Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

How to Embrace Simplicity and Ease Through the Art of Subtraction

Simplicity and Ease

When you add something new to your life, do you subtract something else?  Or do you keeping adding and adding and adding until you feel constantly overwhelmed?

If you’re an enthusiastic person like me, new activities can easily sneak into your day.  You might think this opportunity is just too good to pass up or tell yourself it won’t take much time.  Or you might be called to take on an important responsibility like caring for ill or aging parents.

But instead of subtracting another activity in order to stay in balance, you just pile on new ones, which naturally leads to tension, overload, and overwhelm.

You might be able to juggle all the balls at first.  But, then that feeling of dread or overwhelm kicks in.  That’s a sure sign it’s time to subtract, or you’ll just get pulled further and further down.

About a month ago, I started a Tai Chi class.  Without thinking about it much, I added 6 hours a week of class time and another 3 hours for the commute.  That’s an entire workday plus drive time for many people.  It’s the amount of time I often spend on writing and promoting my blog post each week, plus taking care of related blog business.

During the first half of the year, I also began offering free weekly stress relief tips, and recently I increased my presence on the Always Well Within Facebook page.  Of course, I love sharing and inspiring others in these ways.  But it’s another example of adding without anticipating the full impact.

Fortunately, I’ve already been subtracting.  Still, I found myself begrudgingly working on Saturday mornings to catch up.  This prompted me to reassess and subtract more before I’m engulfed by overwhelm.

Is “Too Much” Overwhelming You?

Have your quietly added on more and more in the first half of the year without realizing it?  This is a good time – at mid-year – to take a look and tease out any extras that invisibly locked onto your daily life.

Use these questions and exercises to check in and see if “too much” might also be overwhelming you:

  • Do you feel stressed and overwhelmed or do you feel at ease?
  • Ask your heart, “Is this how I really want my life to look?”
  • Consider, “Am I wasting time on the unimportant and trivial?”  Make a list of these busy-bee tasks.
  • How are you really spending your time?  Use my free 7-day time tracking chart to find out.
  • Mull this over, “Am I keeping busy to avoid facing deeper feelings of unhappiness or unrest?”
  • Make a list of what makes you happy, the good in your life.  Then make a list of what makes you unhappy, the bad in your life.

Use your answers and the lists you’ve made to make a subtraction list.  Then go for peace by removing one item at a time from your plate.  When that’s complete, take some breathing space.  Then move on to subtracting the next activity on the list.

I know, it’s not necessarily easy to say no and let go.  You may not want to disappoint others or you may have a perfectionistic streak.  But in the end, there’s only 167 hours in a week.  If you aren’t true to yourself, you’ll run yourself into the ground and put your health at risk.

Subtraction Is the Path to Ease

Gather the courage to let go of doing too much.  When you make smart subtractions, you’ll find:

  1. Time for what really matters and thus a more meaningful life.
  2. More ease and more enjoyment as you allow yourself to slow down.
  3. Space for more love and connection with those close to you.
  4. Less strain on your health.
  5. More clarity of mind.

Decide right now you’re worth it and start on your subtraction list.

I’ve made a major time commitment to my Tai Chi class.  I know it’s exactly what I need – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually – and worth every minute I spend on learning the movements and the philosophy behind them.  But 9 hours is a lot!  I needed to take stock and trim away the unnecessary and unimportant so I could regain balance in my life.

Are you doing too much?  What’s one thing you could subtract for a start?

P.S.  I’m posting every other Sunday over the summer so I’ll see you again in two weeks.

Join me for daily inspiration on the Always Well Within Facebook Page.  Sign up for free blog posts by email.  And, if you have a moment, please share this article and make a difference in someone’s life.  Thank you!  May you be well, happy, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra


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  1. Perfect timing, Sandra! Your excellent post arrived just as I was reading another excellent post this morning that summed up a similar theme: “Work life balance depends on your ability to say a simple, two letter word. That word is “NO!” ( )

    I have a little house rule that mimics this great advice, and it concerns my closet! Nothing new can come into the closet unless I do a sort/purge and get rid of at least one wardrobe item first. This helps to keep my closet from bulging at the seams, and even makes me feel better every time I open that closet door!

    In answer to your question “Are you doing too much?”, my own answer would be that my ongoing cardiac issues help to prevent that from happening most days, BUT when I do take on too much (this past week was a good example!!), I always pay a price for that reluctance to “subtract”.

