Do you feel at odds with life’s conveyer belt? You have the job and salary, but it doesn’t feel like a victory? Or maybe you’re still working towards those pillars of modern life and are realizing that you don’t even want them. Well, your ideal life is out there, and you can achieve it with lifestyle design.

Society’s standard package is something we’re all familiar with: a house full of stuff, a salary, marriage, two weeks off a year. But what some people don’t recognize is that this is just one recipe for life out of an entire recipe book.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with this standard lifestyle package. But it could very well but wrong for you if it is unaligned with your ideal life.

person with a yellow coat standing is a field of yellow flowers

What Exactly Is Lifestyle Design?

At its core, lifestyle design is the process of engineering a life that is aligned with your goals and how you want to spend your time. It’s about picking and choosing, not sleepwalking through life and being aware of the cost of your choices.

For example, some people will dedicate their 20s to self-discovery: they’ll focus on travel, experiences and intentionally won’t prioritize their career. They will sacrifice career advancement and the security that comes with it to have a better understanding of themselves what they want from life.

Contrastingly, other people will dedicate their 20s to F.I.R.E. (financial independence / retire early). They will work as much as possible, make a lifetime of money, invest it and retire in their 30s. With this financial motivation, they will sacrifice many comforts, work extreme hours and live life below the poverty line in order to become “work optional” decades before their peers.

These opposite lifestyles are perfect lifestyle design examples because they’re both intentional, goal-oriented and both groups of people understand the cost and benefits of their lifestyles.

Look around at your life and I reckon you’ll recognize shimmers of lifestyle design that you didn’t even know where there: being vegetarian, choosing to move to NYC because you like the idea of not needing a car, or sometimes working remotely so you can take breaks away from the office.

Lifestyle design centers around conscious selections like these. You must acquire and discard parts of your week, your belongings and your life as it suits your goals and your ethics to successfully arrive at your ideal life.

And, I must address the elephant in the room: lifestyle design is pure privilege. To have the freedom, or be able to create the freedom, to make choices that don’t revolve around money is an absurdly privileged act. If you are fortunate enough to be in this position, never speak lightly about that privilege.

A man stands on rocks in front of the ocean, looking up thoughtfully. Trees are blurred in the foreground

What Lifestyle Design ISN’T

Your Instagram feed may be filled with pictures of people hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or living off-grid, but that offers zero indication of what your ideal life is.

The root of lifestyle design is knowing yourself and living consciously. Living in a way that doesn’t suit you isn’t lifestyle design, no matter how fashionable or unorthodox that plan looks.

I know people in their 30s who travel abroad half of the year and then live with their parents the other half to save money. That lifestyle might not be sexy and gram-worthy, but it is lifestyle design.

This conversation begs the question: what is your *current* lifestyle? To anyone who’s never critically thought about it, how you’re living may seem like the “normal” way and you might not have any opinions about it.

Design in something as monolithic as your life may be a bit too abstract in the beginning.

Let me give a smaller example that you might be able to really relate to…

An Easy Design Example…

Weddings. If you choose to plan a wedding, you will be bombarded with choices that, until this point, you probably didn’t have strong opinions about. Things like… types of fabrics, pew décor, boutonniere colors for your grandpa.

When I was planning my wedding, I was bored. to. death. by these decisions. My now-husband and I decided to remove absolutely everything that was expected of a wedding and only include what we wanted.

If I had a dime for every person who told us they would’ve done a wedding “that” way (the designed way) if they had known it was an option…

Does this example of a designed event paint a clearer picture?

wedding picture of me and my husband
Wedding day, our way. I spill all the tea about our wedding here if you’re curious. Traditionalists be warned, our ruthless disregard for customs will be like nails on a chalkboard.

This path to your ideal life is exhilarating and sewn with so much personal development, but it’s not without difficulties. You need to be aware of the struggles of lifestyle design before your begin, otherwise, they might take you by surprise and knock you off your path.

3 Challenges Of Lifestyle Design

Lifestyle design requires some emotional heavy lifting. Here are a few common emotional roadblocks that you may hit along the way:

1. Potentially realizing that you worked for years towards something that was never your ideal life

Breaking up with a lifestyle that you thought you wanted is hard.

This one is personal for me. I remember feeling so embarrassed to tell people that I wanted to quit my corporate job in Chicago. I was *so* happy when I landed that job. The office was all techy, we ate expensive work lunches and I had a real salary and 401k.

