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How Can We Live a Simpler Life in the City?


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Living in the city can feel exhausting at times, especially for someone who grew up in the countryside like me. However, we can improve our well-being by focusing on living a simpler life, even in the city.

Contemplating a simple life in the city
Contemplating a simple life in the city

But, how can we live a simpler life in the city? Here are steps to take to live a simpler life in the city:

  1. Declutter your home, get rid of the unnecessary stuff
  2. Downsize everything
  3. Cut down on electronics
  4. Organise your life around “your small hood”
  5. Examine and reduce your costs
  6. Examine your long-term revenue options
  7. Be grateful for everything, especially simple things
  8. Enjoy the simple things your city has to offer
  9. Avoid over-scheduling
  10. Be more present and minimise distractions
  11. Meditate
  12. Know how to be alone
  13. Do not compare yourself to others
  14. Become resistant to the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO)
  15. Filter your media consumption carefully
  16. Go for simple food

Let’s now dive deeper into every of these actions.

1. What you Can Do to Live a Simpler Life in the City

Declutter your Home, Get Rid of the Unnecessary Stuff

The very first step you should take in order to live a simpler life in the city is to carefully go through all the things you possess. And ask yourself the following two questions:

  • What do you really need?
  • Which items really “spark joy” for you?

One of my favourite authors about this, Marie Kondo, wrote a book on The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing*. Decluttering, focusing only on the items that you truly need and deeply love, as well as organising your home will help you feel lighter and set your mindset for a simpler life. The book helped me take the step for myself, and had a tremendous impact on my well-being.

Even though this action is about your physical things and environment, it will actually relieve your mind an awful lot. You would not believe how much of an impact the “stuff” lying disorderly around us has on our mental well-being.

Downsize Everything

Downsizing seems very counterintuitive and even contrary to our human nature.

Most of our ancestors have been trying to get more out of life over time. More possessions, more options, more friends and connections.

Personally, I fell into the same trap when I was looking for an apartment. I had the same mindset: the bigger, the better. And I found the perfect place. Except for one tiny detail: it was over my budget. Yet I made everything to get it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my apartment. But 2 years later, I finally came to the conclusion that it would have been better to go for half the size. It would have meant less financial stress, less cleaning, and feeling cosier, generally.

The process of downsizing takes time. It all starts with your mindset. Try to see the beauty in “smaller” and “lesser” living.

For me, this means that if I ever need to change apartment again, I will right away look for cool and creative smaller options. I have so far even considered living in a small houseboat or tiny house.

But downsizing in the city is not only about the square meters. Put on your downsizing glasses and filter the activities, projects and people you are involved with.

Cut Down on Electronics

Electronics are more distracting by nature. In the meantime, research has shown that even the mere presence of a smartphone on a table can decrease our focus on, say, the conversation we are having with a friend.

Remember that, not so long ago, our only source of light at night were the stars and fire.

An abundance of electronics in your home also often looks messy. So, have a closer look at what you really need, and how you can store it or tidy it up so it becomes less distracting. This will help you get a simpler, quieter head as well.

Organise your Life Around “your Small Hood”

I know how frustrating it can be at times to live in a very large city. But one way to counter this and have a simpler life is to do your best to organise your life around your small hood.

First, ask yourself:

  • What are the places you need to visit on a daily or weekly basis?
  • Where do your closest friends and family live?
  • Which area can you define as your hood?

I defined the area I can access in 15-20 minutes by feet as my personal hood. I live in one of the city centres, which means that my co-working space, my grocery store, post office (etc.) all are quickly accessible.

Once or twice a week, generally on weekends, I venture out of my “small town” either to visit very close friends and family, or to explore some parts of the city as a little adventure of mine.

Examine and Reduce your Costs

Living a simpler life in the city also means trying to cut down on your costs and only paying the necessary or “enjoyable” bills.

Go through your last credit card bills and bank account report.

  • Which expenses are you surprised to find?
  • Are there any subscriptions that are outdated or unnecessary?

Keeping your costs to a minimum will obviously help you live a simpler life and give you more freedom.

In the past, I also found that carefully selecting my service providers helped me live a simpler life.

How? When the service provider is good, you probably will end up spending a little more money but less time complaining.