    Such great advice! Thank you for this…

    • Hi Carolyn,
      “No” is such a good word when used at the right moments. I try to express it spaciously with kindness but also a determination not to get hooked. Thanks for this reminder for all of us.

      Your house rule on the closest is a perfect example of how we can stay sane! It helps to hear about your approach.

      I’m also limited due to health issues, but it seems I often try to push the boundaries. I think that happens to all of us from time to time as conscious as we might try to be. Your experience from last week seems to show how we ebb and flow with this! But, you’re so right, there’s always that sense of being pulled apart at the seams that comes along as overwhelm starts to set in. If I pay attention then, I know I won’t have to subtract more from sinking myself in a hole. Thanks for your thoughts, Carolyn!

  2. I think I lead a relatively busy life, Sandra, but then I see the parents who are hauling several kids off in several different directions, trying to run a house and make healthy meals, go to work— and I feel like a slug! The truth is that, most of the time, my life is not excessively packed but when I am starting a series of new classes, things get wild! I was pleasantly surprised to find myself with 2 REALLY packed classes and wondered where they all came from! But nearly every time I get over-busy and over-whelmed, I go into some sort of fast-forward mode and skip over entire weeks in my life. Happens almost every time! For example, on Friday night, I wrote my girlfriend about getting together the next day for our traditional 4th of July dinner. Well, about 10:30 it dawned on me that we were NOT going to have the 4th of July until the next week!!! And that also meant that I had not gotten a model for our figure drawing group that I run 2x a week! So, since it was 10:30, I decided that it was too late to get someone for the next morning bright and early, so I decided to model (I do that when the models don’t show up, so it is no big deal). Of course, I HAD booked the model for the 4th! 🙂 So when I get overwhelmed, my life goes on fast forward and usually does let me know that something has to give. The first week is the hard week because I have to teach in two rooms—-the intro for the newbies and the painting as usual for the returnees. So, without having to eliminate anything, I think I am going to be ok! 🙂 Enjoy the class! Sounds wonderful!

    • Dear Jean,

      How wonderful to have so many students in your courses at the moment. I’m so happy for you! I think you love what you do and that also is an important aspect that can add to our sense of life balance. It may just be part of life that special times, like the beginning of a course program are particularly wild.

      That’s interesting about the fast forward mode. At least you have a clear sign you can watch out for it! Fortunately, there were no disasters. You were able to manage those little bits of confusion, carry on, and get the job done.

      I’m glad you love your life and feel good about your pace. Thanks for sharing your experience. We can all learn so much from each other.


  3. I definitely needed to hear this today! Over the past week I’ve made a concerted effort to actually do the writing and walking each day that I’ve been talking about for over six months. My logical mind told me that this would take a fair amount of time. But our use of time is all about our priorities. I finally made these things “the most important activity” in my work day and made them happen. Funny thing was that nothing else fell through the cracks. I had to be more organized and focused and I ended up getting more done than before. Apparently, I had been wasting lots of little bits of time throughout my day by not being focused. Now I’ll be focusing on more specific things I can cut from my day to allow more ease. Thanks Sandra!

    • Hi Paige,

      Bravo for staying on track with your writing and walking! What an interesting example of doing more, but getting more done through being more focused and organized. This is just so true for almost all of us that time is easily wasted if we are not paying attention. I think these are helpful arts (focus and organization) that can be added to subtraction for a life that flows more smoothly. Thanks for reminding us that we have more than one option when life feels too much. Good luck with your subtraction experiment!

  4. Clearly you wrote this just for me Sandra! I live life with great enthusiasm as a result of which I take on things with no thought to overwhelm or how I can fit them into my current life.

    Lately I’ve also discovered that overwhelm can occur because I think I’m overwhelmed, when the reality of it is that I’m simply not organized appropriately. It’s not my strong suit!

    Not to say that overwhelm doesn’t exist in my world, but a little re-organization and discipline can make all the difference to how I feel about what I’m doing.

    I do like the idea of checking to see if my new exciting adventure should take the place of an old adventure that has served it’s purpose and can be put on the back burner, or removed entirely. I’m looking closely at this today!

    Btw, I love Tai Chi and fortunately don’t have to travel as far as you to experience it.

