Could it be that it was only eight short months ago when we were ringing in the new year and ushering in a brand-new, shiny decade full of hope? The anticipation of the coming U.S. presidential election and Olympic Summer Games energized the country and the world. In our house, it was the beginning of the countdown to our first-born starting her senior year of high school in September and turning 18 in October. Our son was eagerly awaiting a summer of hard training for his next vigorous cross country season in the Fall. My organizing business was finally booming and my husband’s career humming along very nicely. 2020 promised to be a banner year for the Sheridan family.
Then BAM! Seemingly out of the blue, a pandemic of epic proportions, quarantines, school closures, sports cancellations, postponed primaries...followed by murder hornets, protests, wildfires, hurricanes, fire tornadoes…and worst of all, death--lots of it, job losses, endless bread lines, potential foreclosures, and financial ruin for many...all piled up in a big heap, bringing everything to a standstill. The old saying that the only things in this life that are a certainty are death and taxes never hit more close to home. So here we are: at the crossroads of hope and uncertainty. What now? How do we merge these two seemingly divergent paths into one? How do we maintain hope amid all this chaotic uncertainty?
First, let’s take a step back to consider just why confronting uncertainty is so uncomfortable for most of us. Perhaps it’s because it threatens our need to feel in control. If we can’t see a roadblock up ahead, we can’t take an alternate route or steer around it to our advantage. Right now, most of us are just wondering when...when schools and businesses will reopen; when we’ll get financial relief; when a vaccine will be available that can allow us to resume something resembling normalcy. It’s hard to keep up with all the unexpected twists, turns and detours on Rt. 2020. Nevertheless, there are still three very crucial things that do remain totally within our control, should we choose to exert it. Let’s start there:
Whether you are ill (from anything) or fit as a fiddle, the choices you make about caring for yourself will affect how you feel both physically and mentally. Tune in to your body, as well as your soul, and make changes in any of the following areas, if necessary, to improve your well-being:
Whether you are quarantining alone or with others, your overall attitude plays a major role in your ability to cope with your situation. Keeping your outlook positive despite your circumstances will not only boost your own spirits, it can become a beacon of hope for others who may need a reminder of all the goodness still surrounding us. Attitude is how your perspective and priorities dictate how you interface with the world around you.
Whether you are working multiple jobs as an essential worker, furloughed at home desperately seeking employment, or finding yourself in the unexpected role of homeschooling parent, your actions are always a matter of choice and thus totally under your control. How well are your actions reflecting the attitude you want to convey? Are you eating junk food on the sofa, yelling at the other side’s politicians on TV, wallowing in gloom, self-pity and self-loathing, or are you reaching out to make a positive impact, using your available time to engage in proper self-care, helping others, hopeful thinking, and positive self-talk? The choice is yours. Make a good one.
Let's face it: this has been a difficult year so far and the only thing we can be certain of is that yet more uncertainty surely lies around the next corner. But by staying focused on the things that are still within your control, even confronting uncertainty with hope intact can be easy peasy.
Imagine standing in the bottom of a deep pit, looking up and wondering how you will ever get out! Actually, most of us don’t have to imagine that...we experience it every time we look at our long To-Do lists and bulging calendars (assuming you even have those...not having them is more like realizing you’re at the bottom of a deep well but being unable to even see the sky). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the only way out of a deep, dark pit of any kind is to climb out. You need a ladder, a rope, a staircase, or a lot of well-placed toe- and hand-holds. Then it’s just a matter of climbing one carefully-planned step at a time. Well, today I’m gonna teach you how to build yourself a staircase leading out of that pit of endless tasks, chores, projects and appointments that make up “adulting”.
As with building any sturdy, reliable staircase, the first step is always to set aside planning and building time. Constructing it in a slap-dash-as-you-go fashion will leave you with nothing but a rickety pile of lumber that could give way at any time, sending you back down to the bottom of the pit with potential injuries. So, if you don’t already have a calendar, get one. It can be an app you use on your phone/tablet or a good old-fashioned paper day planner...whatever works for you. Add to it a weekly appointment with yourself, preferably at a consistent time and in a quiet location with limited interruptions so that you can focus. Do not blow off this appointment...EVER! I know, I know...you’re busy...things come up...the kids never give you any peace and quiet. Just remember: you are stuck in a pit! Nothing can be accomplished--for anyone--until you manage to pull yourself out of it. So finding a way out should be your #1 priority!
During your first appointment, create a blueprint for your staircase by considering your hierarchy of life priorities. What’s at the top? Health and fitness? Time with family? Your career? Knowing exactly which side of the pit you want to emerge on will determine how you build your staircase, so it’s worth recording your hierarchy and referring back to it whenever you’re not sure how to prioritize. For more guidance on how to determine this, go back and read the Achieving Simplicity post from August 3, 2020.
Next, you'll need to gather all your building materials. This involves brainstorming about everything you think you might need to do this week. Include errands, chores, phone calls/emails, research, work and home improvement projects, appointments, volunteer work, meals, and all other commitments and responsibilities. This step will become easier in time as you gain a sense of which materials (to-do items) you really don’t need for your staircase and build up a stockpile of the ones you use each and every week. Keep a running task list that you continually add to as you think of new things.
