Friday, June 1, 2012

Step #4 Simplifying Your Life – Part 2

Here is my opening line, again --

“Life is complex.”

In Part 1 of this post, you created a series of lists labeled as follows:

1   Newspapers/Periodicals
2   Mail
3   Wardrobe
4   Vehicle(s)
5   Toys
6   Home(s)
7   Phone(s)
8   Holidays
9   Debt
10 Banking/Investments
11 Shopping
12 Job/Employment
13 Health/Fitness
14 Volunteering/Organizations
15 Relationships

So far we’ve covered 1-7 of this list in Part 1. Now, we’re going to complete 8-15. As I’ve made clear, these are far from all of the areas of anyone’s life that can and likely should be simplified. These are a sampling to get you started down this path. Also, you have to determine for yourself how deep you want to go in each of these areas. What I’m giving you are suggestions. You have to live your life. You may just start dabbling and trying a few of these things. As you do so and you begin to realize how much better life can be, you’ll likely continue expanding into more areas of your life and the complexities you can simplify. Believe me when I tell you, no matter how simple you think you’ve made your life, there are external forces that will continue to complicate it for you. And, if, for whatever reason, you decide living a simpler life is not for you, just stop - complication, complexity, obfuscation, etc. will flood back in like a tsunami.


I understand that most people love holidays. Well, perhaps, love is too strong a word. Holidays mean different things to different people. Before I go further, there is one personal holiday that we should each mark and set aside in our calendar each year. It’s our own birthday. And here’s the best part, you can celebrate your birthday on ANY day you choose to celebrate it on. You can even celebrate it for a week or a month. It’s your personal holiday and you can do anything you like with it. And, for heaven’s sake, stop worrying about the years. Cut the “39 again” crap. You’re never going to be 39 again if you’re over 39 and you’re going to pass 39 one day if you’re younger then 39. And, frankly, I didn’t find 39 to be anything exceptional anyway. I consider the number of years I’ve lived as a badge of honor. The more years I’ve lived the more I’ve experienced, laughed, cried, gained knowledge, wisdom, seen, done, and so on. I hope I live to a healthy, active 100 or more and I’ll be darn proud of it.

Now, as for the rest of the “so-called” holidays, have you noticed that virtually every holiday, the kind we recognize as “legal holidays,” all have one major thing in common? Now, what would that one thing be? Why every holiday is based around Sales! Sales! Sales! Spend your hard earned money and buy more stuff you really don’t need. But, we’ll convince you that you do so you can have the latest, greatest, slickest, fastest, latest colors, newest fads, keep up with the Jones’ STUFF! And you can pay if off over just 20 years of easy, minimum payments on your credit cards. Or, better yet, take out a second mortgage or home equity loan on your home.

Of course, you don’t want to forget Easter, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day to keep the restaurants in business along with Hallmark, American Greetings and the candy makers, florists, scarf, tie, belt, jewelry and fragrance businesses busy relieving you of that heavy money in your wallet. Some of you actually attach true religious meanings to Christmas, Hanukah, Easter, Passover, Ramadan and other religious observances. If these are personally meaningful to you and others close to you, then they are true holidays. But, if it’s all about spending half a year’s pay on gifts that most people don’t really need, I simply pose a one word question . . . WHY?

Holidays like Washington’s Birthday also called “President’s Day” in some places (we don’t even name them anymore), Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Columbus Day – heck, Columbus never even stepped foot on the North American continent and neither the continent or the country is even named after him, but he has a holiday – ka-ching. Memorial Day it seems is more about a three-day weekend (that appears to be expanding into a four-day weekend), family picnics, the unofficial beginning of the summer season and SALES! Too many people forget what it’s really all about. VE and VJ days, Armistice Day are basically gone. A few folks still honor those who served their country on Veterans’ Day along with SALES!

Then there’s Labor Day? What’s that all about anymore? Why, it’s another three-day (expanding to four) period of time off for picnics, the unofficial end of summer and SALES! And, of course, we celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July, Thanksgiving (which is interestingly a single day holiday that is almost universally accepted as a four day holiday to promote “Black Friday” SALES) and New Year’s Day. Name one of the major holidays that promotes 90% the meaning of the holiday and 10% the economic value? Oops! It’s the other way around, isn’t it?

