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.
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!
If you really stop and think about it, the decision to get organized is a hopeful one. We hope that by decluttering our homes, sticking to a new routine, managing our time more efficiently or writing a To-Do list, we will finally, FINALLY gain control over the uncontrollable and attain peace of mind in our chaotic world. I may be a professional organizer, but as the mother of two (three if you count the big kid I'm married to), I am the first to admit that "being organized" is a matter of relativity. There's no such thing as a "totally organized" life, and even if there were, I seriously doubt you'd want to live it.
One of the most common issues I uncover when I go to a new client's house is that they have at least one large, unwanted, unneeded object sitting right in the middle of the most important area needing organization...their minds. The object is a negative thought that they keep tripping over. It takes up space that could be put to much better use. It obstructs easy access to other things sharing the space. It inserts itself into every task, and creates unwanted "noise". It detracts from the peacefulness of the space and, let's face it, it can be downright unappealing.
Obviously, the first step is to remove this negative thought from your mind. Do any of these sound familiar?
Have I mentioned how much I hate grocery shopping? The crowds. The lines. The screaming kids (usually my own). The screaming moms (usually me). The reckless cart drivers. The prices. The physical labor. The MATH! …
Fortunately for my hungry family, I love to eat more than I hate to grocery shop, so I do it anyway. However, I’m not willing to suffer this torture more than once/week if I can help it and, by golly, it’s gotta be worth the effort. This means wasting as little as possible of what I buy. I’m not lugging all that stuff home just to feed the fruit flies or to let it rot in the fridge!
Besides, have you seen the price of fresh produce recently? Eating healthy requires a significant investment of both time and money (neither of which I have in abundance), and protecting that investment is key to successful consumption (something I enjoy). Otherwise, you may as well just throw those apples in the trash as soon as you get home. Let’s face it, work is work…whether you pick those apples from the orchard yourself or pick through them in the produce aisle. And I, for one, want to do as little of that as I can get away with.
The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot of extra time or effort to lengthen the life of your produce. You’ll not only make up that time (with interest) later, but you’ll be more likely to actually eat all the yummy, healthy goodies you lugged home. As soon as you get home, wash and dry your lettuce, fresh herbs, “bowl fruit” (apples, oranges, etc.), grapes and berries before putting them away. They’ll be ready to eat/prepare when you want them, last longer and look more inviting.
If you have the time, go ahead and bag up individual portions of fruits and veggies before putting them away so that you or your family members can grab a healthy snack any time. I find that non-organic cut bell peppers, celery, carrots, and cucumbers will stay fresh for up to a week if stored properly in the fridge. This saves me oodles of time on lunch preparation throughout the week, because I can bag it up as soon as I get home from the store and then just toss it into the lunch boxes each morning. (If you shop organic, the shelf life may be shorter, so you’ll have to figure out what works best.) One cutting board + one knife + one time washing them and putting them away = three reasons for this busy/lazy mom to smile.
Just to be clear, I don’t wash everything before I put it away…just the things I’ve found make a difference. Here are a few tips that have worked well for me:
"Procrastination is the thief of time, collar him." -Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
It sneaks in, disguised as an innocent "good reason", and assures you it's harmless. Then it bludgeons your dreams and possibilities and steals all your hope. It kidnaps your creativity and leaves it to starve. And when you finally realize what's happened, it blames you...saying it's all your own fault for having invited it in the first place.
Procrastination is a known thief and murderer, stealing time and killing plans for a better, easier, more pleasant existence. So why do we keep on opening the door to it and how do we overcome its charming allure?
Recognize it - Ask yourself why you are putting something off. Identifying the real reason will help you to recognize procrastination for what it is, but you have to be honest with yourself.
Plan your counter-attack - Guard against procrastination by establishing a plan for completing the task as soon as you think of it. Having a plan of attack will eliminate unexpected obstacles to getting it done and will make the idea of completing it less daunting.
Call for back up - Get help in holding yourself accountable.
Be a hero - Once you've completed your task, bask in the glow of accomplishment and savor the sense of relief that comes from getting that monkey off your back. You did it! Remember how good this feels the next time you are faced with a task you dread.
Overcoming your tendency to procrastinate will empower you to dream big and hope more because you'll have the confidence you need to tackle anything that intrudes on your ability to accomplish your goals.
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!
If you are anything like me, you have a gazillion little household tasks that are too-often neglected. Things that would take about five minutes or less to complete, but just aren't high enough on the priority list to be remembered until your disgust or frustration with the results of having neglected them for so long forces you to take action. Often, you are in the throes of some other project when this occurs, so the trick is to make note of them as you think of them and use the little pockets of available time you have (the ones you don't consciously acknowledge and probably deny that you have) throughout your week to accomplish them. Keep the list where you can easily add to it the next time you notice something that needs doing.
Before you say it, yes you do too have pockets of available time, especially if you have a spouse or kids who are never ready when it's time to go somewhere.