    Love Elle

    • Hi Elle,

      I so resonate with what you’ve said about enthusiasm because it often catches me too! I’ll be ready to charge forward and my husband will say, “But I thought you said you don’t want to do x, y, or z.” I have an uncanny way of believing it will be all good.

      Thanks for your vote for better organization along with Paige! We definitely have more than one option when it comes to overwhelm and it helps to hear your personal experience.

      Good luck with looking at your day to see whether there’s anything waiting to be subtracted!

      It’s inspiring to hear your love of Tai Chi! I’ve just started this month. We have an amazing teacher. Now if I could only get my body to sink and twist! I know, it will come in time.

  5. Sandra,

    This post couldn’t be better timed! I recently hired a VA (yay!) to help me with the “busy bee tasks” so that I can focus on what is important. I really am excited about what this is going to mean for me personally and professionally. It is so important to cut back and to delegate!


    • I’m so happy for you, Jessica! I’m so glad you’ll get to focus on what’s important and what you really love to do. Great move forward. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Hi Sandra,
    I couldn’t agree more with the “Art of Subtraction”. Over the last two years I’ve gotten quite good at subtracting. We moved and had to get rid of so much stuff. Because everything has a memory for me, this has been difficult at times. After we moved I continued to let go of more. Now we need to rent our house for the fall. So again, I have continued to let go. I’m finding that what I had to do has now become freeing! I feel liberated with less clutter! And it’s not just the material stuff but the mental as well.
    Thanks for a great post!

    • That’s so exciting, Betsy! It seems like it’s been a process to work with letting go of the memories, but so worthwhile. Good luck as you subtract more. I know your time away will make it so very worth it.

  7. Thanks for the wonderful reminder. I often feel pressured by my everyday “shoulds” and like you, find myself begrudgingly playing catch up. I am often on the computer at 10:00 at night telling myself, “I WANT to get off of this #!@# thing!”

    That’s a sure sign I I need to start subtracting.

    I have begun deciding on 3 things every day that HAVE to get done. If more gets accomplished, great. If not, there’s always tomorrow’s list.

    • I completely understand, Debbie. I’ve been in the same spot so many times. It’s gotten better for me in the last year but I still need to subtract. I think you have a good plan. Good luck with it!

  8. Gosh I needed this timely reminder! Life has been so hectic recently and I really do need to turn it down and keep it simple. Great post Sandra 🙂

    • I’m glad this post was helpful to you, Carolyn. So many of us seem to be riding this wave! It will be good to come on short for awhile. Good luck!

  9. I love the art of subtraction Sandra- I know over the last few years i have been subtracting in some areas of my life- as I write this i know that I still have big time subtracting to do from my computer to make my online life and biz simpler- thanks namaste xx

    • Hi Suzie,

      That’s especially where I’m working too! In the area of online time and computer time. Spending too much time wrecks my muscles, not to mention my ease! I’m glad we’re doing this together.

      • Sandra I discovered that too much time at the computer is maybe affecting my Upper shoulder and my spine- posture- so have to stand up more often and walk with some spine straightening hand positions 🙂

        • It’s good to know that, isn’t it, Suzie! Now you can take these positive steps so your body feel more at ease. Good luck with this!

  10. Thank you so much for your insightful post. I look forward to reading your next one.

  11. Thank you Sandra! I find saying no to things doesn’t only reduce overwhelm, but as you pointed out, it really does help me create a more meaningful life. I’m only spending time on the things I want to be doing. Sounds impossible, but it’s true!

    • That’s marvelous, Jessica! I’m so glad you told us as it shows us what’s truly possible. I’m happy for you.

  12. I’m creating more simplicity in my life these days. You’re right Sandra it really helps with your peace, joy and happiness. There are so many things we don’t need and actually cause stress. Thanks for this article <3

    • Yeah! That’s wonderful to hear, Melissa. This is big for me right now! I’m going to go swimming now and enjoy a bit of that simplicity and ease.

  13. Sandra, this is wonderful! My summer has been packed and overwhelming, and I’ve only just been getting a handle on accepting how much time I have, that there’s enough time, using it responsibly and without stress. This is another piece of the puzzle – what do I consciously subtract to make my time go easier and to have more peace of mind?

    I just glanced at the post again and saw “Decide you’re worth it”, which reminds me that I am allowed to not do every single thing in the world that it might occur to me to do! I deserve leisure, and to know that the work, resources, and opportunities I need will simply flow to me.

    Glad to make this blog’s acquaintence 🙂

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