Thriving on Less – Focus on the Essentials

By Leo Babauta in Management on December 28th, 2008 / One Comment

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” – Hans Hofmann

The first step in simplifying, and living with less, is to identify the essential – that which you want to keep in your life. Then eliminate as much of the non- essential as possible.

I go into much more detail on this process in The Power of Less (please buy it to read more on all these topics – see, but basically you want to create a Short List of 4-5 things in your life that you value most – people you love or things you’re passionate about, things you want in your life. These are your essentials.

To give you an idea of what I mean, here’s my Short List: spending time with my family, writing, reading and running. Those are the things I want to make room for in my life.

Action Step: Make your Short List of 4-5 essential things now. It only takes a few minutes!

Once you’ve identified the essential, it’s time to start making room for these things, by slowly eliminating as much of the non-essential as possible. This should be a gradual process, as you can’t change your life all at once. You didn’t fill it up overnight, and you can’t empty it out overnight either.

Start by taking a look at your schedule, your commitments, your to-do and project lists, and how you’re currently spending your time. What things are not in line with the 4-5 things on your Short List? Can they be eliminated or limited? This might mean disappointing people who want you to keep commitments, but remember that it’s your life, not theirs.

Once you’ve eliminated a good number of non-essential commitments, tasks, projects and so forth, it’s important that you use this extra space in your life to focus on the essentials on your Short List. If you empty out your life only to fill it up with other unimportant things (such as watching more TV or more shopping), you’ve wasted your time.

Create a life that focuses on the essentials – what you value and love the most, what you’re most passionate about. Start today!

Chapter 3 – Thriving on Less, Not Struggling

“Who is rich? He who rejoices in his portion.” – The Talmud

Scaling back your life and living more frugally can be seen in two ways:

1. It can be a struggle, as you are sacrificing many things and living less comfortably.

2. Or … it can be incredible, as you are sacrificing consumerism for a life filled with the things you love, a life you’ve always wanted.

And it all depends on your mindset. Do you want to focus on what you are giving up, or on what you really love? I’ve found it to be really useful to focus on the positive, and to learn to thrive within a simple, frugal lifestyle by filling my life with things that give me joy and satisfaction.

You can live life now and enjoy it to the fullest – without destroying your future. The key to doing that? Find ways to enjoy life completely, utterly, maximally … that don’t cost your future very much.

Here are some tips for actually living that philosophy:

Find free or cheap pleasures
Frugality does not have to be boring or restrictive … if you use your imagination. Be creative and find ways to have fun – loads of it – without spending much money. Have a picnic at the park, go to the beach, do crafts, board games, fly a kite, make art, bake cookies … I could list a hundred things, and you could come up with a few hundred more. Make a list of simple pleasures, and enjoy them to the maximum. This is the key to the whole idea of enjoying life now without spending tomorrow’s dollar.

Make simplifying fun
I’m a big fan of simplifying my life, and to me, it’s great fun. I get rid of stuff (and possibly make money selling it) and have a blast doing it. That’s good math.

Make people a priority
If you give “stuff” a priority – things like gadgets, nice furnishings, nice clothes, shoes, jewelry, etc. — then you will spend a lot of money. But if you make people a priority – the people you love most, you close friends and family – you don’t need to spend a dime to enjoy life.

Make some time to visit with friends, or your parents … and have a conversation with them that doesn’t involve eating out or going to the movies. Just sit, have some iced tea or hot cocoa (depending on the weather), and talk. Tell jokes and laugh your heads off.

Talk about books you’ve read, movies you’ve watched, new things going on in your life, your hopes and dreams. And make time for your kids or your significant other – really spend time with them, doing things that don’t cost money.

Find time for yourself
Make time every day, and every week, to spend time alone. It really gives more meaning and enjoyment to your life, rather than rushing through life with no time to think, to breathe.

Sometimes, splurge
You shouldn’t restrict yourself from expensive pleasures all the time – it’s not good to develop the feeling of deprivation. To prevent that, once in awhile, buy yourself something … or better yet, give yourself a decadent treat. I love things with dark chocolate or berries. Crepes with ice cream and berries are one of my favorites. Just don’t go overboard … and learn to enjoy the splurge to the fullest. If you truly take the time to enjoy a treat, you don’t need a lot of it.

Track your successes
It doesn’t really matter how you track your success … you can use gold stars for creating a new simplifying or frugalfying habit, or a spreadsheet chart to track your decreasing debt and increasing savings or investments. Tracking is a great way to not only provide motivation, but make the process of changing fun.