Many of my college friends were still struggling to find work, and I managed to land my then-dream job at age 22.

It was embarrassing to be so unhappy there after the hype. I felt like life ought to be more fun than it was, and when I shared that itch with colleagues, they all seemed to agree that life should be fun but simply isn’t.

I still consider “fun” to be the real corporate f-word, but more on that in this blog post on how to know when your career isn’t the right fit.

very clear water underneath a person standing on a surfboard

2. Rejecting cultural norms or the norms of the household that you were raised in tough

Wanting to work less, build an online business, travel full-time or whatever your ideal life is may translate to “not *really* working” to some people.

It’s a valid difficulty to struggle with the dissonance caused by your culture or upbringing.

Expectations, especially those rooted in cultural values, are complex and emotion-driven. I included this point not from a point of wisdom, but to let you know that if this applies to you, you are seen.

This emotional hurdle to your ideal life is valid. If you experience resistance or discouragement when sharing your dreams for your ideal life, become protective of your plans. Don’t share them until they’re strong or developed enough to not be destroyed by criticism or machine-gun strings of questioning.

3. Accepting that pursuing your ideal life will sever some of your relationships

As you change, whether it’s at the hands of lifestyle design or just normal growth, some people won’t be there for it. It’s an uncomfortable truth.

Sometimes the community around you may feel thin, but remember to keep an abundance mindset around relationships: stay open to them and new relationships will come. Don’t hold onto relationships you’ve outgrown out of scarcity.

With an understanding of the terrain ahead, it’s time to start mapping out the tangible steps towards your ideal life.

4 Steps To Start Pursuing Your Ideal Life With Lifestyle Design

If you evaluate every part of your life and decide that you don’t want to change anything, this is still a lifestyle design success story.

Change itself is not the point of lifestyle design. The goal is to learn about yourself, live consciously and execute your ideal life. Burning your life to the ground isn’t the goal, unless you feel it’s necessary. In that event, I’ve got some matches.

person standing next to a very high waterfall

Lifestyle Design Step 1: Surround Yourself With People Who Are Doing It

First, pick up a pair of binoculars and look around your life for role models and inspiration. Do you see anyone living their ideal life? Do you see anyone whose happiness is something you aspire to?

Real-life examples are only a part of the equation, so don’t worry if you don’t personally know anyone who’s living their ideal life.

Next, and most importantly, pick up a kaleidoscope: the internet. Instagram, YouTube, blogs.

The individuals behind these accounts don’t have to be living the life that you want, they just have to be living an alternative to the norm. Start seeing that as normal. Fill your feed with people succeeding at lifestyle design to reinforce the belief that it’s totally possible.

And if you want a friend in real life, I’ll be your friend 🙂 I’m real! I’m living and trimming the sails on my designed life every day. You can email me and we can talk. I mean it! [email protected].

Step 2: Figure Out What Your Ideal Life Is

A few very specific and difficult-to-answer questions can help illuminate your ideal life:

  • How do you want to live?
  • What legacy do you want to leave?
  • Does the path you’re on now go somewhere that you want to be?
  • What about a favorite memory? Reflect on a time when you felt a deep sense of aliveness.
  • If money and societal expectations were of no object, what would you spend the next year doing?

These answers can be anything: living on a sailboat and circumnavigating the globe, moving abroad, going to Mars. There’s literally an application on NASA’s website that you can fill out.

Rest assured that your dreams are not too big.

The milky way shines above big red rock formations. Text atop the photo reads "you can literally apply to go to Mars. Please stop playing small"

Maybe it’s as simple as owning your own home right where you live right now. Whatever your answers are, finding them is going to be foundational for your lifestyle design journey.

Even if this step feels difficult, I assure you it’s vital: you can’t be successful with lifestyle design until you reflect on what you actually want.

The vision for what you want is allowed to evolve or change completely (spoiler alert: it will). But you have to begin *somewhere.*

What is the first draft of your ideal life? You have it? Onto step 3.

Step 3: Crunching The Numbers

Once you’ve arrived at an initial target, the next step in achieving your ideal life is figuring out how much it will cost.

Ruthlessly crunch the numbers and get an exact estimate (a bit of an oxymoron, but do your best guesswork) on how much your lifestyle costs.

