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Embracing a Simpler Life – What if we traded 'busy busy busy' for a slower, more intentional rhythm?

Updated: Apr 28

24 April, 2024

I wanted a simple life upon returning to the Netherlands. Part-time work and plenty of time for nature and relaxation. But before I knew it, I was running around again, caught up in the whirlwind of 'working hard', overflowing with social activities (or should I say obligations?), and hearing myself say "busy busy busy" when people asked how I'm doing. I felt as if life was catching up with me. The pressure on my chest grew heavier and my breath shallow. Whoa, hold up! This wasn't how I pictured returning to Holland. What happened?!

Portraits of a simple life: barefoot in nature

It's remarkable to consider how much more I actually want to do in my time: write more often, revive my podcast that has been dormant for a while, give more attention to my creative side by taking a ceramics course, mastering the guitar, learning sailing and Spanish. And what about my ambitions of having my own business and supporting people with living an authentic life? Or my dreams of wanting to be a herbalist, a wild forager and having my own veggie garden? Nurturing my friendships and meeting new people is equally important to me. And then I also want to get away occasionally. I've recently been cat-sitting in Ticino, the southern region of Switzerland. Truly fantastic; a serene place away from the madness back home. But then I come back, and that feeling starts again: to do's for my job and private life, so many plans and wants, and friends that need support with life's transitions.

Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans. - John Lennon
A hot cacao in a beautiful ceramic mug

The overwhelmed generation

Why do many of us feel utterly overwhelmed by life's demands? As someone that practices yoga and mindfulness, you'd think I'm not affected by this. However, the forces that throw us off balance are great, to such an extent that it's challenging for me to slow down and maintain a regular practice. Sound familiar? I bet it does for many in my generation. Let's break it down. There's a couple of factors that instantly come to mind. First off, the go go go energy that is prevalent in the Netherlands, makes it more challenging to slow down. When you live in a country with abundant nature, pleasant temperatures and a general slower pace, it's easier to maintain a relaxed state of being. Secondly,  it's those internal scripts and habits that push us into overdrive; it's as if being on autopilot equals being productive. Thirdly, it's the discomfort of confronting boredom or dissatisfaction that drives us to stay constantly busy, numbing ourselves with distractions. Ever wondered what might surface if you hit the brakes? Lastly, our modern world bombards us with endless options, distractions, and information overload. It's like a never-ending rollercoaster for our nervous system, leaving us with a perpetual fear of missing out.

In my case, part of the overwhelm also stems from adjusting to a new lifestyle. I transitioned from a nomadic lifestyle filled with flexibility, freedom, and simple jobs to a more structured life with a demanding job. Despite the job being part-time, adapting to office routines, engaging my brain differently, having responsibilities and getting out of my comfort zone, asks more of my energy. Returning home also means being surrounded by friends and family, which brings a lot of joy, but it also is a balancing act to not be filled to the brim with social activities. Here, alone time for recharging is less common compared to my lifestyle before, although I still prioritise it. I feel that the absence of abundant nature and sunlight also impacts the quality of my downtime, making it less effective.

Home made cake, kitty cuddles, good reads

Perceived stress

A curious thing I've observed in my own life, and I've seen it play out in others too: the feeling of overwhelm doesn't always align with the actual stressors in our lives. Factually speaking, my life isn't all that hectic or stressful. Compared to many, I lead a pretty relaxed life with ample me-time and opportunities to unwind. I don't work excessively long hours, nor do I plan my schedule weeks or months in advance. Yet, there are moments when I feel like I'm racing through life just to keep pace. This perceived busyness comes down to our expectations of ourselves and our lives. Another important factor at play is like I wrote earlier, the amount of stimulus our brains get from all the noise and information we receive throughout a day, which makes us feel way more on edge than we factually need to be. Lastly, it's crucial to remember that judging your stress levels to some imagined norm is futile and only adds unnecessary pressure. Just because others seem to thrive (don't be fooled though!) while leading busier lives doesn't mean you should feel guilty for needing more rest and relaxation. The fact that so many of our generation are racing into burn out is telling. Check these mind-blowing statistics for burn out in the EU.