Once you have a comprehensive list, identify the components you really don’t need and get them out of your way. In other words, delegate as many tasks as you reasonably can and eliminate or defer the optional things that don't align with your top priorities. (Here’s where that blueprint really comes in handy!) Where might you be able to relax your standards or expectations to make this climb a bit easier? What optional tasks can wait? By the way, relaxation time is not optional. While you may need to tweak how much of it you get from one week to the next, trying to make do without it is like building a staircase without any hardware. Eventually it will collapse under the pressure.
Now you just need to order your steps. Fill out your calendar and daily tasks lists while answering these questions:
Once you’ve completed your staircase, you’re ready to start climbing. But first, don’t forget a daily safety check. Each morning, consult your plan, just as you would double-check the reliability of each step before placing all your weight on it. If you discover a weak or missing tread up ahead, don’t panic...just replace it. It’s a whole lot easier to tweak your staircase as you go through your week, than it is to try to climb out of that pit without one.
Download our FREE Week-Ahead Planner to help you get started.
The best news is that the more staircases you build, the better and quicker your construction becomes. With a well-drawn blueprint and the right tools, building a staircase to any solution can be easy peasy.
Have you ever noticed how time-consuming consuming food can be? First we have to decide what food to eat. Then we have to acquire the food. Next, we have to prepare the food. After that, we actually eat the food. And finally, we must clean up from preparing and eating the food. And this cycle never ends. Most of us perform each of these tasks several times, every single day. It stands to reason that any effort to simplify our lives must include simplifying how we consume food.
Whether you are cooking for a large family or eating alone, a little planning can go a long way toward saving valuable time, effort, money and energy in the kitchen. Knowing in advance what's on the menu will allow you to take advantage of some shortcuts and ultimately leave you feeling less stressed and more satisfied by your meals. As you may have gathered, I'm a big advocate of meal planning and have created this free guide and menu planner to help teach you just how easy peasy it can be. But whether you plan a week's worth of dinners in advance or not, here are a few tips to help you simplify your eating:
The most important rule of all to follow when it comes to cooking and eating your food is to enjoy the moment! Take a much-needed break from your daily stresses as you eat. If you're eating with others, enjoy the time together and some good conversation. If you're eating alone, enjoy the quiet solitude and time to reflect. Either way, put your phone down, turn off the TV, and give yourself some time to unwind. Eating should be about replenishing your mind and soul, as well as your body. Be present in the moment. You invested a lot of time and effort in creating it...make it worth it!
With a few tips and a healthy appetite, even keeping food simple can be easy peasy.
Don't miss out! Sign up to receive new posts of the EPL Blog, delivered right to your email each week.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever used a first aid kit, makeup kit, or sewing kit. 🙋If so, you’re already familiar with the concept of what I like to call “kit (or “task) organizing"...storing all the items you need to perform a specific task or complete a certain activity together. We tend to do this naturally with certain items, such as cooking and laundry, but there may be other opportunities you've overlooked.
Why organize this way?
Think about the steps required to complete a task...any task. Step number 1 is always to assemble all the tools and materials you need. At least it should be. Otherwise, you end up having to interrupt the task to go find what you need, and who has time for that? Well, kit organizing takes care of the first step for you. Assuming you remembered to put your tools and materials away the last time you performed the task, you only need to get out your kit again and voila! Everything you need is right there!
An even bigger benefit to organizing this way is that it’s actually much easier to put your tools and materials away when you're done. Rather than putting the scissors back where the scissors go, and the tape back where the tape goes, and the ribbon and gift wrap back where they belong, you simply put everything back in your gift wrapping kit and store that away for next time. Let’s face it...searching for the scissors and tape because they didn’t get put back in the right place the last time you used them is often the most challenging and time-consuming part of wrapping a gift. Kit organizing just simplifies the getting-out and putting-back (and consequently, the finding-of) everything you need to complete your task.
What’s the best way to store kits?
Contrary to the mental image you may have in your head, a “kit” doesn’t necessarily always involve a cute little carrying case. Many may, but what makes it a "kit" is not what kind of receptacle it's stored in, but rather that all of the items in it center around a specific activity. Some kits may include large items that take up an entire closet, while others are better stored in a small, transportable pouch. How you contain it depends on what type of task/activity it’s used for and where that activity is performed. Tasks that are always performed in the same location and have room to store the kit there don’t require a carrying case. For example, if you always put your makeup on at a makeup table with drawers, you can just use a drawer to hold the components of your makeup kit.
Conversely, if you like to do your nails at the kitchen table but don’t have room in the kitchen to store your nail kit, putting those items in a small bag you can retrieve from the bathroom makes a lot of sense. Anytime you have to carry stuff around, having everything already stored in a transportable receptacle makes it more likely you won't leave something behind by accident. Open caddies, small backpacks or totebags, lidded or open bins, baskets and zippered pouches are all great options for containing your kits. Pick the one that best suits how you use that particular kit.