I had to learn this the painful way. 2 years ago, I chose our internet provider based on a cost analysis. Turns out that our internet arrived very late, and, once in place, did not work properly. We were constantly experiencing disruptions and low-speed issues.

It was such a pain and loss of time to get out of this contract!

Examine your Long-Term Revenue Options

From the costs that you saved, you can work on your long-term financial freedom. Have you considered investing so far?

If not, look into the various types and strategies to invest your savings. I would advise you to go for a very diversified strategy unless you perfectly know what you are doing.

With the time you saved by doing all the steps mentioned above, you could focus on one hobby activity that also has the potential to become a great side-hustle.

Why would all of this help you live a simpler life in the city? Because the long-term trend so far is that cities are getting more and more expensive.

This is why, even though it seems counterintuitive in the short-term, investing and side-hustling will help you have a simpler life in the long run. You will not have to worry about increasing costs, and potentially even will get to choose what to work on.

Enjoy the Simple Things your City has to Offer

Look for the simple things you enjoy in your city. It could be going to the park, chatting with your good friends, having a good meal in silence or glass of wine at your favourite restaurant.

One of the simplest things I enjoy most in my city is the sun shining on my balcony, especially when the light is glowing through the leaves of the tree in our courtyard.

Once you have defined those simple things for yourself: practice. Go ahead and enjoy them, mindfully. Pay attention to how great they make you feel.

Enjoying the simple things in the city
Enjoying the simple things in the city

Be Grateful for Everything, Especially Simple Things

Gratefulness makes people happier. If you focus on the simple things that make you happy every day while living in the city, you will re-program your mind towards simplicity.

Which is why, after you made your little list of simple yet great things you enjoy, you should spend about 5 minutes every day (I find it best to do this in the morning or at night) being grateful for each of these things.

Your brain will understand that very simple things make you very happy.

This could improve your focus and automatically set you to look for simpler elements in your life. You will also feel happier – and tie your happiness to simple things!

Avoid over-scheduling

Studies have shown that over-scheduling your free time actually makes leisure feel like work. If you want to know more about research on leisure time, read my article on Why Do We Need Free Time: What Studies Tell Us About Leisure.

When living in the city, it is very tempting to over-schedule your free time. It gives us the feeling that we make the most out of our time.

When you are planning your activities, first pay attention to which ones you pick.

  • Will this activity make you happy?
  • If not: is this activity necessary, like going to the grocery store?
  • If it is: is there a way for you to minimise your daily or weekly time spent doing it? Or can you make it somehow more enjoyable?

Second, keep your schedule vague enough that it still feels like free time and remains flexible.

I always plan at least 2-3 hours when I meet a friend on weekends. I do not want to have to cut down a great conversation in the middle of it in order to rush to the next activity. It also sends the wrong signals to my close friends…

Be more Present and Minimise Distractions

We are surrounded by time-wasters. Social media, TV, advertisements. Never before has our brain been subject to such an explosion of distractions.

It is worth taking the time to closely examine which distractions you are confronted to on a daily basis.

I, personally, have massively cut down on my time spent on Facebook, WhatsApp or Netflix. The first step towards it was simply realising how much time I was wasting with those platforms.

Don’t get me wrong, I still use most of them – but in a way that I USE THEM, not the other way around.

In order to be more present in the moment and minimise distractions, there are proper actions you can take, such as deleting or reorganising apps on your smartphone, blocking certain websites, timing yourself (e.g. for checking emails).

In my case, I decided to turn off almost all types of notifications on my phone. Now, I decide when I read my friends’ messages, not the other way around. Also, I put myself two curfews. From 8 pm on, I do not allow myself to watch movies/series anymore. From 10 pm, I stop using electronics.

These simple steps freed up an incredible amount of time for simpler things: meditation, reading, writing, yoga… meeting or calling friends! In all honesty, I have to admit that I was not even aware of how much time I truly had before.

Meditate

Meditation will probably become your key daily practice for you if you want to live a simple life in the city.

There are many types of meditation practice, which is why I would recommend starting with a meditation method that appeals to you. If it does not work for you after a few days, pick another method.

Meditation comes in as many varieties and nuances as sports. So, do not get discouraged.

