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.
Space truly is the final frontier! Everyone seems to be on an endless quest for it...for space in their homes...on their desks...in their busy lives! Yet it eludes most of us. Just as soon as we find some....poof! It’s gone and the search begins anew. But what if instead of spending all of our space, we kept some of it….empty?!! Today, I’m making a case for space!
First, how is empty space even useful?
Preserving your empty space boils down to choosing space over stuff. You may be asking...if empty space is so valuable, then why do people tend to choose stuff over space? Good question! Clients usually call me when their lack of space begins causing a problem in their lives. They are aware that they need more space, yet still seem compelled to fill it back up again when given the opportunity. Why? Here are some of the most common reasons, along with my counterpoint for each one: Do any of these sound familiar?
Fear of being without something you may need (clothes, paper towels, shoes, serving dishes).
Counterpoint: If you run out of something, you can go shopping, do laundry, borrow from a neighbor, order online. If none of these are possible, you will likely find a way to make do in an emergency. Such emergencies will be very rare and far outweighed by the everyday benefits of having more space. Think up a back-up plan in advance if that makes you feel less afraid to part with something. (Personal aside: At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis when toilet paper was difficult to find, I came up with multiple contingency plans for if/when we ran out. I never had to use any of them, but now that I have them, I don’t feel a need to use up my valuable space hoarding toilet paper.)
Avoiding a deep-seated (and usually misplaced) perception of poverty and/or a misperception of “wealth”.
Counterpoint: Having more stuff doesn’t make you rich. It actually costs you more in the long run. Would you rather be “rich” in stuff that gets in your way, or rich in time and energy that can be spent on having new and meaningful experiences, learning more about the world, and forging/maintaining important relationships? Which will matter more at the end of your life? Remember, the old adage “You can’t take it with you” refers to your material wealth.
Unwillingness to make choices (aka decision deferral).
Counterpoint: Making decisions gets easier and quicker with practice and takes less time when you do it on a daily basis. Developing a habit of making decisions in the moment takes effort but will pay huge dividends in the long run.
Need to fill up the other aspects of life that feel empty (relationships, self-esteem, productivity, sense of control).
Counterpoint: Space gives us freedom. We need space to live in, move in, fill up with the people and activities that bring us joy. When we do that, we will not feel emptiness; we will feel fulfilled.
So how do we create and maintain empty space?
Simple: Choose space over stuff. Now that you understand the value of empty space and why you may have chosen stuff instead in the past, it will be easier to make more intentional decisions in the future. There are three key components to this:
With a little conscious decision-making and a few good habits, even holding onto empty space can be easy peasy!
If you have kids at home - especially young ones - no doubt you are well-acquainted with the pain of walking through a minefield of Legos. If you haven't had the pleasure, just imagine walking across a floor covered in broken glass. Or maybe you've encountered the slip-n-slide effect of stepping on a stray paper or magazine left on the stairs...or discovered a new life form growing in the sweaty clothes strewn across your teenager's bedroom floor. Ah yes, kids seem to have a special knack for sowing chaos, destruction and grossness, but they are equally capable of creating order and finding solutions with the right guidance, encouragement and opportunity. Which is a good thing, because you won't have the time or energy to keep up with their messes without a bulldozer...and not many of us have room for storing one of those. You'll need some help!
Maintaining an orderly home requires solid teamwork from the entire family, and raising a generation of organized, clutter-free adults begins at home with consistent coaching from you. Even if you struggle with organization yourself - in fact, especially if you do - there are still things you can all do together as a cohesive unit to transform your home into the calm and relaxed sanctuary you all deserve to live in.
Start early by training your young children to sort objects, put their toys away and make thoughtful decisions about their belongings. Establishing routines for everyone in the household (including you!) and stating clear expectations will help all of you stay on track. Instead of barking out orders and making chore-time feel like a punishment, underscore the unifying effect collaboration will have on your family unit. Offering age-appropriate incentives and finding creative ways to make the process fun for everyone will teach them that with a little planning and teamwork, orderly living and a home they can proudly share with others can be easy peasy!
No matter how old your kids are or what state your home is currently in, it is never too early or too late to start adopting some of these strategies:
Keep it Positive
Lay the Foundation
Go on Autopilot Whenever Possible
Evolve and Adapt
Make it Fun!
