Friday, May 29, 2020

95 Ways to Simplify Your Life - Unbusy

If there's one thing many of us have learned from the Covid-19 quarantine and social distancing, it's that having more space on our calendars for relationships, creativity, and rest has been a blessing.  Maybe we didn't realize the toxic effects of constant commitments, appointments, and giant to-do lists, but in hindsight they are easy to see.  We have an opportunity to make different choices going forward.

Part 5 - Unbusy

67.  Learn to say no.
This can be a challenge, but you'll be happier if you have enough time and energy for what really matters to you.  If your heart doesn't say "Hell yes!" then just say no.

68.  Create white space.
Don't cram your calendar – limit your commitments.  Let go of what has become a burden, and make space for serenity and serendipity.

69.  Delegate.
You don't have to do everything yourself.  Get employees to help with projects, and your spouse and kids to help with chores.

70.  Slow down.
Our society has become very pushy and impatient.  Buck the trend.  With a more open schedule, you don't have to rush and be rude.  Don't increase productivity so you can do more; practice being calm and collected instead.

71.  Fix little problems before they become big ones.
A little effort now can save a lot of trouble later.

72.  Single-task.
It's more efficient to pay your bills, answer you emails, or complete the next step in any project in one sitting than in bits and pieces.  Close your browser, turn off notifications, and figuratively shut your door so you can focus on the task at hand.

73.  Consolidate your errands.
Plan your visits to the post office, library, drug store, grocery store, etc. so you can take care of it all in one trip.  Designate one or two days a week as errand and appointment days to avoid multiple (and wasteful) journeys.

74.  Optimize rest.
Sleep is not the enemy of productivity; it is not what you do when there's nothing good on TV.  It's as necessary to life as food, water, and exercise.  Sleep is when the body repairs itself and makes long-term memories, and adults need seven to nine hours per night (kids need more).

75.  Try an earlier bedtime.
Turn off your devices and go to bed so you can wake up 30 to 60 minutes sooner than you do now.  Treat yourself to leisurely mornings.

"Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished."
Lao Tzu

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

95 Ways to Simplify Your Life - Office and Tech

If there is any area of our modern lives that is supposed to bring freedom and ease, yet often wastes so much time and creates frustrating complications, it is technology.  We can't live without it, but we need to make sure it is serving us, not commandeering our energy and attention.  I hope this list inspires a positive change, however small.

Part 4 – Office and Tech

50.  Stop as much incoming paper as possible.
Get off mailing lists, cancel catalogs, and sign up for online billing and statements.  Don't accept flyers, handouts, or freebie newspapers.

51.  Sort mail now.
Don't set it down somewhere it doesn't belong.  Piles grow when you neglect them, so take a few minutes right away.

  • Junk mail can go straight into recycling (shred anything with personal information).
  • File important papers (like a new investment statement or insurance declarations page) immediately; remove and shred what's outdated.
  • Keep an "action file" for bills to pay or items that require a response.
  • Read and enjoy "real" mail (like a birthday card).  Display it for a few days on a bulletin board.

52.  Keep a family calendar.
Notes and invitations for school, church, or social activities do not need to be kept once the date and time are entered on the calendar.

53.  Print as little as possible.
Don't give yourself unnecessary stuff to file or recycle.

54.  Automate as many bills as you can, and pay the rest online.
Save time and postage, and maybe do without checks altogether.

55.  Bank online.
Transfer money and even deposit checks without going to the bank or standing in a line.

56.  Organize your digital files.
Develop a logical system of folders, so you won't have to wade through hundreds of random files to find what you're looking for.

57.  Backup your digital files.
Some people will prefer a USB flash drive or an external hard drive for this; others will feel more comfortable with an online storage service.

58.  Purge bookmarks regularly.
The stuff you found interesting last month may be of no use to you today.  Don't waste time scrolling through the excess.

59.  Limit the number of blogs you read.
When you subscribe to a new one, drop an old one so you don't increase your time commitment.

60.  Quit social media (or don't join).
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and all the rest can be major time sinks, and can become something you feel obligated to participate in.  At the very least, limit the time you spend on it, limit the number of people or organizations you follow, and keep "friends" limited to people you actually know.

61.  Check and answer email during defined periods.
When you're distracted by constant incoming messages, it takes longer to complete any task.

62.  After a certain hour, put cell phones in a charging station.
You can still access your phone if you want, but you're forced to be more mindful about when and why you reach for tech.  Do you need to check for an important message, or are you just going to mindlessly scroll through social media?

63.  Create a tech-free zone.
The bedroom works particularly well for this.

64.  Take digital sabbaticals.
Whether it's every evening after dinner, one day a week, or one weekend a month, periods of digital disconnection let you focus on the people, activities, and surroundings of the real world.

65.  Stay out of debt.
Life is much simpler when you don't have to use current earnings to pay for past purchases.

66.  Telecommute.
If you can work from home one or two days a week, you'll save time and money, pollute less, and maybe find yourself more peaceful and productive.

"Knowledge is a process of piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification."
Martin H. Fischer

There's more to come!

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

Monday, May 25, 2020

95 Ways to Simplify Your Life - In the Kitchen

Moving on today to one of the busiest rooms in anyone's home – the kitchen.  This is where we gather for nourishment and connection, yet it is also often the place where clutter gathers and sticks.  But little changes can truly have a big impact.

