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Dr Rishma Walji On How Simplifying & Decluttering Your Life Can Make You Happier

Dr. Rishma Walji On How Simplifying & Decluttering Your Life Can Make You Happier

An Interview With Drew Gerber

Ask yourself ‘why’ do you want it. If you desire something because someone else has it, or because you feel left out without it, then there is something deeper that you can address. If it’s not actually something that is aligned with your values or your dreams, it’s not likely that it will bring you satisfaction. And knowing that, it might be easier to let that desire go.

We live in a time of great excess. We have access to fast fashion, fast food, and fast everything. But studies show that all of our “stuff” is not making us any happier. How can we simplify and focus on what’s important? How can we let go of all the clutter and excess and find true happiness? In this interview series, we are talking to coaches, mental health experts, and authors who share insights, stories, and personal anecdotes about “How Simplifying and Decluttering Your Life Can Make Us Happier.” As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Dr. Rishma Walji.

Rishma Walji is a Naturopathic Doctor and PhD. She is the founder of XO Living, a lifestyle and wellness brand that helps growth-oriented people create deeper connections with themselves and others. She is the host of the XO Conversations Podcast, a narrative science + storytelling style podcast on personal development, and author of an upcoming book on intentional decision making.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?

I had a number of health issues when I was young, and as the daughter of immigrants with a curious mind, I ended up learning a lot about both Eastern and Western philosophies of medicine. I became fascinated with not only what can help us heal but also how we can heal. After years of clinical practice and teaching in academia, I learned that there are ways not only to treat our bodies and our minds, but also to prevent illness and even better, to optimize our health.

I found that there was a gap between what we learn about how to care for ourselves, physically and emotionally, and how we’re able to implement changes in our lives. Noticing these patterns and opportunities for meaningful change, not only in health but also in wellbeing, mental health and happiness, is what prompted me to explore more creative projects like podcasting, writing and speaking.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I feel like my career has evolved and changed so much over the years. I think the most important one is that I have had to rebuild my career, and my businesses, from scratch multiple times. A few times it was by choice, and other times it was due to external circumstances like moving. What I learned was that change, while scary, can offer an opportunity to re-evaluate what I want out of my career, and my life. Often, responsibilities get added to our lives, we follow a particular path, and we don’t usually take the time to rethink our trajectories. Do I want this next opportunity or am I just following a set or expected path? Am I satisfied with my job or career in a way that brings me joy and inspiration? Am I developing myself and my skills in a way that takes me towards what’s really important to me?

In my case, most recently, I left a clinical practice that I had spent decades building, it was very busy still growing, and I even enjoyed it. By all outward measures it was ‘successful’. It would have been easy to follow that path, because I had already invested so much into it and when I left it, it didn’t seem to make sense to anyone else. But when looking at my life, simplifying my thoughts about what I wanted to prioritize at this stage of my career and life, I realized that I wanted to explore more creative projects, have some freedom to travel, and spend more proactive time on my health and wellness. Having more in this case with my career, actually took me away from my personal goal of freedom and mental peace.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I host a podcast, XO Conversations, it’s an approachable, science + storytelling style podcast about personal growth. We as a society move so fast, and consume so much information that we feel like we’re struggling to keep up. We have to do everything, have everything and be everything all at the same time. In my podcast, I offer strategies that help the listener to rethink certain topics, often with a science twist, and apply strategies in real life ways.

For example, it’s one thing to know you ‘should’ meditate, it’s another to figure out how to turn your brain off to do it. It’s easy to tell someone to see the glass as half full but that doesn’t help them do it. What’s more helpful is to understand the science in positive psychology and action steps that you can take to change your perspective. If you want to connect deeply with your family, it’s more tangible to learn how to make lasting happy memories and implement the science of savoring your relationship. These are the types of things I discuss on the podcast to help people make small but meaningful shifts in their lives.

I’m also writing a book on intentional decision making. Typically, we’re so focused on goals and actions. We set goal after goal, and then hustle to get them done, but often we don’t get to where we want to be or we get there and realize it’s not what we wanted after all. In my book I discuss what I think is the missing step that prevents us not only from getting what we want, but also from making decisions that align with our goals. I think it will help people not only set better goals, and reach them more easily, but more importantly to move towards goals that are more aligned with what they really want and who they want to be. I feel strongly that this will help people be healthier, more communicative and reduce conflict in their lives. Hint: the missing step is a clearer definition of awareness, the different types of awareness and understanding the reason it’s so elusive.

Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority on the topic of “How Simplifying and Decluttering Your Life Can Make You Happier”?

I’m just like many people who are looking for peace, calm and joy in life. I’ve spent decades helping people make arguably some of the biggest decisions of their life related to their health and family planning. During that time, while I was helping them, I learned so much too. What I see over and over again, not just with patients but also with my community, is that the more we have/the more we do/the faster we go, the less present we are in the moment. The less time we have to reflect, and as a result, the less purposeful we are in our lives.

