Here is a fact that all of us control freaks already know: control can actually be a slippery thing. For a while you control everything in your world. You are definitely in the driver’s seat. But after some time passes, it starts to control you.
How do you know if this has happened to you? There are some really good, reliable clues such as tension, anxiety, headaches, stomach issues, feelings of overwhelm and helplessness, etc. And depression can often be the dark enemy of those who feel their lives are out of their control.
As an A-Type personality, I know all about this. You see, I learned from the master, my mother, at a very young age. I already had her genes, and I soon also developed her habits. (She loved to clean things with toothbrushes.) But then I took it a little further. By the age of five, I had learned to take toys OUT of my room and INTO the living room to play with them. That kept my room clean, just the way I liked it. (Although it drove my parents a little crazy.)
Fast forward to my teenage years and I would often sleep on the floor in a sleeping bag with my head between my stereo speakers. This both kept my bed made at all times AND lulled me to sleep at night. (I had to have just the right environment to sleep. This included music and a fan blowing in my face.)
All of this worked fine – for a few years. But then I became an adult.
When I moved out of my parents’ house I discovered something incredible. No one cared what I wanted or how I wanted it. Period.
As life carried on and I developed more responsibilities, it became exhausting trying to control everything in my environment. Husbands, kids and dogs don’t always cooperate with house tidiness, bosses don’t necessarily care if you want the holidays off, and people on the street are sometimes jerks – and no one will make them apologize to you, either.
And there is nothing you can do about it.
SO WHY KEEP TRYING?
This is SUCH a simple concept, but I am embarrassed to say that even with a degree in psychology, it took me years to get it.
My husband, on the other hand, was born with this concept pre-stamped on his brain. He categorizes everything as “something I can do something about” and “something I can’t”. Can you even imagine how simple this makes his life?
For the first few years of our marriage, I would sometimes get upset because he was NOT upset. How could he not care enough about this to get fired up about it? Looking back now, I realize he was on the right path all along.
I have finally learned to stop being a control freak and let life happen. This could only occur after I gave up the need for everything to be perfect in my life. But when I finally did that – It felt as if I took this massive weight off my head and set it on the ground beside me, then just walked away.
Here is how I did it:
First, I learned to categorize things like my husband. It takes only seconds to categorize something as important or not, then act on it (or don’t) accordingly.
Second, I write down several things each day that I am grateful for. This really stifled my urge to control everything because I could see how many things were already going great.
Third, I engage in daily meditation. I know you have probably heard or read about this, but I will reiterate it: meditation will change your life. It calms your mind and body, releases stress, and pushes your mellow button. It is very difficult to feel like a control freak in that condition.
Fourth, I made the conscious decision to let things be not perfect. All that need for control and perfectionism was not making my life better, so I decided it was time to change the way I was handling things.
So now there are days that my bed doesn’t get made, the kitchen sink stays stacked with dirty dishes, and our Yorkies make friends with the dust bunnies living under the furniture. And sometimes I’m late for an appointment, an inconsiderate person cuts me off in traffic, and our gutters are overflowing with leaves.
These sort of things will probably continue to happen in the future.
But everyone at our house is happy and healthy. What else could I possibly want or need?
Have you ever decided to buy an item on Amazon but then became frozen by the total number of choices out there – and left the site without buying anything?
Me too. In fact, I have done this countless times. Who can pick from 150 different white curtains? Or 300 different red toothbrushes?
Life is full of choices – good and bad, big and small.
Scientists say we literally make thousands of decisions every day, even though many of them are unconscious. I know that if I had to consciously think through each and every one of those decisions, I would be exhausted all the time.
I am happy my brain automatically makes lots of decisions for me. It saves brain energy and keeps me from being overwhelmed every minute of every day.
And while having choices in life is a good thing, I would make the argument that too many choices can be a bad thing – just as having NO choices can also be bad.
Things were not always this way. In the book The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz makes the point that my grandparents’ generation was not faced with quite the barrage of choices that I face. For example, if their washing machine stopped working and they needed a new one, they simply went down to their local store and picked from the two or three models available. Then they took it home and didn’t give that choice another thought.
It is common today for shoppers to do hours, days, even weeks of research before purchasing a new appliance (me included). And even that does not guarantee that buyer’s remorse will not follow the purchase. The fear of missing out, or FOBO, is often joked about, but is also a real thing.
What if I had bought the model that was self-cleaning? And what if the third review was right and this model has plastic gears that will wear out?