Parenting is at its most challenging when we are faced with the prospect of teaching our young ones something we, ourselves, are still trying to learn. But in my experience, some of the most special experiences I've shared with my children are the ones where I was learning alongside them. You don't have to have to be an expert at cleaning and organizing to begin teaching your children the importance of learning those skills. You just have to be willing to make the effort to model how to learn them.
With a little effort and collaboration, even maintaining an orderly home can be easy peasy.
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year's, or Festivus, December tends to be a frenzied time of year for most of us. Perhaps you are familiar with this old-fashioned holiday recipe?
1 cup Family Togetherness
3 cups Overcommitted Time
2 teaspoons Desire to Impress Others
1/2 cup Unrealistic Expectations
1 3/4 cup Excessive Spending
4 tablespoons Bad Nutrition and Lack of Exercise
2/3 cup Exhaustion
Name Your Goal
What's the most important point to your holiday? Is it spiritual reflection? Spending time with loved ones? Giving something back to help those less fortunate? Taking time to savor the tastes, sights and sounds of the season? Reliving fond memories through old traditions? For many of us, it is all of these things, but you must determine which is #1 on your list so that you can prioritize your activities accordingly. When scheduling conflicts arise, ask yourself which calendar item most reflects your #1 goal for the season. This will help you not to spread yourself too thin. It's okay to say "no", especially if it means saying "yes" to a more relaxed and enjoyable holiday!
Keep it Real
Even Martha Stewart doesn't do it all herself. She has a staff of people to make it all look easy...which it isn't. People are rarely impressed with frazzled hosts/hostesses. Be realistic and accept that you have limits. Embrace them and spend time on the things you enjoy doing to make the season special...a cheerful smile is always pretty impressive, don't you think? It's okay to buy the dessert for your party or to give a gift card you picked up at the supermarket, especially if it means having more time to spend with the people you care about.
Set a Budget
Also not impressive is bankruptcy. Don't give yourself the gift of massive credit card debt this year! Decide what purchases most reflect your #1 goal and budget accordingly. If giving to those less fortunate is at the top of your list, consider making charitable donations in a loved one's name as your gift to them. If enjoying the sights and sounds of the season is imperative, factor in those tickets to the Nutcracker or that especially tall Douglass Fir and plan ahead. It's okay to shorten your gift list to fit within your means...you may find that others are relieved to have the opportunity to shorten theirs too.
Norman Rockwell aside, most of us have some degree of dysfunction or disagreement within our extended families. Holidays tend to bring out the short tempers in everyone, so agree to some ground rules before your spinster great-aunt or your unemployed cousin move in for Christmas week or your mother-in-law reluctantly agrees to let you make the latkes for Hanukkah. It's okay to put all your cards on the table beforehand so that everyone knows what to expect (or what not to).
Give Yourself the Gift of Good Health
Stress and fatigue lead to illness. Over-indulgence leads to guilt and a wide array of health issues. Make the time to eat right, exercise and rest. Your friends and family would rather have you for the holidays than the presents, food and parties. It's okay to take care of you during this busy season so that others won't have to.
Don't forget, today's holidays are tomorrow's memories...you'll treasure them more if you don't make unreasonable demands on yourself. Even memorable holidays can be easy peasy if you just relax, celebrate and enjoy!
I'm bracing myself for a barrage of hate mail for posting this, but my recent discovery has brought me such freedom that I simply must shout it from the rooftops!
I'd like to think I've proven myself as a reasonably frugal consumer. When I say "frugal", I mean that I am budget-conscious and put some effort into finding decent bargains while also recognizing that my time is at least as limited as my finances.
First an admission: I do not coupon (gasp). I found it to be too time consuming and confusing. On top of that, in order for couponing to work, you have to actually remember to give the cashier your coupons...oops! I used to be a regular shopper at warehouse stores like Sam's and Costco because of the low per-unit price you could get by buying in bulk. But then I realized that while spending $400 in one week for 3 different items may save me money in the long run, my short-term cash flow was precisely that...short. So I began shopping at a discount grocery store that stocks mostly off-brand products but where the prices (and the quality) are at least as good as the coupon and warehouse deals without the hassle or the huge outlay.