Part 3 – In the Kitchen

37.  Plan meals in advance.
You'll spend less time staring into the refrigerator, wondering what to make, and be less likely to give up and call for takeout.

38.  Shop with a grocery list.
Avoid making extra trips for forgotten items, and control impulse purchases too.  It could be worth the effort to create a master list of items you use regularly.  Print copies and check off items as you run out.

39.  Eat real food.
Simple, unmodified, unprocessed foods are healthier, cheaper, and delicious.

40.  Quit bottled drinks... 
...including bottled water.  Install a water filter, or buy a filtering pitcher.  And soft drinks have absolutely no redeeming qualities.  They're either full of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or artificial sweeteners.  Give them a hard pass.

41.  Love leftovers.
Cook a double or triple batch, and have ready-made lunches or dinners for later.

42.  Make one-pot meals.
Save cooking and cleanup time.

43.  Pare dishes, cups, and cookware to what you use regularly.
Make it easier to get things out and put them away by not over-stuffing cupboards.

44.  Purge seldom-used gadgets and equipment.
Save kitchen real estate for the things you use to prepare daily meals.  The best chefs create amazing food with basic pots and implements.

45.  Keep countertops clutter-free.
Cooking is so much easier when you're not moving stuff out of the way to do it.  Declutter to make room in the drawers and cupboards for what you use and love.

46.  Don't clutter the refrigerator door.
Items stuck on the refrigerator always look chaotic, but an uncluttered refrigerator door immediately calms the kitchen.  If you love having photos, invitations, or kids' drawings where you can see them, hang a magnetic board inside a pantry door or in the family room.

47.  Organize food storage.
Clear the pantry and refrigerator of foods past their expiration date, and foods you're never going to eat.  Group foods into categories to make it easier to locate items and to prevent over-buying.

48.  Don't use the dinner table as a dumping ground.
Clear the surface to facilitate easy gathering, and make room for nourishment and connection.

49.  Clean the kitchen completely after dinner.
It doesn't really take that long.  You will really appreciate it in the morning, when you enter a kitchen that is already clean and ready for use.

Photo by LUM3N on Unsplash

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Build a Hedge

This is a chapter from my upcoming book, Everything to Gain: Finding Purpose and Contentment Amid Life's Ups and Downs.

Hedging, in finance, is a risk management strategy.  It deals with reducing or eliminating uncertainty.  For example, if you buy homeowner's insurance, you're hedging yourself against fires, break-ins or other calamities.  Generally, when people hedge, they try to protect themselves against a negative event.

If you live in tornado, hurricane, or blizzard territory, you likely keep at least a few days' worth of non-perishable food, water, batteries, a radio, and other supplies on hand.  Some hedgers adopt a prepper mentality.  They stockpile large amounts of survival necessities, along with guns, cash, gasoline, and more.

Having a few extra essentials on hand is probably a good idea, and certainly a means of reducing anxiety in the event of a likely scenario, such as a power outage or an illness.  The zombie apocalypse is pretty improbable, but as we've seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, job loss, food and toilet paper shortages, and the disruption of international supply chains are all too possible.

I think there are additional ways we should prepare ourselves to deal with the difficulties life can bring.  Even during a record snowfall or an unexpected injury, we need more resources in hand than food, water, and blankets.

6 Hedges Against Hard Times

1.  An emergency fund.
Life without an emergency fund is risky.  If your car breaks down or your furnace quits, you need money fast.  If you don't have an emergency fund, you're forced to borrow or use credit.  You'll gain so much peace of mind if you have $1,000 or so saved in case your refrigerator needs repair or your child damages a tooth playing basketball.

2.  Zero debt.
Debt is the enemy of peace.  It requires you to use money you earn today to pay for things you bought last month, last year, or even longer ago than that.  Once you're out of debt (except for your home loan), you will be amazed at your feelings of freedom and hope for the future.  Suddenly you, and not your creditors, control your money.  You can save, invest, give more, or work less.

3.  An understanding of needs vs. wants.
You need food, but you can live on rice, beans, and veggies.  You need shelter, but you don't need major upgrades or renovations.  You need clothing, but you probably already own plenty.  You need transportation, but you don't need foreign travel.  You need to communicate, but you don't need the latest iPhone or multiple streaming services.  In hard times, it helps to know what you need in order to survive, and what you can live without.

4.  Strong relationships.
Even in an era of social distancing, we still need connections.  We need relationships that offer unconditional support.  Build those relationships with your time and attention, your kindness, your generosity, and your listening ear.  Family, friends, neighbors, your church or synagogue, and other clubs and organizations to which you belong and contribute are going to be your lifelines when a crisis hits.

5.  Resilience and resourcefulness.
Resilience allows us to bounce back when things don't go the way we planned.  It helps us learn and adapt rather than giving up under stress.  Resourcefulness allows us to use our skills and strengths to cope with and overcome our problems.

6.  An attitude of hope.
It's normal in times of hardship and uncertainty to feel worried.  It takes self-control to choose to be positive, but it's so much more rewarding than sinking under your fears.

How can you strengthen hope?

