Sometimes our lives take on a velocity of their own. If we aren’t careful, it’s easy to get swept up and let the stress of life dictate how we life, what we do, and how long we do it. Years ago, I decided that the life of a minimalist sounded appealing and resolved to simplify my life as much as possible. While I haven’t achieved my goals, compared to how stressful my life was 2 years ago I might as well be retired.
Goals and to-do lists
I read a simple, but amazing little book called The Checklist Manifesto, Some of the studies cited in the book showed that many medical and surgical organizations saved dozens of lives by simply following a checklist of their procedure. And these are veteran surgeons with years or decades of experience! I found it hard to believe that if checklists could help in such an important job, that they couldn’t help me improve as well. It’s good to make lists of goals as well. Without getting too crazy and writing a 300-page bucket list, come up with 4 or 5 things that you consider very important in your life. It could be family members, a hobby, finishing school, or really anything that you consider meaningful. Try and let other things go and focus simply on the things that you consider most important. More than likely these are the things that will also make you feel happy and fulfilled, and therefore are most worthy of your attention.
Likewise, a daily to-do list will help you accomplish those small tasks that nag your mind throughout the day. You know the ones I mean; you probably just thought of two or three after reading that sentence. Emptying the dishwasher, trimming the grass, organizing the tools in your garage. We all have them, and if you’re like me, this week’s list would look pretty darn similar to last week’s. A good idea is to keep a running list and try to accomplish one thing a day. Messy desk? Instead of attacking the whole office at once, make a small goal of straightening out the desk and clearing away unused papers, pens and clutter. If you start with one small task, it won’t seem as overwhelming. Rather, let the small tasks serve as a trial run, or as training, to help you life a simpler, clutter-free life.
Organizing your finances
One of the biggest steps for me was getting a budget organized and seeing where I was hemorrhaging the most cash. Balancing your household budget may sound like a big chore, but you’ll be amazed what plugging a few holes can do for your disposable income. Like many people, I quickly found out that I spent way too much money eating away from home. This led me to be more attentive during grocery shopping, and plan ahead for snacks and quick meals I could eat on the road. There are many ways to pay down debt, but what worked for me was simply organizing my bills from largest to smallest, and while paying the minimum on the largest bills, pay all the extra I could on the smallest. The relief that comes from crossing first one, then another monthly payment off was undeniably one of the best feelings I’ve ever had. It’s still a work in progress, and I’m not debt free yet, but I know down to the dollar how much I need for bills every month, and I manage to stay 1-2 months ahead on all my payments. That cushion gives me great peace of mind.
Simplify your house
I have too much space … said no one ever, but this time it happens to be true. Through a good friend, I rent a house at well below regional prices. Due to an interesting moving situation, my only furniture is a bed and recliner (and the recent addition – a free stationary bike, yay!). Not a lot of furniture for a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house. If you have a spare room for storage, it can be a blessing or a curse. You can use the opportunity to stack and label in ways that would rival store warehouses, or it becomes the catch-all room for things you don’t have time to put away. If you don’t have extra rooms and feel disorganized in your home, it’s a good idea to start with the one-thing-a-day rule. Pick a room and resolve not to move to another until that room is organized to your liking. Spread it out over a week. Each day, do one task in the room and do it well. Organize a shelf, put books away (in alphabetical order if you’re feeling froggy). When that room is done to your satisfaction, it becomes off limits to clutter. If you absolutely must drop something on the floor, drop it in a different room. Take your time and work your way through the house. Ikea actually did a study (Ikea does studies?) showing that 80% of the clothes most people own never get used. We tend to pick our favorites and stick with what’s comfortable. Maybe add that to your list. If you have unused clothes that just fill your closet or drawers, pick 5 items a week to consign or give to charity.
Timing is everything
It’s important to leave a little space around the plans you have throughout the day. No matter what important goals you have, life will keep moving at the same pace around you; the only time you really control is your own. For example, the benefits of leaving early for work. If traffic gets snarled you won’t be running late. I promise you’ll feel better on arrival if you didn’t feel pressed and rushed to get there. Part of starting your day off right involves keeping a positive state of mind as you set yourself to your tasks. Even at home, don’t be in a rush to do too much at once. If you start peeling back the excess and focus on the 4-5 things that you decided are really important, and only worry about the individual chores that you have laid out for yourself, you may find a bit more free time. Take that and use it. Even if it’s just sitting for a moment to relax and kick your feet up. Living with less stress will make it easier to tackle necessary requirements later on. You’ll also find that living with less stress will give you more energy. Stress can eventually sap your will and make it difficult to focus.
These are just a very, very few things that you can do to lead a simpler, happier, healthier life. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. It’s about developing habits that benefit you, your family and your goals. Hopefully you can step out of the currents of life, and find time to be who you really want to be, and live like you never have before.