9 steps to simplify an overly busy life

‘Reducing results in a simplified lifestyle that allows you to focus on quality over quantity and experiences versus stuff.’

Bea Johnson

For the last few years I’ve been taking steps to simplify my overly busy life.

The main way I do this is through my journal. I use it to plan, reflect and evaluate how I spend my time.

Through a process of regular journalling, I’ve slowly created habits and routines to help me create:

  • Balance between my work and personal life
  • Quality time with people who are important to me

When I notice what’s making me busy, I can dial back.

When I simplify, I have time to see the beauty around me every day.

I’m also more likely to appreciate what I have instead of always wanting more.

Here are nine ways I try to simplify my life.

They’re not especially exciting or new ideas, but added together, I find they make a big difference.

Small things done regularly build up to make an impact over time.

9 things I do to simplify my life

1. Declutter regularly

I find visual clutter incredibly distracting and very stressful.

My favourite way to keep clutter at bay is to clear out a cupboard or a drawer. Even doing one a week helps keep things tidy.

I sit in my kids’ rooms with them a couple of times a year while they clear through their stuff.

The last time I did this with my daughter she filled a black bin bag and it was so heavy we could hardly lift it. She said she had no idea what was inside, and we both felt so much better afterwards!

My son is great at deciding what stays and what goes, and I never argue. If he doesn’t want it – even if I like it, or it was a gift – we donate it or maybe even put it for sale on eBay.

When my book-shelves are full, I take them all off and declutter.

When the shoe cupboard is overflowing, I clear it out.

And so on.

The answer is never,

‘I need more storage.’

For me, it’s simply,

‘I have too much stuff.’

When I let it go, I feel better immediately.

Which brings me onto the next step…

2. Buy fewer things

Shopping used to be a hobby for me, but not any more.

Our home is quite compact, and we don’t have much space for storage so I try to only buy things we really need or are definitely going to use.

I try to live by this quote:

‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.’

William Morris

Generally now, I keep a list of things I want to buy on my phone, with a link if it’s something I can get online. I make myself wait, and try to decide if it’s really needed before I make a final decision.

Why do I need this thing?

Where am I going to keep it?

(Maybe I just want to admire it instead of buying it.)

3. Plan meals

We had supermarket deliveries for years until I reached a point where I realised I was relying on special offers to decide on what we were going to eat.

We were also wasting food by overbuying.

I’ve been working on planning meals instead, which I generally do at the weekend.

My favourite cook-book is Veg Every Day by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall. The recipes focus on seasonal vegetables and store cupboard basics and are reliably easy to cook.

I’ve been hugely influenced by the book Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson.

She really made me think about my shopping choices around food.

I buy dried foods in bulk wherever possible, and store them in jars.

I buy my fruit and veg from my local market or via Abel and Cole, as I can avoid plastic packaging this way.

I batch cook dried chick-peas and beans and freeze them instead of buying tinned.

I always have herbs, lemons, limes, ginger, garlic and chilli, so there are fresh flavours, whatever I cook.

Cooking is much quicker when there’s a plan and all the ingredients are to hand.

It’s cheaper and more nutritious too.

4. Simplify clothing

I realised some time ago that I only wear dresses, or jeans with a top. That has simplified my wardrobe hugely.

That, and going shopping with my friend Gabby, who used to be a fashion stylist. She makes me try everything on, and asks me,

‘Do you love it?’

Or she might say,

‘We can do better.’

These two phrases have become mantras for me when clothes shopping.

Nowadays I only have a few clothes, but I try to buy good quality clothes that are not ‘fast-fashion’.

I recently bought a jacket through Paynter Jacket and I’m delighted with it.

I know I’ll be using it for years, and it works with both jeans and dresses, plus it has lots of pockets.

That makes me very happy!

5. Watch films

When I was growing up my parents watched TV every evening. Everyone did in those days.

I loved the regularity of scheduled TV in the days before Netflix and iPlayer. I never missed Top of the Pops and I’m happy I grew up in those times.

I know there are excellent documentary, comedy and drama programmes available, but often the things that are available aren’t what I want to watch.

There’s so much choice, and I just find it overwhelming.

I made the decision to gradually build up a personal list of films I want to watch more than once, and to buy them on Apple TV (unless I already have them on DVD).

We also have a list of films we love to watch as a family, and we all watch together a couple of times a week. [Related post: Family film night|

We make popcorn and cuddle up under a quilt with our cat and dog.

6. Make playlists

Music lifts my mood like nothing else.

I have Spotify (who doesn’t?) but I also have lots of albums downloaded on iTunes where I can find them easily plus listen on my phone, my laptop or desktop computer.

I love the Genius feature on iTunes to make new playlists, and I do this a couple of times a week. It’s a quick and simple way to freshen up what I’m listening to and helps me discover songs I didn’t know I had.

I often listen to music when I’m cooking, or cleaning, or sewing.

Life is always better with a soundtrack.

7. Use pen and paper

I love writing things down, and I use a daily journal to plan and review my days, weeks and months.

At the start of each new month, I review the month that’s just finished. [Related post: How to make the most of a new month]

My monthly review comprises everything I feel I’ve accomplished, large or small, people I’ve spent time with, films I’ve watched, books I’ve read etc.

I take time to think about how I can find more balance as I write out my schedule for the next month.

Doing this by hand helps me take stock, and decide whether I’m overly busy or if I have some space.

Also, whether my commitments are in alignment with my values, or whether I’ve said yes to some things I wish I hadn’t.

Taking time to plan and review on a daily and weekly basis is something else I enjoy that also helps me stay on track.

I always think better with a pen in my hand, plus I am more likely to remember it.

8. Put things away

Living in an uncluttered home is one thing. Being able to find things is something else.

When I can’t find something, it’s usually because I haven’t put it away.

I’ve worked hard on finding places to put things so I can find them easily, and on auto-pilot.

I group like things with like, which I learned from reading Marie Kondo books.

This seems like a small thing but it has made a big difference to my stress levels.

If I can’t put my hands on something quickly, then I might consider that I have accumulated too many things and would notice a need to declutter.

9. Keep Sundays simple

I used to treat Sundays like any other day of the week. I’d exercise, shop, go out for the day, see friends and family, catch up on work etc.

Last year I realised that Mondays were often a stressful day of the week for us as a family, and when I thought about why that was, I realised that our Sundays were often too busy.

I talked it over with my husband and we agreed to keep Sundays simple.

For the last few years, our Sundays usually look like this.

Morning: have tea, take our dog to the park, come home, make pancakes.

Afternoon: spend time on hobbies, cook Sunday dinner, eat together.

Evening: plan for the week ahead, read, have a shower and an early night.

I really look forward to our Sundays. I know that I feel more ready for the week after having a restful day, and the rest of my family appreciate it too.

Progress not perfection

This might make it sound like I have everything sorted, but really, it’s work in progress.

I just try to make space for what’s important.

I hope there’s been something useful here for you.

If you enjoyed this, you might also like to sign up for my Sunday newsletter, where I share small things for a simpler, happier life.

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