6 Strategies to Simplify Your Life Every Day
We don't live in a simple world, however, so life gets more complicated over time. We add responsibilities, make plans, and buy stuff which requires cleaning and maintenance.
So I've made returns to simplicity on several occasions. Minimalism brings clarity, space, and energy to my life. It's like a deep breath of fresh air that makes you feel ready for anything.
These aren't the only ways to make life simpler, but they're the steps I've found work best for me, and I return to them over and over.
Here's the list – look for details below.
- Remove extras.
- Simplify clothes.
- Simplify food.
- Shortlist tasks.
- Go fullscreen.
- Make quiet time.
1. Remove extras.
When I feel that clutter has been creeping in (which it does), I set aside an hour a week (usually early Saturday morning) to streamline. These are the areas that might need attention:
- Pantry/refrigerator – Clear out expired foods, reorganize so that like items are grouped together, clean.
- Kitchen cupboards – Organize storage containers and get rid of stained, cracked, or damaged items. Donate duplicate utensils and mugs, downgrade frayed or stained linens to cleaning rags, donate serving pieces or small appliances I haven't used in a year.
- Desk – I don't have a desk, but I have a set of plastic drawers in my linen closet that hold office supplies and paperwork. So I clear out unneeded supplies, duplicates, and freebies, then file or shred anything that needs it, fill out and mail forms I've neglected, etc.
- Computer – Clear out my email inbox and the download folder, file documents, back up files, and other organizational tasks.
- Bookshelves/entertainment cabinet – Donate books I've read that aren't "classics" or "keepers." Do the same with DVDs/Blu-ray discs. Gather remotes in one spot, recycle magazines older than two months.
- Bathroom cupboards – Clear out expired potions or things I tried and didn't like, toss or donate freebies, clean combs and brushes, wipe down shelves and drawers.
- Clothes closet/drawers – Donate items that don't fit well or suit me but are still in good condition, repair or toss items that are damaged or stained (or use for rags).
TAKE ACTION: Set aside one hour on your calendar each week and clear out one or more areas that need it. Look for more guidance in my book, Uncluttered: How Minimalism Helps You Create the Life of Your Dreams.*
* This blog is reader-supported. If you buy through my links, I may earn a small commission.
2. Simplify clothes.
Standing in front of a packed-full wardrobe and feeling like you have "nothing" to wear is one of the more disheartening ways to start the day. You and I both have plenty of tasks that require more attention, creativity, and decision-making than what to wear!
So when I want to find more margin in my life, I simplify my clothes. Fewer items, fewer colors, and more mix-and-match add up to an easy way to get presentable and ready for anything! As fashion stylist Jenni Lee says, "When a person has 20 items they genuinely love and feel incredible wearing, the process of getting dressed becomes a ritual of self-love, rather than a moment of insecurity and unnecessary stress." That sounds perfect.
Here are the steps I take:
- Understand your lifestyle and body type. Choose shapes and styles that suit you and your activities.
- Choose a color palette. Focus on a base color such as black, navy, or brown, plus a couple of coordinating colors. When you streamline colors, pieces mix and match to create more outfits. You can add pops of pattern, texture, and contrasting color with jewelry, ties, shoes, and other accessories.
- Choose pieces that go with at least three other items. For example, a red cardigan might go with three different tops, black trousers, a gray sheath dress, and dark-wash jeans. An emerald long-sleeve top might go with the jeans, black trousers, under the gray dress, and with a plaid skirt.
I live with about 20 pieces of clothing per season (some overlap), plus shoes, accessories, sleepwear, underwear, and outerwear – and it's plenty. Plus I save time, money, and hassle every day.
- Notice the colors and styles that dominate, and choose items that can layer and match.
- Make a note of any obvious holes (such as when you wear jeans most days, but own only two pairs that fit and flatter) so you can purchase what you need.
- Place everything that doesn't suit your streamlined closet somewhere else, and try your simpler wardrobe for 30 days before evaluating.
Find many more practical tips in my book, The Minimalist Wardrobe: Buy Less, Choose Well, and Feel Confident Every Day.
3. Simplify food.
Healthy eating can be made very complicated, with intricate diets to follow and many ingredients to shop for and prepare. Sometimes I just don't want to bother with all of the rules and choices, so I simplify food to a few healthy, easy, inexpensive items that are low on the food chain.
One simple trick is to eat basically the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day and bring in some variety at dinner time.
