Simplifying doesn’t need to be complicated. Learning to create a quieter, more balanced space in your life can help immensely, and taking little steps is the best way to make it happen. Eliminating clutter, getting organized, simplifying your relationships, and learning to take the time to slow down and appreciate the little things can help to keep you sane. You can start today.
Decide what stuff is unnecessary. Simplifying doesn’t need to be complicated: Identify what’s most important to you and eliminate everything else. Imagine you had to pack everything you owned in an hour to move across the country for ten years, or for the rest of your life. What would you take? What would be essential? Cut your possessions down to the bare essentials and get rid of everything that’s merely taking up space.
If you tend toward hoarding for nostalgic or emotional reasons, try to evaluate your attachment to stuff. Start a “get rid of” pile of things and take them immediately to the thrift store to donate. Old candlesticks that haven’t seen a candle since Reagan was in office? Toss them. Stack of Billboard Magazine from the mid-70s? Toss it.
In general, if you have not used an object in 18 months, you are likely not going to.
Do quick cleans. Walk through your house with a big basket. Fill it with necessaries. Crank up something good on the stereo and give yourself 15 minutes to de-clutter and see how much you can get done. Throw away garbage, gather clothes and put them in the laundry. Be judicious. If it’s not necessary, throw it in the garbage.
Focus on the high-traffic areas, like the living room and the kitchen. If dishes are piled up in the sink, you’ll feel stressed out and messy, even if the rest of the house is clean-looking and tidy. If you’ve only got a little bit of time, focus on the most important spaces.
Don’t worry about getting the dirt out of every corner and “cleaning” every surface. Just focus on tidying. Put things away, straighten things up, make the place look right.
Do big cleans every season. A couple times every year, you should do a more thorough cleaning to get rid of accumulated stuff and simplify your living space, as well as cleaning the house of dirt and grime. Pet hair, dust, and other debris can accumulate in even the tidiest spaces, making it important to do thoroughly cleaning. Vacuum, shampoo the carpet, clean the toilets, scrub the walls, wash the windows. Get the dirt out!
Go through desks and clear out the paper archives, too. Clean out draws to get rid of that hidden clutter. Move toward eliminating paper waste and digitizing important documents to simplify your living space. Go paperless.
Shrink your wardrobe. Find your favorite, most versatile clothes items and donate the rest. If it’s worn out, get rid of it. If it doesn’t fit anymore, get rid of it so someone else can wear it. If you’ve always meant to wear it but just never seem to find the occasion, give up on it. Simplify your closet.
If you’ve got a big war-chest of clothes that you’re attached to, consider simplifying by season. There’s no reason you should be digging through sweaters in the middle of summer, so pack up all your seasonal clothes in separate tubs and put them away until that season rolls around. Out of sight, out of mind.
Throw “Naked Lady” parties or other get-togethers in which you can all throw old or ill-fitting clothes into a pile with a bunch of friends and trade. Maybe that pair of jeans doesn’t work for you anymore but would look great on someone else. Anything that’s left at the end of the night, donate.
Stop buying new things you don’t need. If you’ve always got a browser tab open to online shop, work hard to curb the habit. Just because you found a good deal on something doesn’t make it necessary to buy. Simplify by keeping new junk out of your house.
Don’t buy new books. Go to the library and share the same reading material. Return it when you’re done and there’ll be more space on the shelf.
Don’t buy new housewares, figure out how to make do with what you have. Instant pneumatic garlic press? Please. Use a fork. Pastry cutter? Use two knives and some elbow grease, like Grandma used to do it. Alton Brown famously promotes that the only “uni-tasker” in the kitchen should be the fire extinguisher.
Research rental options in your town. If you’ve got a big outdoor project going, it may seem like you’ve got to buy a new leaf blower for the garage, but you can just rent one. Tool-libraries are increasingly common, allowing you to use what you need for a short time, then return it.
Downsize. Have a small but comfortable home and learn to live with less. Buy less, savor quality more, and put the spare money in the savings account for a rainy day or a reward vacation.
Rent rather than buy a home or items you need to use. Then the repairs, rates, and dry rot are someone else’s problem, not yours.
