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8 Tips to Simplify Your Daily Life

I readily admit that I am no Marie Kondo, but throughout my time as a therapist and a mentally-messy adult, I have come to adapt a few life hacks to bring simplicity to my life and the lives of those around me.

Simplicity has become a great priority for me in recent years. I despise the hamster-on-a-wheel experience of trudging through overextended days for the next weekend, all the while piling on more mental and emotional weight without offloading any of the old stressors.

I recently began reading Atomic Habits by James Clear, a book specifically focused on creating lasting habits using minute changes. Clear asserts early in the book that “too often, we convince ourselves that massive success requires massive action,” and that he believes that by “improving 1%” at a time we can create large-scale change over time [1].

Maybe our lives, however, harried they may be, can be simplified in such areas of one percent: in small, consistent ways that gradually grow into a lifestyle that feels a little less like a rat race and more like an enjoyable rhythm in which we feel can approach our daily tasks and challenges with confidence.

My hope is that these small tips can help you determine what your 1% changes toward simplicity can be.

1. Utilize the “5 minutes or less rule”

Employ a “5-minute rule” for yourself. If a task can be completed in less than 5 minutes, simply complete it whenever you think of it, if at all possible.

If you are anything like me, you can quickly find yourself falling into the trap of having a “to do” list of many 5-minute tasks that begin to feel suffocating in number, when in reality you could have already completed a couple of them in the amount of time it takes to write the list itself.

“Here’s my point: the solution to an overbusy life is not more time. It’s to slow down and simplify our lives around what really matters.”John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

2. “Brain Dump” prior to bed (or at any time). Then, prioritize.

This little trick is a core component of my ability to function as a responsible adult. Since adolescence, I have used this hack to help myself organize pervasive mental clutter. In the moments I feel overwhelmed with those pesky “things to remember,” I pause to write down every detail of every single upcoming task that I can think of.

I also find it wildly enjoyable to imagine all that brain clutter tangibly falling out onto the page, plaguing me no longer. If it is on the paper, I can be more present in the moment or with the people at hand, and return to other details at a later time.

“You don’t have to be the victim of your environment. You can also be the architect of it.”James Clear, Atomic Habits

3. Technology cleanses

Whew, where to even begin with this one?!

For simplicity’s sake, find a way to start small in disentangling your mental and emotional self from being constantly entangled to a device. For myself, I choose not to receive notifications to my phone or watch. If I want to check messages on a certain app, I can open that app at a time when I feel ready to attend to whatever could be waiting for me. This allows me to have a chosen moment to open myself to pending stress or certain conversations. Much like the previous tip, this allows me to be present in the moment and space that I am currently experiencing.

“We are continually being nudged by our devices toward a set of choices. The question is whether those choices are leading us to the life we actually want”Andy Crouch, The Tech-Wise Family

4. Create Rhythms: Tiny things that make your time a little more seamless, connected, or enriching

While rigid structures can quickly create more stress, flexible rhythms offer us a comfortable predictability to our lives, while also helping us simplify daily tasks.

I thoroughly enjoy hearing how other people integrate patterns of operation into their daily routines. For example, one of my roommates in college used to put her car keys inside her lunch box, in the refrigerator, to make sure she did not leave home without her lunch in the mornings.

Many families have a standing “Sunday lunch” at Grandma’s house.

My friend with 4 children makes homemade pizza on Friday nights, without fail, and has done so since she was a newlywed.

I prepare my coffee grounds in the evenings so that the next morning I can easily just press “brew” while wrangling my wiggly and opinionated 6-month-old.

These routines are sometimes created unknowingly, but allow for one less decision or mental piece of clutter to be created. And, some of these rhythms have so much more depth than just functionality; they also offer a chance for connection, quality time, or personal enrichment.

Consider the changing of the seasons for a moment. They do not happen with rigidity, but with a foreseeable variation. My magnolia tree does not bloom on the exact same day every year, after all. But it does bloom around the same time, and in coordination with other flowering plants, college graduations, and my husband’s birthday. I can expect it and cherish it for both its beauty and predictability.

