for what it is – a complication common to many passionate achievers that can be temporary or permanent,  depending upon our response.

So how do we make sure the “slump” is only a temporary drag?

Employing the following 5 tactics is key:


Awareness is our best defense. If we can unmask perceived apathy, fatigue, confusion, failure, or disillusionment as nothing more than hallmarks of a “slump“,  these feelings lose their hold on us.  Not only can we continue,  but in the very act of continuing, we strengthen our ‘overcomers’ muscle and become better equipped for the next challenge.


We need to let go of any hidden hope that the road to lasting positive change is simple, easy or fast. Living intentionally is a lifelong process of growth, and foundation building is not without its complications. We need to give ourselves permission to stumble and travel slowly at times.  The critical element is to keep going.  Period.


Experiment and try different approaches.  If a routine flounders,  try another.  Focus and commitment is demonstrated by retaining the objective, not by throwing oneself against a wall of personally ineffective or stale processes.


Isolation is jet fuel for a “slump“.   Starve a “slump” by reconnecting with others in the community.   Attend in-person lifestyle design events, conferences, talks, and meetups, if at all possible.   Participate in, or better yet host your own  online gatherings via Google hangouts, Skype, FaceTime, GoToMeeting, etc.


Recognize that significant progress may not be evident to you.   Seek out opportunities to measure progress.  Examples include “before and after” photos, journaling, and habit/objective tracker apps.   Reflecting upon the progress made can be a great encouragement.

BONUS … and,  as a bonus tactic for crushing a slump... contact us and we’ll cheer you on!   Your goal is worth it!  You can do it!  So,  keep going!


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