Want to simplify your life but just don't know where to begin or feel like you have the time? You're not alone. Many of us, including me, are on the journey toward a simpler life that has more purpose, peace and meaning. And it truly is a journey, not a perfect destination.
Of course, simplifying is actually pretty simple: identify what's important to you, and eliminate the rest. But that's easier said than done. And sometimes we're in such a busy, chaotic state that even identifying what's important and essential for our best lives is yet another challenge. And, it can be overwhelming to begin to make changes, But I've learned that just as I would tackle a big work project, by taking small steps, one at a time, I make steady and significant progress. And every single step I take benefits me immediately. I don't have to wait until I've crafted "the perfect simple life" to reap the rewards.
So breathe deeply and begin by simply choosing one of these quick action steps that you can complete in only 10-30 minutes. These are things that will help you simplify your spaces and habits so that you'll gain the time and clarity to then be able to figure out what's most important to you and continue simplifying in even bigger ways if you wish. Completing just one of these a day or week will help you steadily progress toward a simpler life at home and work, and receive the benefits of increased happiness, serenity and time every day.
1. Do a 30-minute clutter bust.
Taking a few minutes for a quick declutter spree is an effective way to tidy and declutter a space in a short period of time. You can apply it to just one room at a time or to a category - ie. your clothes, all toys in the house, or all shoes and boots. Whatever you choose – speed is the key here; don't get bogged down by trying to go too deep - you're going for the quick win.
- Grab an empty laundry basket.
- Set a timer for 30 minutes.
- Moving quickly, pick up each and every item that is out of place and put them in the laundry basket.
- Once full, empty the contents of the laundry basket on the dining table, bed or a clear space on the floor.
- Sort items into piles according to where they belong and a donate/trash pile.
- Working through one pile at a time, take every item back to its rightful place.
- Create a new home for anything that doesn't have its own designated spot.
2. Clear the kitchen/dining table.
Having a clear table not only visually says that everything is in order, but it may also encourage you and your family to actually eat there once in a while! Set a timer for 15 minutes and go through everything that's on your table and put it back in its rightful place. Go through any papers and toss what you can and file away others that need taking care of later. Clean the table top with a natural cleaner, then put a nice potted plant or a bowl of fruit on the centre of the table.
3. Clear your kitchen counters.
Counters are for preparation, not storage or drop zones. Remove everything from your kitchen counters and put them on your now clear kitchen table! Go through everything one-by-one and put them away. All opened food should be put into containers in the cupboards, and anything that doesn't belong in the kitchen should go to its rightful place. Keep on your counters only those things that will make meals and snacks easier, such as a drink station or mason jars of supplies. Keep lots of counter space open so you conveniently have the room you need to chop veggies or bake muffins.
4. Make your bed every day.
Studies have shown that making your bed in the morning helps reduce stress, boosts confidence and sets you up to accomplish other good habits. For a step-by-step on how to style your bed simply so it's easy to make and look beautiful every day, check out this post.
5. Take your living room back for living.
Perhaps your living room feels like the TV/gaming room? Tons of game and movie paraphernalia are crowding out space to even sit down? If so, rearrange your living room for living. Move your TV into a less conspicuous place - perhaps down low on a bench in a corner or within a shelving unit or cabinet. Arrange your furniture to induce conversations, preferably around a coffee table for drinks, food sharing and perhaps good old-fashioned board games.
6. Set up/clean up an entry shelf.
Every entry must have a shelf or small table on which to place a bowl or tray to keep all keys, lip balm, sunglasses, wallets and anything else you need when you run out the door. If you don't already have a space for this, hang a shelf now. Try to also find a place for mail/papers and reusable grocery bags. I keep a small chest of drawers in the entry so that all of these things have a place and I'm in the habit of always dumping keys and bags, etc. there when I come in the door. I've never had to search for my keys since.
7. Organize your whole entryway.
Once you've completed the essential shelf/bowl setup, tackle organizing the rest of the entryway. It really is a, if not the, key zone in your home that will help you simplify your whole day. It will give you either a peaceful feeling every time you arrive home or a stressful one. And your entryway will set you up for a productive day if it makes it easier for you to get out the door in the morning. The essentials for a simple, organized entryway are right here.
8. Declutter your mind.
It's hard to simplify your life if you head is cluttered. You know those days (or weeks) when you always feel scattered and forgetting things? You need to declutter and simplify your mind just as you do your spaces. Start by doing a brain purge and writing down everything that's on your mind. Just the physical task of writing them all down helps you get rid of a lot of things you really don't need to worry or think about. I share 10 ways to declutter your mind in this post.
9. Do a quick wardrobe organization.
Do a 30-minute organizing spree of the clothes in your closet and drawers that you wear regularly (don't get stuck on things you rarely wear right now) Sort and store them by category and colour. For example, hang all collared shirts together sorted by colour, and fold and stack all long-sleeve sweaters together on a shelf. Go through your drawers and put like with like. Pick up everything that’s on the floor or laying over chairs or over doorways and put them away. Make sure you have a hamper for laundry in your bedroom so dirty clothes don't end up on the floor. Don’t get sidetracked by trying to declutter right now – that will take too long and you’ll likely get overwhelmed. Just arrange your go-to outfits so that they're easier to find.
10. Set up for a simple morning.
Hang a valet hook on your closet door or the wall. Any hook will do as long as it will hold a clothes hanger with your outfit on it for the following day. Get in the habit of choosing a complete outfit the night before, and hang it on the valet hook so you don't spend precious time and energy in the morning trying to make a decision.