“The crucible of our formation is in the monotony of our daily routines.” ― Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary

5. Declutter your tangible environment

This is where our friend Marie Kondo does her best work. But for many of us, decluttering tangible spaces can feel overwhelming and frustrating. Regardless of how enjoyable it is to watch other people organize their homes on a Netflix special, mustering the energy to do so ourselves seems laborious in nature. I have three ideas to tackle this area of simplicity.

1. Utilize a capsule wardrobe, which is actually a fancy way of saying you wear the same thing all the time.

The idea of a capsule wardrobe is to have a few pieces for each season that you rotate through and mix-and-match to create a variety of outfits. When the season changes, so does your “capsule.” This also greatly reduces the waste created by “fast fashion,” and keeps an excessive amount of thrown-away clothes out of landfills. If we are honest with ourselves, we all reach for the same 5 items in our closets, anyway.

2. Set a timer and clean or organize nonstop for 15 minutes. However much you get completed is more than you would have done if you had not started at all! You may be surprised how much you can complete in that time. Do this 3-4 times a week.

3. Keep a list of spaces you want to tackle for deep cleans so that you do not spend time trying to do everything at once. Tackle one of these spaces a month.

“In the creation story, God entered chaos and made order and beauty. In making my bed I reflected that creative act in the tiniest, most ordinary way. In my small chaos, I made small order.” ― Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary

6. Connect to the here and now

One of my favorite tips on practicing presence is to bring awareness to your 5 Senses. It is that simple. Stop for 1 full minute and consider what you smell, hear, taste, see, and feel. Stress has a way of distracting us from the present moment, but our biological senses can bring us right back.

I once challenged a counseling client (who swore she had no time for practicing regulation strategies) to simply roll down her window every time she was stopped at a traffic light and note these five things.

Sometimes all it takes is a slight pause to practice being fully in your physical space.

“We are meant not just for thin, virtual connections but for visceral, real connections to one another in this fleeting, temporary, and infinitely beautiful and worthwhile life.” ― Andy Crouch, The Tech-Wise Family

7. Ask Yourself: Does your priority pie chart match your energy pie chart?

If you were to draw out a simple pie chart of your priorities in life, and then another pie chart of where your energy goes, would the charts match? Sadly, much of our daily energy can go to “putting out fires” or playing whack-a-mole with the most immediate stressor. Take a few moments to reflect on these pie charts and their symmetry. What needs to change? Where are the 1% changes you can make to align these pie charts?

Reflection via this simple practice can bring needed awareness to the cluttered areas of your life that need attention. On your energy chart, are there pie pieces you’d rather not exist at all? How can you begin eliminating them?

As an obviously big fan of therapy, I would even encourage you to use this activity to discuss some therapeutic goals with a professional. Honing in on the simplification of your life does not have to be a solo venture. Allow someone to reflect with you and spur you onward in these endeavors!

“Attention is the beginning of devotion.”John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

8. Seek Restorative Rest

While we could chat for days on end about the importance of rest and what it can look like, I will leave you with these words from our friend Andy Crouch.

“The lilies of the field close up their blooms at night and rest patiently for the next day, but we, cloaked in ghostly light, make tomorrow’s troubles today’s and tonight’s instead. The devices we carry to bed to make us feel connected and safe actually prevent us from trusting in the One who knows our needs and who alone can protect us through the dangers and sorrows of any night.” ― Andy Crouch, The Tech-Wise Family

References:

1. Clear, J. (2018). Atomic habits: An easy & proven way to build good habits & break bad ones. Penguin Random House.

2. Comer, J. M. (2020). The ruthless elimination of hurry. WaterBrook.

3. Crouch, A. (2017). The tech-wise family: Everyday steps for putting technology in its proper place. Baker Books.

4. Warren, H. T. (2019). Liturgy of the ordinary: Sacred practices in everyday life. InterVarsity Press.

 Allison Hurst, MS, NCC, LPC

Author Allison Hurst, MS, NCC, LPC

More posts by Allison Hurst, MS, NCC, LPC

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