How to Apply The Four Laws of Simplicity

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. – Leonardo da Vinci

This was originally written by Leo Babauta.  His blog is zenhabits. I’ve made some changes to his article, making it even simpler.

You can find hundreds of books and guides on simplifying your clutter and life. Most are too complicated.

We need a simple method of simplifying.

I personally (me, not Leo) have tried lots of different strategies. Many are difficult to stick with, others are just too hard to actually even start.

So here is a simple method of Four Laws of Simplicity (apologies to John Maeda) that you can use on any area of your life, and in fact on your life as a whole:

1. Collect everything in one place.

2. Choose the essential.

3. Eliminate the rest.

4. Organize the remaining stuff neatly and nicely.

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated. – Confucius

Let’s use the worst junk drawer in your house as an example. It has take-out menus from restaurants that closed down, ashtrays from when you used to smoke, fridge magnets, rubber bands, paper clips, chopsticks, instruction manuals for old appliances, rubber stamps, matchbooks, outdated coupons and more. The drawer smells bad too.

Rather than spend all day sorting through it and still have a mess, let’s use the 4-step method:

1. Collect. Empty the drawer and put everything in a pile on the counter. Everything!

2. Choose. Go through the pile and pick out just those things that are important and put them in a separate pile. Be picky.

3. Eliminate. Toss the rest out. Throw it in a garbage bag or find a new home for it. Donate it to charity or give it to a friend if you think they might want or need it.

4. Organize. Put back the essential things, neatly, with space around things. Clean the drawer out first, of course, and put the very small pile of things you chose back in the drawer, grouping like things together and leaving space around the groups. Having space around things makes everything look neater and simpler.

That’s it. You now have a very nice, simplified junk drawer, with (let’s hope) a much less funky smell.

This simple method can be applied to every area of your life. Just keep it simple as you go. Focus on oen area at a time, apply the method and viola! If you don’t have much that you need to simplify, just do one a week. If you have a lot, do it every couple of days.

The basic concept is literally to work on small areas at a time. Each one that you successfully simply will make you feel good and hopefully keep you motivated to continue the process until you’re done.

The process will work on just about any area of your life:

Closets. Again, one area at a time. A shelf, drawer, floor, whatever needs work. Put everything in a pile, pick out what you want or need. Send the rest packing! Put the important stuff back on the shelf, grouping like things together and leaving space around the groups. You could use containers for groups of things, using clear containers and labeling them. Or just leave the shelves fairly empty, and get rid of most of your stuff. When you are done, try to keep the floor clean as that makes it look quite neat.

Your desk. Same plan, clear the desk of everything except your computer and/or phone. Put supplies in a drawer, and file the papers. Toss out the rest. Then do the drawers of your desk the same way, one at a time, leaving space in each drawer. It’s so much more relaxing to work in a simplified environment. After you’re done with the desk, do your walls.

Your work tasks. Have a long to-do list (or a bunch of long context lists)? First, add project or task to your lists to complete them and then choose only the tasks that you really want to do, or that will give you the absolute most long-term benefit, and put those on a separate, shorter list. The rest of the stuff? Eliminate them, delegate or put it on a someday/maybe list to be considered later. Then only focus on your short list, trying to choose the three most important things on the list to do each day.

Your commitments. Everything from work to personal can be streamlined if that is what you need or want to do. First, make a list that includes hobbies, clubs, online groups, civic groups, your kids’ activities, sports, home stuff, etc. Anything that regularly takes up your time. Now pick out the few of those that really give you value, enjoyment, long-term benefits. Toss the rest, if possible. It might be difficult to do that, but you can get out of commitments if you just tell people that you don’t have the time anymore. This will leave you with a life that only has the commitments you really enjoy and want to do. Leave space around them, instead of filling up your life.

Your wardrobe. This one can be tough (especially for me!) However, do you really need all those t-shirts, shoes, bras, socks and clothes you no longer fit in? How about those ratty jeans? Do you wear everything in your closet? Bet not. Again, start with one drawer or section of your closet at a time, put everything on your bed in a pile, choose the clothes you really love and actually wear on a regular basis. Donate the rest and put the ones you love back in your drawers or closet. Leave space around the clothes — don’t stuff your drawers full.

If you’re having a hard time parting with some of these items, here’s a personal tip from me (again, not Leo). I hang all my clothes, except for bras, panties, socks and PJ’s. Take all the hanging clothes and turn the hangers around on the rod so they are facing opposite the way you normally hang things. As you wear clothes and re-hang them, put the hangers the normal way. After a few months, you’ll immediately be able to tell what hasn’t been worn and you can then get rid of it!

A room. Start with your furniture. If you don’t love and use it, get rid of it. Then clear every flat surface in the room, from counters to tables to shelves to desktops. Choose the stuff you love, and get rid of the rest. Leave the flat surfaces as clear as possible, only putting back a few choice objects. Now do the drawers and cabinets the same way. Also do everything on your floor that’s not a piece of furniture, leaving the floor as clear as humanly possible.

Your email inbox. We all do it. We leave everything in the inbox. How many messages are in there? How old are they? That’s what I thought! Take all the emails and put them in a separate folder. Scan through the folder, choosing only a few to reply to and putting those in a separate folder. Delete or archive the rest.

Those are tips from both Leo Babauta and me. Hope they work for you.

As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness. – Henry David Thoreau