How a Two-Step Writing Process Can Help You Simplify Your Life

I'm a writer.  I write every day.  But I don't have problems with writer's block.  Why is that?  I think it's because of two factors:

  • My writing goal for each day is one sentence.
  • I always give myself something to edit.

Related article:  The Secret to Maintaining a New Habit


writing



Two factors make the difference.


I've described my writing goal before.  It's the threshold I set for "success" in my writing habit – one sentence no matter what else is happening that day.  I wrote one sentence for my blog when my son was in the emergency room after an out-patient surgery.  I wrote one sentence on the day of my father-in-law's funeral.  I wrote one sentence while I babysat my three sick grandsons.  One sentence can be written anywhere at any time.  It's so easy, there's no reason not to do it.  I can't fail.  


An English teacher told me long ago that the secret to good writing is editing.  "Give yourself something to edit."  Editing is much easier than staring at a blank page.  Simply pound out what you want to write, and don't worry about how bad or disorganized or ungrammatical it may be.  Pound it out, let it sit for half an hour or several days or weeks, then come back to edit it.  Now you have something to work with and improve.


How does this relate to decluttering or minimalism?


Give yourself something to edit, for example:

  • your wardrobe
  • your schedule
  • kitchen cupboards
  • old photos

Do a first pass, with a specific goal or boundary in mind.  Make it small.  Then edit.




Example: wardrobe


yellow skirt
Pound it out.  Quickly choose ten tops and ten bottoms that you like, that fit and are comfortable, and that work for your daily activities.  Choose two or three pairs of shoes and a handbag.  If weather requires, choose a coat and/or a couple of cardigans.  Choose a set or two of sleepwear and a set or two of workout wear.  Choose two or three pieces of your favorite jewelry or other accessories.


Store away everything else, and live with your limited wardrobe for a week or two.  Feel free to pull other things out of storage if you need or want to, but only one piece at a time.


After your trial period, edit.  Are there things you didn't use and might remove?  Are there things you need to add?  Are there things that would work better if you tweaked them a bit?  You have more basis for deciding since you gave yourself something to decide about.  You know which questions to ask yourself and have a clearer idea of which direction you want to go.




Example: schedule


Pound it out.  Sketch out a calendar for the next week or two including only what you must do, such as work or school obligations, long-standing medical appointments, and commitments that someone else is dependent on (such as grocery shopping or your child's music lesson).  Now add two or three activities that would be nice to do, such as a coffee date with a friend, helping in your child's classroom, or going out to dinner with your spouse.  Leave the rest of your time slots blank.


Now live according to your plan.  Keep simple notes about how your days progress.  How does it feel to have less in your schedule?  Are you more relaxed, or are you bored?  What do you wind up doing when you're bored?  Do you take the opportunity to read, meditate, listen to music, get outside, really talk and listen to others, or pick up a hobby?  Or do you turn to TV, binge-watching, social media, shopping, or something else?


After your trial period, edit.  You probably set aside some of your normal optional activities.  Do you miss them?  Are you able to see clearly that they were adding something important to your life, or did you not even think of them while you opted out for a couple of weeks?  How did you use your free time, and do you want to make some changes?  How will you create your schedule going forward?




Example: kitchen cupboards


dishes and glassware
Pound it out.  Quickly choose one set of dishes, glasses, and flatware, with two place settings per family member.  Choose your two or three most-used pots and pans, a cutting board and a knife or two, three to five most-used cooking utensils, and small appliances you normally use every day.  


Store away everything else, and live with your limited kitchen tools for a week or two.  Feel free to pull other things out of storage if you need or want to, but only one piece at a time.


After your trial period, edit,  Are there things you didn't use and can remove?  Are there things you need to add?  Are there things that are more versatile which can take the place of specialty tools?  You have more basis for deciding since you gave yourself something to decide about.  You know which questions to ask yourself and have a clearer idea of which direction you want to go.


You could also try this experiment with your pantry and refrigerator.  Stay out of the grocery store (except perhaps for fresh fruits and veggies, plus milk if you have young children), and challenge yourself to use what you already have for one week.  After your trial period, edit.  Which recipes belong in your go-to repertoire?  What do you need to add?  What do you need to stop overbuying?  Which impulsive buys do you need to watch out for?




Example: old photos


Pound it out.  If you're going through many boxes as you clear out the home of a deceased loved one (or your own long-stored stuff), designate one box where you can toss photos as you come across them.  Don't even look at them for now – simply gather them in one spot.


Once all photos have been collected, clear a work space.  Quickly choose all of the undamaged, non-blurry photos in which you can put a name to at least one person.  Put all others into a box to deal with later.


Now, as quickly and simply as possible, arrange the photos you chose in a rough chronological order.  If you have a lot of photos, this may have to be by decade rather than by year.


Let your project rest for several days or up to a couple of weeks.  Every time you pass by the display, take a few moments to peruse it.  If certain photos stand out as excellent (unique or iconic in some way, super clear, everyone looking their best, commemorating a special occasion, etc.), put a small Post-It note on them.


old photos
During this trial period, you're slowly selecting the cream of your photo collection.  After your determined time, pull the Post-It photos out, laying them on their own in chronological order (which you've already established).


Consider this collection.  Is it complete?  Which events or trips do you feel are missing?  Quickly look through the other photos and choose a few more to fill in.  Put your photos into an album or scan them onto a flash drive (or both).


After this editing process, you may find you're able to get rid of everything else.




Two steps to success.


Start with a specific goal or boundary, then give yourself something to edit.  It's the secret to good writing, and it might be the key to a simpler life as well.




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Comments

  1. This article is a keeper for me. The practical examples help me see a new way to approach my journey to minimalism. It lowers the stress I feel in tackling a new area of my home and possessions. I don’t have to get it completely right the first time.

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