  • Arm yourself with facts about your situation, not gossip, conjecture, or fear-mongering.
  • Don't waste energy looking for someone to blame.
  • Control what you can control, rather than fighting the things you can't.
  • Encourage yourself.  Speak to yourself as you would to a friend.
  • Intentionally look for and focus on things that are going right, no matter how small.  Write them down in a journal so you can reread them and remind yourself of your blessings.
  • Do something to help someone else.  Being generous will remind you that you are not without resources.

We can't always prevent bad things from happening, but we can decide how to meet those circumstances.  If you don't already have these hedges in place, you can start now to develop them.

P.S. The Kindle version of my newest book, Everything to Gain: Finding Purpose and Contentment Amid Life's Ups and Downs, will be available by the middle of this week.  Watch for a link which I will provide!

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Friday, May 22, 2020

95 Ways to Simplify Your Life - Wardrobe and Grooming

Continuing my list of ways to simplify, saving time, space, energy, or money, and bringing more serenity and satisfaction every day.

Part 2 – Wardrobe and Grooming

25.  Hang up clothes, or put them in a laundry hamper, as soon as you take them off.
Keep re-wearable clothing fresher and wrinkle-free, and your room more spacious and restful.  Use chairs for sitting, not piling.

26.  Organize your clothes by category.
Hang all your trousers, skirts, or shirts together so you can quickly find what you need.

27.  Corral accessories.
Use a drawer for scarves, a rack for necklaces, or a box for rings and earrings, rather than scattering them about.

28.  Don't be a fashion victim.
Chasing trends is a waste of time and money.

29.  Know what flatters you.
Avoid accumulating a closet full of wardrobe mistakes.

30.  Choose a base color for your wardrobe.
It's so much easier to create outfits when all of your clothes go with a neutral base.  This doesn't mean your wardrobe is monochromatic, simply that everything you own goes with black, or brown, navy, khaki, denim, etc.  You could choose a different base color for each season, if you desire, but it's not necessary.

31.  Don't buy "fantasy" clothes.
If you're not a socialite, you don't need a bunch of gowns or cocktail dresses.  Reserve your closet space for stuff you actually wear.

32.  Get a simple, no-fuss haircut.
Save tons of time and aggravation every morning.

33.  Embrace your natural hair.
Straight, curly, brown, gray – accept who you really are.

34.  Keep makeup minimal, or go without.
Most of us don't need to look like supermodels.  Pare the products you use to the essentials.  You may even find that your skin improves when you put less on it.

35.  Avoid unhealthy habits.
Smoking, drugs, excessive drinking, and constant sitting will age you and ruin your health.

36.  Remember that beauty doesn't come in a bottle.
Avoid the clutter and expense of half-used "miracle" potions.  The best recipe for a fresh, healthy appearance is adequate sleep, healthy food, plenty of water, and a positive outlook.

"Cheerfulness and contentment are great beautifiers, and famous preservers of good looks."
Charles Dickens

Photo by Junko Nakase on Unsplash

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

95 Ways to Simplify Your Life - Around the House

I've been striving to simplify my life for more than 20 years, and for the last 18 months I've been writing about it.  I've learned that little changes in our environment, habits, and attitudes can have a big impact.

So I thought I'd compile a list of ways to simplify.  Of course, not every item on this list will work for every person who reads it.  But I hope that you will find something that inspires a change, however small.  I'd love to help you save time, space, energy, or money, and to show you ways to find more serenity and satisfaction every day.

Part 1 - Around the House

1.  Ditch the TV (or simply turn it off).
If you're like the average viewer, you could save well over 100 hours every month, leaving you with time to do things that add value to your life.  And as a bonus, less exposure to commercials makes it easier to buy less, leaving you with more money and less clutter.

2.  If you do watch TV, save it for after dinner.
Don't turn it on as background noise or "for company," and give your family time for distraction-free dining.

3.  Cancel magazine subscriptions.
Read the content online, and avoid accumulating a pile of reading material.

4.  Read news online.
Ignore the sensationalism of TV news, choose a trusted source, and save time and trees by reading only the articles that interest you.

5.  Stream music and movies.
Eliminate clutter and have easier access to entertainment.

6.  Use the library.
Whether you borrow physical books or e-books, you can learn, relax, connect, and be inspired every day without increasing your belongings.

7.  Get rid of excess furniture.
Give yourself more room, and get more use and enjoyment from the pieces you keep.

8.  Get rid of excess d├ęcor.
Save time dusting, and put space around each item so it gets the attention it deserves, rather than going unnoticed in a crowd.

9.  Don't start collecting.
A collection is like an organism – it grows.  Don't feed this habit!  Save money, avoid clutter, and put your time and imagination toward something more worthwhile.  Remember that one high quality item can stand in for a multitude of dust-catching knickknacks.

10.  Go green.
You may be fortunate enough to have a tree right outside your window, but it's a good idea to bring some nature inside as well.  Many studies show that indoor plants reduce stress, CO₂ levels, and airborne dust.  Don't create an indoor jungle, but a few easy-care plants such as sansevieria, aloe, pothos, dieffenbachia, peace lily, or English ivy will calm and beautify your home.

