Need Less, Have More: Life Expands When We Eliminate the Excess

“Knowledge is learning something new every day.  Wisdom is letting go of something every day” ~Zen Saying

Simplicity, at its heart, comes down to eliminating the excess in our lives.

Excess needs, wants, possessions. The list goes on.

Society tries to sell us on the idea that having more in our lives should be the goal and is the answer. But is more really improving the quality of our lives?

Do more possessions beyond a certain point really add value to our lives?

Do more commitments in our diaries really help us feel less stressed and rushed?

Does always wanting the latest gadget really improve the quality of what we have now?

Is more even feasible for many of us who are struggling just to make ends meet and pay basic bills in these challenging economic times? Many can barely afford enough, let alone more.

Living in the Moment

Having more in our lives or buying into the concept that more is better can mean we miss living in the moment. We’re constantly waiting for our lives to be complete with more and striving for a day that will never come.

We’re in a state of deferred living. Always assuming what we have now is not enough. Always wanting more.

My Journey to Simpler and Less

My own path to wanting to live a simpler life is, I’m sure, fairly typical.

Around four to five years ago my life was going pretty well with little to complain about in the grand scheme of things. I had great friends and family, a good job, a roof over my head, and certainly knew where my next meals were coming from.

However, I had also started to accumulate more in my life. More material possessions, more commitments, more meetings, more financial responsibilities, more hassle. Alongside this I felt like less and less of my time was, well my time.

The quality of my time was decreasing as more was added to it.

I was busy and in motion a lot of the time but wasn’t really getting what I truly wanted out of life. I had bought into the concept of more and that more would be the answer. I had lost track of my own goals a little.

A period of reflection followed. In this period of reflecting, I started to identify more of what I truly wanted in life. I also started to uncover those things in life I would rather be without.

I started to seek out books on the subjects of simpler living and lifestyle redesign. I had the good fortune to come across the work of some truly great authors and thinkers (Leo Babauta, Chris Guillebeau, and Tim Ferriss, amongst a few). These books challenged my thinking but also encouraged me further into the rabbit hole I was starting to disappear down.

I also started to take action.

I started to peel back and eliminate what didn’t matter.

I started extracting myself from commitments and meetings I really had no interest in being at or didn’t feel I could add value to.

I learned the value and power of a polite “no thanks” when requests on my time (meetings, social gatherings) didn’t excite me, add value, or help my goals along in some way. Importantly, I started to feel less guilt about saying no in these cases.

I started to see that conventional wisdom doesn’t always have to be followed.

I started to remove distractions and excuses I was making to myself.

I started to focus more on the things and people that were important to me.

I realized I value freedom and flexibility over the ability to just earn more and started to try to seek out ways of living accordingly.

I started to accumulate fewer material possessions but enjoyed my money more (holidays, events, great dinners, etc.).

In short, the quality of my life has improved since I have sought to simplify things and intentionally live with less.

Was Making the Change Easy?

In short, no. This is very much a journey and not an overnight fix. However, in my own case the process of working toward a focus on less has already made some powerful changes in my life. It has meant:

I have set up my own one-man consulting company rather than chasing the corporate dream that never seemed to fulfil me with each climb up the ladder. This gives me an increased sense of flexibility, empowerment, and freedom in my work.

Because I’ve spent less on stuff, I have been able to travel more for fun in the past two years than at any other time in my life (and the more amazing places I travel to the more I want to travel).

I have realized that life can be rich and full of small pleasures without having to spend lots or buy more. For example, I love taking early morning, long walks before dawn breaks and then coming back to a make some freshly brewed coffee.

I feel like I have more time to do what I want to do and to spend with the people I want to spend time with. (In reality, I have the same amount of time available to me but have been more selective in how I fill my time and what I say yes to.)

For you, the list will of course look very different depending on your own circumstances and goals. However, a commitment to banishing the “more is better” mindset will, I’m sure, improve the quality of your own life in equally significant ways.

Eliminate the Excess

Eliminating the excess means living a life that can be slightly unconventional by modern standards.

Perhaps we don’t change to the latest smartphone every other week.

Perhaps we don’t fill our homes with clutter.

Perhaps we don’t check our email obsessively.

Perhaps we focus on and are grateful for what we do have rather than on what we don’t.

Perhaps we think more carefully about clothes we purchase going for quality over quantity (or indeed have a very simple wardrobe of a few clothes we enjoy).

