Courtney Carver's newest book, Soulful Simplicity, makes a compelling case–and offers practical tips–for clearing the clutter out of our schedules, our homes, and our minds to make space for a meaningfully productive life.
The latest in our recurring Productive Reading series takes a look at Soulful Simplicity
In this episode, we continue our Productive Reading recurring series. In episode 133, I shared key principles from Gary Keller’s The ONE Thing. In episode 147, I talked about lessons learned from The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg, and in episode 166, I summarized my takeaways from three of Brené Brown's books.
This time I’m sharing some of my most important takeaways from Soulful Simplicity, by Courtney Carver. (All quotes are Courtney's, from the book itself.)
About the Author
According to her author page on Amazon, Courtney Carver believes simplicity is the way back to love. Mom, wife, and curious creative, Courtney Carver left the advertising industry in 2011 to pursue blogging, writing, and speaking about simplicity. After being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2006, she was determined to eliminate as much stress as possible for a happier, healthier life. The common thread in every change she made from diet to debt was simplicity. She created bemorewithless.com, minimalist fashion challenge Project 333 and the Tiny Wardrobe Tour to share her stories of living with less and connect with like-hearted people.
Late last year, she was my guest on episode 169, before Soulful Simplicity released. I pre-ordered the book right after I interviewed her, then read a chapter each morning during my morning quiet routine.
Lessons learned from Courtney Carver's Soulful Simplicity
This book is inspiring, but also practical. Each chapter ends with action steps–things you can do to put into practice the ideas discussed in that chapter. Following is a brief summary of some of the key takeaways that stuck with me, followed by quotes from the book that resonated with me on those points.
Key Point # 1: The importance of being who you are
“Not being yourself is exhausting and breaks you down from the inside out.”
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“It’s in that place where we are who our hearts want us to be that we can be all the way alive.”
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“. . . it’s our right and responsibility to remember who we are and to show up in the world as that person.”
Key Point # 2: Mindset lessons from the yoga mat
Courtney practices yoga, and in one chapter of the book shares some lessons she's learned in her yoga practice that also apply to life in general. A few of my favorites are:
Lesson 1. “My thoughts limit my actions.”
“We dismiss opportunities every day by telling ourselves we can’t do it. We give in to fear. It’s good to think things through, but trust yourself to try new things too.”
Lesson 2. “I can’t do everything today.”
“Our days are full of options and opportunity. We don’t have to do it all. We can’t do it all. We are better for it when we don’t try to do it all.”
Lesson 3. “There is a place between ease and strain.”
“Hard work isn’t always a sign of good work.”
Lesson 4. “Keep your eyes on your own mat.”
“There is no benefit in comparison in yoga or in life.”
Key Point # 3: The value of letting go of “stuff”
This particular section of the book was inspiring and thought-provoking for me. My house is generally clean and tidy, but we’ve been married a long time and we have 5 kids, so we have a LOT of stuff, including a lot of items that have sentimental value to me. She talks about letting go of these mementos and keeping the memories.
“The process of letting go will be much easier when you take the time to understand why you own what you own and how it got there in the first place. . . . We buy and hold on to things for many reasons, but usually it’s because we want to be someone we are not, feel something we don’t, or prove we are something we don’t think we are to someone else.”
As I read these chapters, I thought about these questions: Why do I have the stuff? Why do I keep things I don’t use?
I thought back to my past and realized that so many years living with very little created a fear of lack within me. I was hanging on to things I haven’t used for years just in case I might need them. Reading Soulful Simplicty helped me realize the truth is if I need them, I could buy or borrow another one.
“The only truth of ownership is that when you own something, it owns you too. It’s yours to take care of and pay for in every way every day.”
Too much stuff weighs us down, and costs us time and opportunities because it takes time to take care of it.
An approach to decluttering suggested by Courtney:
- Take a big box through your home, putting in stuff you don’t use or care about. When it’s full, tape it up and donate it. After you’ve done this a few times, your “decluttering muscle” gets stronger. Then you can turn to the things you keep for sentimental reasons.
- Suggestion for sentimental items: Hide it. Put it out of sight for a while and see if you miss it.
- Let go of the guilt of letting go.
“You have a limited amount of space and time in your life and if you fill it all with guilt and regret, there won’t be room for all of the love. Remind yourself that you simply don’t have room in your life for guilt.”
Courtney talks in the book about her Project 333 and the way paring down her wardrobe led to greater simplicity and peace in other areas of her life.
“Simplicity in the closet seeps into every other area of your home and life.”
Courtney also explains the value of downsizing
“Living with less has given us the time and space to appreciate all of the things that make a house a home. We finally realized that our home is not a container for our stuff. Instead, it is a place for love and connection.”
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“Letting go may be hard, but please consider that holding on is harder. You have to hold on every day and not just to the stuff. You hold on to fear of not having enough, the stress of taking care of everything, and the guilt of spending too much or keeping things you don’t use.”
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“You are so much more than what you own or don’t own. If you want a joyful life that is full of love and happiness, align your actions with your heart.”
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“I don’t want my legacy to be storage containers of stuff. . . . When I go, I want to be remembered for how I loved while I was here.”
Key Point # 4: We can boycott busyness, and what we gain by doing so
In the chapter titled “The Busy Boycott,” Courtney talks about the impact of having our schedules full and having no white space or downtime. Just as clutter in our home impacts us, clutter in our schedule and minds impacts us.
“When we focus more on fitting it all in instead of making time for what counts, we lose sight of how to create a meaningful life.”