11.  Don't just put it down, put it away.
A lot of clutter represents procrastination.  Put things away when you're finished with them – it takes a lot less effort than cleaning up piles of stuff later on.

12.  Make a place for everything.
Save time finding things and putting them away.

13.  Clean as you go.
Wipe up spills, take care of little messes before they become big ones, and live in a cleaner home every day.

14.  Practice "one in, one out."
When you purchase something new, don't keep the item you're replacing.

15.  Do regular purges.
Take 15 minutes every week for every family member to remove clutter.  Make it a light-hearted ritual rather than a heavy-handed punishment.

16.  If you don't remember it, it can go.
As a rule of thumb, if you "discover" something you forgot you had, donate or toss it.  If you were able to live without it before, it's safe to say you don't need it.

17.  Store hobby items in designated containers.
Keep all supplies together so they're on hand when you need them, and easy to clean up and store.

18.  If you start a new hobby, drop an old one.
You time is finite.  If you're putting your efforts toward something new, remove equipment and supplies that will otherwise sit in a closet.

19.  Place a limit on toys.
Reduce arguments, stress, and overwhelm and increase peace, contentment, and creativity by limiting the number of toys your children own.  Keep favorites and items that are transformative and open ended (such as art supplies, building toys, and pretend/role play items).  Remove the rest.

20.  Figure out your best laundry schedule.
Save time, water, and energy by washing full (but not jam-packed) loads, but don't leave yourself with huge piles to do all in one day.  Better to run a load every day or two, if needed.

21.  Wash towels less often.
Don't just use a towel once and then put it in the laundry.  You're clean when you use it, after all.  Always hang towels between uses so they dry properly and don't get musty.

22.  Keep everything off the floor.
This is an easy cleaning rule – nothing belongs on the floor except rugs and furniture.  It's so much easier to vacuum, too.

23.  Create a working entry.
Ditch the morning ritual of a frenzied search for your keys or sunglasses.  Consider a hook for keys, a tray for the mail, a small bulletin board for a calendar or reminders, a mirror for last-minute appearance checks, and a table to anchor it all.

24.  Make your bed.
It's the focal point of your bedroom, and it can either be a mess that says you don't care, or a neat and pretty spot that sets the tone for your house and your day.

"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."
William Morris

to be continued...

Photo by Minette Hand on Apartment Therapy

Monday, May 18, 2020


Most of us face an endless barrage of choices, one after the other, all day.  What should I wear?  What should I eat?  What should I do first?  What should I do after that?  Should I answer this text or email now, or should I finish what I'm working on?

When we go to a store or a restaurant, we wonder Should I order the cheeseburger or the turkey wrap?  Should I buy the green skirt or the floral one?  Will I be happy with this car or that one?  

This can be exhausting.

And whatever we select, we may fear that another option would have been better.  Although we may think that more choice is a good thing, too many alternatives can slow us down, make every decision harder, and even make us question our competence.  As Barry Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College and author of The Paradox of Choice, writes, "It's not clear that more choice gives you more freedom.  It could decrease our freedom if we spend so much time trying to make choices."

Choice becomes easier when we rely on habits that smooth the way.  Just as we don't need to dither about whether we should brush our teeth before bed, or wash our hands after visiting the restroom, we can remove questions about when to get up in the morning, when to check email, what to eat for dinner, or whether we should go out for a drink.

In fact, if we intentionally build a routine, and practice it daily, it creates a framework that takes care of necessities so that we have energy and creativity to spare for work, leisure, parenting, and relationships.

You could have habitual food choices (oatmeal with fruit on weekdays, bacon and eggs on weekends, for example), clothing choices (black pants and skirts with jewel-tone tops, or navy suits, white shirts, and eye-catching socks and ties), and shopping choices (limit your search to three web sites when contemplating a purchase, say, or only patronize one grocery store that generally has excellent prices, rather than driving all over town to save a few pennies).  You might check email or social media at certain times of the day for a limited time period, exercise at a certain time, or pray at a specific time.  You might always single-task, only watch movies on Friday nights, and only buy toys for your kids at Christmas and birthdays.

The psychologist William James wrote about the way that habits could enhance life, even though at first glance they might seem to limit it.

The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of [habit], the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work.  There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom... the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation.

So build a routine.  Schedule your day, limit distractions, and limit the number of choices you need to ponder.  Gain stability, and even comfort, by freeing your mind of mundane thoughts and decisions.  Save your willpower and attention for more important tasks.

Especially during this time of Covid-19 social distancing, and work and school from home, you may find much more peace and accomplishment when you follow a routine.  You may feel a more positive outlook when you rise and dress and eat at the same time every day, and set specific times for tasks and relaxation.  Rather than living in pajamas and bingeing on everything from news and TV to snacks and online purchases, establish a routine and live with it.  I think you'll find yourself happier and more focused.

Photo by

Friday, May 15, 2020

Other People's Clutter

This is a chapter from my new book, Uncluttered.

My husband came home one Friday at the end of a busy week, took his shoes off, and left them sitting by the front door.  He took his backpack over to the dining table and left it on the floor behind his chair.  Then he asked what plans I had for the evening.

How did I greet him?