I am not condemning holidays. I am condemning the aberration of what a holiday is supposed to commemorate by the mass mind control the government, media, retail and travel industries have over people. I’m condemning the stress people put themselves through to “enjoy” the holiday.

So, pick and choose the holidays that have personal meaning to you and forego the rest. Enjoy a day of peace and quiet. Let the rest of the world go on a mad spending spree or running to the crowded beaches to pay extremely inflated prices. You can enjoy those same beaches just before or after the holiday for a lot less with smaller or no crowds to deal with. And, in case you hadn’t noticed, there are sales going on EVERY WEEK, often better then the holiday sales.

If you celebrate the religious meaning of holidays, carry on. Perhaps enjoy a quiet New Year’s Eve with friends and family. Remember our vets on Veterans Day. Celebrate our country and what it means on the 4th of July. Celebrate family and friends and all we have to be thankful for on Thanksgiving Day. Do it all simply, with taste and class, save your money and let the rest of the masses go crazy. You don’t need a special designated day to honor mothers, fathers, grand parents or anyone else. We should do that everyday. You’ll be freer and happier. And, don’t forget to celebrate your personal holiday in a really BIG way. Happy Birthday, whenever it is.


This one is going to get you right in the wallet where all those plastic cards are. Life is NEVER simple and you are never free when you have debt. This subject will be covered in more detail in Step #6 on Finances, so I’m only going to suggest that you list all your credit cards, store cards, gas cards, bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, mortgage, rent, insurance, tax, utility, car, child support, spousal support, home equity, signature, line of credit, student, business and any other financial loans or other accounts you have.

Whew! What did I say about “Life is Complex?” How much time does this take from your average allotment of 43,680 minutes per month? Don’t forget to deduct minutes for sleeping, working, commuting, eating, domestic responsibilities, etc. So, start figuring out how to knock some of this off your complicated list of things to do. Pay off every credit card every month and never carry any balances. If you can’t afford to pay it off the month you purchase it, you probably don’t need it. Here’s a really big one that works every time . . . BUY LESS STUFF! Learn to buy right when you must buy something. Your life will be simpler and your bank accounts fuller. You won’t get out of debt instantly, but spending less and paying off more until you are out of debt will make your life simpler and definitely happier. Learn the difference between true needs and wants – i.e. what you would like to have, but don’t truly, actually, need.


You can go back to the list you created above under Debt and start applying some of these simplifying steps. Stop getting paper statements in the mail and stop paying by paper checks and mail. Use online Bill Pay; it’s free at most banks. Have mortgage, insurance and other recurring payments ACH direct debited from your checking account. Track your accounts with online banking. Stop receiving paper bank statements. Let the banks do all the work for you. It’s more efficient and they like it better. Start savings accounts for your next car, vacation, etc. You can have one savings account and use multiple registers in your Quicken or QuickBooks program to track each of the designated funds in the one account.

If you don’t already have your investment and retirement accounts with an organization that can provide you with 24/7 instant, online access to your accounts, ask if they offer the service. If they don’t, consider moving to an organization that does. You can track your accounts, your gains and losses, make trades, move money around, etc. fast, efficiently and with ease.

Consider getting Debit or Check Cards for specific accounts. However, be careful where and how you use them. Many of them don’t provide the same fraud protections as credit cards do. Remember with a credit card you’re using someone else’s money. When you use a debit card, it’s your own money and the banks don’t care as much about your money as they do their own money. Limit the number of active credit cards you maintain. The more you have is not necessarily the merrier and can often open doors that you won’t like once you’re inside. Again, we’ll cover more of this in Step #6 on Finances.


This is a big one. Some people live to shop. This is more typical of women then men, though I have some male friends who . . . well, enough said. Many people do not enjoy shopping. Remember, this is about simplifying YOUR life and no one else’s. Make a list of all the things you regularly shop for. This would include food and household needs mainly. Lesser (should be much lesser) would include clothes, shoes and such. Then there will discretionary items like CD’s, DVD’s, furniture, art, electronics, computers (as differentiated from electronics), sporting goods, books, entertainment and so on. If this list gets really long (and it will if you don’t cheat) you’re over indulging yourself.