Regret is a powerful thing, and in this world of perpetual data and reviews, I might never figure out which model is truly the best. That sets me up for the uncertainty that leads to the regret.
However, I recently bought the audio version of The Paradox of Choice and listened to it all the way through in my car while traveling. Then I started at the beginning and listened to the whole thing again.
After this, I came to understand many of the reasons why I was so stressed and impatient. My brain was simply working too hard to sort out the choices in my life.
We are all fairly smart when it comes to self care these days. Like everyone else, I read and research the latest information on how to be aware and happy. I know to cut off the electronics. I only engage social media in the pursuit of passing on useful information. I get quiet time and meditation into my schedule almost daily.
I but I never knew I needed to put a wall between myself and so many decisions.
Before you ask, yes, this can be done.
First, just being aware that so many choices are out there (and stressing me) helps me get a handle on the situation.
Second, I put as many things on autopilot as possible. For example, I have created a rotating dinner menu. I simply repeat the same recipes in the same order, and occasionally add in a new one for variety. Also, like many others out there, I have created a sort of “uniform” for work by purchasing multiples of the same shirt and pants and wearing the same outfit every day. I have a warm weather outfit and a cool weather outfit. (Sometimes I shake that up a bit, but I can always revert to the uniform on days I prefer to be on autopilot.)
Third, I limit the amount of time I search for an item I want to buy. At the end of that time, I make a decision based on the information I have at that point. This is completely liberating! I recommend this method to everyone!
Fourth, I made a commitment not to expend energy on making unimportant decisions. Does it really matter what flavor of ice cream I buy?
Fifth, I dedicate a few minutes each day to meditation. I started slow with two or three minutes per day and worked up to 10. My goal is 30 minutes per day. Some people manage to incorporate even more.
Life is much simpler than most people make it. This was a great place to start for me. Maybe it will be for you too.
Desire is a strong emotion that can pull at us mentally, emotionally – even physically. As living, breathing creatures we are often at the mercy of our wants and needs, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
In our hyper connected society we are often spoon fed the things we should want or need in order to be happy, productive individuals in this world. A curious thing happens when you follow the crowd and allow yourself to be tricked into believing the advertisers and corporations. You become more and more unhappy each day.
The sheer act of trying to keep up with everyone around you is exhausting. And it’s not just the stuff you must accumulate to keep up. Now you must also have meaningful, Instagram worthy experiences to feel normal. You are judged by the vacations you take, the concerts you attend, the innovative couple weekends you contrive – it is never ending.
One of the best things I have ever done was sit down and make a list of the things I truly desired in my life. Then I worked toward the things in life that would bring those desires to me the quickest. Here are a few of the things on my list:
Have happy, healthy, well-adjusted children
Be financially comfortable
Have fewer responsibilities
Take more family vacations that are simple and relaxing
I took specific steps for each desire and felt energized because my time and efforts were being laser focused on the desired outcome.
When I looked at the list I made I realized the person who achieves those desires is a happy, calm person – and isn’t that what we all crave?
All the material things and accomplishments we all chase are trying to achieve that perceived happiness at the end, right? Why not take a shortcut on the road to happiness and pursue the quickest route to true joy?
Our desires define us, whether we like it or not. Do we want to be people who chase materialism or meaningful things in life?
If you asked most adults in the United States about their biggest source of stress, I would the wager the most frequent answer to be overwhelm.
The number of things to do on most people’s “to do” list is staggering and it seems most people add more things to it than they accomplish on a daily basis. In fact, the dreaded “to do” list has become an affliction that weighs us down and steals our joy, year in and year out.
There are even rules now about how many things you need to have on a “to do” list on any given day, along with arguments about how large a task has to be in order to be written down. People are literally stressing over the lists that are supposed to eliminate stress!
I, too, am one of the many people who suffer from this affliction. If my list gets too long, then I get anxious. If it is too short, then I feel sure I am leaving out something important. One way to overcome this is to focus on your most important task (MIT) each day. There are lots of books and websites that touch on this concept. Here is an article by Leo Babauta that I really like.
With this being said, here are some other suggestions on how to stop feeling overwhelmed:
You Don’t Have To Keep Score Anymore
Sometimes we need to be reminded of even the most basic things in life. I read this quote today on Courtney Carver’s blog Be More With Less. She had posted an article about feeling overwhelmed that made several wonderful points, but this one especially stood out to me. (Read the whole article here.)
Although no one ever comes straight out and says “You are in competition with ever other individual on the planet” we all know that we are, or are expected to be.