  • Did I give him a kiss and say, "Hi, honey, I'm glad you're home"?
  • Did I tell him I'd been thinking we could try a new restaurant for dinner?
  • Did I notice the shoes and backpack and ask him to please put them away?  (After all, it would only take a minute.)
  • Did I notice the shoes and backpack and simply put them away for him myself?  (Only a minute, remember.)

Unfortunately, my choice was "none of the above."

I immediately launched into a tirade about the fact that his shoes didn't belong on the floor by the front door and his backpack didn't belong in the dining room.

Of course, he got a bit huffy when I berated him, and so we began our evening with an argument.

To explain a bit (since he is usually very good about putting things away), it's been raining lately, and when it rains I keep a mat near the door where we place our shoes to dry before putting them away.  It wasn't raining on that Friday, but I suppose he was still operating in that mode.

Additionally, one of the reasons it had been such a busy week is that report cards had just come out.  My husband teaches middle school language arts and science, so recently the dining table had been stacked with student essays, journals, and exams he had been grading for the end of the trimester.  His backpack and computer had lived in the dining room since the previous weekend.  It was a bit of temporary chaos that he had only cleared away on Thursday morning.

But I "needed" my newly-cleaned house to be "just so," and I reacted badly.

"What can I do about my spouse's/roommate's clutter?"

It's a common question when people begin decluttering and living a simpler life.

Once you've started to pare down your own belongings, and you're able to organize, create tidiness, and enjoy a bit of calm and open space, Other People's Clutter (OPC) can seem more irksome than ever.

I can tell you from experience what you shouldn't do.  Sadly, I have at times had all of these reactions:

  • I have complained about "some people's junk."
  • I have signed audibly while moving their stuff out of my way.
  • I have asked how they can stand to live with so many piles, or told them that if I weren't around to pick up after them they'd just "live in squalor."
  • I have decluttered their things for them.

These reactions don't make me popular, and they don't make minimalism or decluttering a popular option either.

So what can we do instead?

6 Ways to Cope with OPC

1.  Focus on your own clutter.
Continue to curate your own closet, drawers, personal care items, books, etc.  If you do most of the cooking, focus on decluttering the kitchen (but don't touch his favorite sports team mugs).  If you do most of the home repairs, donate duplicate tools.  Clear your own spaces.

2.  Have a conversation.
Talk to your housemates about what is important to you in a home, and ask them what is important to them.  Maybe together you can agree on certain principles, such as keeping hallways unobstructed and cleaning up the kitchen and bathroom after using them.  Perhaps you can agree to keep one area clutter-free, such as the dining table, entry hall, or bedroom.

3.  Set a limit.
If your wife's side of the closet is chaotic, let it be.  It's hers, after all.  But you can ask that she respect your space by not letting her stuff spill over into it.  You can ask that clean laundry not be piled on "your" living room chair.  Your husband's storage shed might be piled to the rafters, but it shouldn't overflow into the yard.

With your children you can develop firmer guidelines.  You can insist on certain standards, such as no clothes, towels, coats, backpacks, or sports equipment on the floor.  You can expect them to make their beds each morning (they don't have to be up to boot camp standards), and to place their dirty dishes in the dishwasher rather than on the counter or in the sink.  You can set up a toy rotation (or even help them reduce the number of toys they own) so that they have fewer to put away each evening before bed.  You can do all of this while allowing them to keep their closets and personal spaces in whatever condition they prefer.

4.  Do it yourself.
If you don't like a cluttered car, get rid of the garbage and return scattered items to their homes yourself.  Deal with the junk mail yourself.  Return grooming items and wipe up the bathroom counter yourself.  Don't complain about it.  Most of these jobs only take a few minutes, after all, and who knows?  Maybe your habits will rub off on your roommate.

5.  Make it a game.
Francine Jay, author of The Joy of Less and Lightly, suggests a Family Decluttering Day.  Challenge each member of the household to purge their own things, and declare the person with the biggest pile of castoffs the decluttering champion.  Offer a prize, like a movie or restaurant gift card, if you need more incentive, or make a little money with a yard sale. 

6.  Be happy.
Is living clutter-free a chore or a relief?  Are the habits that keep clutter at bay simple or onerous?  Are you generally more relaxed and peaceful since you simplified your life, or are you on uptight clutter patrol?  If minimalism doesn't look attractive on you, no one will see it as a positive lifestyle.  If you can show that your days are smoother, your chores fewer, your energy greater, and your outlook brighter, the changes you've made will look appealing to others.

Remember that minimalism is not about being meager or obsessive.  It's about handling your belongings in such a way that the energy of your home and your life is vibrant and flowing rather than dull and stagnant.

Photo by Taylor Hernandez on Unsplash

Monday, May 11, 2020

MINIMALIST TOOL KIT: Throw a Packing Party

Okay, you want all of the benefits of decluttering:  more space, more time, more freedom, and a clearer idea of what really matters to you and how you want to use your energy and money to create your best life.  But you don't want to spend months slowly paring down your possessions.  Maybe you're afraid you'll get bogged down and sidetracked, or that you'll become discouraged and give up.  Maybe you're just impatient and ready to get on with a streamlined life.

