“Much of what we acquire in life isn’t worth dragging to the next leg of our journey,” writes Gina Greenlee in Postcards and Pearls: Life Lessons from Solo Moments on the Road. “Travel light,” she adds. “You will be better equipped to travel far.” 

Greenlee is not alone in urging people to let go of what they don’t need and don’t use. Hundreds of authors and speakers in the last few years are reminding their audiences that decluttering and downsizing are essential to a happier and simpler life, especially as we age.

If reducing your material possessions, your carbon footprint or even the size of your house is on your to-do list, remember that you don’t have to reduce your size as a human being in the process.

 
 

In other words, as we get older and start packing things into boxes to pass on to our kids and grandkids, we don’t have to reduce our activities, friendships, hobbies or new interests. Getting rid of a crowded, messy closet can make your life easier. Giving up a full, absorbing life can do the opposite.

Fear, fatigue and general life changes can sometimes cause us to reduce our engagement in the world, but there are five concrete steps you can follow to live large and be happier than ever.

Stay Interested in Sustainable Activities

Pursue those interests with which you’re likely to stick. If you really enjoy hiking, for example, you can toss out all those old topographic maps you used in the 1980s. Instead buy some lightweight hiking boots, and plan a trip to the mountains.

You don’t always have to try the steepest trails. Yet do look for new places to trek, and keep a wish list of hikes you’d like to take. Invite friends to hike with you, and look for groups that lead hikes.

If you stay involved in the activities that are really interesting to you, it will broaden your world and bring more fun, unexpected people and events into your life.

Invest in Your Closest Relationships

You’ve probably known many of your friends for a long time, and each person makes a unique contribution to your life. Some are fun coffee dates and others are perfect tennis partners, but those with whom you have the closest, most honest relationships deserve your time and attention.

Engaging with people who listen, ask questions, provide help and support when you need it and encourage you to take risks can help you remain fully active in life.

If our involvement in the world makes us weary, we sometimes have a tendency to close ourselves off from others, to make our social lives smaller. Remember not to do this with your closest friends. You need them and they need you.

Putting energy into these connections can help you stay active and absorbed in the outside world. You may want to stay home and out of the fray, but as the actress Sophia Loren said, “After all these years, I am still involved in the process of self-discovery. It’s better to explore life and make mistakes than to play it safe.”

Keep an Ongoing Arts and Culture To-Do List

One way to remain involved is to make an ongoing list of movies you want to watch, even if it’s on Netflix. The same is true with books you’d like to read, art shows you want to view and concerts you’d love to attend.

Read arts and culture reviews in the newspaper or online so you’ll know what’s out there. Then make a point to see what you want to see.

You may feel lazy at first, and you may feel like doing nothing, but getting out and participating in cultural events helps to broaden your view and keeps you active and involved.

Learn One New Thing a Year

Start a list that chronicles the topics, skills and activities you’d love to explore further. It may cover a disparate range of items – everything from architecture to salsa dancing to computer programming – but it’s a place to start.

Then choose one item from the list every year. Next year may be the year you learn everything there is to know about Middle Eastern history or quilting. At first you may draw a blank when you’re considering what you want to learn, but once you start, you’ll no doubt find yourself unable to stop.

You can choose more than one subject per year, but don’t overdo it. You could get overwhelmed and give up the whole activity entirely.

Get to Know Someone New

Your closest relationships are the ones you need to nurture regularly, but it’s also good to make new friends and acquaintances. Meeting a new person every couple of months will help you to maintain broad interests and stay connected to the outside world.

Whether it’s someone at church or a new member of your book club, it’s enriching to connect with different people who have varying interests. These aren’t necessarily people with whom you need to spend long hours.

Even a casual conversation can spark creativity, open your heart, and make you smile. Bringing new people into your life on a regular basis ensures that you will continue to expand your interests, your ideas and your world.

Are you thinking about downsizing? What new activities would you like to try? How can you invest more deeply in your closest relationships? What movies and books are on your cultural bucket list? Please join the conversation below!

Ginny McReynolds is a longtime writer. She holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College, and writes about communication, retirement, reinvention, self-concept and creativity in The Washington Post, Curve magazine, and Together.guide. Please visit her blog called Finally Time for This: A Beginner’s Guide to the Second Act of Life.

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