Perhaps we intentionally create space in our diaries and life so you can breathe a little and enjoy the moment.

Making changes is not necessarily easy initially. We are so programmed to think a certain way that making changes can involve a significant shift in thinking. However, what we get back by eliminating these false wants and needs makes any initial effort more than worthwhile. It can literally transform our lives for the better. It can mean:

  • More free time to do what we want to do (hobbies, passions, etc.)
  • More quality time with those we care about
  • Less stress
  • Less spending
  • Ironically, more quality possessions that we truly enjoy and give us value
  • More savings (for holidays and other things you enjoy doing)
  • Less pressure to keep up with those around us

Now ask yourself, what is stopping you trying to find your own path to less and forever banishing the more is better mindset?

About Carl Phillips

Carl writes short books full of big ideas. He is also the proud owner of Frictionless Living which is focused on helping readers find and live their own version of a simpler, good, life.

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  • Love it! Minimalism is a fundamental truth of simplicity.

  • Victor Jacinto Cano

    An aid to being in the moment, my dog is always “in the moment” and is my Zen Master” as I watch her in the moment she constantly reminds me to be “in the moment”

  • Valerie Rogers

    A long time ago, someone was giving away free daily organizers and I said I wasn’t interested. This person was confused as to why I wouldn’t want it. I said if my life gets that complicated that I need an organizer book, I’ll uncomplicate it.

  • I absolutely love this! I myself am on my own journey, 2 years in the making on living my life in a simpler and more meaningful manner. I’m definitely still a work in progress and there are areas of my life that could be simplified more, but I’m not giving up 🙂 Thank you for your read! I definitely love your site, will be bookmarking for future reads!

  • Indeed it is!

    Glad you enjoyed the post!

  • Glad you enjoyed the post Victor. Also glad to hear you have a Zen master in residence! You are very lucky!

    I am a big wildlife enthusiast myself (in particular the big cats) and we can certainly learn a lot from the animal kingdom in terms of how they approach life and focus on only that which is important.

  • Thanks so much for the positive feedback Mariel and I am pleased to hear you enjoyed the post! Also glad to hear you like the site and if there’s anything you would like to read in future feel free to drop me some suggestions.

    Living simpler is indeed a journey and a lifetime’s work for us all I believe. The important thing is you have begun your journey in earnest.

    Keep fighting the good fight! 😉

  • Hi Valerie,

    Thanks for the reply.

    You are right on the money! Adding and more isn’t always the answer and some folk have trouble understanding that.

    Keep fighting the good fight and I hope you never need that organizer!

  • We rarely need more stuff and more stuff will rarely make us happy. Quality experiences are proven to be better and they require time. If we break the cycle of working to consume then we’ll have more time.

  • Peter,

    Indeed, quality experiences and connections with others are what makes our lives rich. Not necessarily more for the sake of more.

  • Jules Youngberg

    Excellent article. I too have slowly learned this lesson that more is not the answer. There was a time where I was terribly attached to material items and it only caused me pain. Thinking that more material items would solve my distress I sought out more only causing more pain. I now know that everything I could ever want is inside me. As it has been said by many wise men and women, “To have everything is to have nothing at all.”

  • Hi Jules,

    Thanks for the feedback and I am pleased you enjoyed the post.

    It sounds like you are now on a better path than ‘more is better’ so stay on that path and reap the benefits of more meaningful living.

    Sites like Tiny Buddha can help us all along the way to make sure we keep focused on what is truly important.

  • Beautiful Post! Society programs us humans to be more acquisitive and not necessarily more happy. It is the greatest misunderstand of a person to think that more material possessions will make him more happy. Useless possessions are like fetters on the spirit. On the more mundane side, they only serve to increase regret, worries and so on. In a moment of temptation one may buy a useless thing but deep in his heart, will regret it sooner or later. The lesser useless possessions one has, the more one is free to access his inner ’emptiness’ – the emptiness that Buddha talks about. There is no greater feeling than feeling this vast emptiness within ourselves. Besides meditation, connecting with nature, animals are some ways to access this inner emptiness (read vastness).

  • Glad you enjoyed the post Manish!

  • Danielle Dinh

    Thank you for listing some authors. I’m going to read Babauta’s “The Power of Less” to get me started.

  • Hi Danielle,

    Glad you enjoyed the post!

    I cannot recommend Leo’s work enough. It has had and continues to have a profound impact on me. The Power of Less is a great read.