Finally, I had managed to secure a low unit cost without having to purchase a high quantity. I began to see the benefits of fitting normal-sized products into my tiny pantry (pictured left...I just love my pantry). Gone (eventually) were the 2-liter bottles of soy sauce and vats of olive oil. Crackers, pretzels and cereal were no longer going stale before they could be consumed. I was able to reclaim part of my garage for storing other items besides overflow food. And it no longer took the National Guard to help me unload all the groceries each week.
Unfortunately, I kept buying more cans and boxes than I actually consumed each week out of pure habit..."just to have some on hand". I still had one large shelf reserved in the garage for storing all my extras. In the garage, mind you...where I hate to go. I would send the kids down to get stuff for me, so I lacked a keen sense of what was actually there. I was always buying things we didn't need and not buying something we did need simply because I assumed we already had more of it down in the garage.
And then something happened to knock some sense into me. I fell down the stairs and dislocated my shoulder...badly. I could no longer carry as many groceries and was forced to shorten my weekly shopping list to only what I knew we would use in the next week or two.
Eureka! Now I can fit everything into my pantry where I can easily see at a glance just what we need. Everything is fresh and actually consumed rather than wasted. Putting the groceries away is quicker and easier, and I now have even more room in my garage. I feel so FREE!
All of this has made me realize that being a "frugal" consumer means respecting not just your financial and time limitations, but your space limitations too. My father used to always say, "Space is at a premium." It surely is a precious commodity to be used wisely. Don't squander your spacial budget just to stretch your financial or time budgets. Find a balance of all three.
How do you balance your financial, time and spacial budgets?
Note: Your Sam's or Costco membership may still be worthwhile for purchasing household items, office supplies, electronics, etc. at a great price or for when you are feeding a large crowd. I am not suggesting you ditch it! Just don't let bulk purchases of regular groceries eat up all your space.
I recall the look of complete amazement and bewilderment on the face of my British friend as I described to her, sometime back in the late '80's, how a drive-thru bank worked. I'm not sure if she was impressed by the ingenuity of such an idea or astonished at the sheer laziness of an entire culture where such a phenomenon would even be needed, much less commonplace.
Indeed, we Americans seem to be almost obsessed with an ongoing demand for more and more "convenience". As though drive-thru restaurants, pharmacies and dry cleaners are not enough, we now have curbside pickup, hands-free concierge service on our cell phones, and remote controls that open our car trunks for us from 50 feet away. Of course, being the queen of laziness, I love it all and can't wait for the day that someone invents an exercise machine that allows me to burn calories and tone muscle while napping.
But if we aren't careful, our never-ending quest for convenience can become downright inconvenient, particularly when it comes to all those "convenience" kitchen appliances: juicers, bread makers, rotisseries, countertop grills, food dehydrators and vacuum sealers. Look around you. Are the appliances that are intended to conserve your time just consuming the valuable real estate in your home?
As with anything else, it's all about choices. Choose which convenience you want...drive-thru burgers, or easier homemade burgers? Vacuum packed groceries you can freeze for fewer trips to the store, or door-to-door grocery delivery? Be realistic and consider your lifestyle and current needs to determine which you will really use. If you want to keep the food dehydrator, fine. USE IT! Commit to it. Let go of that notion that you'll use it "someday". If "someday" ever does come, the newer models will be better, even easier to use, and probably worth the cost of buying a new one, so there's no need to keep this one around and in your way until then (unless it's Grandma's old ice cream maker and you are keeping it for sentimental reasons...but that's another post). Realize that there is nothing convenient about having to move the juicer every time you need to find a glass for your store-bought juice. ALL conveniences require some type of sacrifice--time, money, space, accessibility--so choose wisely.
I have a bread maker I bought about 15 years ago but rarely used because it was too big to store on the counter and required too much effort to get it out when put away. Storing such a large and infrequently-used appliance in my tiny kitchen was a luxury I could no longer afford, so I gave myself an ultimatum: either start using the bread maker regularly or get rid of it. Thus I re-organized my kitchen to make it easier to access my bread maker and have started using it at least weekly to make homemade dough for pizzas, pita bread and hamburger buns from pre-measured, homemade mixes I toss together once a month or so. I am choosing the convenience of having easier homemade pizza over the convenience of ordering pizza delivery, but that's a personal choice. The point is, you need to evaluate your current needs and priorities and stop allowing your convenience appliances to inconvenience your life by either finding a way to make using them easier or getting rid of them to make room for a different kind of convenience.
