I first read about Simplify Your Life by Elaine St. James at Zen Habits. I instantly ordered a copy from the library (in keeping with the theme.) I expected a heavy tome, but it came it at a mere 238 pages. It’s also only about 5 x 5, so it really is a small, simple book. It does contain some big ideas, though.

Good Ideas for Simplifying Your Life
This book is written from the perspective of a woman who once lived a very hectic, over-charged, big-city life. One day she and her husband realized it was all too much and decided to simplify. The core message is that you don’t have to keep up with the Jones, the Smiths, or anyone else. You only have to live a life that satisfies you.

The book is a mixed bag of ideas. Among my favorites:
Get rid of the clutter in your life - I’m looking forward to moving later this year so I can do a really deep purge of my outmoded stuff.
Buy in bulk – saves time and money, if you have the storage space.
Plant a garden – it’s relaxing and saves money, but again requires the space.
Run errands in one place – if you can do this, it’s a simple but effective strategy
Replace your lawn with ground cover – this is especially appropriate if you live in a drought-prone area where traditional grass is not a native plant. When we do have land, we intend to replace the water-guzzling lawn with a lawn-like ground covering that uses ¼ the water.
Move to a smaller house – We’ll be going a little bigger for our house, but we know people with a huge house who only live in half of it. Even if it was a great price, that’s a waste. Fortunately or unfortunately, houses in Los Angeles are small. Built in the 1920s small.
Stop junk mail  – done and I love it.
Get out of debt – ditto.
Live on half of what you earn – a great idea if you can manage it.
Stop being a slave to your Day Runner – or PDA to update the suggestion. I lost my PDA a few years ago. I’m much happier with a notepad and paper calendar.

Not So Great Ideas
Or, more specifically, ideas that aren’t really applicable or workable for many people”
Bow out of the holidays – good luck with that!
Get rid of your car phone – these days, you’re better off ditching the home phone and having only a cell phone
Sell the boat – I don’t know anyone who owns a boat. True, a boat is a very expensive thing that rarely gets used, but it’s not an issue for the average person.
Build a simple wardrobe – men already have it pretty easy, but she suggests women pick one basic style and stick with it. I only have about two weeks worth of work shirts, but even I get bored with them after a while. There’s only so much simplifying one can do.
Pay off your mortgage – Several statistics have shown that the average person is better off keeping a mortgage and investing the rest. Even with our market in a tailspin, stocks are likely to be the better option over the long-term.
Rent rather than own – As a current renter, I think this is terrible advice. I hate being at the mercy of a landlord, waiting for them to get around to fixing something, and having to deal with idiot neighbors. Yes, homeowners have idiot neighbors, too, but they’re not usually living on top of you or throwing watermelons off your roof.

The real key to this book isn’t so much the specific suggestions, as the ideas it will produce. Once you start thinking about which of her ideas work for you, you’ll probably think of others that will work even better. You might even be motivated to get off the couch and do something about it right now. If you want to simplify your life (and by extension, your finances), this book is a great way to start. And a really quick read.


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