Our well-meaning parents set us up for this when we begin school, or sometimes even before that. After all, academics are important, right? Then there’s sports, sibling rivalry, college entrance exams, job interviews, salaries, house size, retirement accounts, etc.
What’s even worse is that people now even keep score on social media. Who has taken the most lavish vacation or had the most elaborate wedding or baby shower?
And what’s worse still, we often compete through our children as well. It’s all about whose child makes better grades, is a better athlete, got into a better school, etc.
Well, guess what? You don’t have to keep score anymore. And we all do it to some extent, whether we realize it or not.
But we can all recognize it as something we do and then make the conscious decision to stop right now.
Is all competition bad? Of course not. Be we need to keep it in perspective. Then we can better allocate our time, energy and finances accordingly.
Working Part Time (Or Not At All) Does Not Make You Lazy
In the United States, we live in a society that is very accomplishment driven. People who do not possess the killer instinct to work excessive hours and ruthlessly climb the ladder of success are often deemed lazy in the eyes of others. Stay at home mothers catch a great deal of this judgement, but tell someone you are a stay at home wife with no children and people go nuts!
Why would one family’s personal lifestyle decision matter to anyone else? Especially f it doesn’t affect them at all?
As of February 27, 2019, there is a documentary on Netflix called Happy that I highly recommend everyone watch. It details what makes people happy in various walks of life, and it turns many conventional ideas upside down. It will literally change the way you think about everything in life.
But back to working – it is okay not to work full time, just like it is okay to want less possessions and more free time in your life. These things usually come together as a package deal for most people.
Never allow the judgments of other people rule your life. Your happiness matters, not their opinions.
It’s Okay To Be You
I know this one sounds simplistic, but most of us have still not learned this lesson no matter how many times it is taught. You should make the decision today that you will be yourself no matter what it takes. You should always:
spend time with just you
believe in you
be kind to you
see the beauty in you
take care of you
Until we all learn to do these things, we will never be truly happy. You must be happy in your own skin and your own head. Stop trying to do so much and spend some time just being.
Do Something For Someone Else
Nothing puts life in perspective so much as helping someone else. Many times this brings real issues to the forefront and allows insignificant things to fade to the background of our lives, allowing us to focus our time and attention on what truly matters.
Selfless acts of love and generosity are the root of many wonderful things in life. This happens because we are thinking of someone else instead of ourselves. Just think what would happen if everyone on the planet did that for one whole day!!!
Mother Teresa was quoted as saying:
Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.
Not so very long ago people who practiced mediation in the United States were considered to be a little “out there” in many ways. Thankfully, those days are long gone since people of all ages and walks of life have discovered the wondrous benefits of turning everything off for a few minutes each day and learning shut out all the noise.
It can literally change the structure of your brain.
If you have never tried mediation, here is a guide on Zen Habits to get you started. Also, there is a resource by Bob Proctor that I use virtually everyday, somethings multiple times a day. I often listen to it in the background using headphones while I am working at the computer during the day. It is a guided meditation that I absolutely love!
And last, but not least:
You knew this would be on the list, right? Because it is on every list of everything that makes our life better. Your brain actually changes when you practice habitual gratitude for an ongoing period of time (much like meditation, which makes these two a winning combination).
Begin each and every morning by thinking of all the good things in your life and saying “thank you” for all of them. Be sure to include small things in your list as well as the big things. Right now I am thinking how grateful I am for my sight, so I can see to type this blog post. I am also grateful for my computer, my internet and electricity, my desk and chair, the heater at my feet, the time to do this, etc.
It is especially helpful to practice gratitude when things are going wrong in life or when you feel discouraged or down. Gratitude can turn your disposition around in a matter of seconds if you allow it.
We have all heard that minimalism is only for single guys, right? Living a simple, uncluttered life might be easier with less stuff and fewer people under one roof, but when minimalism becomes a state of mind it can work for anyone – even families.
According to these Spare Foot Statistics, the self storage industry had a whopping $38 billion in revenue in 2018. And that’s just in the United States (we are surely not the only hoarders in the world). That’s a lot of money just to store some things we probably forgot we even had and will likely never use again.
But we don’t want all that in our homes, right?
Enter the Family
Going from a single person, to a married person, to a family with with kids can bring your clutter factor to scary proportions. Add in a couple pets and it is the perfect storm for chaos and disorder. But minimalism with a family is definitely possible.
Although clutter affects some individuals more than others, it is fair to say it disrupts productivity for everyone. Children are especially prone to the pitfalls of clutter since they are learning the habits they will carry into adulthood. It is important to model good organizational behavior for your children, but it can also help you live a less complicated life in the present.