The research is clear that being present, mindful and in the moment can help not just with happiness but also with relationship building, reducing stress and anxiety and so much more. In a fast-paced society, we need to declutter not just our material possessions but also our minds.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. We live in a time of excess. We have access to so much. But studies show that all of our “stuff” is not making us any happier. Can you articulate for our readers a few reasons why all of our possessions are not giving us happiness?

We tend to place a higher priority on having, rather than doing or on being. Often this means we’re chasing external goals, things like possessions, rewards, praise or status. If we focus on having, there will always be something more that we don’t have, something that someone else has that we might then want, something new and exciting that eventually loses it’s shine.

Instead, we can chase internal goals, such as personal growth and connection, building community and deeper relationships. Emphasizing who you are as a person, how you live your life, what you value, will help to uncover deeper sources of happiness or even areas where you might feel a sense of lack. If we’re aware of what is actually driving the decisions to buy more, and have more, we may find that we’re instead searching for a feeling of safety, or security, or abundance. Sometimes we’re comparing ourselves to others or we’re protecting ourselves from future worries. Understanding our deeper feelings and influences is important because then we can address those feelings too. In my mind, clutter isn’t just about material stuff, but it’s also about mental stuff. Cluttering our minds and our lives of negative thoughts, toxic relationships and stress that takes us away from peace and fulfillment.

On a broader societal level, how do you think this excessiveness may be harming our communities and society?

We live in a fast-paced world with near instant access to anything we want, and information at our fingertips. This means we often make decisions without sufficient reflection on the impact not only for us personally, but also for the environment and those around us. We have more physical waste and we also share more negative news, see fearful statistics, post superficial photos and react to headlines. All of this impacts our mental health, our ability to connect with others and the way we function as a society as a whole. Excessiveness directly impacts our climate and the physical environment, and also on our ability to communicate with others and as a society.

The irony of struggling with happiness in modern times is glaring. In many places in the world today, we have more than ever before in history. Yet despite this, so many people are unhappy. Why is simplifying a solution? How would simplifying help people to access happiness?

As I research and write my book on intentional decision making, I’m noticing that happiness is linked not just to how we feel on a day-to-day basis but also how we feel about choices we’ve made, opportunities we’ve had, relationships we’ve experienced. I propose the theory in my book that many of the life decisions we make are influenced by other factors, like societal pressure and expectations. Not being aware of the things that influence our choices means that we end up chasing goals that might not even be ours. We end up spending time on things that we don’t value. We follow paths that don’t bring us to where we want to be. This is a sure-fire way to move away from happiness and instead towards dissatisfaction and regret. If we simplify our lives, not just with our possessions but also with clarity of our values and direction, we’re not only more likely to be happy but we’re also more likely to feel fulfilled.

Can you share some insights from your own experience? Where in your life have you transformed yourself from not having enough to finally experiencing enough? For example, many people feel they don’t have enough money. Yet, people define abundance differently, and often, those with the least money can feel the most abundant. Where in your health, wealth, or relationships have you transformed your life?

My parents immigrated to Canada before I was born. They worked hard to provide for us and when they were finally able to retire, they had a hard time traveling and experiencing the world that they always dreamed to see because of their health. They gave me a life of privilege, with more material security than they had. And with it they told me to live and experience my life “while I could still carry my own suitcase”. This is something that I always remember. Yes, I want to provide for my kids and help them to succeed in life, but what success means to me is now different. In the past, after seeing my parents struggle it was to ensure that my family and future generations would always be able to feel safe and secure, you need to ‘have’ some things. I was also fortunate enough to work in an area of health care that focusses heavily on prevention and in this respect, I saw that ‘having’ isn’t enough. I have the ability and opportunity to think about wellness and mental health and physical activity in a way that my parents and grandparents weren’t.

For my own life, and for my kids, I emphasize relationships and communication, and emotional regulation because happiness in my mind is about being able to weather life’s challenges with grace, resilience and support. My parents were fortunate to have those things, even if they didn’t have much money. Now I live a different life from them and it’s easy to forget the less tangible aspects of life for ‘more’ of what we didn’t have, or what we think we want. I spend a lot of time purposefully building and investing in those emotional, relationship and health parts of our lives because I’ve not only personally seen the value of them, but I’ve also witnessed the loss of them.

People, places, and things shape our lives. For example, your friends generate conversations that influence you. Where you live impacts what you eat and how you spend your time. The “things” in your life, like phones, technology, or books impact your recreation. Can you tell us a little about how people, places, and things in your own life impact your experience of “experiencing enough?”

Over the years I’ve made many deliberate decisions about how to change my life, my relationships and my environment to facilitate a life that I love. I try to focus on collaborative, rather than competitive, relationships. This is something that took me a long time to articulate and it’s difficult sometimes to let go of connections that have a long history. I have to ask myself if I feel better or worse after connecting with that friend. Is that friend supportive of me, no matter our life differences or circumstances, and of course that goes vice versa. I actively work on myself and my ability to be the kind of friend that I would want someone to be to me.

