Simplicity. The Collins dictionary defines simplicity as a noun meaning to make less complicated.
As we begin a new decade, wouldn’t it be nice to live a simpler, less complicated life? But the real question is: how can we make our lives meaningful all the while making it less complicated?
As a wife, mother and former business executive, balancing the demands of work and family has always been important to me. To find that balance, I became an expert at keeping things simple. Through the years, living in the moment and appreciating what we had became my mantra. And it is that strategy of simplicity that I would like to share with you today.
In 2020, life is moving at warp speed. Emails are coming at us uncontrollably. Social media is non-stop. Work responsibilities often seem 24/7. Add the responsibility of family which can be anything from children to siblings, aging parents, relatives to pets, then mix in the stress of keeping up with monthly bills, housekeeping, meal preparation, staying in contact with friends and you have the perfect storm of complexity, the opposite to simplicity! Nowadays, sometimes even the simple act of breathing seems complicated!
The experts tell us by simplifying our lives, we can reduce stress and feel calmer, more accomplished, even happy.
Well, I believe you have to start by slowing down in order to speed up. By that I mean, slow down, take stock of your life, your responsibilities, then gear up to work towards living the life that makes you feel whole, happy, fulfilled.
Here are a few strategies that could send you down the path of simplicity.
There is no shortage of books that will tell you to start your journey towards simplicity by creating lists. Your first reaction could be: “yeah right, I’m busy, and now I have to stop everything and start writing lists! Arghhhhhh!”
What if, just before you go to bed or at the first opportunity in your morning—it could be when you get up before the hectic morning rush begins, when you are taking public transportation to work, when you are in your car on your morning drive, or when you first arrive at your workplace; you take a few moments to write down (or record if you are driving) your to-do list for the day. Your list could be only work-related or it could include whatever else you want/need to accomplish on that day.
By writing a list, you have automatically given yourself direction. You have calmed the chaos of thoughts in your brain by putting order to those thoughts. Take your list and prioritize. Understand that you may not accomplish anything on that list due to unforeseen events in your day, but it definitely becomes a launching point. Unresolved items can either be discarded as not necessary or used to begin tomorrow’s list.
Keep your list simple with bullet points, scratch out points that are not important. Try to tackle the biggest priority at the beginning of the day when you are still “fresh”. When you accomplish the biggest priority, you eliminate the biggest burden. Expect to not accomplish everything.
One of the best “list discoveries” that I made when working in a very demanding job was the “Friday afternoon list”. Every Friday afternoon, I would meet with my team and we would write, in detailed bullet point, a list of everything that we needed to deal with, tackle, accomplish during the following week. I would leave the list on my desk, turn off my computer, turn off the lights and forget about work for two days. I put an out-of-office notice on my email stating that I would not be checking my emails until Monday morning, in the case of emergency, call my cell.
This technique worked on several levels.
a) My team and I would leave the office knowing that we could concentrate on our weekend plans and not on our work plans.
b) For two days, our minds were free to think of other things.
c) My colleagues, including my superiors, knew that I gave 100% effort to my job during the week but, unless it was an emergency, my weekends belonged to both myself and my family. I created friendly barriers and some work/life balance.
Whether you have a traditional workweek or not, when you are about to take time off, put that workplace list together then leave work and go enjoy your time off.
Wow, you have two days off. Can’t wait. You have so many plans. In fact, so many plans that maybe it’s a bit complicated. Stop. Let’s go back to the principle of simplicity. The night before your time off, write some bullet points on what responsibilities you must accomplish (groceries, cooking, cleaning, kids’ activities, visiting an elderly relative). Examine the list. Can it all happen? Should it all happen? Is it a must-do list or a nice-to-do list? Adjust your list by the most important priorities and then absolutely fit in “you-time”. Plan something you would like to do. It could be as easy as tv time, gym time, walking time or dinner out with friends, dinner in with friends.
Just make sure at the end of your “weekend”, you can say to yourself that you enjoyed a particular activity that you chose to do for you.
Mastering the Art of Saying “No”
I was raised to be polite and helpful. It was my responsibility to accommodate my family with whatever their needs might be. Saying “yes” was expected. It took me a long time to realize that I had a choice. I could actually say “no. I did not have to be everything to everybody. That discovery really simplified my life!
