Intentional Living 101: The What, The Why, and The How
How often do we just float through life going, going, going and doing, doing, doing? How often do we answer the question ‘how are things’, or ‘how are you’ with ‘busy’ or ‘tired – we have so much going on!’, respectively? If you found yourself nodding to those questions, you are certainly not alone. Our society seems to praise the busy lifestyle. I too am guilty of doing these things. It wasn’t until I had my son that I really stopped to take a look at my life and the things that were happening in it, and started to reevaluate my priorities.
Between juggling work schedules and other commitments, our family time was limited. ‘Me’ time was almost non-existent. I hadn’t done anything with my hobbies for over a year. Time spent with friends was scarce. I was tired, and often I felt like I was barely getting by. I kept thinking to myself, ‘why am I spending my precious time and remaining energy doing things that don’t add value to my life?’
*If you would like to hear my talk about this topic, I was interviewed by Stephanie of Mama Minimalist on The Sustainable Minimalists podcast! Find the recording here.
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What is intentional living?
Like any lifestyle change or adaptation, intentional living looks different for everyone. However, a general description is simply to be intentional about the life you live.
I love this description from the website Love Life and Work:
“What does it mean to be intentional? It means you are purposeful in word and action. It means you live a life that is meaningful and fulfilling to you. It means you make thoughtful choices in your life. Being intentional means you actively interact and engage with your life”
Doesn’t that sound freaking amazing? Unfortunately, this is the opposite of so many people these days. Society values being busy. Society values working hard. Society tells us that the only way we’re going to succeed is to put in 80 hours a week, run our health into the ground, never see our friends or family, and sleep four hours a night. All of a sudden, you’re 75, wondering where your life went.
Ok, so maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration. But I do think that it has some truth to it.
Life is short. I have experienced that firsthand losing people that were lost waaaaay too soon.
We’re going to get uncomfortable here for a moment: The truth is, we never know how long we have. We don’t. I know that is uncomfortable to think about; it certainly isn’t easy for me. But it is the truth.
For this post, I researched some of the top regrets of the elderly and those who were dying. Here are some of the biggest ones:
- They wish they would have focused more on being happy
- They wished they hadn’t worked so much
- They wished they had spent more time with family and friends.
The last regret is one that started me on the journey towards living more intentionally. After my son was born, I saw how quick time was flying by, and I knew I wanted to spend as much of it with him as possible.
I’m going to guess that since you’re here, reading this post, you may be in the same boat as me, or you feel like life is flying before your very eyes.
I get it. I totally get it. And guess what? The great news is that you can start applying intentional living to your life at any time.
Why Intentional Living?
What are your values?
I sort of dabbled into ‘why’ choose intentional living above, but wanted to go even deeper. Having a ‘why’ for any lifestyle change is important because it is the main motivating factor behind making changes, AND, it can help push you through any challenges you might face.
One of my biggest ‘whys’ was my son. I wanted more time with him and my family and less time doing chores and other things that didn’t fit within my values. Some of my other ‘whys’ could be photography, blogging, reading, gardening, being outdoors, relaxing, and simply not having commitments ALL THE TIME.
If you’re not sure what your ‘why’ is, or what some of your values are, that’s OK. I’ve got a couple of great resources to help you figure that out. The first is a handy-dandy FREE printable worksheet I created that you can use to start your brainstorming. You can find that worksheet here.
Here are the questions I used that helped me (they are the same ones on the worksheet). Follow along with my examples and then do it for yourself!
- What do you want more time for? I started by making a list of things I wanted more time for. This made me aware of the things I value in life, and also helps put into perspective what is NOT on this list that I could potentially back away from completely or partially. I listed those items above.
- What do you wish you could cut back on? Next, I brainstormed and wrote down things that didn’t add as much value to my life, or that I wished I could cut back on. This paved the groundwork for finding ways/methods/processes/etc I could implement to actually cut back on them instead of just wishing that I could.
- Cleaning/Organizing – by reducing the number of things we have in our home and that we bring into our home
- Worrying about money – budgeting, using local resources (library) instead of buying books, second-hand stores (I love thred up), local garage sales for kids clothes or swapping clothes with friends, etc.
- Social media – this is a whole other post, and let me be right up front in saying that I do still struggle with this one and in my opinion, I think I spend way too much time on social media. But I try to be aware of how much time I spend on it, and then move forward accordingly.
- Commitments that I was too afraid to say no to -Our family became very protective of our time. We actively decide things we want to commit to, and things we think are OK to pass on.
