Seven Strategies for Simplifying Your Life
Simplifying your life isn’t a luxury for the rich or retired. Nor is it a “someday I’ll get to it” project for the rest of us. Simplifying our lives has become a necessity for all of us.
Unless you’ve been hanging with Ernest T Bass in his cave in the holler (I wish), you know the world today is a complicated, stressful place. We’re sleeping less and working more. We all want deeper relationships but don’t seem to have the time or the energy to pursue them. Many of us are stuck in jobs we don’t like, running to commitments we don’t want, all while taking very poor care of our bodies, minds and souls. To top it off, the things we were promised would make our lives better have not delivered. Modern conveniences in many cases make our lives far more stressful and agitating. We are sicker, heavier, and more stressed as a nation than we have ever been. And our country has been through some things in its history, so that is saying a lot.
My Journey Towards Simplifying my Life
I don’t know about you, but in the past few years, I’ve repeatedly longed for a time when my life felt “simpler.” When I tried to pinpoint that magical time, I realized it was when I was working full time (at a job I didn’t love), serving (in too many roles) at my church, and volunteering in a ministry position that took a good 10 hours each week. My schedule was PACKED! To be honest, I don’t think I could keep up with that anymore. And yet, somehow those times felt “simpler.”
I slept better, weighed less, and enjoyed my life and friendships more. What was the big difference between then and now? Well, when my life felt simpler, I lived in a smaller house and owned less stuff. There was no internet, no streaming, no social media, and no smartphones. Nobody was in my face 24-7 with their air-brushed, filtered, aspirational lies. [Notice I said “aspirational lies” not “aspirational lives” because, truth!]
Now I’m not saying that living in a big house, having nice stuff, or using an iPhone is bad. Hey, I love Ted Lasso and the Mandalorian like the rest of you. And just try to take my iPhone away. What I am saying is that we have more choices, more opportunities and more resources than ever before – and we need to learn the critical discipline of saying “no”. It’s wise to remember that anything “good” can quickly become bad if it starts controlling you or crowding out other, more important things.
What Can You Gain From Simplifying Your Life?
While the process of simplifying your life can look different for each person, the benefits of putting in the work to get there – and stay there- are the same:
- regaining a sense of control over your life – instead of feeling out of control
- having time and energy for the people and things that are truly important to you – instead of marginalizing them
- having bandwidth to pursue your goals – instead of putting out fires and doing what’s “expected”
- living with a sense of purposefulness – instead of that awful sense of being swept along
- enjoying spiritual, mental, and physical health – instead of exhaustion, anxiety and hopelessness
I’m sure you can think of your own benefits to simplifying your life. Hang onto those thoughts because they are going to be your “why” to motivate you as you make some changes to simplify your life.
7 Strategies for Simplifying Your Life
That pervasive sense of mental exhaustion made me realize I needed to examine how I was spending my time and money and make some changes. Simplifying your life can mean different things for each of us. Only you can look at your life and see what is creating overwhelm and crowding out the things you truly value. Below are seven strategies I have implemented in my life to regain a sense of peace, order, and purpose. This list is certainly not exhaustive. DIfferent seasons in life require different strategies and this is something we have to consciously revisit from time to time. That said, I hope you’ll find a few things here to help you make some meaningful changes.
1. Put Your Phone in its Place
Our smartphones are both a blessing and a curse. They are amazing tools, but they are also intrusive little tyrants, full of apps that are literally designed to distract and addict you. And if you are a details and choices junkie like me, you can spend waaaay too long picking out the right emoji, bitmoji, or giphy to go with that “quick text”. Ugh. Before you know it, this time-saving device turns into a huge time suck.
Here are some tips to keep your smartphone a helpful tool and not a soul-sucking, anxiety-producing pest:
- Turn off every alert or notification you don’t need. And absolutely, positively silence any notifications from social media or gaming apps.
- Use your phone carrier’s service or a standalone app to silence robocalls. I have Verizon and they offer a free app/service called CallFilter – it lets you send those pesky robo and spam calls right where they belong – the trash.