Rest, in its simplest form, becomes an act of resistance and a reclaiming of power because it asserts our most basic humanity. We are enough. The systems cannot have us. - Tricia Hersey

A simple life, what does it mean?

To me, a simple life is the opposite of one filled with hurry, stress and perpetual overwhelm. It's about being present, breathing slow and steady, and maintaining a calm nervous system. It's a conscious existence, where decisions resonate with my true self. This life isn't necessarily brimming with activities but rather with meaning. A life intertwined with nature, where the essentials such as nourishing relationships, your well being and caring for your surroundings takes precedence. It's about cherishing the mundane and recognising the preciousness of this life and its interconnectedness with the larger web of life. A simple life isn't synonymous with an easy life; we'll still experience pain, grief and heartbreak. However moving through life with presence and connection, brings about a certain calm, clarity and richness to your life.

Coffee and fruits bowls in cute cafes

Steps to embrace a simple(r) life

(Re)connecting to your core values

I've come to realise that part of embracing simplicity is about desiring less. Have you seen how many times I've written want in the second paragraph? There's nothing wrong with having desires and ambitions, but ask yourself: Where does the wanting come from? From a place of joy, curiosity, of wanting to move towards something? Or are you moving away from feelings (boredom, stress, dissatisfaction) by "chasing" your desire? What need do you think is going the be fulfilled with that desire? And is that actually true? Imagine yourself completely at ease and content—would those desires still hold the same urgency?

Reconnecting with your core values is key here. It involves acknowledging what truly matters to you and having the courage to prioritise accordingly. For me, this might entail letting go of certain relationships or accepting that I can't always be there for everyone. It means saying yes to opportunities that resonate with my values, even if they push me out of my comfort zone or risk disappointing others. Because honoring our core values often requires making tough decisions and embracing discomfort, but ultimately leads to a more fulfilling and authentic life.

Practice minimalism

Simplifying your life means bringing your life down to the essence; to the things that truly matter to you. This process naturally involves decluttering. A tidy space has a calming effect on the mind because the items we own occupy mental energy and capacity. The more things you own, the more things you need to take care off. Decluttering helps you to minimise distraction and establish a meaningful connection with what remains. While this principle applies to all aspects of life, starting with decluttering provides a tangible way to discern what deserves space in your life and what is merely cluttering your time, space, and attention.

aah the sweet simple camping life

Slow down & become present

Living a simple life is about presence; really being there in each moment. It means stepping out of the constant chatter of the mind and into the realm of the body and heart. Even if your schedule is packed and you're ticking off tasks left and right, rushing through life might mean missing out on its richness. Slowing down is the antidote. It's something you can cultivate right now, in this very moment, with a conscious breath.

Slowing down isn't just about physically moving at a gentler pace; it's about savoring every step, every interaction. When you're with others, it means truly listening, feeling, and experiencing what arises within you as they speak, rather than planning your response in advance. This principle applies to all aspects of life. Often, we're so fixated on the end goal that we overlook the beauty of the journey itself.

Perhaps for you, slowing down involves scheduling fewer activities, allowing more moments for pause. It might entail starting and ending each day with a simple ritual to anchor yourself in being before diving into doing.

In conclusion, amidst the constant hustle and bustle of our 24/7 society, it's understanble to feel overwhelmed. However, there's an alternative path you can choose — you don't have to get swept up in the rat race. In this article, I've outlined some steps that can guide you:

  • Reconnect with your core values and decline anything that doesn't resonate with them.

  • Embrace minimalism to declutter your life and mind.

  • Take the time to slow down and cultivate presence in each moment.

What are your thoughts on embracing a simpler, more intentional life?


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