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Keep it Simple

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”

Henry David Thoreau

By Brian D. Kilb

We are inundated with information. Never-ending streams of stimuli overwhelm our senses. These days, the quality of life is proportional to how we deal with the quantity of life.

Maybe it’s my German bloodlines or the CPA in me, but I like things neat and orderly. I believe that less is more and that the secret to happiness is not in having the most things but enjoying the fewest things.

Downsize, organize and simplify your life, and you’ll appreciate what you have more fully.

Perhaps it’s because I am building a smaller home. Maybe it’s because my youngest just went off to college and left our nest empty. I’d like to think it’s because I’m not only older but wiser.

In any event, I am on a mission to simplify my life. I have no intent on moving to Walden Pond, but here’s my list of 10 ways to simplify and improve your appreciation of life:

  1. Downsize your house. If you use the dining room only once a year, buy a smaller house that doesn’t have a dining room. If you don’t need the extra space, don’t have the extra space and all the headaches (and costs) that go with it.
  2. Consider how many cars you need. Reflect on how often the second or third car in the family is used, and consider sharing a car. Think about the savings in cost, the impact on the environment and the extra the space you’ll have in your driveway.
  3. Purge your home. I got a great piece of advice once relating to clothing: If you haven’t worn something in two years, give it to someone who could benefit from it. That same thought can apply to many things in our homes – in the kitchen, the garage, the basement. Keep things that are useful; get rid of things that aren’t.
  4. Consolidate investments. I meet people who have so many investment accounts they can’t (or don’t) even keep track of them.  This is another case where simpler often is better. For instance, if you have multiple IRAs, it might be useful to bring them together in a single, more focused investment account.
  5. Match college choice to needs. Given the mounting debt incurred by parents and students for higher education, we might well consider the return on investment in college. First, college isn’t for everyone. When evaluating higher education, allow room for trade school or an associate’s degree. If post-graduate work is in the plans, consider a less expensive path for the undergrad degree.
  6. Pare down entertainment costs. I have a stack of magazines in my house that I rarely read. Instead of three subscriptions to magazines you might read, perhaps scale down to one that you must read. Look at your cable bill. How many pay-per-view stations do you enjoy frequently? Have people over for dinner, and eat out less. Often, it’s more fun and less expensive. (I love my grill.)
  7. Digitize. Buy digital books. Take all those pictures and home movies and send them off to be put on disks or scan them and get rid of the hard copies. You’ll save storage space, improve your organization and do someone a favor when those memories get passed to the next generation. (Plus, then you can Photoshop the awful pictures your kids make fun of.)
  8. Go to the library. Remember the library? You can get books and magazines and movies there – for free! And, when you’re done with them, you return them and they don’t take up space in your home.
  9. Throw away all but one credit card. The temptation to spend more is greater than you imagine. Keep it simple. Know the current balance on your existing credit card, and by all means pay it down monthly. This is the first place I see trouble when I meet people with financial challenges.
  10. Buy used. I haven’t owned a new car in many years. I saved 25%  buying my last car with 8,000 miles and even got the warranty extended for free. Consider buying pre-owned when possible. You’ll be surprised what’s out there.

As Ferris Bueller says in the movie that bears his name: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Simplifying can slow life down. That way, you can experience more of what really matters.

Brian Kilb is executive vice president and chief operating officer of Landaas & Company.

initially posted Nov. 15, 2011

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