- When you are with another actual human being, put your phone on silent mode and turn it face down. Better yet- put it completely out of sight. Research shows that if we can even see our phones – silent or not – they are an anxiety-producing distraction. You’d be surprised what a lovely conversation you can have when no one is obsessively glancing at or picking up their phone.
- Delete any apps you don’t need or regularly use. Just seeing that clutter on your “desktop” every time you use your phone is overstimulating to your brain. Save that bandwidth for stuff that matters!
- Utilize your phone’s usage trackers to limit or track your time on social media, gaming apps or anything you choose.
2. Ruthlessly Unsubscribe and Pare Down Your Inbox
I am the queen of subscribing to people’s newsletters, signing up to attend their workshops and summits, and downloading ALL their freebies. Subsequently, I am on a TON of mailing lists. This is definitely an area I have to repeatedly attend to.
So here are a few tips for how I simplify the process of clearing the clutter from my inbox:
- Can’t remember how you got on this list or who this person is? Unsubscribe
- Don’t like reading this blogger’s emails? Unsubscribe
- No longer care about this topic or service? Unsubscribe
- Don’t shop at this store any more? Unsubscribe
- Absolutely, positively unsubscribe from any and all social media email notifications you don’t NEED to respond to. (I don’t know about you, but I could care less that so-and-so commented on a post I liked 🙄)
- And lastly, don’t even think about feeling guilty for hitting unsubscribe. You will not be hurting anyone’s feelings. Okay, some bloggers are very sensitive about that, but let me tell you two secrets 🤫:
- Bloggers are trained to NOT take unsubscribes personally, and in fact to embrace them. Why?
- Having an email newsletter costs A LOT of money for bloggers to run. And those costs are based on the # of people subscribed. No blogger wants anyone on their list who isn’t an engaged, willing reader. They would much rather you get off their list and stop costing them $. Win-Win. You save time, they save $
3. Embrace Some Form of Meal Planning
I am definitely a foodie. I love to cook and I love being creative in the kitchen. For years I resisted any hint of “meal planning” as restrictive and robotic. I have plenty of time most days to cook and I like to just go with what I feel like making or eating. That style of cooking meant I needed to keep a VERY well-stocked pantry and fridge so I always had options. Shopping trips saw my cart overflowing with whatever was in season, looked interesting, or sparked my creativity. Unfortunately, all that also meant my garbage can and compost bin were also overflowing with wasted food. I NEVER got around to using everything I bought.
Last year I was given a free pass to Ruth Soukup’s Living Well Academy, which is a home systems tune-up course. In it, I was challenged to implement some kind of plan to cut down on all that wasted time, food, and $.
Here’s how I plan our dinners for the week:
- If the cupboards are bare, I go thru my cookbooks, clipped recipes, and cooking mags to pick out some meals for the week. Then I make my shopping list from those meals.
- If the house is stuffed with my latest binge buys at Trader Joes or the farmers’ market (fresh, seasonal produce is irresistible to me), I look at what I have and plan meals around that.
- Either way I am wasting FAR less food and money – and I am also saving time each day by not having to come up with a plan.
- And hey, it’s not restrictive. Nothing is set in stone. If plans change I can flex, but having a base plan saves me time and $.
Depending on how you like to (or don’t like to) cook, there are all sorts of ways to meal plan. It does not need to be complicated! There’s batch cooking on the weekends, freezer meals, meal kit delivery services, and tons of smart bloggers out there with all kinds of inexpensive systems you can implement. Spending just a few minutes once a week planning out at least your dinners will save you time every day, and time and money shopping.
4. Hire Any Help You Can Afford
For some reason many of us women have bought into the “ideal” that we have to DO IT ALL ourselves – regardless of how many kids we have, how many hours a week we work, our physical limitations, our volunteer schedules, etc. It’s exhausting, and that mindset is an insidious trap. If you broke your leg would you feel guilty about hiring a doctor to help you set it? I hope not! So why do we feel guilty hiring someone to help us elsewhere?