Own fewer items but make sure that what you do own has greater versatility. Objects able to do double or even triple duty are the most desirable. Remember that working to pay for objects is not an ideal approach to living happily; review your priorities.
Create white space. Having empty space in your home, your room, or your office can help to relax you and create a feeling of simplicity. Don’t clutter your walls with entertaining stuff, let the emptiness be calming and elegant. Let simplicity trump adornment.
White space doesn’t need to be “white.” If you don’t like the feeling of a sterile, super-clean living space, then natural wood, exposed brick, or other patterns are perfectly simple and effective at relaxing you. White space doesn’t have to actually be white, just free of clutter. No shelving, movie posters, or hanging frames. Simple lines and clean empty spaces on the walls.
Make your bed every day. It only takes five minutes and it can do wonders to change your mood. Your bedroom looks much more elegant, simple and tidy with the bed made and cleaned up. Taking little steps like making the bed can help to de-stress you and simplify your life.
If it’s simpler for you to leave your sheets in a pile, so be it. The point is taking little steps to simplify your experience of the day. Maybe instead you spend meditative time making your coffee every morning, grinding the beans, heating the water, and pouring it into the press pot. Maybe you start the day by tidying the kitchen and listening to the radio. Have a routine.
Plan what you can, or embrace your inner chaos. For some of us, there’s no point in thinking about planning for a trip until the hour before you’re about to leave the house. What’s the use in stressing out for three days over packing? Alternatively, others have to lay out every day’s wardrobe in advance, calculating the benefits of every item, until you can be confident that you’ve got everything you need.
If you tend toward procrastination, don’t tell yourself you need to change your ways, unless it’s getting in the way of your productivity or your ability to finish things on time. If it works for you, it works. Make sure you schedule enough last-minute time to finish tasks, and you’ll let those deadlines produce your best work. Simple and easy.
If you stress about unfinished tasks, do them ahead of time to put them out of your mind. Don’t abandon the packing half-way because you started early–finish it off and call it done. Simplify by doing it now, getting it done, and relaxing. Simple and relaxed.
Split household chores evenly. A common source of complication and stress is a messy living space. Finding the time to do the laundry, wash all the dishes, cook meals, and take care of other essential chores can be a big hassle if you don’t go about it in a simple, organized way. Get together with your family or your housemates and agree on simple ways to divide up the chores and simplify the work around the house.
Separate tasks by day. Make everyone contribute to the litter-box cleaning and the laundry-doing, but not every day. Let someone take the messy jobs for a while and switch over to other jobs for a while on a rolling basis. Write up a schedule everyone agrees on and post it in the kitchen for simple, easy access.
Separate tasks by preference. For example, if you just can’t stand doing the laundry and tend to let it pile up, strike a deal with your roommates — if they handle the laundry, you’ll agree to cook a big meal for everyone three nights a week (when they’ve got to work late) or to consistently wash the dishes. Find a way to balance things for your situation.
Streamline your finances. Nothing gets more complicated than money. If you can, simplify your finances as much as possible by consolidating your debts and creating as few payments as possible for each month. Create a budget, based on how much money you’ve got coming in every month, and calculate your average expenditures of known and estimated amounts. Stick to the plan and spending gets simpler.
Set your bills up to debit automatically from your account. If you’ve budgeted accurately, you should never have to worry about paying bills again. What could be simpler?
Make saving money your default. If you’re not sure how to approach the task of simplifying your finances, err on the side of saving. The less you spend, the less you’re thinking about money.
Find a place for each thing. Where does the remote go? Where do jackets go? Where should the dog’s toys be? If there’s no answer to these questions, getting rid of clutter can be difficult. If stuff can go anywhere, the space will always feel cluttered. Assigning spaces doesn’t need to be complicated–you don’t have to find the best place for something to go, it just needs to go someplace.
Prepare quick meals. The end of a hard day of work is probably not the best time to find yourself wrist-deep in homemade coq-au-vin. Find recipes that are quick to prepare, and search online for quick meals that you can use with the ingredients already in your house. Spend the spare time enjoying the meal and your family rather than over-complicating the cooking process.
