3 Unconventional Ways to Simplify Your Entire Life
How not to overcomplicate absolutely everything.
A few weeks ago, I tapped into the power of a simple life.
I had a 7kg rucksack strapped to my back, held a wooden stick in my right hand, and was hiking the Camino de Santiago. I made peace with myself and the world. Life felt light.
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But before I knew it, I had to return from my adventure and was back in my old environment. And suddenly, my inner calm was gone. Modern life pulled me into a vortex of pathological productivity, noise, and distractions.
A few days passed like this, and my brain kept opening new tabs. Soon, it felt as if my inner processor was overheating. My mental storage was cluttered.
Here’s What I Did
When I couldn’t take it anymore, I sat down with my journal and had an honest conversation with myself.
What was it about the Camino that made life so simple? The walking? Sure, that helped. But I walk daily. Nature? That can’t be it — I was just as calm when walking through cities.
Soon, I realized it wasn’t the radical change in lifestyle or environment. It was the little things: Mindsets shifts and minuscule habits. More importantly, these “simplifiers” aren’t unlocked by hiking hundreds of kilometers. They’re accessible in everyday life.
So, here are the three most important lessons I distilled from my journey. May they simplify your life as much as they did mine.
- Be Shamelessly Unproductive
Before embarking on the Camino, I thought my mind would be working through every unresolved issue in my life.
I was actually naïve enough to believe that I’d return from the trail enlightened. But, of course, that didn’t happen. Most of the time, I didn’t think or reflect at all — my mind was a blank canvas.
And yet, instead of enjoying this peace of mind, I got anxious. Heck, I almost panicked. I felt the desperate need to be productive. Solve problems. Come up with ideas.
That is, until I had this striking realization:
You don’t need to be productive all the time.
I know it sounds trivial, but we often neglect this simple truth. We live in a utilitarian culture. Everything we do needs to have a purpose, meaning, or effect.
Instead of reading books for enjoyment, we must get something out of them.
Instead of talking to people for genuine human connection, we want to leverage them. (“Your network is your net worth…”)
Instead of enjoying the journey, we crave quick “hacks” to arrive at the destination.
But that’s an unsustainable approach. It makes us seek fulfillment in the future instead of finding it in the present. Which is, of course, where it always has been and always will be.
So, here’s the best way I’ve found to stop being so utilitarian: anti-productivity slots. These are time frames of 10 to 30+ minutes throughout your day in which you focus on one thing only: Being unproductive. It sounds mad, but it’s deeply soothing and restful in our busy world.
Try this, for example:
Lay down on the floor. Feel the grounding effect of melting into a hard surface. Then, don’t do anything. Just be there. Your thoughts will wander, and maybe you’ll fall asleep. And that’s exactly the point — simply enjoy this break from your hectic life.
Embrace that you’re a human being, not a human doing.
- Capsulize Your Life
“Hmmm, let’s see… what should I wear today?” the guy next to me joked in the hostel one morning. I laughed because it was so true. We didn’t have to waste any time putting together our outfits for the day. When you only have two shirts in your backpack (and one of them really needs to be washed), you can finally stop obsessing over the clothes you wear.
It took me a long time to realize, but this simplicity in the morning was one of the most calming influences during the entire trip. And, of course, it went beyond choosing outfits. Every day was simply structured:
Get dressed with your (minimal) wardrobe.
Roll up your sleeping bag and cram it into your backpack.
Spend the whole day walking.
Arrive at the next hostel, have dinner, and go to sleep.
Conversely, back home, I got overwhelmed by the unlimited amount of possibilities at any given time. It’s the tyranny of choice: we have so many options that we overanalyze everything we do, draining our mental battery.
The solution? Capsulize life.
You’ve probably heard of the capsule wardrobe: a collection of clothing pieces that never go out of style and mix-and-match. That way, you create hundreds of outfits with just a few items and avoid worrying about what to wear each day. This was exactly what I experienced on the trail, and it felt amazing.
But here’s the best part: You can apply this concept to many other areas in life.
For instance, the capsule pantry: A supply of pasta, rice, and vegetables that allows you to cook dozens of simple recipes. Buying groceries also becomes effortless because you can stop using shopping lists and habitually grab your “capsules.”
Or try a capsule to-do list. As a highly sporadic person, this working style brings me so much joy. Instead of suffocating in a tightly planned schedule, I have an array of daily tasks and habits. I can combine these items throughout my day depending on satisfaction or urgency.
No matter which area of your life you capsulize, the principle is always the same:
List all your options.
Eliminate the ones that don’t serve you well.
Keep cutting elements or add new ones until the items on your list mix and match.
Drag and drop the ingredients according to your needs.
Capsules may seem like a constraint. But paradoxically, they’re liberating. Life turns into a game of Legos. And whatever you’re building, the bricks at your disposal breed a beautiful outcome.
- Let a Coin Decide Your Fate
“Do you struggle with making decisions?” a friend I’d won along the Camino asked me when we arrived in Santiago de Compostela. I puffed up my cheeks and released the air like a balloon. “Every. Single. Day.”
Previously, I had been complaining to him about not knowing what to do next. I was torn between two options:
Continue walking to Fisterra — a Spanish city known for its stunning coastline. (The adventurous choice.)
Take the bus back home to Porto. (The boring choice.)
I should also mention that my feet were covered in blisters, and every step hurt like hell. That made option two equally appealing as option one.
But then, he gave me a piece of advice I’ll never forget.
“You know what I do? I take a coin, assign my options to heads and tails, and flip it. The coin decides for me. But here’s the interesting part: Sometimes the coin lands on heads, and I’m like, ‘Actually, I prefer tails.’ That’s my subconscious telling me what I really want. I just didn’t listen before.”
So that’s what I did. And it was like he said: The coin landed on the side of Fisterra, but I realized I needed to go home. I craved some quiet time, and my feet desperately needed rest.
On the bus ride, I remembered another nugget of wisdom: If you can’t decide between two options, it means the outcomes are equally good or bad.
It’s like a 50/50 situation. So even if the outcome is uncomfortable, you can’t blame yourself. You made the best decision you could at that time.
We tend to think there is one “right” path and obsess over finding it. But no. There are just paths, and each has its own appeals and drawbacks.
As a result, every decision is a good decision. Because every time you decide with a clear conscience, you push the needle of life. You take control.
Getting everything right is far less important than taking action.
What a Simple Life is Really About
As I leaned into this simplified lifestyle, I regained a great portion of the calm from my hike. But I also learned something else: Life doesn’t always need to be super simple.
So, if your life feels cluttered and overwhelming, cut yourself some slack. Take a step back, observe the situation, and gain a fresh perspective.
Because here’s the thing: Life will get messy, chaotic, and complex. And that’s okay. The real lesson is to stop cramming life into a tight box of expectations. When you have a specific idea of what simplicity looks like, you kind of miss the whole point.
A simpler life begins with seeing things as they are, not as they should be.
CONTRIBUTED Stephan Joppich
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