11. Meditate daily.
Whether you like it or not, meditation has huge benefits for everyone, and it's greatly helpful in simplifying your life. Meditation brings peace and perspective that last throughout the day. Make it a routine to meditate daily for even 5-10 minutes simply by sitting comfortably in a chair or on a pillow and breathing deeply. Just focus on your breath and bring your attention back again when it wanders. Or try a guided meditation app like Headspace.
12. Create a morning ritual.
I'm not a morning person, so this one was hard for me, but I've reaped the benefits by creating and sticking to a morning ritual of stillness, gratitude and planning. I feel calmer and more in control the whole day by taking 30 minutes each morning to pray, meditate, and journal about what I'm grateful for and what I plan to do today.
BONUS: If you'd like a step-by-step tutorial on how to create a morning ritual, including how to meditate using the Relaxation Response - sign up for my FREE 5-day email course: Organize Your Way to an Extra Hour a Day. On Day 1 you'll create a personalized morning ritual that works for you! Learn more and sign up here.
12. Unplug at night.
Choose a time in the evening (mine's 8pm) to unplug from your devices and enjoy quiet time alone or with family. Spend it reading or talking or whatever relaxes and restores you. Set up your phone to go to the 'do not disturb' setting from this time until after your morning ritual ends (you can still allow for calls from favourites to come through if needed).
13. Simplify your nightstand.
Clean off the top of your nightstand/bedside table so that it doesn't look cluttered and chaotic. This is the first space you see in the morning and the last you see at night, so you want to set the tone for a a good sleep and a simple day by what's on your stand. Place a bowl or tray for lip balm, moisturizer, and glasses. Make sure you have a good light. Try to have a drawer to keep a notebook and pencil for journaling. Keep only the 1-2 books you are reading right now on the stand. For the complete tutorial and essential elements of a healthy and simple nightstand, check out this post. Sources included!
14. Clear off your work desk.
A clear and uncluttered space to work is essential for most people in improving productivity, creativity, and clarity. Set a timer for 20 minutes and remove everything from your desk. Toss all papers that are not needed. File away all papers from projects that are completed but need to be kept for reference. Make only one pile of papers with things that still need to be completed. Then rework your desktop according to Feng Shui practice - with your phone on the right and any tools like pens and files on the left. Your computer and chair (set up to be ergonomically comfortable) are in the centre. Gather all of your pencils, pens, etc. into a pretty jar or mug on your desk. Use a nice bowl or wooden box to keep useful tools like paperclips handy but neat. Add a plant to your desk - it's been proven to reduce stress by 25%. If you're up for a complete office refresh to promote calm and productivity at work, check out this post.
15. Plan your week for essentials first.
Use a planner - I like a combination of the Best Self Journal and Google Calendar - to plan out your week in advance. This act of sitting down once/week with your planner clarifies what essential activities you need to do to progress toward your goals, and it forces you to schedule these essentials in first, before other daily less important things take over. This post takes you through step-by-step how to plan a week for simplicity and your essentials.
16. Organize your digital world.
Use technology to make your life simpler, not more complex. Set up your email with folders and filters to keep mail ultra-organized and quickly accessible. Unsubscribe from all newsletters and promotional sites that don't add value (you can do this in a snap with Unroll.me). Organize, update and declutter your phone and email contact list. Delete any unsued apps on your phone and desktop, and add shortcuts for any that are frequently used. Turn off all annoying notifications/pop-ups and sounds on your phone and computer.
17. Organize your finances.
This is a tough one for many. You may not even want to look at your finances so you keep avoiding them. I'm not asking you to fix them or figure out how to get out of debt in a month. Just take the small step of organizing your banking and tracking your finances so that you know where you're at and don't have that chaos lurking in the back of your mind all the time. Get online for banking if you're not already, and set up automatic bill payments so you never miss another one. Know when these go out and schedule a time on your calendar if you need to switch money into certain accounts each month. Designate a box in a drawer just for receipts and put every single one there as soon as you get home. Do the same with a folder for online receipts. Set up a simple spreadsheet in Google Sheets or MS Excel to track your monthly expenses and spending. Simply reducing the time you wasted fretting and worrying about your finances by setting up systems, automating everything you can, and tracking expenses will greatly simplify your life.
18. Make your home healthier.
Ditch the many bottles of different cleaners with toxic chemicals for just one or two bottles of homemade natural cleaners. It will save you time, money, space in the cupboard and best of all it will give you a healthier home in which you can thrive. I switched over 5 years ago to using simple vinegar, water, and essentials oils to clean and freshen my whole home, and I've never met a dirt problem that I couldn't beat. I've got all the simple formulas and cheat sheets you need for natural cleaning in my free resource den - get them here.
19. Meal plan.
We all want to eat better, but it can sometimes seem like grocery shopping, recipe hunting and cooking zap all our time and energy in a week. Simple living is about reducing unnecessary stress and gaining meaningful time and energy, and a simple meal plan will set you up for a full week of nourishment and productivity.
- Decide if you'll use a notebook, a chalkboard in the kitchen, or an app on your phone or computer to plan your menu for the week.
- Consider repeating a few favourite meals over and over again for simplicity.
- Have only 2-3 lunch options for the kids (and you) and rotate.
- Make breakfast simple by eating the same thing every day, perhaps with something special on the weekends.
- Create and organize a dedicated snack cupboard stocked with healthy options out front.
- Use an app like Paprika to find recipes, plan your menu and generate a grocery list.
20. Label everything.
You don't have to have a fancy label-maker to label things in your home so you're more organized. Make cute little tags from recycled paper and tie them with string. Or use little blank stickers from the dollar store and write on them. Labelling everything really does save time and money (no more buying double of something you already have but couldn't see), and simplifies life. Here are ideas on how to label everything in your home.