Choose to Simplify

The old adage “less is more” has been lost in the daily chaos and technology of our busy lives. We pile on the commitments, get the kids involved in more activities, try to do everything and be everything to everyone. How many times have you heard, “But I thought the computer was supposed to make my life easier?” or “I’m a slave to my e-mail!” or “I’ll hurt someone’s feelings if I can’t chair that committee.”

It’s time to get back to basics by making 2011 your happiest–and most stress-free–year yet. Start by getting honest with yourself: What’s the fat you can cut from your calendar? Do you really need to schedule coffee with that high school classmate you reconnected with on Facebook–the one you kind of remember as the person who sat in front of you during American history? Isn’t one book club enough? Will your daughter remember years later that those cupcakes she’s toting to her school’s Valentine’s Day party aren’t homemade?

Consider implementing these 15 strategies for simplifying your life, reducing stress and enjoying the journey. You’ll be amazed before the year’s half over that this four-letter word has descended on your life: CALM.

1. Shorten Your To-Do List

Then write down your top three most important or time-sensitive tasks on a separate piece of paper in order of priority. For that day, your job is to complete those three items. If you finish everything–great!

2. Streamline Your Schedule

Are your kids playing, soccer, volleyball, basketball, hockey? Are they involved in cheer, dance, and Girl Scouts? Do you have PTA, other volunteer groups, a tennis team, etc.? Does this sound crazy? Take a minute to assess each of your activities. Which ones make you happy and which ones only cause you additional stress? Would your child benefit from some regular playtime without constantly being shuttled off to practice? Gracefully bow out of some activities. Consider volunteering at Operation Breakthrough and even taking your kids with you (depending on their age) to read books to younger kids after school. Get involved by giving back.

3. Create a Simple Weekly Meal Plan for Dinners

 Take the guesswork out of “What’s for dinner?” every night. Write down simple dinners that only take 10 to 30 minutes to prepare for each night of the week and go shopping for your ingredients. For example: Tuesday is Taco Night, Wednesday is White Bean Chicken Chili Night and Thursday is Tortellini and Shrimp Night. You’ll make one trip to the store and can even spend some time on Sunday prepping some of the meals.

4. Create a Simple Weekly Meal Plan for Dinners

 Take the guesswork out of “What’s for dinner?” every night. Write down simple dinners that only take 10 to 30 minutes to prepare for each night of the week and go shopping for your ingredients. For example: Tuesday is Taco Night, Wednesday is White Bean Chicken Chili Night and Thursday is Tortellini and Shrimp Night. You’ll make one trip to the store and can even spend some time on Sunday prepping some of the meals.

5. Learn to Say No

This is key to simplifying your life. Of course, you don’t always need to say no–nor should you–but you do want to make sure that when you commit you will do a good job. Resist the urge to apologize when you need to say no. There is no need to justify your actions and likewise no reason to feel bad. Simply saying, “No, I can’t commit to that right now” will suffice.

6. Learn to Delegate

There’s no need for you to do it all! Ask your kids and spouse to help out around the house. One of my personal favorites is teaching your kids how to do their own laundry. Work together to prepare meals, set the table and clean the dishes. Responsibility builds character, and this will free up time for you to be able to help your kids with other important activities like homework or going for a family walk together after dinner.

7. Savor Your Slow Cooker

This cooking essential allows you to spend less time in the kitchen and more time doing the other things you really enjoy. Just pop your favorite ingredients into the cooker first thing in the morning and by the time you get home–voila! –dinner is served! Not only will your house smell amazing, but you’ll also get full-flavored dishes that can be used as leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch. For recipe ideas visit www.AllRecipes.com, www.epicurious.com or Google your favorite recipe sites.

8. Make your Home Minimalist

Clearing the clutter makes it easier to clean while also saving you money since you are always adding more stuff to your décor. You don’t have to fill every little space. A minimalist house is very Zen: It has what’s necessary and can be very peaceful, relaxing and calming.

9. Clear Out Your Everything Drawer

We all have it. That dreaded drawer that holds our car keys, bills, coupons, take-out menus … you name it. It may seem like an intimidating task but you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel once you’ve de-cluttered the black hole so you can find what you need quickly and efficiently.

10. Take a Time-Out from Technology

We spend way too much time glued to our iPhone, Blackberry or laptop. Set a time each day to answer e-mails, send texts, peruse Facebook or surf the Web. Tune out technology after 6 p.m. and tune into your family and friends. You’ll be amazed at how much more connected you’ll feel to the non-virtual aspects of your life.

11. Get Back to Beauty Basics

How long does it take you to get ready in the morning? Thirty minutes or more? Avoid the morning rush by using a combination tinted moisturizer with SPF, take a shower the night before so you don’t have to blow dry your hair, pick a hairstyle that’s easy and choose your outfit and accessories the night before. This will leave you more time to linger over your favorite cup of coffee and it will set the right tone for the rest of the day.

12. Eliminate E-mail Overload

If your inbox is a mile long, it’s time to clean it out. Get rid of any saved e-mails that you’ve had for more than six months. Unsubscribe from any e-mail blasts or Facebook pages you no longer wish to receive. Once your inbox is empty try to respond to incoming e-mails when they’re received, and either delete or place them into designated folders for future reference. 

13. Schedule Downtime

Whether it’s sitting outside, going for a walk or reading a book for 30 minutes or just taking a power nap during the day, make sure to give yourself the time you need to recharge and stay in balance. Start by scheduling these me-time appointments each day into your calendar, even if it is only 10 minutes. And be good to yourself: Keep your appointment!

14. Practice the Art of Simplicity Every Day

Enjoy the moment and appreciate the simple pleasures in life–whether it’s a beautiful sunset, a kind gesture or time shared with those you love. The simple pleasures are the ones worth celebrating.

15. Keep Your Space Clean

When our surroundings are a mess it can sometimes feel like our lives are that way, too. Whether it’s your office, bedroom or the kitchen counter, keeping things relatively organized can bring clarity and focus to other areas in your life.

words: Mitzi Dulan

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