Changemakers LAB: Simplify, simplify, simplify!

“A businessman was standing on the pier of a coastal town when a small boat with a single fisherman appeared. Inside the boat there were several large yellowfin tuna.

– How long did it take you to catch them? – the businessman asked the fisherman.

– A few hours.

– So little? Why don’t you work longer and catch more fish?

– With this I have enough to meet my family’s needs.

– And what do you do with the rest of your time?

– Well, I usually sleep late, fish for a few hours, play with my children, take a nap with my wife and at night, I go to town, where I drink rum and play guitar with my friends.

The businessman shook his head, as if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. And he said:

– Look, I have a master from Harvard University and I could help you, because you’re missing out on a great opportunity. You should start spending more time fishing and with the extra income, you could buy a bigger boat. Later, with the extra income from the bigger boat, you could buy other boats, until you have your own fleet of fishing boats.

The fisherman looked at him calmly. The businessman continued his explanation:

– Then, instead of selling your fish to a middleman, you could sell it directly to a cannery, or even open your own cannery company. Then you could control the production, processing and distribution. Then you’d have a large company. And you could move to a big city to better manage your finances.

– And how long will that take?

– About 15-20 years.

– And after that?

– Then comes the best part. When you have a large enough company, you would announce an IPO and sell the company shares to the public. You’d be rich, you’d make millions!”

– Millions… – said the fisherman, muttering. And then what?

– Then? Then you would retire. Move to a coastal town and sleep late, stroll around, play with your grandchildren, take a nap with your wife and go to town every night to drink rum and play guitar with your friends.”

Just like the tale of the businessman and the fisherman, we often unnecessarily complicate our lives.

Having a simple life means different things for each one of us. For me, it has to do with eliminating the inessential, transforming chaos into peace, having time and energy for the things that I like and spending more time with the people I love. It also means getting rid of all the material things that take up my physical and mental space and don’t add value, so that I’m left with only really important things.

If you want to simplify your life, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you have a full schedule of activities and feel “spread too thin,” without time for what you really like?
  • Do you have a closet full of clothes that you never or almost never wear? Are there days that you can’t find the items you actually like and fit you well because they’re mixed in with the rest? How does that make you feel?
  • Who do you spend the most time with? Are they the people that matter the most to you? Do you often feel like you can’t please everybody?

It’s easy to go with the flow and continue doing activities that we don’t like and that make us stressed, spend time with people that we don’t care about, or keep surrounding ourselves with useless material things that overwhelm us. It’s hard to get out of this rut, because society constantly urges us to consume more, do more and nowadays we’re connected to more people through social media, work, networking events, etc.

That’s why to overcome inertia; I had to practice simplification to make it a habit. Because, as Leo Babauta, author of The Power of Less, says:

“Simplicity is a journey, not a destination. An attitude that let us correct our actions and decisions when we start to complicate our lives.”

Adapting simplicity as an attitude will bring you a greater degree of inner peace, and will let you concentrate on the things you really love. It’s about imagining your ideal day and understanding what’s essential to you and being able to forget the rest. Then, you can transform this vision into reality, making decisions that bring you closer to it in your daily life.

  • Visualize your perfect day

To start, I recommend the following exercise:

Imagine your perfect day. Forget about reality and focus on understanding what a simple and fulfilling day means to you. For me, for example, it means working on my projects, eating with a good friend or interesting co-worker and having a good conversation. And in the afternoon doing a sport or cultural activity with people I love, or simply reading a good book and relaxing. And during the weekend, walking through Madrid, seeing my family and spending time with my loved ones and friends. For others, it could be meditating, writing or dancing. Take a moment to visualize what it mean for you.

Next, you’ll find some ideas to help you simplify your schedule and possessions.

  • To do this, you can start by getting rid of obligations.

Write a list of all the commitments you’ve made in your life and choose one to eliminate today. Send an email, make a call or do what’s necessary to free yourself from it (for example, cancel an unproductive meeting, suspend a project that isn’t valuable or takes away too much of your time, etc.)

  • Learn to say no.

When you consider a new commitment, remember the image of your perfect day and the activities that bring you joy before answering. With this perspective in mind, evaluate if it respects your priorities and the pledge you’ve made with yourself to be happier. For me, it’s very hard to say no and I usually start many activities at once. So, whenever somebody suggests a new commitment, I respond that I need to think, so that I have time to reflect. Ideally, you reject the suggestion right then and there, so you don’t put off the decision and make others wait. But if that’s difficult for you, you can use this trick, until with practice you’re an “experienced minimalist” and can say no on the fly.

  • Create space between your activities.

Make sure you leave gaps in your schedule and take breaks to stretch, walk, drink water or breathe deeply for a minute or two. Enjoy the calm of that space.

  • Start getting rid of your possessions.

Every day dedicate five minutes to getting rid of some of your material goods. Choose a few things that you want to donate or clear a shelf for only things that you really use. If you want to go above and beyond and dare to try a minimalist lifestyle, you can implement the rule of 100 things. Minimalists claim that the accumulation of possessions does not bring lasting contentment  and it’s better to have only “just enough.”  They recommend limiting yourself to 100 things, counting everything: clothes, shoes, toothpaste, etc. I haven’t been able to do this (yet), but I’m working on it.

If you’re interested in knowing more about simplifying your life, I recommend Leo Babauta’s blog ( and his books, which you can find online.

You can also find 101 ways to live a simple life in this post.