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.
The Shift you need in your life could be just around the corner. All this talk about tiny houses, minimalism, and decluttering our lives is making an impact of many people these days.
Obviously, you are one of those people or you probably wouldn’t be reading this post.
This morning I was talking with a friend and she was relating how difficult it was to keep a full time “regular” job and still have a life. She also said she didn’t plan to work until she was age 65.
How can you blame her?
I know I don’t. Who wants to toil away their best years and only begin to enjoy themselves near the end of their life?
I am not the first person to say the American Dream is a lie. For years we have been fed the misguided advice that says the more items we accumulate, the happier we will be. More stuff DOES NOT make you happier. It just makes you busier. And more stressed. And angry. And tired.
This is the point in your life where you decide to change your way of thinking about what’s important. It is usually a shift away from ambition and competition with others. In most cases people decide that everyday quality of life is more important than having a large quantity of stuff. A joyful life is more important that material possessions or social status.
That’s basically it in a nutshell. However, when you start down this road you will discover that it reaches into each and every aspect of your life.
Instead of trying to be a social butterfly, you might decide to concentrate on a few truly meaningful friendships with a tight circle of friends.
You might decide that having three pairs of beautiful quality boots is better than 50 pairs and not ever being able to find the pair you are looking for.
You might opt to buy a less expensive vehicle (with less payment, insurance, maintenance cost, etc.) so you can work part time instead of full time. Thus, having more personal time to enjoy life.
You decide that free time to reflect and unwind are better than 3 hours of television at night.
How Far Must I Take The Shift To Be Happy?
This depends on each individual. I have seen people literally become “homeless” and be happy about it (but not homeless in the way you are probably thinking). There are also people who love living in tiny houses or carrying all their possessions in a backpack.
That’s a bit extreme for me, but it certainly works for some people.
You can take The Shift to whatever level you are comfortable with. That’s the beauty of it. Take it to the point of happiness, then stop.
It’s really just that simple.
The high motivational Wayne Dyer has a book and video that make it easy to understand and get started.
I recently bought this box set at McKay’s, which is a used media store near where I live. My husband actually got into this DVD as much as I did. I have been exposing both of us to various aspects of creating a simpler life and he is starting to come over to my way of thinking. He is a true man’s man, so if he can get into this – anyone can.
In this high stress, super hurried, and overly political world, it seems everyone is suffering from “indefinite deference”.
You have probably never heard of that before….mostly because I just made it up.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s not a real thing. In fact, it is the MOST real thing in millions of people’s lives right now. So what is indefinite deference?
It means putting things off forever. That sounds a little extreme since “forever” is a mighty powerful word, but that is where the meaning lies.
Still confused? Allow me to explain.
How Indefinite Deference Is Ruining Our World
Everyday millions of people get out of bed with the best of intentions. Today I will lose weight. Today I will ask for that promotion. Today I will spend more quality time with my children.
But how many people actually take action and follow through on those intentions? Okay, so some people actually do, but what about the HUGE percentage of people who don’t? How does that affect those lives today, next week, even twenty years from now?
According to Psychological Science, “…people who procrastinate have higher levels of stress and lower well-being”, “Why Wait? The Science Behind Procrastination” by Eric Jaffe. I bet that is not news to you, right? Everyone knows that putting things off usually leads to bad consequences somewhere down the line. We also know those who appear to “have it together” look happier than those who don’t.
But indefinite deference has brought about a whole new realm of unhappiness. We could argue the many reasons individuals and families are stressed and tired and ultimately unhappy, but that is for another article.
We have become a society of putter offers. We put things off because we don’t have time, or we are tired, or because we have to rest our brain for at least five minutes before our brain blows out the top of our head. (Oh, is that just me?) Rules and regulations at most jobs have become overwhelming and the rules and regulations for our personal lives seems to have ramped up as well. This leads to brains that never get to shut down and as we leave a few things done each day, the stack of things left to do grows exponentially.
I am as guilty as anyone else. I often have a to do list that has only a fraction of the items marked off at the end of the day. But things get in the way such as unexpected events at work, soccer practice, dinner, homework, leaky faucets, errands, etc. The list could go on for days and still not cover everything that comes up.
This leads to what I call future thinking. Some time in the future I will be happy.
When I get that raise I will be happy.
