Recently a friend posted a picture on Facebook of a large piece of Swiss cheese with a little mouse poking out of one of the holes. She said “I think I’d like to crawl in a hole and hide.” This got me thinking. Does life really have to be so stressful? Is this why they call it a rat race? Can’t we just watch the race?
We are conditioned in our culture to want more. More clothes, more food, more furniture, more gadgets, more money to buy more things… What if less is more?
As someone who left the corporate world and my steady corporate paycheck, I had to figure out new ways to make life enjoyable. While I was building my private practice I found that I needed to simplify my life. It didn’t happen all at once; it was a gradual process. As I began clearing out the clutter, literally and figuratively, I noticed I felt more calm and happy. Here are some tips to help you start simplifying your life today.
1. Get clear about your priorities. For example, you may realize that the most important thing for you is to spend more time with your family. Or you may discover that you are stressed because you can’t find anything when you need it and it is making you unhappy. Once you hone in on what you really want in life, write it down.
2. Assess what is getting in your way of achieving your priorities. You may want to have more family time, but see that everyone in the home is always running to meetings and practices. Days slip into weeks and no one is spending more than a few minutes a day with each other. Make a plan to create time each week to be together. If dinners together don’t work, then get creative. Maybe you can have 15 minute – “tell us about your day” time before TV’s and computers go on.
3. Clean out the clutter little by little. Pick a section of your house to de-clutter each week. Remember the goal is to simplify your life and it can be simple in the process too. Start with cleaning out something small like one junk drawer. Once you have it clean and organized, you will need to commit to keeping it clean. If it was a junk drawer, then you will need to designate it as something else. It could become the drawer for pens and small pads of paper for lists. Over time you will notice that your house takes far less time to clean. You may also notice that you spend less time looking for things. All of this translates to less stress and a simpler life.
4. Only allow things into your home that are useful or bring you joy. We can easily get caught up into buying something because it was a great deal or we think we will use an item “someday.” Here is your chance to be mindful of what you bring into your home. Managing stuff takes work and complicates our lives. As you clear out the clutter little by little, you will notice more room in your home. Be sure not to fill it back in with new stuff. Before you bring something into your home, ask yourself, “Is this useful now? Will this bring me joy?” If you are unsure about the answer, then leave the item in the world for someone else.
5. Create systems that save time. I have found that many people hate the mail. It comes everyday and it’s usually bad news. People that don’t like mail tend to avoid it. Avoiding the mail creates other problems and leads to complications. Here is a time saver for the mail. Open your mail as soon as you get it each day. Throw out junk mail immediately. Open bills and throw out everything but the payment coupon and the return envelop. Stick the payment coupon perpendicular inside the return envelop and stick it into a folder marked bills. Put cards, letters and magazines into a pretty basket. Go through the basket once a month and throw out anything you no longer need.
6. Empower your kids to help. Even small kids can help around the house. My sister thanked me for this idea just the other day. If mornings are hectic getting everyone ready and out the door, encourage kids to have clothes ready the night before. For smaller kids, install a fabric clothing stacker in their closet. Some are even labeled with the days of the week. You or your child, depending on their age, can fill the stacker once a week with outfits for each day. Be sure to include, socks and underwear. Your child can choose which outfit he or she wants to wear each day.
7. Learn to say no. This is an important tip if you are someone that easily gets overbooked. It can be hard to say no if you want to please others. If it is your priority to simplify your life then it will be important to be able to turn down requests to volunteer, go to an in-home shopping party, or talk to an energy vampire on the phone for hours. This also may mean limiting time with people that drain energy from you. (See my article on coping with the emotionally intense people in our lives.) It is ok and important to take care of yourself first. When you are rested and can notice space in your week, you will be in a better position to be there for your family.
8. Limit screen time. Technology is fun and can help make our lives more enjoyable. That being said, too much of a good thing is too much. It is easy to have: a work and a personal voice mail box to check; several email accounts each with their own junk folder to manage; a Facebook account; Twitter feed to follow; news apps to read; e-magazine subscriptions to read; favorite TV shows saved on a DVR to watch; and Netflix DVD’s to watch and return. Try to set up specific times to check these things each day. Once you have the time established, only check them at that time. Limit the amount of time you actually stare at a screen each day. Get outside for a part of each day.
9. Appreciate the simple things. Instead of surfing on the internet for your next purchase, take a look at the things you already have. Discover them all over again. Enjoy making a meal with your family. On a nice day, make a pitcher of Arnold Palmers (half-unsweetened iced-tea, half lemon-aide) and invite a friend over to sit outside and talk, take a walk in nature with your kids. Gather pinecones, shells or whatever cool things you find and put them in a large Mason jar to display them. These are the moments that make up our lives. Keeping it simple actually is less stressful and more enjoyable at times that elaborately planned events.
10. Have Gratitude. We tend to not feel satisfied. This drive for more can complicate our lives. When you notice yourself wanting more, make a mental list of all that you are grateful in your life. It is quite eye-opening and it can change your attitude.
Remember simplifying your life is a gentle process. You don’t want to take this all on at once or you will be complicating things more. Little by little if you follow these steps, you will discover that yes your life can be more simple. You don’t have to be a part of the rat race. You will be to busy enjoying your simple life.
Tracey Ashcraft, MA, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Coach. She has helped hundreds of people reduce stress. As a result these people are learning to take better care of themselves and are enjoying more fulfilling relationships and happier lives. To set up your free phone consultation call 303-668-5995 or drop us a line here.