I’ve also made small but meaningful changes in my life related to how I consume information online. One example is that I went back to reading physical newspapers and magazines. While I struggle with the idea of wasting paper, I find that reading slowly, without online distractions, allows me to take in the news in a less frantic and fearful way. I’m also better able to read the whole article and learn about the issues in a deeper and more thoughtful manner. It’s not as fast, but in a world where we’re constantly bombarded with information, I still find out about breaking news so I’m not particularly worried about missing something. In fact, to the contrary, I feel like I know more, can think more critically, and feel less anxious about world events. This way, after reading about a world issue, I feel as though I’m able to make more impactful changes in my life, my thoughts and my actions, rather than just reacting to the headlines.

What advice would you give to younger people about “experiencing enough?”

I once saw some teens walking by a beautiful big cherry tree. They took photos with the tree, they took photos of the cherries, they posted about the tree, and then they continued walking, without ever tasting a single cherry. I think if we want to feel like we’ve experienced enough, and not feel like we’re always chasing more, we need to be present in the moment.

This is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and research, can you share your “five ways we can simplify and declutter our lives to make us happier?”

  1. Ask yourself what you (really) want. In order to know what you want, you need to articulate your values, and prioritize them. Not what you think you ‘should’ want, but what you really want. For example, as a parent I felt that I ‘should’ want to be with my kids all the time. But what I really want is to be able to learn and grow and feel like I’m also thriving as an individual and not just as a mom. Because when I do that, I’m more energetic and present with my kids. So that awareness allows me to take time for myself, my hobbies and my career so that I can be a better parent to them. It takes some effort and some intentional thought, and lots of juggling! But it’s worth it. It simplifies my life by helping me to realize that I don’t have to be everywhere all the time.
  2. Ask yourself ‘why’ do you want it. If you desire something because someone else has it, or because you feel left out without it, then there is something deeper that you can address. If it’s not actually something that is aligned with your values or your dreams, it’s not likely that it will bring you satisfaction. And knowing that, it might be easier to let that desire go.
  3. Be creative. We often make decisions based on the idea that life has to be black or white, all or nothing. There are many creative solutions that we miss because we’re focused on ‘having’ or ‘not having’, ‘getting’ or ‘missing’. What if there was a way to satisfy some of the wants and needs in a different way? We can clutter our lives by trying to do everything, but what if we find creative ways to fulfil our wants and desires? For example, if you want to travel the world, but don’t have the time or money, instead of just thinking “I can’t do it”, perhaps you can brainstorm ways to experience new things, new places or new people, without traveling or spending a lot of money.
  4. Find overlap. If there are things that you want, are there ways to overlap their uses or functions in your life? Since I’ve been discussing less materialistic things and more about relationships and lifestyle, I’ll stick to that theme. In our busy lives, my husband and I try to juggle our careers and our family at the same time. When the kids were younger, we had to necessarily give up some of our hobbies and activities. With a priority on our health, we’ve been able to find ways to overlap our family time with our activities. My husband likes to play tennis, and our daughter enjoys tennis. So they overlap their time by either playing together or playing separately but at the same time. My other daughter enjoys swimming, and while it wasn’t always my first choice of how to exercise, I’ve actively chosen to become a better swimmer so that we can spend time together and I can also get a good workout to stay in shape. Overlapping interests, time and activities — whether though work, or personal time or family — is a way to simplify and declutter the day’s to-do list.
  5. Be honest with yourself. Too often we avoid our feelings and our emotions and this leads to poor management of them. For example, if you shop for retail therapy, something I’m familiar with and have done myself, just pause and think about what’s actually happening. Are you avoiding an emotion? Are you struggling to deal with a feeling that is uncomfortable? Are you distracting yourself from something? If we can be honest about what we’re feeling and experiencing, we can find better ways to address those emotions because in the end, the other distractions and attempts to satisfy our needs will not help if we don’t get to the underlying cause.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d love for us to be more intentional with our lives. If we’re more intentional we can live truer to our personal values, feel more satisfaction and less regret. In order to be more intentional, we need to be more aware. More aware of what factors guide (or sometimes mislead) our actions and decisions in life.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Most of my work is shared on my website You can listen to the podcast XO Conversations and sign up to learn more about my book when it’s published. I love to hear from people who are engaged with my work, please feel free to contact me with questions and feedback or requests. Thank you so much for having me.

Thank you so much for these insights. This was so inspiring, and so important!

About The Interviewer: For 30 years, Drew Gerber has been inspiring those who want to change the world. Drew is the CEO of Wasabi Publicity, Inc., a full-service PR agency lauded by PR Week and Good Morning America. Wasabi Publicity, Inc. is a global marketing company that supports industry leaders, change agents, unconventional thinkers, companies and organizations that strive to make a difference. Whether it’s branding, traditional PR or social media marketing, every campaign is instilled with passion, creativity and brilliance to powerfully tell their clients’ story and amplify their intentions in the world. Schedule a free consultation at

Dr Rishma Walji On How Simplifying & Decluttering Your Life Can Make You Happier was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.