Simplify your parenting. Don’t make lunch, don’t clean the dirty clothes, don’t put the toys away. Expect your children to start doing things for themselves at age-appropriate stages. In the long run it isn’t easier to “just do it” for your children, as it teaches your children that you’ll always do it and that they don’t have to. Do tell your children where they can find the things to do tasks for themselves — show them how the first few times, but then let go.
Create a chore chart for all children to follow and complete weekly. Involve them in its creation and they’ll be more ready to buy into using it.
Stop over-scheduling. Kids historically have not been shuttled to after-school activities as much as they often are today. It is OK to have days when your children do not have ballet, ice hockey, Girl Scouts, or oboe lessons.
Simplifying Your Relationships
Identify bad relationships and end them. Don’t waste time keeping up with friends who bring you down, waste your time, or bore you. If you want to simplify your social life, start by cutting out the relationships that complicate it. Cut your address book down to the good friends who you want to spend time with, and (although you shouldn’t close yourself off to new friends) don’t waste your time with a date-book that’s cluttered for its own sake.
Make the effort to spend time with people you like. Simplicity doesn’t mean you’ve got to cut everything out of your life, just that you’ve got to create a lean and mean socializing machine. Keep a close group of friends who mean a lot to you and make an effort to spend time with them and only them. Don’t waste valuable time socializing with people you feel you should be friends with, just hang out with people you like.
You don’t have to be rude about this process–no ugly Facebook updates about how you’re making big cuts from your contact list. Just stop making the extra effort. Take away the water and the plant will shrivel.
Learn to tell people “no”. One way that our lives get complicated is being “agreeable.” We think it helps to simplify if we let other people make the call: where to eat for lunch, what responsibilities to take on at work, whether or not you’re available to drive your friend to the airport. Being a doormat won’t help you to simplify your life, it’ll just get you a face full of other peoples’ boot prints. Don’t let yourself be tread on. Stand up and learn to say no.
Alternatively, if you tend toward being assertive and don’t struggle to let people know how you feel, maybe it might simplify your life to learn to keep quiet sometimes. Don’t cause drama if there’s no need for drama in the situation.
Spend more time alone. Maintaining relationships, romantic and otherwise, gets complicated. When you’re focused on other peoples’ quirks and habits, you’re focused less on yourself and what your needs are. You’re complicating your life for others instead of simplifying it for yourself. It’s not selfish to want to spend time alone, working on you.
Consider going on a vacation by yourself, traveling solo to a place you’ve always wanted to visit. Rely on your own skills to navigate and get you through. Maybe try a solo retreat to a monastery of some kind to get really introspective.
Romantic relationships are complicated. The less you’ve got to deal with negotiating them, the simpler life becomes. If you’re constantly in a state of flux because of relationships, romantic or otherwise, consider spending some time working on you. Stop dating, for a while, until you feel like your life has become simpler and more organized.
Spend less time on social networking. Clutter doesn’t have to be physical. The psychic clutter of status updates, Tweets, and Instagram posts can do a lot to drag you down and complicate your life. Don’t worry about liking everybody’s newest posts or keeping a constant check on your different feeds. It’ll be there when you’ve got a free second, and you probably won’t even miss it.
If you’re feeling ambitious, consider ditching social media entirely. Make face-to-face interactions your priority, and schedule catch-up sessions and phone calls with old friends who you can’t keep in touch with, rather than stalking their profile online.
Put your phone away. Nothing will distract you and keep you unfocused more than checking your telephone for messages every two minutes. Texts, emails, Facebook updates and other little messages will be just as compelling an hour from now.
When you’re with friends or family, put your phone on silent and keep it tucked away somewhere. Better yet, keep it in the car. Don’t look at it. Make a rule at your next get together that the first person to check their phone picks up the tab. Stay focused on your phone and have a simple evening.
Increasingly, people are experiencing a phenomenon known as FOMO: the fear of missing out. What if you don’t get that status update before everyone else? What if someone beats you to a witty comment stream message? What if your crush texts and you can’t respond right away? Don’t let “convenient” technology create complicated stress in your life. Be willing to miss out momentarily to enjoy the moment you’re experiencing in the real world.
Stop reading self-improvement manuals, books, and blogs. Other people’s advice about living can often be a source of distress. Simplify by giving up the idea of perfection. Be confident that you’re a good partner, a good parent, and a good person. Trust yourself more and do what comes naturally.
