9 steps to simplify your life

‘A simplified lifestyle allows you to focus on quality over quantity and experiences versus stuff.’

Bea Johnson

Looking back to my life before the pandemic, I realise I was too busy. I honestly have no idea how I managed all my commitments. 

Things have been ‘back to normal’ for quite a while – but I still want to avoid sliding back into the ‘busy busy’ person I used to be.

I mostly do this through journalling and consciously checking in with myself and how I feel.

My two aims:

  • A balance between work and personal life
  • Quality time alone, and with people who are important to me

Looking at those two bullet points, it seems quite straightforward, but it isn’t.

Here are some ideas that I have found helpful.

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

9 things I do to simplify my life

1. Tidy and declutter

When I’m busy I am less tidy and things quickly build up.

Once I notice things are getting messy, my favourite way to keep clutter at bay is to clear out a cupboard or a drawer.

When my bookshelves are full, I donate or sell those I know I won’t reread.

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.

This brings me to the next step…

2. Avoid unplanned purchases

When I’m busy, I’m less in touch with my intuition, and way more likely to make unplanned purchases.

When I am less busy, I have more self-awareness.

I know our home is quite compact, and we don’t have much space for storage.

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

Now I keep links to things I might want to buy in a list app on my phone.

I try to decide if it’s needed before I make a final decision.

‘Why do I need this thing?’

‘Where am I going to keep it?’

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

3. Plan meals

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

We were wasting food by overbuying.

I’ve been working on planning meals instead, which I generally do once a month.

Every Sunday I adjust the plan based on what needs to be used up, etc.

The BBC food website is a great place to find recipes – I type in the ingredients I want to use and it gives me a list of ideas.

My favourite cookbook is Veg Every Day by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall.

The recipes focus on seasonal vegetables plus store cupboard basics and are reliably easy to cook.

I also like Persiana Everyday by Sabrina Ghayour and Green Roasting Tin by Rukmini Iyer.

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 on hand.

It’s better for our budget too.

4. Own fewer clothes

I realised some time ago that I always wear dresses, or jeans with a T-shirt or sweater.

That insight simplified my wardrobe hugely.

That, and going shopping with my friend Gabby, who used to be a fashion stylist.

She made me try everything on, and asked me,

‘Do you love it?’

Or she might say,

‘We can do better.’

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

I have relatively few clothes, nowadays, but I try to buy things I like and can see myself wearing for years.

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

Especially because there are so many pockets!

A simplified wardrobe makes my mornings easier too.

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.

Nowadays there’s so much choice, and sometimes it’s overwhelming.

I’ve gradually built up a list of films I’d like to see, plus classics and favourites for rewatching.

I especially appreciate a good soundtrack!

Seeing something on the big screen is one of my favourite experiences.

Cinemas nowadays are more cosy and have better sound.

I try and go a couple of times a month.

It’s also a great excuse to spend time with a friend.

6. Make playlists

Music lifts my mood like nothing else.

A few years ago our family’s joint Christmas present was a Bluetooth turntable.

Since then vinyl albums have been a gift we all buy each other.

I try to listen to albums in rotation, moving them back along the shelf so I don’t just listen to the same ones.

I love to make new playlists on Spotify, and I do this every month or so.

I like to collect music that reminds me of an event or special occasion.

I love the Glastonbury 2022 playlist because it introduced me to bands I hadn’t heard of.

At my friends’ wedding, they had a ‘covers’ band for the guests to dance to.

I made a list of all the Indie music they played, and then I made a playlist of all the originals.

Playlists are better when cooking or cleaning because the record doesn’t need to be turned over.

Life is always better with a soundtrack.

7. Keep a journal

I love writing things down with pen and paper.

Over the last few years, I’ve used a blank journal to plan and review my days, weeks and months.

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

My monthly review comprises everything I’ve accomplished, large or small.

I can also see who I’ve spent time with, films I’ve watched, books I’ve read etc.

I have time to think about ways to 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 align with my values, or whether I’ve said yes to some things I wish I hadn’t.

Taking time to do this is something I enjoy and helps me stay on track.

I always think better with a pen in my hand.

At the end of the year, I enjoy looking back through all my notes.

8. Put things away

Living in an uncluttered home is one thing.

Being able to find things is something else.

I share a fairly small space with three other humans and it only works because we keep it tidy.

If I can’t find something, usually it’s because someone hasn’t put it away in the right place.

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

Usually, I group like things with like, which I learned from reading the Marie Kondo book ‘The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up’.

If I can’t put my hands on something quickly, I realise it’s time for a tidy.

If things look cluttered it’s usually because I haven’t put things away for a while.

Putting things away also helps me feel a small sense of accomplishment.

A couple of times a year, I go through all the cupboards and drawers to do a bit of a declutter.

That stops the storage spaces from getting too full, which helps.

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.

When I thought about why that was, I realised that Sundays were often too busy.

I talked this 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, and potter about.

Afternoon: potter about, maybe spend time on a hobby, cook dinner, and eat together.

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

I look forward to our Sundays.

I feel more ready for the week after a restful day, and my family appreciates it too.

Progress, not perfection

This might make it sound like I have everything sorted, but really, it’s all 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 fortnightly Sunday newsletter, where I share small things for a simpler, happier life.

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