Here are a few items on my list to help get you thinking:
Aliquid magnum ex parva! (Click here for translation)
A couple of months ago, I spent a much-overdue long weekend away with my three older sisters. It was the first time I had ever been away from my children for more than one night. (They are now 7 and 9.) I was sure that they would miss me, and I knew I would miss them, but my son responded to the news with this elated proclamation to his father:
"Hey Daddy, that means that we can do whatever we want all weekend, because Mommy won't be here to boss us around!"
Alas, it's true that we all need to take a break every now and then from doing what we're supposed to do. That's why we take vacations and why we skip the gym, take a "mental health day" from work, or cheat on our diets. In this case, my son thought that there would be no one ordering him to clean up his toys, make his bed or clear his dishes with his drill sergeant Mom on leave. His hope was that it would be one long video game-playing, TV-watching, Lego-dumping weekend filled with Cocoa Puffs for dinner, chocolate cake for dessert and no church or teeth-brushing to cramp his style. Turns out he was only half-right. He forgot that his sister was also staying home...and she's bossier than all the rest of the women in my family put together. The writing piece he did for school (at right) tells it all, I think. Are those blue things fish or a bossy sister's feet?
Anyway, a little time off from the regular routine is a healthy thing, and summer is the ideal time for relaxing our standards and enjoying some easy, laid-back simplicity. But there is a fine line between a relaxed routine and complete chaos...a line that is easily erased in the absence of a solid organizational foundation and a bit of self-discipline. Just like enjoying that all-you-can-eat dessert buffet, the long-term negative effects of your binge can be minimized with just a smidgeon of advance preparation and a plan in place for easing back into the rigors of everyday life when reality resumes in the fall. Also remember that kids need a little structure in place to reassure them when they crash from that sugar rush.
So go ahead and savor the sweetness of these long summer days, but just remember that you still need to brush if you don't want a cavity!
(And now that you've got the song stuck in your head, you may as well go ahead and listen to it! Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer )
My name is Valerie and I'm a neat freak. Or so I was told by my six-year-old last week. It is pretty hard to deny.
You've met people like me before. I'm the one who sends emails around the office reminding people to clean their coffee cups and then signs them with some passive-aggressive moniker like "the Dish Fairy" (a nickname that quickly morphed into "the Kitchen Witch" in one office I worked in). I'm that co-worker everyone jokingly accuses of doing no work because there are no papers left on her desk at the end of the day. The owner of a company I used to work for once asked if he could borrow my office for a meeting because it was so much neater than his. When I offered to help him clean up his, he just got a frightened look on his face and walked (ran) away.
At home I'm even worse, although contrary to popular belief, my spices are not alphabetized, nor is my closet color-coded. But I guess the mere fact that I often get asked if they are is an indication that my propensity towards order is a little excessive.
Believe it or not, I was once a typical kid who shoved stuff under the bed and got nagged at for leaving dirty dishes in the sink. My mother always loved to tell the story of the night she came home after dark and could see me through my ground-level bedroom window, head under the bed and rump up in the air, digging through the huge pile of stuff under my bed like a dog searching for a bone. I'm not quite sure when the mutation started, but I have often longed for that sloppy teen to come back and teach me how to happily co-exist with mess and clutter.
I have tried...truly I have. I once forced myself to leave several baskets of clean laundry in the hallway for a whole week while I took the kids on excursions to the zoo and picnics in the park, all in an effort to forget about housework in favor of spending more time with the ones I love. My best friend suggested snubbing the clean laundry as a good first test as she coached me in letting go of chores in favor of fun. She's one of those fun and easygoing moms who likes to pile her family's clean laundry at the foot of her bed. By the end of the week, after sleeping on top of it and tossing it out of the way when required, each piece has magically disappeared as the owner has claimed it and worn it again. Why waste time putting it away, she mused? It will be gone eventually and you'll always have more anyway. I have to admit that she does have a point, but by the end of my week of laundry rebellion I found myself tossing it all back into the dryer in a vain attempt to quickly eliminate the wrinkles that had infested the entire basket from everyone rummaging to find what they needed. Bottom line: As we learned at the zoo, a leopard can't change it's spots.
Now don't get me wrong...I can and do make one helluva mess in the midst of some of my more creative moments or in the hub-bub of my busy life as a mother of two and loving wife of a man who couldn't find the dirty clothes hamper if it was covered in $100 bills. It's just that I can't stand to live in it for very long. To me, clutter is the visual equivalent of too much background noise and prevents me from being able to concentrate on anything else. Order calms me. Order makes me happy. Order is the vodka in the Bloody Mary of my life.
Now I know what you are thinking. Valerie, you say...life is too short to spend all of it tidying up and doing chores. You need to stop and smell the roses and enjoy the people around you more. I agree! And believing it was possible to indulge my inner neat freak and be a fun and easygoing mom like my best friend, I began a quest for an orderly existence that still leaves time for the ones I love.
Through this blog I hope to share some of the precious gems I have picked up along the way on how to simplify life so that yours might be a little richer too. After all, life is meant to be enjoyed and an orderly home should be a means to that end, not the beginning and the end of your existence. An organized, relaxed lifestyle is not an oxymoron, and it can be easy peasy with just a bit of planning and the right attitude.
Check back often and you just might find some easy peasy solutions to your everyday challenges.
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.