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Stress-Free Zone | Simplify Your Life

Let the (Computer, Potato) Chips Fall Where They May

September 14, 1998|ELAINE ST. JAMES

Stress is a major factor in many of our health-related problems. A key way to reduce stress is to simplify. By reducing clutter, commitments, tasks and expenses, your life will streamline into the Stress Free Zone. Elaine St. James tells us how.

Dear Elaine St. James: While I'm eager to cut back and live more simply, my husband is out buying every new computer gadget that comes along. I now shop at an organic market, but the fresh foods I bring into our home sit side by side with his cookies, potato chips and beer. What can I do to help my husband change his ways?

--CORA W., New Canaan, Conn.

Dear Cora: Perhaps you need to take a new approach. People often get stuck in certain rigid definitions of simplicity, such as, "The simple life and potato chips cannot exist peaceably in the same house." Once you've drawn a line in the sand, it's harder for others to cross over to your side. And it only complicates your life when you try to force someone to do everything your way.

Often the easiest way to encourage family members to simplify is by allowing them to see for themselves how it has benefited you. For example, if you've decided that eating organic foods makes you feel better, gives you greater energy and improves your health, go ahead and prepare them, and slip them into the family menu while you're at it. But don't lecture your husband. In time, he may discover that he feels better and has more energy when he eats fresh foods.

Often a reluctant partner will come around when approached from another angle. I heard from a reader who wanted to start eliminating some of the stuff in the household closets. Her husband still had clothes from his college days.

Rather than nag him, she announced she was giving some of her old things to a church clothing drive, and asked him if he had anything to contribute. He rummaged through his closet and said, "These things don't fit me, but they've still got a lot of wear in them. Why don't you take them?"

One goal of simplifying is to minimize the complications so you can enjoy the things that really matter. Maybe you and your husband have somewhat different definitions of what those things are. It's possible that the computer relaxes him and gives him a lot of enjoyment. Each individual follows his or her own path to simplicity, and it might not always be the same path.

If your husband just isn't interested in simplifying, spend your energies simplifying your own life and change your expectations about how simple his life has to be. Many couples live happily together even when they don't share exactly the same likes and dislikes. Their relationships are nurtured by love and respect for each other's individuality. Rather than focusing on your differences, look for the areas where you agree and appreciate those. You probably see eye to eye on the important things. Potato chips are seldom worth fighting over.


Elaine St. James is the author of "Simplify Your Life" and "Simplify Your Life With Kids." For questions or comments, write to her in care of Universal Press Syndicate, 4520 Main St., Kansas City, MO 64111, or e-mail her at

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