Our take on how living a simple life can actually lead to more pleasure.

I’ve recently been devouring the book “French women for all seasons,” by Mireille Guiliano (also author of “French women don’t get fat”). Though I think she is missing some scientific principles around weight loss and is mostly coming from a moralistic approach, there is validity to her principles. Her book is easy to read, and I somehow felt swept away to Europe when reading it. I was reminded of how simplicity can really be the key to pleasure and happiness, a topic I’ve always been very interested in.

I often find myself offering to help friends declutter or sort through piles of stuff around their houses, reorganize cupboards and rekindle forgotten projects. Sometimes, over dinner or sharing a bottle of wine with friends, I find myself probing the fundamental question: “Are we spending time doing the things we truly care about?”. I find these conversations invigorating and essential to come back to, to live a life by my own design…. without stuff that is. How much of the stuff on your bookshelf or in your closet do you really need to have around?

It seems that when there is more stuff around, there is more to handle and do, which means less time spent on the things we deeply care about like taking the time to cook and catch up with friends or learn something new that’s been on the list for years. It’s our relationships and our relationship to ourselves that often takes the hit to the extras lying around us.

Personally, I have very few pieces of clothing in my wardrobe. Actually, I have very few of anything to be precise. My friends know that I am very strict about what is kept in my home and I would definitely call myself a minimalist. It’s my natural groove, how I am most productive and I enjoy putting most of my attention on life experiences, being present with people and nurturing my own inner journey.

I remember reading long ago, a study of sorts that found that people are happier when they have less to choose from, for example, when shopping in the supermarket. I can see why! Everything today is so over-produced and we have more choices than we know what to do with. One of the practices that I have built for myself and enjoy is what I call, “finding one of everything”.

Recently, I was on the market for new skin care products after losing my old line of products to a closing business. I invested a few weeks researching and testing new skin care lines. I did everything from meet with an aesthetician in a private Yaletown salon, to trying Dr. Hauschka‎’s products off the shelf at Whole Foods Market. Then came the day when I found myself in Qualicum, on Vancouver Island, visiting my in-laws. Low and behold, where I least expected it, I found the most perfect skin care line for me. Organic, all natural, made in Europe and the right price. I tested it for two days and that was it! I set myself up, with the help of an expert on the skin care line, for the perfect skin care routine. I love routines. They keep me stable and bring a sense of pride and self-love to my every day. I had one skin care line and one routine. I was done. No more contemplating new options in regards to my creams. I’ve eliminated this from my radar entirely.

I do this same thing with most things in my life. I put energy into finding the best of the best. And because that is what I am seeking, I usually find it with quite a bit of ease. I just put it on the forefront of my mind and always keep my vision of simplicity and pleasure alive in my search.

I absolutely love not having much choice. I rarely go shopping. Malls are the best place to be overwhelmed with choice. I have a few select places I like to shop for clothing, shoes and accessories and I know exactly where to go when I need something. I enjoy what each store has to offer and the stores I choose usually have classic and timeless styles all year ‘round. I don’t, for instance, shop at H&M where clothes are falling off the shelves, unless I know exactly what I am looking for and can keep my focus and, ‘get in and get out’. The best shopping experience for me, is when I find myself in a little town somewhere, where there are only a few shops to choose from. I almost always find something I love and something I can add to my wardrobe or to my home and the shopping experience is delightful! Shopping in little independent stores allows me to enjoy the beautiful things with ease and make my choices with care and without overwhelm.

Everyday tips for how to keep things simple.

