Eight Ways to Simplify Your Life Before September

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By Mia Brabham

Next month, the kids go back to school and schedules start filling up. With summer cooling off and fall soon-to-be in full swing, we begin spending more time at home. What better time to clean things up and create a cozy, intentional environment than now?

Organized spaces, physically and digitally, do wonders for your mental health. A study by the University of California on the daily patterns of mood and cortisol discovered that cleaning and decluttering can help you gain a sense of control over your environment. It leaves you more rested and restored, and less stressed and depressed. The sister of “spring cleaning” is simplifying and organizing your life — and it’s just as satisfying.

For many people, parting with possession is tough — from the most sentimental to the most silly. When you finally choose to do so, though, you’ll find there’s less to clean, less to tidy up and less to worry about. Welcome to your new happier, healthier life and home.

Here are eight specific ways to simplify your life and make room in your space, your schedule and your mind.

Clear up Your Closet

A lot of spaces in our homes could use decluttering, and a great place to start when simplifying your life is your wardrobe. Not everyone has the resources to hire Netflix’s The Home Edit or Marie Kondo, the Japanese tidying-expert who encourages everyone to only keep the things that bring us joy. But you possess the tools you need within you. A good rule of thumb for going through this space, or any space, is to …

  • Get rid of things that no longer fit.
  • Get rid of things that have holes or are damaged (yes, even if it’s your favorite).
  • Get rid of things you haven’t worn in the past two years.
  • Get rid of things you don’t feel confident in.

A good question to ask yourself is: Do I love wearing this, or do I like how I feel when I’m wearing this? If the answer is no, place it in a bag. Hold on to this bag for a set amount of time (three months to a year) in a place that you can’t see, and if you don’t come crawling back to the bag to wear any of the items in it, it’s time to give them a new home at a donation center, consignment shop or a clothing swap. Approach other rooms, spaces and items in your house the same way.

Here’s the reality: It’s much more exciting to purchase or look forward to purchasing items you actually want in your life, rather than debating wearing or using something every time you see it. There is a reason this is framed as “clearing” and not “cleaning.” Clarity in how you want to look and present yourself is key!

Organize Your Schedule

Buy a planner — or even better — put your weekly and monthly schedule into a free, personal Google calendar or Outlook calendar. Digital agendas and to-do lists are especially helpful if you have recurring events and meetings. If you’re in charge of corralling a family or are constantly juggling multiple schedules,
even with just yourself or a partner, it’s convenient to have the option to see all of these itineraries at once right in front of you. The aforementioned digital calendars have a nice feature where you can check boxes and see multiple calendars as one, or mute the others if you want to view yours. While you’re at it, remove events or activities that no longer serve you. As writer Anne Lamott once said: “No” is a complete sentence. Build in time for hobbies, relaxing, time with loved ones, reconnecting with people you once adored and for things that truly bring you happiness.

Digitize and Automate

Have papers, statements, receipts, cards, letters and bills laying around? Time to scan them! The good news is, scanning is easier than ever, and you don’t need a big old machine to get it done. iPhones now have a scanning tool you can utilize in your Notes app. All you do is take a photo of your document, and it transforms it into a fully scanned page that’s sturdier and clearer than a picture.

Next, organize them within the Notes app by creating folders and subfolders, or use the nifty note organization app, Evernote. You can also automate recurring processes or transactions in your life with the press of a button online or through apps. Streamline everything from bank transfers (on your bank’s app) to lights out (with smart home plugs like Kasa) to meal deliveries (like HelloFresh or Blue Apron). There’s as much pleasure in control as there is in letting things go — and it’s totally worth it.

Flag Your Emails

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Simplify your digital life by doing this one straightforward thing: flagging emails that need a response. Create a follow-up email folder and move these emails into that folder. The truth is the rest — including informational emails, promotional emails, newsletters and even some inquiries — can wait. If you’re itching
to get really organized, create additional folders for urgent follow-ups and non-urgent follow-ups. Set time(s) of the day you plan to respond to your urgent emails (think: beginning or end of the day, maybe right after lunch). Set a day of the week you plan to read through and respond to non-urgent emails (Friday afternoons are nice), and then another day of the week for all of the other emails that didn’t get flagged. If that’s still overwhelming, unsubscribe. You don’t need to know every sale that’s happening or even someone’s constant thoughts on life every week. Time to clean (digital) house!