Now, make a list of your ACTUAL needs on a weekly and monthly basis. Needs means you can’t survive on a day-to-day basis without these things – like bread and water. See how many of these needs you can purchase in one place at the most economical prices. Where can you buy generic store brands, essentially, the same product as the brand name product with a store’s name on it and saving you 20% to 50%. If you have storage space, buy extra when items you regularly use are on sale or sold in bulk and save money. When you go shopping make a list then create a circuit that takes you to all the necessary places in one loop and brings you home again. If you are out of something important, make a short list and pick those items up as you pass the store(s) on your way to or from somewhere else like work, school, church or some other necessary trip. Stop turning up your nose at Walmart, Target, Kmart and Aldi among others. They have quality merchandise, are usually quick to get through and will save you MONEY! Never shop for food when you’re hungry. Never shop for anything without a list and STICK TO YOUR LIST!

Use places like pricey department stores, Best Buy, HHGregg and other similar retail places to window shop. Once you’ve seen and touched it, then shop online at places like Amazon,, and thousands of other places. Don’t forget to check Ebay, Craig’s List, Free Cycle and similar online sites, too. Did you know that you can often find, brand new, off the rack clothes, housewares, small appliances, etc. like new or often never used with the original tags still on them at thrift shops, Hospice, Goodwill, Salvation Army, consignment shops, flea markets and yard/garage/moving sales? What’s the difference between buying a new $25.00 hard cover book and a used or remaindered copy of the same book for $5.00 or less? You’ll find them at a used bookstore, flea market, yard sale or online used dealers through Amazon and other places? The words are still the same and all the pages are there. You just save money.

I have found exactly what I was looking for brand new on Ebay at prices I couldn’t find anywhere else, often with free shipping and a full warranty. Last year I upgraded to a new Motorola Atrix 4g smart phone. It was a top-rated, several hundred dollar unit. My provider, AT&T, had an upgrade path for me to purchase the phone for $99.00. Or, I could get a refurbished phone for $50.00. I bought the refurb. It looked like new and has worked perfectly. It would have cost me $80.00 more at the warehouse club I belong to. That same warehouse club just offered the latest version of my smart phone for $.01. I was tempted, but . . .

I only buy Kindle ebooks now that I read on my netbook computer and my smart phone with the FREE Kindle application from Amazon. I’m also an Amazon affiliate, so I buy through my own affiliate program and get an additional discount of 5% to 10%. You can do this, too, if you have a Web site or a blog. Get the point? Shop at home. Avoid traffic and hassles. Save gas and money. The result is a simpler, freer, less stressful and happier life.


Now, this is simple! If you have a long expensive commute, have to deal with a lot of traffic and #&#@@#^ drivers, work with people you don’t enjoy being around, doing something that is unfulfilling or, maybe, you just plain hate doing – then QUIT! You’re shaking your head and saying to yourself, “Yeah! Great advice from some jerk who has never had an honest job in his life.” Well, I beg to differ. I was in the U.S. Air Force for nearly four years. Of course, there is still a lot of debate as to if that was really an honest job I had. I will probably be exposed in WikiLeaks someday.

Of course, I don’t expect you to simply quit. But, I expect you to make a list of priorities in your life. How important is your time? How important is your peace of mind? If you’re able to simplify your life and cut it back to where it costs much less to live, will you still need that job or even that profession? Remember this is YOUR LIFE we’re talking about. It’s not a dress rehearsal. There are no do-overs. What would your optimum job be and I don’t mean measuring it by the amount of money you’d be paid? I mean that it will add something meaningful and fulfilling to your life as well as provide a financial base. I told you that I lowered my overhead by 80% in one day. Now, that is huge, but my action was also very drastic and won’t work for most people. What can you do to make this part of your life simpler, freer and happier?

By the way, in the event you love what you do and money is neither a motive nor a necessity, but you hate the commute or some other aspect of the job, then consider moving closer to the job. Life is full of choices and compromises. Maybe you love the medical profession but you don’t love working in the big city and the huge medical community where you currently practice. You love country, rural living. There is always a need for good doctors and other professionals in small, rural communities. No, you won’t get rich, but you’re likely to be richly rewarded in appreciation by the people you serve and your lifestyle. There are lots of ways to skin that cat.


You’re going to love this one. I’m going to make this short and sweet. You can throw rocks at me, but since no one knows where I am at any given moment (one of the advantages of my brand of freedom), you won’t hit me.