Meditation can help you clear your mind, have better focus, enjoy simple things and much more.

While trying to live a simpler life in the city, meditation will be especially powerful when combined with the next steps recommended below.

Know-How to Be Alone

Cities appear to be the climax of individualistic culture. People can be totally anonymous, and this is what many actually enjoy about living in a big city.

However, it comes with its downsides. Which is why knowing how to be alone and enjoy your own presence (maybe with the help of meditation practice) will get you a long way to live a simpler life.

In the past, I very often felt lonely in the city. Strangely enough, I felt like I had enough friends and activities. So where was the problem?

Part of it was that I had not learned to just be present, enjoy my own presence and love myself.

When alone, a lot of negative or stressful thoughts would pop up in my head. This was an enemy to living a simpler life, since you are tempted to keep yourself busy all the time.

Do not compare yourself to others

Similarly, comparing yourself to others will make your life more complicated. First, you will feel less happy. Second, you will crave more things: a car, a bigger apartment, more success, more friends.

You are you. The older you get, the less you can compare your life to that of others’. Every decision and step you took along the way made you more unique. Meditation could help you realise that.

Become resistant to the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO)

Another manifestation of this problem is the fear of missing out (FOMO).

When you are surrounded by many people, any new hype or trend can quickly become infectious.

It could be about cryptocurrencies, a new fashion brand, a new career path, a new company… You cannot keep up the pace with all of this.

Pick your battles and stick to them. One thing that will help you combat FOMO is to know that opportunities come all the time. If you just missed a train, wait for the other one. Otherwise, you may end up chasing everything and getting nothing – or even worse, losing everything.

Filter your media consumption carefully

Pay attention to what exactly you are reading and watching, and which impact it has on your life.

Social media and daily news have developed in such a way to suck in your brain and maximise your time spent on your electronic device. Unfortunately, the best results for them come with the worst consequences for us.

Which is why depressing or shocking news and posts often are shared the most. Not only do you spend more time than you actually want watching the media, but it also brings your mood down, creates stress and negativity in your mind.

What to do about it?

  • Filter your sources: I’d rather read a weekly newspaper with qualitative content than watching daily news imposed on me by Facebook via posts.
  • Go on a fast: decide to spend one day or a few hours without checking the news and see how it makes you feel.
  • Replace junk content by useful and healthy input.

Go for simple food

Body and mind are often more connected than we think.

I have noticed that I get more anxious and sick when eating a lot of junk. Actually, research has shown that your gut bacteria have a tremendous impact on your brain. They seem to influence your sense of self, as well as your fears.

To live a simpler life in the city, focus on quality, healthy food. If possible, I would encourage you to cook for yourself most of the time. After all, aren’t cooking and eating an inherent part of a simpler life?

Find out whether there is an organic grocery store or local farmers you can get your food from. I strongly believe that the simplicity of this food will impact you positively.

2. Why a simpler life will make you happier

Why would a simple life in the city make you a happier person?

Unfortunately, having too many options and possibilities can lead to a huge amount of stress. I have discussed this topic in more detail from a career perspective in this article.

At some point, even checking my messaging apps was a factor of stress to me. Too many contacts, too many unanswered messages.

When you reach a certain level of stress, it becomes really hard to even understand why you feel overwhelmed all the time.

This is why focusing your efforts on simplifying your life, instead of “not stressing out”, will probably lead to more sustainable results for your health.

Going through all the steps mentioned above will help you review your life and get rid of all the unnecessary while learning to appreciate the simplest thing. Feeling happier is an inevitable outcome of this endeavour.

Photography is a great activity to learn how to appreciate the beauty of simple things

3. Is a simple life possible in America?

“America” is known as the climax of “big is better”. It is the “land of opportunities”, where individualism, capitalism and extroversion seem to reach their highest capacity.

Huge cities, many cars, huge portions of junk food, an excess of unnecessary things. That is how we often see America.

But simplifying your life depends more on your own mindset than your environment. All the above steps can be taking, even when living in an American city.

Your personal “hood” will probably be bigger. Nonetheless, you can apply the same principle and certainly reduce the time spent driving your car.

Simpler food in an American city? Do the best you can. This will be enough.

Books That I Love… To Help You Out:

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