Some costs to consider:

  • Visas if you’re leaving the country
  • Transportation costs
  • Weekly grocery costs
  • Health insurance
  • Rent
  • Work costs (will you need to buy a new laptop for this?)
  • Necessary emergency funds

You may be surprised to find that your ideal life could actually cost less than your current lifestyle. If that’s not the case though, don’t be intimidated by what your estimate is – instead, begin the process of deflating your current lifestyle.

The process of lifestyle deflation is simple: reduce your current lifestyle costs by spending less money week to week. On the surface, this may look just like saving money, but it actually goes much deeper to the heart of needs and happiness.

For most people, money will directly translate into freedom. Don’t spend that fuel on anything that you don’t actually need in your life. Unflinchingly trim the fat from your expenses.

This is a beautiful step: by simplifying your expenses, you’ll already be designing a more purposeful life, and you’ll also be moving towards affording your new lifestyle.

This process will be cleansing, both for your bank transactions and for you emotionally. In addition to the obvious benefit of having more money, learning to live with less will lead you on a fulfilling personal development journey. Another lifestyle design perk!

Step 4: Making A Timeline To Launch Your Ideal Life

The exact steps you need to take to move you from where you are now to where you want to be cannot be outlined for you in this lifestyle design blog post. The necessities will be radically unique to your situation, but the overarching process will be the same for everyone: develop a timeline and then a to-do list.

Setting Your Lifestyle Launch Timeline

Picking a launch date is huge: it sets the putsch in motion. If you’re struggling to pick a launch date for your new lifestyle, weigh these options:

  • Launch at the end of your apartment lease
  • Or as soon as a big work project has concluded
  • Perhaps when you’ve saved a certain amount of money
  • Or when you’ve built up your monthly income to a certain level
  • And if you can’t find an obvious opportunity: 6 months from today

When it comes to big change, mindset is everything, so pick an exact day. This can change if it has to, but don’t fall into the trap of writing off your launch point as “summertime” – this will never inspire the same sense of urgency as an actual red circle on the calendar.

After defining your launch point, make a list of everything you can think of that you’ll have to do to be ready.

Develop A Master Plan (A Giant To-Do List)

This list will vary from getting travel vaccinations to selling your car to buying gear to renewing your passport.

  • Sell what don’t need or want to store
  • Store what you don’t need but still don’t want to give away
  • Shop for the things that you’ll need but don’t have (if you start early enough, you can shop secondhand and save money and reduce your waste)
  • Build up savings
  • Forward your mail
  • Renew your passport
  • Get travel vaccinations
  • Sell your car
  • Heck, buy a car – this list will be different for everyone

This stage of lifestyle design is completely exhilarating, with a splash of resistance. It will be freckled with moments of doubt and challenges that may make you question the pursuit of your ideal life altogether.

Visualize you living your idea life, stay focused and remain true to the course when difficulties arise in this stage of your lifestyle design journey.

sunset on a beach with a few palm trees

My Personal Lifestyle Design Results

My designed lifestyle is minimalist and all about travel. I live with my husband in a studio apartment, spend as little money as possible and save everything extra for traveling. We have our own online business as bloggers and Pinterest managers so that we are free to spend our time how and where we like.

At a glance, here are some of the biggest changes that resulted from my lifestyle design:

  • Corporate job to escaping the rat race to become a freelancer
  • Two weeks vacation a year to full-time travel as a digital nomad
  • Standard consumerism habits to getting no new things aside from birthdays and Christmas
  • Eating meat to aligning with my actions with my values and going vegetarian
  • Living in the US but always wanting to see more of the world to moving abroad
  • Realizing that the way I was freelancing was still the rat race to starting an online business

The results of my lifestyle design look drastic, but in reality, my lifestyle is just finally aligned with how I had always felt and wanted to live.

Wanderlust photos of Kayla Ihrig sitting on a stone wall above a canal
Some people will always consider people living the laptop lifestyle to be “not really working,” and that’s their loss. Me? Well, I’ve been busier than ever building a business and seeing as much of the world as possible. Germany 2019.

In a year when I come to update this post (an essential SEO step, for all you bloggers and online biz mavens), my ideal life will look different.

Change is a major part of every lifestyle design journey.

Final Thoughts On Lifestyle Design And Finding Your Ideal Life

If you could snap your fingers and be living your ideal life right now, how would the rest of your week look? Radically different, or essentially the same?

Pursuing lifestyle design will probably result in big changes, and that’s the point. Accept the change, accept the strained and ugly parts of growth and commit to living a lifestyle that’s aligned with your values and makes you feel alive.