Here goes . . . drop your membership in the country club, the health club, the racquet club, the swimming pool, the gym and any other such organizations you are paying fees to so you can be among the hard body elite. Use public golf courses if you love playing golf. There are lots of public tennis courts, basketball courts, community gyms, tracks, etc. And here’s an idea that is recommended and proven by every doctor and fitness expert, just taking a plain old-fashioned brisk-paced walk anywhere can do the job. Just walk with no reason to go or be anywhere. Park at the furthest corner of every parking lot you park in and walk in and push or carry your purchases back to your car. Buy a small set of dumbbells and use them around the house or apartment while you’re walking around. Buy an inexpensive pedometer and see how close to 10,000 steps a day you can reach and keep striving to reach the 10,000 mark. You’re going to save money, accomplish the same objectives and enjoy life more . . . on your own terms.


Determine what percentage of your 43,680 minutes you want to allocate to these activities each month. Now, make another list of all the organizations you belong to and all the volunteering that you do. Again, don’t cheat when you make this list. Figure out how many minutes you actually are giving to them each month. Don’t forget to include telephone calls, letters, notes, reading info sent to you, commuting time, time spent doing whatever it is you actually do for them and so on. Don’t forget to take into account any direct and indirect expenses you incur because of these activities, too. If the minutes spent is less then the percentage you said you wanted to allocate, you’re doing great. Most likely, if you’re really honest, the number of minutes is going to be more and, quite possibly, substantially more.

So, here you go again. It’s choices and compromises time again. Which one’s have to go, which one’s stay, but may get cut back? The world will not hate you. You will not go to hell for being a “sinner” and not giving of so much of your priceless time. You’re simply going to be less harried and enjoy what you actually do a lot more. I gave nearly ten years to the excellent community theater in Winchester, VA as their sound designer. They attempted to interest me in acting and in being on the board of the theater, head up a committee and so on. I loved doing the sound design and nothing more. I retired from the theater about four years ago and they awarded me a lifetime membership, an honor I continue to cherish. It took almost two years for them to pretty much realize I was serious and really gone. But, they always know I’m available by email or phone if something comes up that I can help them with – and I still love my very minimal involvement. Life is all about choices.


This is the end of this Step, but we’ll be revisiting it later. Relationships are probably one of the most complicated, if not the most complicated parts of everyone’s life. Untold books have been written on the subject and I could write my own tome on the topic. But, that’s not for here and now. I’m simply going to say that you need to make a list of the absolutely most important relationships in your life. Some of them are going to be absolutely loving and gentle and supportive. Some are going to be business or business/social and some are going to just be toxic. Here’s the part that is hard to swallow, some of the relationships that should be loving and gentle and supportive are going to end up being the most toxic.

Surprise! Surprise! I’m sure you’ve heard of spousal abuse, child abuse and elder abuse and each of those is a two-way street. I’m not a psychologist or a social worker. I’m just a human being who loves to be loved and who loves to love. And, yet, I’ve been hurt by some who were closest to me and I’ve hurt some of those closest to me. This is not right, but, unfortunately, it’s just human nature. Most people never mean any harm to anyone else, especially those they love.

So, here’s the deal. Make the list. After you’ve made the list, little by little, evaluate for yourself and on your own terms each of the relationships. Remember, this is private. Determine the great, the good, the not so good and the toxic qualities of each relationship. If you’re truly honest with yourself, you’ll have some surprising results. It is totally possible to unconditionally love someone, yet not condone their actions or like them. It’s also completely possible to really like someone and enjoy spending time with that person, yet not love them unconditionally or be in love with them. As you go through this very challenging exercise those pesky old choices will come up again. You’ll simplify your life by pulling away from and eliminating the more toxic relationships. Your life will become richer and fuller as you nurture those relationships that make you feel good and valued and supported.

Remember, nothing you’re learning in this 12 Step Program for Living Free is an overnight process. This is a lifelong journey. You’re going to simplify some things and you’re going to feel freer and happier. Then, you’ll move on to another step and go through some more processes. One day, you’ll feel that life is still too complex and you’ll undertake more simplifying processes. As long as you progress in a forward direction at your own speed, you’re winning. There is no losing.

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