For breakfast, I might eat plain Cheerios with a little milk and some berries or sliced banana. (In the winter, I might cook oatmeal instead.) We often go out for brunch on the weekend.
For lunch, I could make a salad with mixed greens, shredded carrots, and other veggies in season such as tomatoes, cucumber, radishes, sprouts, avocado, etc. Topped with some canned tuna, leftover chicken, or seasoned black beans (I use onion, garlic, cumin, chili powder, oregano, and black pepper) and a homemade vinaigrette, it's a satisfying meal.
If I want a snack, I'll eat an apple (or a peach or some grapes in the summer).
For dinners, I might choose:
- a big pot of vegetarian chili for plenty of leftovers
- a frittata with veggies and cheese
- a baked yam topped with my seasoned black beans and a spoonful of fresh salsa
- whole wheat pasta with a tomato or mushroom sauce and grated parmesan
- a rotisserie chicken from the deli served with a big pan of roasted veggies (also good for leftovers)
TAKE ACTION: Make a list of simple foods you enjoy, and create a menu based on them. Consider eating the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day, and save your time and creativity for something else.
4. Shortlist tasks.
The process starts with deciding what you want to do each day. All of us have a tendency to say yes when we're asked to do things, because we don't want to let people down or upset them. Then we wind up with more to do than we can possibly accomplish, and we feel constantly rushed and anxious. All of our tasks suffer because there are too many. So we do less-than-optimal work, or we burn ourselves out.
We need to stop spending time so recklessly. It's our most precious and non-renewable resource!
I've been in work situations where my supervisor asked me to take on more work than I had time for. I can't remember where I read the advice to "ask another question," but it was a life-saver. When given yet another responsibility, say, "Sure, I'm happy to do X while I also take care of Y and Z. But I'm going to need two weeks, rather than one, to do a good job." Then ask another question: "How do you want me to prioritize my work?" This question makes it clear that you're being asked to do something that will take time from your usual tasks, and helps your boss acknowledge that choices need to be made.
Setting priorities is something you need to do for yourself. You need to define a short list of activities that would make your day productive and pleasant. My list might contain:
- time for prayer or meditation
- a walk
- a phone call or time spent with a loved one
- write/edit a blog post
- do micro-cleaning tasks
- an appointment or other job that needs doing
I'm careful to limit my list to five or six things in a day, which means I've learned to let go of other stuff that would steal my time, such as social media, aimless TV, and unnecessary shopping.
TAKE ACTION: A simple notebook or list pad works well for your curated agenda. Take five minutes or so before bed or first thing in the morning and give this your attention.
5. Go fullscreen.
What we call multi-tasking is really our brains switching frantically back and forth between jobs. It's a practice of constant interruption, and leads to a condition rather like attention deficit disorder. And when our attention is diffused, we accomplish less while feeling more frazzled.
So I like to stay in "fullscreen" mode. I go through my day with focus. If I'm answering emails, I give myself full space to read and reply to each message instead of having multiple tabs open. If I'm writing, I'm only writing. (If I need to do research on an item, I'll highlight it in red in my rough draft, then take time for research later.) If I'm learning some music, I'm just practicing. If I make a phone call, I'm just talking on the phone.
I try to be fully present for each activity, from brushing my teeth to reading a book to eating dinner with my husband, so I get more out of it and enjoy it more. I'm also better able to concentrate, so I actually get more done and feel calmer while I'm doing it.
- Close all apps on your phone except the one you're using.
- Close the extra tabs on your browser. (Okay, I'll admit I sometimes have two or three open, but that's my limit.)
- Turn off notifications, and check email and messages at specific times of the day instead of letting yourself be constantly interrupted.
- Turn off your devices when you're doing something analog.
6. Make quiet time.
We live in a noisy world. Traffic, construction, TV all day, piped-in music, podcasts while you walk – it really never stops.
It's hard to be in tune with your own thoughts when you live in an atmosphere of constant input. As soon as a thought occurs, it may be hijacked by an ad, a catchy tune, or a leaf blower.
Moments of quiet can be peaceful and energizing, so create them if you need to. I like to get up early and be outside where I might hear birds. It makes me feel awake and ready for the day.
TAKE ACTION: Think about how you might experience moments of quiet in your life. Do you like early mornings? Could you visit a park or a garden where you would be undisturbed for a short period of time? Maybe the best opportunity would be late at night after your family is in bed. See what this practice might add to your life.
We live in a tough and trying world, but minimalism is like a deep breath of fresh, invigorating air. Try one or more of these strategies for a simpler life today.