Reward yourself
And in order to make it more fun, celebrate every little success! Set rewards for yourself (not too expensive!) along your path to success – celebrate one day, two days, three days, a week, two weeks, three, a month … you get the idea.

One of the most rewarding things for my family has been when we have managed to volunteer. It’s actually something we only started doing last year, but since then, we’ve done it a bunch of times in a number of different ways. And while it doesn’t cost a dime, it is tremendously satisfying in ways that money could never buy.

Live in the moment
Learn to think not so much about the past or future, but about what you are going through right now. Be present. It may seem trite, but it’s the key to enjoying life to the fullest – without having to spend money. Think about it – you can spend money on eating out, but if you are not really thinking about what you’re eating, you may not enjoy it much at all. But if you cook a simple but delicious meal, and really taste every bite, it can be tremendously enjoyable without costing a lot.

Slow down
In the same way, you can’t really enjoy life to the fullest if it’s rushing past you like it’s on fast forward. Ever think about how quickly a week, a month, or a year goes by? Perhaps you’re in the fast lane too much. Try slowing down, and things will be less stressful and more enjoyable. (See The Power of Less for more on living slower.)

Learn to find cheap, cool stuff
Call me crazy, but I love shopping at thrift stores. You can find so many cool things there, and it costs so little. Garage sales are the same way. Or check out, or the library, or used bookstores.

Stay tuned for chapter 4 – Focusing on Enough, not More or download the ebook for free here.

About the author:
Leo Babauta is the author of The Power of Less and the creator and blogger at Zen Habits, a Top 100 blog with 80,000 subscribers — one of the top productivity and simplicity blogs on the Internet.

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One Response to “Thriving on Less – Focus on the Essentials”

  1. D.Bheemeswar Says:

    Life is practical rather than theoretical, even though science speak
    about experimentation and observations those all are about materials
    and their responses to the specific conditions set by humans. Where as
    the human body mechanism is different, straight away from the mothers
    womb there are so many materials that what we take in, of course this
    the case with every life. It is difficult to say which particular
    element is lacking. Each and every body has different responses for
    the same inputs. But there may be some commonness, but we can not
    categorize unlike in material systems, where the behaviour can be
    predicted to some extent mostly.

    Here where the spirituality takes care of the body, unless we observe
    our own internal body mechanisms closely we may not be able to express
    where exactly is the problem, then only the respective doctor or
    physician can work out.

    What he/she can observe is only the response and not exactly what is
    happening to that particular mechanism. Here what I meant to say that
    unless we observe our own body mechanism e may not be able to reap
    benefits of modern sciences. Even the doctors can work out on
    spiritual observations on people to find out pulse rate and
    temperature of that mechanism by close observations which are not
    possible by analytical methods. Here where the nadi pariksha (close
    examination of nerves) takes care. One has to observe more closely to
    get those minute changes, this can be possible only by those minds
    which can observe even very minute changes in the body and its
    response to a given condition. This is attained only by positive
    energy in the body of both the patient and practitioner.

    Every thing depends on how ones mind set, then the body. A person who
    depends on the spiritual nature always follows well disciplined life
    but very simplistic and natural life.

    Now a days there is no time for anything as the life has become more
    and mechanical, as the specialists in the various fields increased the
    number of problems also became more and more that humans are facing.

    In order to reduce these problems one has to take sufficient time to
    go back the human nature of living that is ART-OF-LIVING, it should
    become PART-OF-LIVING, then a well defined and more disciplined life
    and more natural body one has, which can cope up the present day needs
    and means.

    This in turn reduces the stress on the body, mind and also a way of
    life, where there is no scope for negative thinking, which has caused
    so many problems on this earth.

    Think ones again we are all first of all HUMANS, living on this earth,
    by circumstances have born at different places at different times, all
    others are only for the identification only, we all can speak, if one
    tries can understand also any language, but what we need is half loaf
    of bread, a place to have shelter and some water to drink. Then what
    else we need, Are we going to take all those materials after which we
    have spent so much time and taken all steps and paths to posses, no I
    do not think so, even we can not take this body with us. Only people
    or generations together remember us until unless we do good for the
    society. Probably may be praised in love & affection. Only the
    anti-socials are hated and not praised. Hence, unless culturally and
    socially we are united we can not understand each others needs or
    desires. Just take positively we can build the Nation and world again
    free terrorism and unruly people to highly democratic and where people
    can thrive in peace, harmony and serenity.

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