Work from a manageable to-do list. For many people, having a little guide through the day makes it a whole lot simpler. Come up with a manageable to-do list and stick to it as closely as possible. What do you hope to accomplish by the end of the day? By the end of the week?
For some people, it might even be helpful to come up with more substantial lists of long-term goals and plans, to help prioritize accomplishments. Simplify your long-term career and life prospects by outlining where you’d like to be in your job in five years, or where you’d like to be living. What do you need to do now to get there?
Record your day if you’re not sure where the hours are disappearing to. Keeping a calendar can also simplify your day because you don’t have to rack your brains to remember everything continuously.
Celebrate each accomplishment of the day. Working from a to-do list can be a lot more enjoyable if you take a bit of time to celebrate what you’ve done. Cleaned up the kitchen and straightened your room and done your work for the day? Time for a glass of wine in your sparkling tidy kitchen. Treat yourself.
Declutter your digital packrattery. Unplug! Do a massive purge of the things that are cluttering up your computer, start keeping things simple and maintain a regular purging regime.
Place timers on electronic things that suck your time without you noticing. If you can spend more hours than you’d like online, install a timer, and use it. You might be surprised at your level of intensity. Even if you simply add in enforced regular breaks, your use of the technology will instantly simplify.
Try to keep your email box empty. Answer, file, or delete emails upon reading.
Do one thing at a time. Multi-tasking helps to make some people more efficient, but it also serves to clutter up activities for others. Focus on finishing one thing at a time and getting it checked off your list. Don’t worry about what you’ve got to do tomorrow, or later today, just focus on doing the best possible job this minute.
In an old Zen story, an elder monk chastised some novices for talking while they were supposed to be doing their work. “When it’s time to talk, just talk,” he said. “And when it’s time to work, just work.” The next day, at lunch, the novices saw the elder monk eating lunch and reading the paper at the same time. They approached him to remind him of his lesson. Why was he not just eating, or just reading, as he had instructed them? “When it’s time to eat lunch and read the paper, just eat lunch and read the paper,” he said.
Leave your work at work. Don’t let the complication of your work day mess up your after work life. Don’t bring any work back to the house to complete later–stay until you can finish for the day. If you’re feeling stressed out after a work day, do something relaxing the minute you get home so you don’t have to burden your housemates with complaints about the day. Don’t spread the complicated stress around. Simplify.
Cut down your hours as much as you can afford to, if your job is a significant source of complication in your life. If you want to simplify, cutting back on work is one of the easiest ways to do it. Less money, less clutter.
Stop working weekends. Even if you love your work, dragging work into your weekends starts unbalancing the proportion in your life. You might not feel it right now, but eventually, this will lead to burn out and/or passion reduction. Block off every weekend for the next six months. Not a single one of those weekends can include work from now on.
Meditate for 15 minutes each day. Just fifteen minutes. It’s half a sitcom, or half a wait in line at the DMV, but it can help to make all the difference in your stress levels and your ability to simplify your life and remain calm. Take the small step of spending quiet time, just sitting, in a comfortable space. Focus on your breath. Relax your body and let your mind calm itself. Watch your thoughts.
Make sensible choices about pets. For example, dogs need more attention than cats because they must be exercised every day. On the plus side, however, this exercise can be a form of unwinding and reconnection with the outside world for you.
Limit worrying. It changes little but saps energy, creates stress, and complicates matters. Instead, draw up action lists and proactively deal with your worries. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Light a candle instead of cursing the darkness.”
When faced with a situation, ask yourself “what would a wise person do?” Take a minute to consider this. It may give an option to help you deal with something in a different way.
Everyone says “be yourself”. There’s a reason for this oft-repeated cliché — when you deny your real self by pretending to be someone you’re not, you waste energy keeping up that façade. If you’re more true to yourself, then you’ll be much happier inside, and much less complicated.
How to Simplify Your Cooking
How to Live Life to the Fullest
How to Reorganize Your Life
How to Have a Better Life
How to Get Rid of Clutter
How to Remove Clutter From Your Home
Unwind During a Week Off Work
How to Keep Your Kids Entertained on a Rainy Day
How to Pamper Your Wife
Sources and Citations
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