Kits aren't just for home use!
Kit organizing can be particularly useful for items you use outside the home. Grab-and-go activity bags for trips to the pool, sporting events (or practice), or picnics take the stress out of preparing for fun outings. Being already packed and ready whenever the mood strikes will make you more likely to go enjoy yourself! And you'll be less likely to forget something if you've invested some forethought in what belongs in your kit and store everything together between outings. Just make sure you remember to remove anything you've accumulated during your trip that doesn't belong in the kit before you put it away.
What should go in a kit?
Chances are, you are already organizing this way for some tasks/activities. If you store all your camping equipment together, that’s a camping kit. But there may be items you can add to your existing kit to make life even simpler. For example, does your camping kit include all the "staples" you routinely take camping with you, such as paper towels, aluminum foil, and utensils...or do you still have to retrieve those from the kitchen each and every time you pack for a camping trip? It may not always be feasible to store everything you need in your kit, due to space or financial considerations. The idea is to make your kit as complete as you reasonably can in order to simplify assembling and putting away your tools and materials before and after use. (Tip: for camping or other away-from-home activities, consider including with your kit a list of additional items you know you'll always need to take with you but for one reason or another cannot store with the rest of your kit. This will help ensure you don't forget something.) How often you use your kit will also determine what goes in it. If you go camping multiple times each summer, it may be worth investing in a second set of cooking utensils to keep in your kit; if you only go every couple of years, perhaps not. Think about the types of tasks/activities you perform most frequently and make a list of all the items you use. Begin building your kit from there.
Would having any of these kits assembled and ready to go make your life simpler?
Today's adults are busier than ever…we are kids' chauffeurs, homework helpers, community volunteers, short order cooks, corporate slaves and marathon commuters. The demands on our time are never-ending. In a world of instant access, we keep trying to cram more and more into the same 24 hours. Then, we fill our homes with stuff we think will make life “easier”...time-saving gadgets in the kitchen, clever electronic devices in our pockets, anti-stress and anxiety medications in our cabinets. Our constant need to “keep up” with our friends and neighbors lures us into an endless quest for the latest fashions in clothing and decor, the newest video games, the best new this, that or the other. Before we know it, our cluttered homes, hectic schedules, stretched budgets, and frazzled nerves seem to conspire against us to withhold from us the one thing that most of us crave: simplicity.
Simplicity is the removal of the unnecessary to make room for peace and clarity. Less stuff, fewer commitments, efficient routines, clearer priorities all both lead to and result from simplicity. So how do we achieve simplicity?
It all begins with greater self-awareness. You cannot remove the unnecessary from your life until you identify what is truly necessary. To do that, answer these questions:
What are your priorities? What most fulfills your sense of purpose? What brings you joy? What activities do you truly need to have in your life to feel whole? If you want to live the simple life, you must build your life around these priorities, not the other way around. Do your career choices, hobbies and volunteer activities reflect your priorities, or arrived at the road you are on simply because it was the path of least resistance? Very often, what feels like the easier path at the beginning turns out to be the more difficult one in the long run. But do not confuse simplicity with ease. Achieving simplicity usually requires change, and change is rarely easy.
What are your strengths? Identifying your strengths enables you to play to them. It also highlights what are not your strengths. Find people with different strengths from your own to help you with your weaknesses. Life becomes simpler when we accept these realities and include them in the planning process. And when we cannot avoid performing tasks that are not among our strengths, modifying our expectations of ourselves...giving ourselves the patience and grace to be less than perfect...gives us the courage to try.
What is your plan for getting where you want to go? Be patient enough to plan. There are no shortcuts. Everything worthwhile takes effort, even simplifying. It’s where you invest your effort that makes the difference. Invest it in making a plan and then executing that plan. If you plan carefully and patiently, knowing your limitations and playing to your strengths while giving yourself the grace to stumble, fall and learn, follow-through becomes much simpler and more straight-forward.
What do you really need that you don’t already have to achieve your goals? You may be surprised at the answer to this question. It is likely not to be more physical belongings. Time. Space. Money. Energy. Confidence. Understanding. Moral support. Knowledge...none of these needs will be met by an Amazon delivery or trip to the store. If you truly want to simplify your life, remove those non-necessities.
What do you already have that you do not really need? Remove the unnecessary to make room for more peace and clarity. Make room in your home for more living. Make room in your head for more thinking and dreaming. Make room in your heart for more caring. Make room in your calendar for more planning.
Our lives are cluttered with extra steps because we don’t plan properly or are trying to be too perfect; with extra commitments because we don’t acknowledge our limitations; with extra effort because we are so rushed we mess up, having to do it all over again; with extra stuff because we haven’t taken the time to figure out what we actually need, versus what we want; and with extra stress and anxiety because we don’t know who we are or how to achieve simplicity.
But we can change all that. With a little planning, self-awareness and some resulting simplicity, even the most cluttered, frazzled life can become easy peasy.
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.