Simplify Your Life in 12 Steps

Mom and toddler in the kitchen.
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Shed mental and physical burdens to focus on what's important in life.

As technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, ideally these changes would help to simplify our lives. Perhaps our phones and computers could take over for some tasks we used to do. Alas...instead our lives have become increasingly complex, busy, stressed and sometimes overwhelming.

Living simply doesn't just mean ditching your belongings and buying a tiny house. Before you chuck it all and buy a plane ticket to Borneo, let’s look at the many ways, large and small, in which we can reduce, declutter and, yes, simplify our lives in order to be happier and more focused on what is truly important to us.

1. Slow down

Have you ever noticed that when you get sick and are forced to slow down, you see things you didn’t when you were in the frenetic blur of life? Don’t wait for your next head cold before you become present with your own life. Slow down and really hear what your kids are saying. Take a walk in nature. Make time for your favorite leisure activity, like taking a bubble bath or flipping through a good magazine before bed. Slowing down fosters mental clarity.

2. Write it down

When you think it, ink it. You pay a mental toll for carrying around your to-do list in your head—and you are more likely to forget something important. Capture your to-dos and brilliant ideas on paper or digital device right when they come to you. Your brain will thank you later.

3. Watch this documentarySimple room

Having doubts about all the stuff taking over your house? Your life? The documentary Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things asks the viewer to rethink the American dream of materialism. This eye-opening film shows why, contrary to popular belief, we will not become happier by acquiring more things, but instead by becoming more aware of who we are and what we want out of life.
 

4. Have a delete day

Take a day—or a few hours out of your day—to delete emails, voicemails and text messages you no longer need. Unsubscribe from unwanted emails with the app Unroll.Me, which allows you to see a list of your subscription emails and then does the unsubscribing for you. Easy. While you are at it, delete your email trash folder. If your hard-copy files are stacking up, too, fill the paper shredder and recycle bin. At the end of this purging, you will feel squeaky clean and amazing.

5. Prepare food for the week ahead

Simplify mealtimes by shopping for healthy food staples on the weekend and preparing meals for the week ahead. Consider cooking chicken breasts, hard-boiling eggs or making a big batch of chili. Make enough rice to use all week as a side dish. Cut up fresh veggies and have them ready in your fridge to munch on or toss on the grill. Do the same with fruit. Eating healthy is easy when you do a little advance prep.

I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. —Lao Tzu

6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Being a mom or dad superhero can last only so long. Some days we just need help. Give yourself permission to ask. Reach out to a friend, relative or your own kids for help cleaning the house or walking the dog. If you need a break, speak up and tell someone. You don’t have to be a martyr. Asking for the help you need ultimately benefits the entire family.

Read more: Are You Making This Common Parenting Mistake?

7. Put positive habits on autopilot

Instead of lamenting that a month has gone by and you haven’t read a book or made it to the gym, set a new habit and stick to it. Habits put you on autopilot, making your goals achievable, says happiness expert and best-selling author Gretchen Rubin. “So many things we want to do require repetitive engagement. If you are going to have coffee with a friend once a week, take a bike ride, read Scripture...it’s so much easier when there’s a habit to it. When you say, maybe I will go bike riding Monday after work, or maybe I will go on Tuesday, it just doesn’t happen. Habits are the way we follow through on the things we know will make us happier.”

Read more: Habits Can Be Happiness Forming

8. Simplify your wardrobe

How much time do you spend in front of your closet looking for something to wear? Consider a “capsule wardrobe.” Trim your closet to about 12 high-quality items that go together and work for the current season. (Store the rest of the year’s items out of view.) Aim for fewer than 30 pieces total, including accessories. With fewer choices and no closet clutter, deciding what to wear will no longer be stressful. (For further explanation of why less is more when it comes to choice, see Barry Schwartz’s excellent book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.)

9. Touch it once

If you tracked how many times you touch the same piece of paper on your desk, you’d realize that shuffling paper can make time disappear. The “touch it once” rule is a foundational time management principle and it’s an acronym—TIO—that goes beyond paper. We lose lots of time evaluating and re-evaluating our to-do lists, stacks of paper, emails and tasks and telling ourselves we will get to it later. “Touch it once” means deciding what to do with something while it’s in front of you. Decide to finish it, delegate it or put it on a project list. Tackle the stacks of paper—and your email—in the same way. Use it. File it. Or trash (recycle) it.

10. Just say ‘no’

Do you ever say “yes” to something, but schedule it far down the road so you don’t have to deal with it now? Just say “no” right away instead. If you don’t want to do the thing now, you aren’t going to want to do it later either.

Read more: 5 Positive Reasons for Saying No

11. Sort it out

Tidy closetIn Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, she suggests decluttering by category—your books, then your clothes—instead of by the room in your house. This is a fairly unusual idea that really works. Her more famous advice is to keep only the belongings that spark joy for you. The goal is to create a home filled with things you love.
 
12. Know yourself

Perhaps one person can work a full-time job, volunteer for several causes and never miss a date night but nonetheless not feel stressed. Yet someone else may need fewer activities and more free time in order to feel a sense of peace and flow in life. Tune in to your quiet voice that tells you whether you are living according to your values. Make adjustments to your schedule based on what you know to be true for you. Tip: If you aren’t doing your favorite things, it might be time to realign your activities with your core beliefs.


Sandra Bilbray is a contributing editor to Live Happy, and the founder and CEO of themediaconcierge.net.