Obviously, there are some financial seasons when we need to tighten our belts and do things ourselves. But once your budget loosens up, it’s time to start simplifying your life by trading some of that money for more free time and margin in your life.
Here are a few places to consider getting outside help:
- Grocery delivery services (fee based) or shop online and use the free curbside pickup most stores now offer. And this doesn’t just apply to groceries. Many retailers offer these services for all kinds of products.
- Meal planning or delivery services
- Housekeeping help. I resisted this forever. I have a real issue with doing things for myself that I am capable of doing. A super-clean house is important to me, but it takes a lot of time for hubs and I to keep that up. Plus I find cleaning a DRUDGE. I know some people enjoy it (kinda like how I genuinely enjoy ironing). I finally wised up and hired a housekeeper. Magic! 🌟✨
- Yard work help.
- DIY projects – DIY is not my jam. We used to do all our own interior painting. It would take us forever, invariably we’d have some spill or other disaster (every blessed time hubs managed to get paint on the ceiling – it’s a superpower), and I was never happy with the end result. Now we have a fabulous painter we work with. His skilled, efficient team does in one or two days what would take us at least a week, not to mention all the trips to the various supply stores, etc. And they do a fabulous job! Drama gets taken off my plate, and a small business gets paid. Win-win!
If you are on the struggle bus about simplifying your life by paying someone to take a few things off your plate, please consider a few things.
One, you are NOT being selfish or lazy. No one can do it all – that’s a recipe for burnout, anxiety, and a miserable life. The exact opposite of what you deserve.
Two, you are not being wasteful with money. Money is a tool to be used for good in the world, and that good does not have to be one-sided. I definitely struggle with spending money on myself. But one of the affirmations I’ve adopted in the past year is “My money and things serve me – not the other way around” If your budget allows, use your money to buy more time and buffer for yourself, so you can spend time doing other things which are higher priorities for you.
Three, you aren’t just blessing yourself when you hire help. Hiring out some tasks supports a small businessperson or entrepreneur and provides meaningful work for others. And it blesses your friends and family who get more time with a relaxed, happier you!
Give yourself permission to put your money to work like this (PS – you don’t need anyone else’s). 🎤 drop!
5. Declutter Your Home
Okay, admittedly this is a biggie and not something you are going to do in 15 minutes or maybe even 15 days. However, this is something that will greatly impact your enjoyment of your home and give you a sense of peace and calm when your surroundings are not bursting with STUFF.
Let me be clear here – I am not talking about organizing your home. I’m not encouraging you to come up with twee and clever ways to cram more and more stuff into every crevice in your house. NO! I am talking about ruthlessly going through every.single.thing. in your house and pitching, selling, or donating what needs to go.
I do plan to write more on my philosophy of decluttering and how I go about it (and why), but for now let me leave you with two things to ponder:
- Your house is not a storage unit or a supply depot. It is a home. Leave space in that home for the people who live there to thrive.
- The more things you have, the more $, time, energy, etc. it takes to maintain them. Fewer things = more freedom, time, $ and energy to spend elsewhere.
I’m not anti- things. I’m anti- too many things. How many is too many is up to you. But if you and I are honest, our homes have waaaaaay too many things stuffed in them. Things we don’t like, wear, use, want, or even remember owning.
If you’re really itching to get at this, I highly recommend Marie Kondo’s two books The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy. Also, two of my favorite lifestyle bloggers who focus on organizing and decluttering are Abby Lawson at Just a Girl and Her Blog and Chrissy at Organize my House. You’ll find lots of great decluttering inspiration, encouragement, and tips there.
6. Eliminate Draining People and Commitments
Nothing will simplify your life faster than removing the people and commitments that not only don’t bring joy and fulfillment but bring drama and emotional exhaustion instead. I know, easier said than done. But just like simmering Sunday Gravy all day is worth it, doing the hard work of saying “no” to certain people and things now makes space for joy, peace, and fulfillment later.
