10 Commandments for a Smart and Simple Life

03/26/2015 08:09 am ET | Updated May 26, 2015
Betsie Van der Meer via Getty Images


My husband Thom and I have been on the path of simplifying our lives for several years. Every now and then we like to sit down and discuss ways we can better live that example. So while we don't consider ourselves experts on the subject, we do think it's helpful to list what we consider to be most important. Then once our priorities are firmly in place we can stay focused on living as simply and effectively as possible.

So here are our Top 10 Commandments:

1. You get to make it up. If we've learned anything about simple living or minimalism in the last 10 years it is that there is no final authority or rules you have to follow. Each of us gets to decide the way that we create a lifestyle that best reflects our deepest longings. So while these commandments are meant to reflect what Thom and I consider most important, be sure that they feel true to you before you follow them. When you find what works for you, don't let anyone tell you that you aren't doing it right.

2. The best things in life aren't things. We know this. In the deepest part of ourselves we know that the stuff we buy and own offers only temporary happiness. Freedom, peace of mind and joy are deep emotions that offset anything you can buy and possess. While what truly matters to me is likely somewhat different than what matters to you, it is seldom about stuff and usually about experiences. Decide what is important to you and what makes you deeply happy, and strive to fill your life with that.

3. Less is more. Most of us were raised with the idea that more is better-more money, more stuff, more productivity, more everything. Instead, what becomes apparent very easily is that all that "more-ness" only complicates, confuses and distracts us from the peace, joy and freedom that a minimal life offers. Seek quality versus quantity in all things. Recognize that everything you own, owns a piece of you in terms of time, money, energy and emotion--so choose wisely. Plus, by eliminating all the clutter from our too-busy minds and our over-packed lives, we find ourselves in the peaceful center of what's most important.

4. Debt is the Worst Poverty. Debt is a heavy burden that colors all the beauty in the world. Debt asks us to work at jobs that suck the life out of us just to pay our bills. Debt keeps us up at night and causes us to fear the future. Debt enslaves us to a life of routine and conformity. It is nearly impossible to feel at peace, happy or content with the weight of debt on our shoulders. The good news is that the exact opposite--being debt free--is one of the most liberating things any of us can do to live a good life.

5. What you appreciate--appreciates. There is a natural law in our Universe, just like gravity, that says that what we focus on grows. When we put our attention on the things that bring us peace, joy and contentment, then they expand in our awareness. Turning away from the complicated, the painful, the unnecessary and the confusing creates the opposite. Choosing instead to be grateful for the benefits that exist in our life right now, and striving toward freedom and peace of mind--all help to amplify the good around us.

6. Comparison is the thief of joy. Theodore Roosevelt said this statement many years ago reminding us that any time we compare and compete with others we are usually putting other people's needs, wants, opinions and desires above our dreams. Comparison routinely puts our focus on other people and what they have and how they do things rather than allowing us to decide what is most important and rewarding to ourselves alone. Letting go of comparison is a sure way to enjoy true peace of mind and wellbeing

7. Treasure Your Relationships Not Your Possessions. We all know deep down that money doesn't buy love or happiness. Yet we continue to spend much of our lives (and time) doing things that either keep us away from loved-ones or working to maintain a lifestyle to support those loved ones. When we stop and consider that those who care most about us would rather be with us than managing stuff in the first place, then we let go of expectations and requirements keeping us away from the deep relationships we crave.

8. Slow down and stop the addiction to busy-ness. Simple living asks us to spend time doing more of what brings us joy, and less time doing the opposite. It also asks us to sometimes spend time doing absolutely nothing. When we learn to eat more slowly, drive more slowly, enjoy the world more slowly, and meditate, we find that much of what is right there in front of us contains every single thing we want and need.

9.There is no Planet B. It is important to keep in mind that all 7+ billion humans alive today are currently living in a closed biosphere. Just as we are charged with taking care of our own families, our own households, our own neighborhoods--if we don't take care of our planet and realize that we each hold responsibility for it, there won't be anywhere else for us to go and "practice simple living!" This idea also reminds us that not only are we connected to the planet, we are also connected to one another.

10. Life is short--do what matters. Face it; our time is limited and far too short to be wasting it on unimportant or un-meaningful ways. Working at any job just to make money is a waste of your life. Living to appease or satisfy others is a waste of your soul. Mindlessly killing time doing routine, boring or repetitive tasks is a waste of everything possible. Dulling your brain with too much TV, alcohol, Internet, or other forms of escapism is just a waste. Instead, every one of us, regardless of circumstances, is capable of so very much more than we usually enjoy. Our possibilities are endless--do what matters.

As I said in the beginning I don't think Thom and I are experts on this topic but we do spend a lot of time talking about it and making it work for us. We've even renamed the experience to "right-sizing" rather than simple living or minimalism. We did that because we believe that if each of us rightsized our life we would likely find a way to express simple living and minimalism in a way that suits our exact needs and personality perfectly.

Ultimately it doesn't matter if you believe in these commandments or not. But it is probably SMART for each of us to take the time to consider whether the simple lifestyle of peace, happiness and contentment appeals to us, and then figuring out the qualities that best lead to our unique form of a right-sized life. Best of all, each of us can start right where we are.

Kathy Gottberg believes in living healthy, authentic, fearless and SMART. This post originally appeared on her blog with a number of related comments. For more on this topic go to SMART Living 365.

Photo: (Above: Charlton Heston dressed as Moses during a sequence of the film "The Ten Commandments.") (Digital Press Photo)