- What steps can you take to start cutting back on the items listed above? Now that you have identified what you would like to cut back on, what can you do RIGHT NOW to start being able to actually do so? Maybe you are interested in downsizing and limiting what you have in the house to free up time from cleaning and organizing. Decluttering might be something to look into as a start. Maybe you are looking for more ‘Me’ time. Make a weekly ‘date’ with yourself and immerse yourself in your favorite hobby. Go to the library or a coffee shop and read. Start saying ‘no’ to one activity a week. I would recommend picking one or two of the items that would be easiest to start implementing into your life. If you pick something that is going to be too challenging right off the bat, you may get discouraged and not stick with it.
Another way to figure out your values and you why is by doing a 100 things list. Check out the post on that here.
Or, you can create a vision board! Check out my post on how and why here.
How to live intentionally
Find your ‘why’
I already talked about this above, so I’m not going to get into it again, but it is so important I had to mention it.
Protect your time
Isn’t TIME what people say they want more of? Since we’re not going to be able to magically create more hours in the day, it’s time to start being intentional about what you put on your calendar. Personally, I started becoming very protective of my time and of our family time. We are very careful not to over schedule, over commit, or overdo it. Does that always work? No. But by having it as a goal, it forces us to think about what we say ‘yes’ to, and what we can say ‘no’ to.
Tip: Schedule family time, me time, friend time, hobby time, whatever time on your calendar and treat it like a regular commitment. This is what my family had to do when we were first starting out.
Need some tips on how to say no (guilt-free)? Check out my post on that here.
I was a TOTAL ‘things’ girl. Mr Blographer (my husband), not so much. Add in a baby, two cats, and a dog, and I felt like I was drowning in clutter and mess ALL. THE. TIME. I started researching this new thing I had been hearing about called ‘minimalism’ and specifically the decluttering component. I mentioned it to my husband (who is considerably less of a ‘things’ person than I am), and he was all for it.
Cue decluttering over 100 large boxes (it’s waaaaaaay more now) of items.
By reducing our physical clutter, it allowed us to:
- Reduce our mental clutter (hello, blog)
- Be able to find things quickly and easily (more time, woo!)
- Being able to really focus on the items we LOVE instead of being distracted by those we don’t
- Clean up is considerably faster (WIN!!!!)
If you want to learn more about decluttering, here are some of my resources:
- My FREE 7-Day Decluttering e-course!
- My decluttering e-book and workbook
- The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Paper Clutter
- Decluttering Tips and Tricks
Additionally, if you want more information on Minimalism, there are some great books out there. Here are three of my favorites:
- Unstuffed by Ruth Soukup
- The More of Less by Joshua Becker
- Simplify by Joshua Becker
Detox from Social Media/News
One way to live intentionally is to be very, well, intentional about the media you consume. Many times when we’re on social media or taking in news, we instantly shift into reaction mode. We may not even know it, but we are no longer in control of our emotions and thoughts. Additionally, social media ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ trigger our brain to release the feel-good chemical dopamine, which then causes our brain to want more. It literally is an addiction!
I did a ton of research on the effects of social media/news consumption and mental health, which you can read about in this post about detaching from the news (but still staying informed), and this post about how to detox from social media.
Not only is being intentional about reducing your social media/news intake beneficial for your mental health, it puts you back in charge of your emotions and thoughts, and frees up a ton of time.
Be careful who you spend your time with
We’ve all had that ‘friend’. The one who only calls when it’s convenient for them or when they want something. The one where when you do make plans to hang out, you dread it for days. Those types of friends (or even some family members) can be really hard to disengage with and/or end a relationship with. But if you’re serious about your path to a more intentional life (think more time, more happiness, less stress, and less anxiety), these are the type of people you need to break up with once and for all. Need some tips? Check out this post on how to declutter your friend list.
Become inspired by others living an intentional life
Sometimes reading someone else’s amazing intentional life is all it takes to receive a swift kick in the booty from the Universe. Below are two examples from amazing women who are doing just that. If you need some real-life inspiration and examples, I would HIGHLY recommend checking out these two blog posts:
- Megan Johnson of Learning Lotuses on how intentional living can lead to a happy life
- Emma of Small Footprints Big Adventures on how intentional living has allowed her family to find deeper meaning and do long-term family travel/world-schooling
The items above are not part of an exhaustive list, of course. There are literally thousands of ways you can live intentionally (pretty sure I saw a scientific study that said that). And each one will look different for everyone (just look at the two examples above). This is just to give you some ideas on steps you can start taking TODAY to start living a little more intentionally (after you’ve found your why/values of course!).
How do you live intentionally? How do you want to live more intentionally?
Great advice and discussion to have with yourself.
I’ve been trying to live more intentionally lately. Great Tips. Thanks for sharing!
Great post! This advice is invaluable for intentional living!
Very thorough post. Feel like I have a few more ideas on how to create a more mindful intentional life. I thought is was really interesting what older people look back and regret about their life. Making a “cut back or stop doing list” is probably something I should do annually just to reevaluate.
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