Now I’m not telling you to burn down all your connections and commitments, but I am encouraging you to be mindful of the commitments and invitations you accept.
I find it helpful to ask the following questions when I’m asked to participate in something or receive a social invite:
- Do I really want to do this?
- Do I know I have time for this?
- Am I saying “yes” because…
- I’ve always participated in this thing?
- someone else is expecting me to do it? (big red flag!)
- I’ll feel guilty if I say no? (awoooga! danger!)
- I feel like I’m the only one who can do this? (you’re not, and taking someone else’s job does you both a disservice)
- If I say “yes” to this what other things will I necessarily have to say “no” to?
- If I say “yes” to this to avoid disappointing someone, will I be disappointing myself or my family?
Giving yourself a moment to reflect before impulsively saying “yes” can go a long way towards simplifying your life and schedule.
7. Let Go of the Shoulds and Oughts
One way to help eliminate draining people and overextending ourselves with too many commitments is to let go of some shoulds and oughts. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. A lot of the complications in our lives come from our own hang-ups, baggage, and fears. But that’s actually good news, because it means you are in full control of simplifying your life and paring down your schedules. 🙌🏻
Let me give you an example of how I used to let the “shoulds” and “oughts” complicate my life and suck the joy out of it. I have led women’s Bible study groups for ages. One of the joys of being in a small group Bible study is getting together for fellowships. In the past, I thought, “I’m the leader. I should be the one to host the group. And I ought to prepare all the food. And I should also plan some activities to orchestrate every moment so everyone has a great time!” I do love having people over, but guess how much I enjoyed those fellowships? Not as much as I could have, that’s how much!
Now I ask if anyone would like to host. If no one pipes up I can still do it. However, lots of people like hosting so it’s rare not to have an eager volunteer. Then I let the group know what snack/food I’ll be making (one thing, because I DO love to cook) and ask if anyone else would like to bring something. Again, lots of people love to cook and are happy to help. Those fellowships are so much fun because it’s a true group effort and I’m not exhausted putting on the ME show for everyone because “I should”.
That’s a simple example, but I bet you can think of several instances where you complicate things by taking on tasks that either don’t really need to be done, don’t need to be done now, or are actually best taken on by someone else. Remember, when you take on a responsibility that is not yours, you rob someone else of the blessing of using their gifts and talents or *ahem* handling their own business!
Keeping Your Life Simplified
I wish I could say simplifying your life is a once-and-done process. It’s not. At best it’s a seasonal check-in you do with yourself. Is anything feeling overwhelming or out of control? Have you taken something on you thought would be a good fit but now need to step back from? Is a system you set up to handle something not working well anymore? Are the closets mysteriously overflowing again? Is your inbox holding you hostage for hours every day? This quote from James Clear, author of the wildly popular (for good reason) book, Atomic Habits, sums up what I’m getting at here:
The stragegies that made you successful in the past will, at some point, reach their limit. Don’t let your previous choices set your future ceiling. The willingness to try new ideas allows you to keep advancing.James Clear, 10.21.21 newsletter
If you are not frequently, intentionally checking in with yourself and your family on these issues, it’s all too easy to drift along in habitual overwhelm until something goes majorly gooey-kablooie. At best, to paraphrase James, you’ll hit a success ceiling. Purposely simplifying your life – and maintaining that margin – is a gift you give yourself and everyone you love and long to serve. Everyone deserves the gift of enough margin in their lives to just kick back on a beautiful day and read a good book. Or daydream. Or whatever feeds your soul.
Now that you’ve got some time to kick up your feet with a good book (like me up there) check out these recipes for a treat to go with that good read…
- Homemade Gingerbread Syrup for Lattes and other drinks
- Homemade Pumpkin Spice Syrup – better than Starbucks!
- Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread – make sure you have someone to share this with because word, it’s irresistable!
- Old Fashioned Peanut Butter Cookies – my husband’s favorite things in the whole world.