For more immediate results, follow the example of blogger and motivational speaker Ryan Nicodemus.  He threw a party -- a Packing Party.  He and his friend Joshua Fields Millburn packed all of his belongings as if he were moving.  All of it -- kitchenware, clothes, linens, electronics, decorative items, mementos, furniture -- everything.  After several hours, it was stacked halfway to the ceiling in his living room.  There were boxes stacked on boxes stacked on boxes.

For the next 21 days, he unpacked only what he needed.

I imagine he started with things like personal toiletries, a towel, and a washcloth.  A plate and a bowl and a set of silverware.  His favorite cooking pot and pan, and a few kitchen utensils.  He probably wanted his bed, some sheets, a pillow and a blanket.  A comfortable chair.  A lamp.  His desk and his laptop.  His phone.  The coffeemaker and his favorite mug.  A garbage can and a few cleaning supplies.  A laundry basket.  Some clothes for work and some clothes for play.

Nicodemus spent three weeks unpacking just the items he needed.  If friends came over, he unpacked a few more kitchen items, a table and chairs, maybe a board game or his TV.  Just the stuff that added value to his life.

At the end of three weeks, 80% of his stuff was still packed in boxes.  Just sitting there.  He says he looked at the boxes and couldn't even remember what was in them.  All of the things he had purchased and gone into debt for, that were supposed to make him happy, turned out to be unnecessary to a satisfying life.

He donated and sold all of it.  What a gutsy move!

But he says, "I started to feel rich for the first time in my life.  I felt rich once I got everything out of the way, so I could make room for what really mattered."

This is a pretty radical approach to decluttering, but that might be exactly what appeals to you.

Even if you don't think you could go to such an extreme, the concept of a Packing Party is applicable on a smaller scale.  For example:

1.  Pack up your entire kitchen except for one place setting of dishes, cups, and silverware for each family member.  Then for the next 21 days, unpack only the cookware, utensils, and appliances you need, as you need them.  It wouldn't surprise me if you find that you use the same tools over and over to prepare daily meals.

At the end of three weeks, donate or sell what was never unpacked.  And don't dig through the boxes before decluttering the contents.  If you haven't needed something, and you can't spontaneously remember a specific item that you plan to use soon (such as canning equipment at the end of summer, for example, or your turkey baster and platter for Thanksgiving), then chances are it's an item that was simply gathering dust before your Packing Party.

2.  Pack up all of your child's toys except for the two or three items you've seen him play with most.  Tell him he can ask for one specific additional toy every day for 21 days, provided he actually plays with the toy.  Don't remind or prompt him to ask for a toy; just unpack it when and if he asks for something specific.  After a week or so, he might not be asking every day!

At the end of three weeks, donate or sell what's left without digging through the boxes to "discover" items your child never missed.

You could have a Packing Party with clothing, jewelry, games, hobby supplies, or decor items.  Extend the period of time to three or six months, and you could even experiment with sports equipment, dining room chairs, or guest room furniture.

The Packing Party is a fun challenge for any time.

Photo by Claudio Schwartz on Unsplash

Friday, May 8, 2020

MINIMALIST TOOL KIT: The Minimalist Mindset

"Don't think of all you're giving up, think of everything you're gaining."

This public service announcement on New Zealand TV is a good message for all of us during this Covid-19 quarantine.

  • Don't mourn the loss of your always-on-the-go life.  Allow yourself to grasp how trivial some of your concerns were and how much false urgency you let yourself respond to.  Appreciate a slower pace. 
  • Don't bemoan the shopping trips you can't take.  Celebrate your lack of new clutter, your freedom from new debt, and the creativity you're discovering as you use what you already have.
  • Don't complain about your inability to purchase entertainment at movie theaters, bowling alleys, casinos, theme parks, restaurants, etc.  Relax and revel in all the time you have to read, garden, cook, craft, walk, bicycle, watch the sunset, and talk to your nearest and dearest.
  • Don't fret that you can't travel.  Be thankful that you can save fuel, that you can experience spring (or autumn) right where you live, and that you can save money for another trip on some later date.  Meanwhile, enjoy photos and virtual tours of places you want to visit, and send prayers and good thoughts toward people in those areas that may be struggling right now.

It's also a great minimalist mindset:

  • Don't lament the items you declutter that were gifts or mementos, or that you paid good money for but no longer use.  Think about the space and freedom you're gaining.  Think about being able to find the things you need without digging through useless piles.  Think about enjoying the possessions you keep and highlighting their beauty or utility by letting them remain uncrowded and fully accessible.
  • Don't worry about events you're missing when you decide to be less busy.  Enjoy your ability to focus, to give your best energy to activities you care about, and to save some white space for rest, connection, and contemplation.
  • Don't feed your tech addiction.  Discover that you can do with fewer alerts and notifications, that important stuff stays important while gossip, trivia, and speculation pass away, and that it's easier to think and act clearly when you're not distracted and drowning in information.
  • Don't covet a list of things you want to acquire and do.  Be grateful for all you have, and think about spending your time, money, and energy on a purpose that will give your life real meaning.

Minimalism isn't about deprivation, it's about choosing more freedom, more ease, more clarity, and more satisfaction.  With minimalism, you have everything to gain.

