silhouette of lone hiker at dawn

Poet, philosopher and naturalist Henry David Thoreau had definite ideas about how to live a better life.

They can all be summed up in one word: simplify.

Thoreau is quoted as having said, “Simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real.”

Sounds good. How?

According to Thoreau, “carry as little as possible.”

So we can take him literally and leave the house with less.

It was a sad day when I retired my trusty Palm Pilot but I was thrilled to migrate to a smart phone that let me leave home with only one device instead of two.

We can also take him figuratively and reduce our possessions and consumption across the board.

I’m always looking for ways to simplify my life and reduce the things I need to feel safe, secure, and comfortable in the world.

A thing may be beautiful, it may be expensive or a bargain, but the biggest question is always: do I really need it?

A quick inventory of my life makes the answer pretty clear.

I start with my physical body: is it healthy? Am I hungry? Am I clean?

Do I have clean clothes to wear?

Do I have a roof over my head right now—am I warm or cool and dry?

Do I have a place to rest when I get tired?

Do I have love in my life and do I have a way of giving love to others?

After that, the rest is cake.

Here’s another trick for you.

Take the above inventory then scan your home or office.

Identify everything you own that isn’t fully functioning.

Now add up all the time it’s going to take you to get everything working again.

The pants that need to be hemmed.

The appliance that needs to be repaired.

The online purchases that need to be returned.

In the moment of acquisition, the math makes sense because you only do the fun math—how much you’re going to enjoy this new thing and how much better it’s going to make your life.

Remember your inventory—how much better does your life need to be for you to be happy?

The costs of responsibility never get factored into whether you should bring something home or not.

Adding it all up, you’re robbing yourself of a year or more of your life by being disorganized and having too much stuff.

I love many of the western conveniences we enjoy in the US but none of them are worth a year of my life.

Thoreau’s solution was to live a stripped down life in a cabin on a lake.

You might not need to go that far to find simplicity, but be clear about this.

Every single thing you bring into your life that you can’t consume is one more thing you’re responsible for and possibly cramming between you and your happiness.

Tell me again, how important is that thing?

When you’re complaining about how busy you are and how much you have to do … how much of it is real and how much of it is about maintaining your lifestyle?

Mindfulness married to consumption is the perfect solution to set yourself free from clutter, disorganization and debt every day.

Today’s Action:  

Set a timer for 60 seconds and settle into your breath. Then find one thing that no longer serves you—that only complicates your life—and take it the front door of your home or office to remove today. Tweet out your intention: hashtag #unstuffyourlife #simplicity #freedom

Read more about simplicity here.

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About The Author

Andrew Mellen's picture

Andrew Mellen is an organizational expert, public speaker, and the #1 best-selling author of Unstuff Your Life!

Andrew has helped tens of thousands of people worldwide to declutter and simplify their lives while regaining time for the things that matter.

A sought-after authority on organizing and productivity, Andrew's addressed audiences from The Great British Business Show to TEDx. 

Corporate clients include American Express, Genentech, NetApp, Time, Inc., and the US Depts. of Education and Homeland Security.

The media has dubbed Andrew “The Most Organized Man in America.” He writes a featured column called “Ask The Organizer” in Real Simple. In addition, he has written for and/or appeared in: The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Oprah Magazine, America Now, The Lisa Oz Show, The Nate Berkus Show, Oprah & Friends, Martha Stewart Living Today, ABC, NBC, CBS, CW11, HGTV, DIY Network, LiveWell Network, KnowMoreTV, Better Homes & Gardens, Ladies' Home Journal, Woman's Day, Family Circle, USA Today, GQ, InStyle, All You, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Healthy UK, American Way, numerous trade and travel publications, and NPR.

He leads workshops and speaks internationally while maintaining a private practice working with clients ranging from Fortune 100 companies, trade associations, and non-profits to CEOs, award-winning filmmakers, and authors, as well as overwhelmed parents everywhere. 

In 2013, Andrew founded Unstuff U®, the world's first completely virtual personal organization training center, offering classes, workshops, and other online resources for businesses and individuals. 

Andrew is a member of the Experts Collective and serves on the faculty of the New York Open Center in New York City. He speaks frequently on the intersection of spirituality and organization at places including Omega Institute, San Francisco Zen Center, Tassajara, All Saints Church, JCC Manhattan, and the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment, among others.

Previously, Andrew was an award-winning playwright, actor, producer, and director and the former Artistic Director of Alice B. Theater (Seattle), DC Arts Center (Washington, DC), and Shuttle Theater Company (New York). He is a contributing author to Yes Is the Answer: (And Other Prog-Rock Tales).

Andrew lives by his motto: More Love, Less Stuff!® 

Find him on the web at

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