By the way, unused space is a pretty versatile convenience of its own. Just saying.
Update 1/5/2014: It's been five months since I originally posted this and I'm happy to report that I am continuing to use my bread maker very regularly. If you have a bread maker that's collecting dust, start using it to make home made pizza dough, rolls and pita bread from one of our EasyPeasy Mixes. You'll save money and will be amazed at just how quick and easy it is. Trust me! You'll never go back to eating that store-bought cardboard again!
After nine months of procrastination, excuses and cancellations, I finally had my "annual" physical yesterday. I had been dreading this since January, knowing that my likable yet firm and forthright nurse practitioner was going to lecture me about my hoard. Yes that's right...I'm a hoarder...a hoarder of calories. And just like all the hoarders on my favorite "Buried Alive" TV episodes, my years of hoarding have finally started taking their toll and are doing some real physical damage to the hoarder home...in this case, my body.
It's not exactly a secret to anyone who sees me that I like to eat and hate to exercise. I've struggled with maintaining my weight for most of my life but really began losing the battle after I had kids, not unlike so many people who lose their tenuous grip on organization and time management when the demands of life begin to outgrow the number of hours in a day. In fact, there are so many similarities between getting fit and getting organized:
My nurse practitioner has given me three months to start clearing out my hoard "or else" (meaning that another lecture from her will be the easiest part of my next appointment, I'm sure). So I find myself in the role of encouragee after months of playing the encourager. I hope it will make me better able to relate to my clients' struggles and find compassionate ways to encourage them. I'll keep you posted on my progress.
In the meantime, if you see me stuffing my gob with cupcakes, remind me that "it's all about making choices".
It's that time of year again...when life returns to its usual hectic pace after the lazy summer months. Four days into the new school year, I've finally finished celebrating. Now it's time to put away my martini glass and batten down the hatches, because we're about to get hit with a hurricane of homework, extracurricular activities and PTA events.
I'm a person who loves routines--no, needs routines--in order to function well. I find that it helps to be able to go on autopilot for everyday tasks so that I can save my brain power for when I really need it, like understanding what those international laundry symbols mean. (By the way, if you have the same problem, here's a key that you can print out and tape above your washing machine for future reference.) Routines are a great way to make sure you are squeezing in all of your repetitive, must-do tasks that, if forgotten, could be problematic...like going grocery shopping, doing the laundry, and brushing your teeth. But what happens when you have a one-time or less essential task or activity, like fixing the broken closet door or making time for friends, or getting a physical? Where do they fit in when your day is already packed to the gills with work, housework, homework, grocery shopping, chauffeuring the kids and laundry? Chances are, they get deferred until you have some "free" time. And when is that? When your kids leave home or you retire? (I've been told by those in the know that that golden goose is a myth, too.) Or worse, they happen when the fact that you have deferred them for so long leads to some crisis that makes them suddenly essential, like discovering you are really sick.
Time is like money and available calories: limited and once gone, you can't change your mind about how to spend it. Anyone on a food or financial diet will tell you that advance planning is the only way to avoid wasteful spending, yet few of us put that much advance thought into how we will budget our time in order to fit everything in.
Start with plugging the leaks and becoming more efficient:
Finally, stop feeling guilty about spending time on you. (I'm Catholic, so guilt comes really easy to me and I struggle with this one.) You are the most important person in your life. Without you, none of it matters, so you should be a top priority. If you need to exercise or meditate or shop or nap in order to feel refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of your seemingly endless To Do list, then do it! Nothing kills motivation like resentment, and that is what you will end up with if you don't take time out to tend to your own needs from time to time. Put it on the calendar, just as you would a doctor's appointment or parent-teacher conference, because it is just as important.
As my mother-in-law likes to say, "You're a long time dead", so make every minute count while you can!
I have a 7 year-old son and a 9 year-old daughter. They both insist--rather frequently--that they plan to never leave home. This is sad news, because I really had my heart set on A) seeing them happily married with children of their own some day; B) replacing all the scratched up furniture and stained rugs at some point once they were no longer around to ruin the new stuff. I'm reduced to hoping that my son will eventually revert back to his original plan of becoming a hobo. Maybe then I could at least get some new end tables.