Tackle Finances

Rather than flail and flounder your way through saving money or paying off debt wherever and whenever you can, create a plan — even if it’s a small amount! Print out your bank statements, grab a highlighter and a glass of wine, and slash expenses you can live without. You can try the debt-snowball method, where you
pay off your debts in order of smallest to largest then roll over he minimum payment on your smallest debt to the next once it’s paid in full. If you’re looking to save for a house, trip or car, build your own payment plan starting backwards from the date you’d like to have the money. Best tip ever? Pretend you’re a bank
and pay yourself first. When you create a saving or spending plan, you won’t have to constantly think about where your money is going and when. You’ll get to sit back, relax and know you’re working toward financial success.

Just Do It

Life can be overwhelming once we begin procrastinating, intentionally and unintentionally. Maybe you’ve pushed off cleaning, going through mail or organizing the garage. That’s where the 15-minute rule comes in! The rule, coined by Caroline Buchanan, shows that a lot can get done in 15 minutes or 15 minute blocks. Pick one activity, chore or task (or a piece of the larger whole) that you’ve been procrastinating on, set a timer for 15 minutes and go to work. When the timer goes off, stop. Many times, the task gets done. Other times, once we get rolling we don’t want to stop — or at least we’ve started. We often make tasks out to be bigger than they are in our heads. This works wonders when we need to tidy up a room or sift through paperwork, and it’s the gift that keeps on giving so things don’t pile up!

Write It Down

It might sound simple, but write down everything! Have a notepad by your desk, next to your bedside, or throughout the house for fleeting thoughts and pesky reminders that you always try to recall later and find yourself forgetting. At the end of the day, work these writings into your calendar or sort them where they need to go. At the beginning of each day, take a look at your calendar and write down your plan for the day, including any meetings, events and activities. Seeing these tasks on paper helps you remember, prioritize and become more efficient with your time.

Outsource Tasks

If you have the financial means, outsourcing is a wonderful option that can relieve you of many time-consuming and even stressful tasks. You can hire someone to come clean your home, wash and fold your laundry, and even fix or build furniture for you through handy sites like TaskRabbit. If you don’t have the
budget to spend on full services, many times these businesses will allow you to purchase smaller or partial packages.

Give yourself permission to spend money on something that will help you, rather than material goods. When you do this, you free yourself up to spend more time doing things you truly care about, like spending quality time with your kids, partner and friends, or maybe even engaging in a hobby you’ve been wanting to get back to or try out. Time is money!

Find What Works for You

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The way you approach simplifying your life may differ from others. For some, simplifying might look like deleting more in your life and for others it might look like adding things that work better. For many, it’s a combination of both. In the end, though, it’s all about you and what makes your life easier. Happy simplifying!

Simple Ways to Simplify

  • Buy storage boxes that fit your space rather than keeping things in their original packaging.
  • Purchase a slow cooker or instant pot to make cooking dinner a whole lot quicker and easier.
  • Make a standing date with yourself on Sunday evening to review, plan and prepare for the upcoming week.
  • Keep lunch simple and have the same thing for that meal consistently, then rotate the menu every week or month to change things up.
  • Pick out your outfit the night before so you aren’t going through your closet in the morning. It will save you time and a mess!
  • Turn off your social media notifications, and instead plan times to intentionally check your accounts.
  • Ask for help if you need it. Friends or family are always willing to help if you have the courage to ask for assistance, even in small ways.
  • Keep your gym bag packed to make it easy to snatch it up and head for a workout whenever you have the time.

Mia Brabham is an author, writer, media host and chronic organizer. Her debut book, Note to Self, is a short collection of life lessons that is in the hands of readers all over the world. Mia is also the host of Two In The Morning, a podcast that explores and unpacks the cultural questions that keep us up at night. You can reach her at bymiabrabham.com.

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