The first time that I actually said “no” was to a friend. She was infuriated and surprised that I actually replied with a “no”. I felt bad at first, because I never wanted to disappoint her. But, after further thought to the matter, I realized that, first of all, it was a request, I had every right to say yes or no. And secondly, if the success of our relationship was based on me always saying “yes” then perhaps I should look more closely at the validity of such a friendship.
Saying “no” for the right reasons can really simplify your life.
Emails and social media
Now it is time to tackle one of the biggest sources of complication to our lives, emails and social media!
As I said, emails are coming at us at warp speed. How do we simplify our inbox? There are two steps that could vastly improve the onslaught.
The first step is to attach a permanent message to your signature stating that you only check your emails two or three times per day—you choose – morning and afternoon or morning, afternoon and evening (include that in the case of emergency to call your cell number). Do not become a slave to your emails, checking constantly. This practice will discipline both you and those who correspond regularly with you. It will both simplify your email practice and provide more time for you to get to those priorities on your to-do list. You will waste less time, become more productive and actually free up time for yourself.
The next step is to choose a typical week of emails and start to unsubscribe to all the incoming emails that you regularly receive but that you either never read or really don’t need to read. Do you really need to receive an email from every store that you have ever shopped at? Besides, we are going to talk about decluttering and shopping for new things will not simplify decluttering! Unsubscribing will start to reduce your inbox traffic.
Beware of social media. Social media can have the effect of making us feel inadequate and give us the sense that somehow, we’re missing out on the fullness of life. Don’t let social media fool you into believing everyone is living a perfect life and you’re not. It’s a lie! And, don’t fall for the trap of the fear of missing out. These are a lot of “don’ts”. But, you love social media! You can embrace it, just be reasonable with it. Give yourself permission to check your social media feeds once a day max twice! Designate a time and stick to it. Again, don’t become a slave to your devices! Simplify.
Now that Marie Kondo, the Japanese organizing consultant, who wrote The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, has set off a decluttering craze across the globe, perhaps this task will seem more reasonable to you. We know that decluttering your home, wardrobe, office space and any other area that is draining your energy will have the end result of giving you more time, space, freedom and to quote Marie Kondo, “joy”!
There are tons of books and online support to help you put a declutter plan in place but the truth is, you are the one who has to do the work. Marie Kondo is not going to ring your doorbell asking if she can come in to help.
As Melissa from Simple Lionheart Life says:
Too much “stuff” and clutter can cause a significant amount of stress in your life in a variety of ways. Here are a few examples:
• Keeping up with housework takes much more time, work and effort in a cluttered home.
• More stuff means more stuff to make a mess with and more time and energy required to tidy those messes up.
• It’s hard to keep track of what you own, causing you to spend a lot of time looking for things, or even rebuying items because you can’t find them!
Start small, one category at a time. Decluttering could be your 2020 project of the year.
But what do you do with all that decluttered stuff? Some things will need to be shredded and sent to recycling. Bureau en Gros will shred your documents at a very reasonable price or you can check with your city services. Some cities offer free shredding service in the spring and fall. Some things will end up in the garbage. Some things could be given away. Nova and Renaissance are just two non-profit organizations that would welcome your gently-used items. And, some things could be sold. Sites like Varage and Kijiji are great for selling your unwanted or no-longer-needed things. Community garage sales can also be fun and a great way to get things out of your home. But remember the rule, if it leaves the house, it can’t come back.
Probably the most difficult thing about decluttering, especially for Seniors, is that feeling that you are parting with mementos and objects that have sentimental value. You might fear that if you throw them out, you’ll somehow be losing the precious memories and the legacy that goes with them. “Not so,” says Marie Kondo “truly precious memories will never vanish even if you discard things associated with them.” As she says “Focus not on what to get rid of, but on what to keep.” And that does not mean “keep everything.” Simplify!
My husband and I recently decluttered, downsized and moved from a house to a condo. We worked hard to prepare for our move that involved losing 2,000 sq. feet of living and storage space! When we moved into our new condo, we met a lovely lady in the elevator and proudly announced how we had reduced our belongings to successfully fit into our new condo. To which she replied matter-of-factly: “everyone in this building has done that!”
Striving for simplicity is not simple. Gosh, that doesn’t seem fair. But, if you break down what is creating the chaos and complication and work on it one task at a time, by the end of 2020, you’ll be rid of the actions and things that have been stealing your energy and you’ll have more time to focus on what matters most to you! Change can be difficult. It requires effort. But, in the end, it can also be worth it. Go for it!