P.S.  Interested in more help and inspiration in choosing minimalism?  Check out my book, Uncluttered, available on Amazon.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Relax and Restore

Yes lockdown poses its own mental health challenges.  But can we please stop pretending our former world of long working hours, stressful commutes, hectic crowds, shopping centres, infinite choice, mass consumerism, air pollution and 24/7 everything was a mental health utopia.
Matt Haig on Twitter, 3 May 2020

Will we one day look back on the Covid-19 quarantine with gratitude?

Of course, I'm not suggesting we'd be thankful for illness and death, or economic hardship.  But might we appreciate

  • more time at home with our families?
  • less commuting and more telecommuting?
  • less indulgent and exotic travel and more learning to appreciate our local and regional attractions?
  • less fear of missing out, because there's little to miss out on?
  • fewer frivolous connections, while strengthening meaningful ones with phone calls, video chats, even handwritten cards and letters?
  • fewer appointments and less hurry?
  • more walking and biking?
  • for schools, less emphasis on test scores (standardized tests being cancelled) and more emphasis on what students are reading, writing, and creating at home?

With so much more time on our hands, might we finally discover that we are unsatisfied with excessive scrolling, TV, or video games?  Once those dull, even depressing, time wasters are exposed, might we see a revival of activities that challenge and refresh us?

Our society is overly complex and in need of the streamlining that quarantine has allowed us.  And we have become too prone to alternate between overwork and hyper-busyness on one side and aimless bingeing on the other:  on TV, on food, on social media, on video games, on shopping, on lying around being bored.  Life requires balance, not swinging from one extreme to the next.

And real leisure isn't merely lounging around, doing nothing except consuming.  As philosopher Ryan Holiday, author of Stillness is the Key, informs us, the original Greek word for leisure is related to the word for school.

Leisure historically meant simply freedom from the work needed to survive, freedom for intellectual or creative pursuits....  Leisure is not the absence of activity, it is activity.  It's a physical action that somehow replenishes and strengthens the soul.

Since some experts think that social distancing might need to last for quite a long time, or at least be intermittently necessary, our new normal may require us to choose between despair and thoughtful, intentional simplification, which can include true leisure.

If you're already using your time to revive or discover interests in cooking, gardening, music, woodworking, hiking, drawing, reading, or knitting, fantastic!  Keep it up, and teach your kids.  If you've always wanted to learn another language, train for a marathon, or write poetry, now's your chance.  Teach yourself to code, to sew, or to roll out a perfect pie crust.

True leisure is the antidote to boredom, despondency, and consumerism.  Don't just escape – relax and restore.

Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

Monday, May 4, 2020

Happier Home, Happier You (Part 2)

SPECIAL OFFER:  The Amazon Kindle edition of my book Uncluttered is available for a special price in the US and the UK through Friday, May 8.

Your home is like a mirror that reflects you.  Studies demonstrate an interesting property of mirrors:  If you smile every time you catch your own reflection, you will, at least temporarily, feel happier and see yourself as a happier person.

If your house makes you relax and smile, there's a pretty good chance your mindset will start to reflect your environment.

5 More Things You Can Do to Create a Happier, Healthier House

1.  Make room for connection and nourishment.
Don't use dinner tables, coffee tables, armchairs, or your couch as storage spots and dumping grounds.  Clear off surfaces to facilitate easy gathering.  Encourage quality face-to-face time by turning chairs and couches toward each other instead of the television.  And speaking of TV:  Save it for after dinner.  Give your family 30 minutes for distraction-free communal dining.

Go deeper:  After a certain hour, put everyone's cellphones in a family charging station.  People can still access their phones if they want, but they're forced to be more mindful about when and why they reach for technology.  Do they need to check for an important message, or are they just going to mindlessly scroll through social media?

2.  Clean the kitchen.
When you're done eating, rinse your dishes and put them into the dishwasher instead of leaving them in the sink.  Put away leftover food, wash the pans, knife, and cutting board, and wipe the counters and the table.  If necessary, take out the garbage.  All of this takes just a few minutes, especially if everyone pitches in.  You will really appreciate it in the morning, when you enter a kitchen that is already clean and ready for use.

Go deeper:  Keep counters clear of all but every-day-use items.  Declutter knickknacks and dusty cookbooks (no, don't search through them for recipes).  Put other items in cupboards or the pantry.  Are those areas already crowded?  Here's a decluttering clue:  You like and use the items that were crowding the counter more than the dusty items filling the cupboards.  Donate those, and all the duplicates.

Other simple kitchen hacks:
  • Clear your refrigerator of extraneous condiments.  Do you regularly use three types of mustard, two brands of barbecue sauce, and four different hot sauces?  Just how old is that cranberry horseradish sauce?
  • "File" cookware.  Instead of stacking skillets and lids, store them in a file-like organizer.  This works well for cutting boards and baking sheets too.
  • Mount a magnetic knife holder.  It's useful for knives, shears, meat forks, pizza wheels, spice jars with metal lids, and more.  A magnetic strip can also hold grooming implements and hair accessories in the bathroom or tools and paint brushes in the garage.

3.  Optimize rest.
When we don't get enough sleep, we're at great risk of developing diseases -- everything from the cold going around the office to cancer.  Sleep is when the body repairs itself and makes long-term memories, and adults need seven to nine hours per night (kids need more).  So if there's one item you should splurge on, it's your bed.  Invest in a high-quality mattress that will last for a decade.  Trade scratchy linens and old lumpy pillows for something that makes you feel instantly comfortable.