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“If our to-do lists don’t have enough check marks and inbox zero is still miles away, we feel like we didn’t contribute enough and therefore we aren’t good enough. I have to remind myself that no one cares about what’s on my to-do list or how busy I am, or even how much I got done yesterday. What I do is not who I am.”
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“The very best way to serve your family is to show up and be present. Be there. Eliminate the distractions that prevent you from seeing, hearing, and appreciating the people you love.”
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“Everything changed when I realized I had a choice in how I spent my time and perhaps being lost in busyness wasn’t the best use of it.”
I encourage you to check out her 21-day challenge to declutter and de-busy your schedule introduced in the book.
Key Point # 5: Saying no is a key to freedom from the tyranny of busyness
“Saying no is one of the most practical things we can do to create more time to engage in what matters most.”
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“It takes time to take care of our bodies, brains, hearts, and souls, and if we don’t take that time, we can’t take care of anyone else, at least not very well and not for very long. Continuing to serve everyone but ourselves will drain us and there will be consequences.”
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“If you want free time, real free time, or if you crave eight whole hours of sleep, a proper lunch break, or at least twenty-four hours away from your e-mail, you are going to have to say no.”
Courtney suggests questions for making time, evaluating opportunities, tasks, commitments such as:
- Why am I so busy?
- Why is it important for me to be and appear busy?
- Is this important to me?
- What happens if this never gets done?
- How do I want to spend my precious time?
Key Point # 6: Taking care of yourself is not selfish
“. . . to serve, you need something to offer, and if you are depleted, overwhelmed, and under-inspired, your offering may be diluted or misleading. If you want to give your best, become your best.”
Courtney encourages us to implement a morning routine, and to use “habit stacking” to build morning routines that serve us.
“Build your routine slowly, habit by habit and minute by minute. . . . habit stacking gives you the momentum to build multiple habits simultaneously. Each habit triggers and supports the one to follow. Think about your morning routine as a little stack of habits. Start with one and build slowly.”
If mornings are too full for the sort of luxurious full morning routine we read about, you can still do small things that will make a difference and help you get the day off to a good start
- 1 minute, eyes closed, deep breaths, counting the breath; 4 in, 8 out
- Visualize the day you want to feel
- Shower mindfully instead of rushing through or thinking about the to-do list. Be present in the shower, and focus on the sensations of the water, soap, etc.
- Read one or two affirmations that are meaningful to you. Post them in your bathroom. Set intentions for the day.
- Think about what you listen to in the morning. Maybe instead of the news or cartoons, something uplifting such as an inspirational audiobook. If you have kids and noise, simply put on some soothing or uplifting music. Or, like Tyree Ayers (guest on episode 178), have nothing on in the background. Be present in the space without occupying your mind with other sounds.
Simplifying isn’t just about decluttering your space, your calendar, your mind
“Simplicity will transform your closet, your kitchen cabinets, and all of the spaces in your life, but all the while it will work on your heart too. Once all of the things that are weighing you down and holding you back are gone, all that’s left is love.”
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“The changes started on the outside while the real work was happening on the inside. With each thing, obligation, or assumption I let go of, I remembered who I was. . . . Forgetting who you are and living outside of your heart is painful. Do whatever it takes to come back and be more you. Give yourself all the space, time, and love you need to remember who you are.”
She has a chapter about Your Heart’s Mission Statement. This alone makes the book worth reading.
Some final thoughts
For me, some of the most impactful concepts of the book can be summarized in a couple quotes from near the end:
A simple life is not the end goal
“A soulful simplicity is not about living with the least amount of stuff, meditating the longest, or being in a competition in any sense of the imagination. . . . With all of the focus on minimalism, simplicity, decluttering, and capsule wardrobes, it’s easy to believe that a simple life is the dream, but a simple life is not the end goal. We don’t remove the clutter, reduce the stress, and boycott busyness to have a simple life. We do it to have a life.”
Give yourself grace (and get out of your own way)
“We can look back at past relationships with people, money, stuff, and time with guilt, blame, and regret but to what end? How can we love ourselves for who we are when we hate ourselves for what we did? And if we don’t love who we are, how does that help us love the amazing people in our lives today? How will it help us treat the precious time we have now with more purpose and intention? Before we can fix a problem we have to see it. . . . Once we see it, we have a choice. We can become embroiled in guilt and perpetuate the mess and the pain or we can say, ‘This happened and now I am going to change.’ That doesn’t mean we fix the past, but we find hope and healing today and tomorrow through change and growth. If the guilt and regret of past messes [are] standing between you and change, let it go. Do whatever it takes to let it go.”
Simply put: Courtney Carver's Soulful Simplicity is one of the best books I've read in the last couple years. I highly recommend it for anyone who's interested in making a life that matters.
What do you think?
Have you read Soulful Simplicity? What spoke to you most strongly? Please share your questions or thoughts about the book and its topic in the comments section at the bottom of this post or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or send me an email!
Resources and Links
- Episode 133, Productive Reading: The ONE Thing by Gary Keller
- Episode 147, Productive Reading: The Power of Habit
- Episode 166, Productive Reading: Lessons from Brené Brown
- Episode 169, Voluntary Simplicity, with Courtney Carver
Announcements & Reminders
- Special thanks to our sponsors for this episode:
- FreshBooks, offering a 30-day, unrestricted free trial to The Productive Woman listeners. To claim it, visit FreshBooks.com/WOMAN and enter THE PRODUCTIVE WOMAN in their How Did You Hear About Us?” section.
- Making Light Candles, offering $10 off your first subscription when you visit makinglight.com and use the promo code TPW10.
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