Don't get me wrong. I love my children very much, but I'd be lying if I said that boarding school never crossed my mind when I read "The Chamber of Secrets has been opened" scrawled in red crayon on my daughter's dresser. For some reason, I was under the impression that once she was old enough to watch Harry Potter movies, she'd be past the stage of coloring her bedroom furniture. Apparently I failed to figure the need for proper set design into the equation.
Anyway, the point is that I love my home and want it to look nice. I feel good when I can look around my living room and see all the pretty things I picked out to decorate it. It makes me smile to see the framed photos of the people I love sitting atop the sideboard, and I enjoy sitting on the comfy sofa watching a favorite TV show or blogging on my laptop without being surrounded by chaos, dirt or mess. Sure, there's a small price to be paid to maintain this order, but 10-15 minutes here and there to tidy up is worth it to me. Like everything else in life, it is a choice...just like the choice I am making to keep my son, despite his recent failed attempt to make a ghost costume out of one of my pillow cases using scissors.
Once upon a time, you made an important choice too. You chose your home, and you were excited about it. You chose the color on the walls (probably), the sofa you sit on, the rugs you walk on, the desk or table you write on. And you were excited about them too. When you look around your home today, what do you see? Are you still excited about it? Are you still able to see all your favorite things? Is it the environment you chose, or just the one you tolerate?
Life is short. Make sure the set design is appropriate for the story you hope to live.
I try to make a point of going through my storage area at least once or twice a year to pare down things I no longer need and to stem the tide of the post-Christmas or post-party chaos that sometimes creeps in and threatens to take hold in there. I have a couple of "memorabilia" bins that had been added to quite a bit since the kids started school and had not been looked through in quite a few years, so I decided it was time to take a look and pare down the contents to just the items that were really worthy of taking up that valuable space.
One of the things I found in there was my old "idea folder" of holiday crafts, kid activities and recipes that I had begun collecting back when I was single and bored and hoping to someday have a family, which would naturally come with oodles and oodles of time and energy for executing all these brilliant ideas. It was pretty amusing to realize that there had once been a time when I actually thought I'd someday master the culinary expertise required for making individual edible violin desserts out of a pear half with chocolate frets and spun sugar strings like the one featured on the cover of a Harry & David catalogue. Seriously, Valerie?!!!
Clearly I was living in a fantasy world where work, laundry, grocery shopping, menu planning, homework tutoring and ironing do not exist and motherhood is all about making homemade herb and cheese crackers, cupcakes that look like Sesame Street characters, and hand printed wrapping paper. I obviously didn't count on having children who were picky eaters with little desire to decorate sugar cookies and with more interest in finger painting outside in the mud and acting out a pretend episode of Scooby Doo Meets Darth Vader than creating faux stained glass Christmas tree ornaments out of tissue paper. If you had told me this cold, hard truth back then, I would have been devastated, but life has a funny way of changing your priorities. Sure, there are moments when I wish my kids shared my love of crafts and baking, but I wouldn't trade my little actress and Picasso for anything in the world. I delight in watching them show their creativity in a million different ways that are uniquely their own and take pleasure in surprising them with mine on special occasions. The truth is that now that I am a wife and mother, I would rather spend my time cuddled up with my kids watching The Lion King or using my imagination to come up with creative ways to teach them their table manners.
Easy peasy living isn't just about getting organized and managing your time more efficiently. It's about keeping your goals in sync with your priorities and adapting them to life's ever-changing perspectives. I thought about keeping the "idea folder" for a time in the future when the kids are grown and I once again have time to indulge in learning how to make individual edible violin desserts, but I quickly realized that I would prefer to keep that space available for remembering what my children and I actually did do together instead of what I might (or, more likely, might not) do someday in the future by myself.
How often do we hold onto things that might benefit us someday and by doing so give up something that most definitely will benefit us today? Throwing out the idea folder not only freed up about 6 inches of space in that bin, it freed me from my regrets at not having accomplished my outdated, unrealistic goals of yesteryear. And most importantly, it gave me permission to move onto new goals, to collect new memories, and to rid myself of all the "someday" stuff hogging up valuable space in my brain as well as my storage area. If you are storing materials for use in projects from your old someday idea folder, ask yourself these questions:
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.