Go deeper:  Try an earlier bedtime so you can get up 30 to 60 minutes sooner than you do now.  Treat yourself to leisurely mornings.

4.  While you're at it, make the bed.
Your mother was right:  You should make your bed every morning.  The bed is the focal point of your bedroom, and when it's made, it brings order and clarity to the entire room (the opposite is also true).  It only takes a couple of minutes, and it will set the tone for your entire day.  Climbing back into a bed that's been made is more restful too -- it's like being in a nice hotel.  All you're missing is a piece of chocolate on your pillow!

Go deeper:  Put up a couple of hooks for outfits you can wear again that might end up strewn over a chair (or maybe on the floor...).  Not only will your room look less chaotic, but hanging things up reduces wrinkles and keeps clothes looking fresh.

5.  Create a peaceful nook.
You may not have the space for a meditation room, but you can create a quiet corner with a comfortable chair, soothing colors like blue, green, or neutrals, and plenty of light (a window is perfect; a warm-toned lamp will do).  Use it for reading, journaling, knitting, or any hobby that doesn't involve Wi-Fi.

Go deeper:  Challenge yourself to spend at least two minutes every day doing nothing but sitting in your nook.  Try a simple gratitude meditation:  Set a timer for two minutes.  Close your eyes and take three cleansing breaths.  Then, as you inhale, think "For _______," and as you exhale, think "I am grateful."  I find that after I think of two or three things, a long stream of blessings comes to mind.  When your timer goes off, the world will look a little brighter.

Photo by Stephanie Harvey on Unsplash.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Happier Home, Happier You (Part 1)

SPECIAL OFFER:  The Amazon Kindle version of my book Uncluttered is available in the US and the UK for a reduced price beginning today and going until next Friday, May 8.

Houses are like mirrors, and over time they come to reflect the people who live in them.  So a house can tell you quite a bit.

Some houses say that the people who live there are bright, optimistic, and fulfilled.  Others send the message that the inhabitants are stagnant, overwhelmed, or that they no longer care.  What does your house say about you?

5 Things You Can Do to Create a Happier, Healthier House

1.  Create a working entry.
Ditch the morning ritual of a frenzied search for your keys when you're already running late.  Instead, put your entry to work.  Consider a hook for your keys, a tray for sunglasses or mail, a small bulletin board for a calendar or reminders, and a mirror for a last-minute appearance check before heading out.

Go deeper:  Place all of these things on a table with concealed shelves for storing your shoes.  You'll keep them handy but out of sight, remove a tripping hazard, and stop tracking in dirt and debris.

2.  Improve the scenery.
You don't need to redecorate your entire house, but a few modifications can make your home more restful and enjoyable.  For example, consider your refrigerator.  Is it buried under magnets holding appointment cards, invitations, or sports team practice lists?  Add the dates to a family calendar hung inside a pantry or closet door, out of sight but easily accessible, and remove the multiple reminders.  A clean, uncluttered refrigerator door immediately calms the kitchen.

Go deeper:  Your walls can be a source of inspiration and happiness.  Whether it's a framed drawing by your child, a family portrait, a positive affirmation, a beloved piece of art, or a simple shelf with your favorite collection, aim for one thing in each room that makes you smile.

3.  Go green.
You may be fortunate enough to have a tree right outside your window, but any chance to bring nature inside is one you should take.  Many studies show that indoor plants reduce stress and make people more at ease, and they also reduce CO2 levels, increase humidity, reduce airborne dust, and lower background noise (a real plus if you live near a busy street).

Go deeper:  Indoor plants for even the blackest thumb include sansevieria (snake plant), aloe, pothos, dieffenbachia, peace lily, and English ivy.

4.  Add scent.
Scent is a powerful memory trigger.  Remember the scent of a fresh Christmas tree, or Grandma's cookies?  Immediate happiness!  Other scents can actually enhance your mood and your health.  Inhaling essential oils activates the hypothalamus -- the area of the brain which sends messages to other parts of the body -- and can activate the immune system, lower blood pressure, or stimulate digestion.  Use a diffuser, candles, or incense, or create a mister by adding a few drops of a favorite essential oil to a small spray bottle filled with distilled water.

Go deeper:  Try various essential oils like lavender, lemon, rosemary, bergamot, peppermint, vanilla, and jasmine to find your favorite.

5.  Reduce clutter.
It's impossible to have serenity in your life when you're surrounded by disorder.  And what are you hanging onto, anyway?  The pretty greeting card you feel guilty about recycling, the free mug from that seminar you attended, the tattered bath towels, prom and bridesmaid dresses?  They can all probably go.  As a rule of thumb, if I "discover" something I forgot I had, I know I can donate or toss it.  If I was able to live without it before, it's safe to say I don't need it.

Go deeper:  Getting rid of clutter is, surprisingly, the easy part.  Maintaining the clutter-free life is a bit harder.
  • Create a home for everything you keep, and remember "Don't just put it down, put it away."
  • Don't buy something new without discarding something old (aka "One in, one out").
  • Take 15 minutes every week for every family member to do a quick purge.

Photo by Sven Brandsma on Unsplash