These are the top 10 practices I have incorporated into my life over the years that may help you live more simply and keep a tight ship on what you keep in your space:

  1. Anytime I introduce a new piece of clothing into my wardrobe, I look to see what I can eliminate. “When is the last time I wore that and do I really feel good in it when I wear it?” I ask myself. I have one great consignment store I love to take my clothes to when I do an, “elimination” (hunterandhare.com).
  2. I do #1 for almost everything. I eliminate spices that I don’t use (I audit my spice cupboard about twice per year) and I purge my medicine cabinet regularly. For makeup, if I introduce a new lipstick colour, I look to see if I’m tired of another. Kitchen items are considered about twice a year also, especially as people gift me items for cooking.
  3. I have a place for everything in my home. For example, my sunglasses, keys, spare change, purses, all have a place they live in. I make a habit of taking the time to return them to where I got them from immediately rather than waiting till later. Ah, the peace of mind that comes with this is so rewarding!
  4. I have an inbox and my staff know where to put things for me to deal with. Even my husband puts things for me in there! I sort through and deal with each item in the inbox weekly.
  5. The decor in my home: less is more. I have a few pieces I enjoy. Same rule applies here too. No problem to change it up and add a new piece but then something gets given away or donated.
  6. I spend money on the things I care about. Because I am so minimalist, I’m not spending a lot of money on material things. So that leaves me with money to enjoy. I absolutely love eating out and so much of my spare budget is spent on trying new restaurants with my husband or even on my own. I also spend on a card program called Send Out Cards (sendoutcards.com) to keep in touch with friends that are on the east coast and to nurture my relationships with people everywhere.
  7. I have two credit cards and two bank cards: personal and for Vital Body (the business). That’s it. I keep it that way on purpose. Even if such and such bank is offering a great points system (true, I may consider it), I only keep one.
  8. Speaking of which: points cards. Every time I go to the gas station, or a new grocery store, they are offering a points card. I consider these carefully. Is it worth using and tracking? Is it distracting to me? For groceries, I rotate between Donald’s Market, Spud.ca and Whole Foods and get some meats from Windsor Meats, my fish from Regent Market, my cheese from Cioffi’s (I’ve chosen these places on purpose for different qualities) and the first two have built in points systems that make it easy.
  9. I love books. I love their covers, the colours and how nicely they decorate a shelf. However, too many books can dominate a space and be constant reminders that you have so much to read and the conversation in your mind can go something like, “I should really pick up that book or maybe I should start this one instead of the one I’m reading now”. Next thing you know, you’ve started 7 books and they are all sitting by your bed side. They can be a point of stress I find, at least with most of the people I’ve helped declutter. Some people have nostalgia about certain books and keep them thinking they will refer back to them long after they’ve read them. I say pass it on. There are so many books in the world to read! I keep 3 small shelves of books only and I enjoy passing a book onto a friend once I’ve read it.
  10. Clutter can also exist in your mind. I am an ideas person, so I often have things floating around in my mind and this used to prevent me from being really present with people. Now, I note everything. I carry a notepad with me and I have a system called Evernote on my phone that synchs with my laptop. When I have an idea that pops into my mind, ANY idea, even the silly ones, I write it down or put it in Evernote and take it off my mind knowing it has a place. I then sort my ideas: if I implement it, it goes in my calendar. If I intend to action it within 3 months, it goes into it’s own folder. If it’s a great idea but I’m not going to do anything with it right now or within 3 months, it goes into it’s own folder too. True peace of mind!

My focus these days is on slowing down, removing any urgency from my day to day life (which can sometimes be challenging with running a business) and bringing more simplicity into my food. This is the journey too on our weight loss program here in Vancouver at Vital Body. We teach people to enjoy simple foods on our diet plan and into our maintenance plan, to take the time for them, to cook, to enjoy cooking and to find the pleasure in the every day task of eating. This is a side note, but worth mentioning I think because eating is a big part of the human experience.

Simplifying can seem like a big job but you can start small. Pick one small area of your home, the easiest one is best! Start there on a Sunday. Have a cup of tea nearby and ask your kids to help you. You would be amazed at how much children of all ages enjoy this process. They will want to get rid of things faster than the adults! Put on some music and have it be fun. When you come out on the other end, there is no doubt in my mind, you too will be an ambassador for a life of simplicity and pleasure.

Amrita Ahuja
Clinic Director
Vital Body Weight Loss Centre
Vancouver, BC