Let’s assume you have decluttered your home. (If not, start with Marie Kondo’s book.) How do you keep it that way? Here are some practical ways to keep your home sweet home peaceful and tidy.
One Thing In, One Thing Out
This should be a way of life for all minimalist enthusiasts. Every time you bring a new pair of shoes into your home, an old pair goes out. Same goes for any other item in your house. This is one of the easiest ways to keep clutter down. Since you know something has to leave your house for something new to come in, you will begin bargaining with yourself each time you consider a new purchase. Sometimes just taking that moment to consider which item to throw out will be enough to talk you out of a new item.
Give Every Item a Home
Items that do not have a home can never be put away. Simple, right?
Yet, so many items end up in the “plop spot”. Every home has a plop spot. It is where everyone drops everything the minute they come through the door. It can easily become a jumble of shoes, backpacks, lunchboxes, sports equipment and dog leashes. Spend a weekend organizing items that don’t have a designated spot. This includes the items mentioned above. Amazon and IKEA are good places to look for organization items and Pinterest is always teeming with ideas.
If you do not have enough room for all of your stuff to be put away, either you still have too much stuff or you need better organization. Be honest with yourself about this and take appropriate measures.
Don’t Let Papers Pile Up
This is one of my worst categories. It seems I am always so busy in the afternoons when the mail and school papers come home that I often make a stack to look through later. The problem is that stack keeps growing everyday and so the task of going through it keeps growing as well.
I have helped myself to a certain degree by purchasing a file crate that I keep by the front door. (I bought a pretty one so it looks nice with my decor.) I also keep a trash can close so I can sort mail as soon as it comes through the door. I use the file crate to file away some things immediately, like bills that will automatically be paid online. I also designated one file for receipts called “possible returns”. Any receipt that has an item I am not sure about yet goes into that file. Or anything that has a limited warranty. I clean it out at the end of each year when I do my taxes and go through everything.
Any papers that need action of some kind are placed on top of the file crate. They are in my way each day when I file new papers, so that keeps them constantly on my mind until I follow through with them.
One person cannot keep a house tidy when multiple people live there. One of the best lessons you can teach your children is a good work ethic. This begins in the home. All the people who live in your home make up a team and each team member should do his or her part. It can take time to train both your children and your partner to do this on a daily basis, but once the training is over you will all benefit for years to come.
Besides learning to clean up behind themselves as they go through their day, they should each have designated chores that are done daily and/or weekly. I always tell my children that chores build character, and I completely believe that.
Make It a Habit
All of the above steps only work if you implement them consistently. According to John Assaraf (who I follow and greatly admire) it can take at least 90 days to form a new habit. This can increase greatly according to which habit you are trying to establish, of course. However, your goal should be to make these steps habits, and thereby put them on autopilot.
When you have done that, you have developed new lifestyle!
Let me clarify – I feel like all things around me need to be perfect all the time. Or at least I did.
As the only child of a mother who cleaned everything with a toothbrush, I learned the way to happiness is for everything to be perfect. And by perfect I mean clean, well organized, and well…..perfect.
The two of us saw eye to eye on this lifestyle choice. Floors were always clean. Drawers were organized. The frig was always wiped down, inside and out.
Then my father would come home.
He should have had a mug that read “World’s Biggest Slob”.
My dad was the king of misplaced items, disorganization, and borderline hoarding. He was also happy with his lifestyle choice.
I listened to years of arguments over cabinet doors being left open (my mom often hit her head on them) and dirty clothes being left in the floor.
So what is the point here?
Mainly this: Life CANNOT be perfect.
That’s just how it is.
The universe was not designed to be perfect. It was designed to be functional and productive and beautiful.
And so are we. Let me say that in a straightforward way. We were designed to be functional and productive and beautiful.
Minimalism can bring you a little closer to perfection in life, but never quite on target. Because we were never meant to be that.
And some of us live years (or our whole lives) trying to attain perfection in our lives in all ways while thinking we will be happy when we get there.
But the fact is we will NEVER GET THERE.
I had to tell myself that, just like I am telling you right now.
So tonight when my husband helps with dinner but doesn’t clean up behind himself, and my kids unpack their backpacks on the kitchen table and leave a stray item there when it’s time to eat, and my dogs dig in the yard before pouncing across my white duvet – I will choose to appreciate that I have a husband and kids and dogs instead of sweating the small stuff.
After all, my life will never be perfect, but it will always be happy. Because I choose for it to be so. And I find perfection in that alone.