When I have a baby I will be happy.
When I buy a house I will be happy.
When I get to travel I will be happy.
When I get to retire I will be happy.
When I die I will be happy. YIKES!!!
When I _________ I will be happy.
(You can fill in the blank.)
You see where this is going? Indefinite deference. Always pushing our happiness to some distance time in the future. Why is it that total, true happiness never seems to arrive with said event?
Instead, we always seem to set a new date for our future happiness.
As long as we think that way, allowing our emotions to be controlled by outside sources and events, then we will never be happy. This is because happiness comes from the inside, not out.
Now, you may be sitting there right now feeling self righteous because you think this does not apply to you. Neither did I – until my father pointed it out one day. I was going on about some insignificant thing that was in the way of my life being desirable and he said, “Angela, you are going to wish your life away.” I argued with him at the time and vehemently denied that I was doing such a thing. But later I reflected on our conversation and realize that was EXACTLY what I was doing.
In this day of rising minimalism, I totally agree that we should all learn how to say “no” and have fewer commitments on our plates. We should definitely scale back our possessions, our responsibilities (if possible), and our stress. But there are a few things we should never neglect and sometime it helps to prioritize these things to help us get a better perspective in life.
In fact, I think indefinite deference is a great thing for most of the busyness in our lives. The key, I believe, is picking the things that should never be deferred and then not worrying about the rest.
For instance, some people turn around one day and find it’s time to retire, but they have neglected to build a retirement fund. Even worse is when the children grow up and move away and you suddenly realize you never made that quality time for them. Indefinite deference can sneak up on you faster than you think.
Four Things You Should Never Defer (a.k.a. THE ANSWER TO HAPPINESS)
Retirement & Savings
Health & Well-Being
Time With Loved Ones
Permission To Be Happy Each Day
Deferring these four areas can all have grave consequences, especially down the road. In fact, if you take care of these four things, the rest of your life will more or less take care of itself. So it makes sense to put all of your energy here.
If an item on your to do list doesn’t tick one of these four boxes, then let it go. But NEVER defer these areas in your life and you will have the recipe for a happy, prosperous life.
In the words of the simplistically wise Winnie the Pooh, “I am not lost, for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.”
We should all give ourselves permission to be happy. Right now. This very second. Go ahead. I give you permission too.
In my mind there have always been two types of people: minivan drivers and non-minivan drivers.
Please don’t misunderstand me here. Some of my best friends drive minivans. And they love them. And I love those friends.
I, on the other hand, somehow got it in my mind over the years that a minivan equaled a life without excitement and a lack of self image (cough, cough….others thinking you were uncool.)
You see, we are all conditioned to have certain preconceived notions. This is no one’s fault, really. It just comes with growing up and living in a household, community and culture. And in many ways it is a good thing. It helps us find and bond with kindred spirits (i.e. friends and soul mates) with whom we have things in common. These are the people who you often feel most comfortable with.
But on the flip side of that, it also causes biases that don’t often serve us well in life. And it definitely doesn’t help us be a good minimalist.
Sometimes we have difficulty moving from one phase of our life to the next and that holds us back from cleaning the clutter from our lives. For example, I held on to clothes from my 20’s and later from my 30’s because I still saw myself as the cool, hip girl. Never mind the fact that I was no longer actually wearing most of them. Because (a) they were still in my possession, and (b) I MIGHT wear them SOMEDAY.
Would it surprise you to learn that never happened?
Me neither, looking back at it now.
But there are three things about this type of situation that seem to always hold us back, no matter how long we have been a minimalist:
Holding on to memories. Lots of people have garages or attics full of memories, and let me tell you those memories can take up a gigantic amount of space. Now, I never advocate for getting rid of sentimental items that you can never replace (or that you actually use). I am talking about sports equipment for sports you no longer like. Or old furniture that you know will never be used again. If you don’t use it, lose it. You can always take a picture that will last forever. Maybe you enjoyed that certain activity in college but if that is not you anymore, then it is okay to move those items out of your life. Make a scrapbook with pictures of these items and send them on to someone who can and will use them.
Fearing the next stage. This is definitely where I landed with the minivan. I still thought of myself as the snazzy dresser who attended interesting cultural events and saw the hottest bands in concert. (How would it look if I pulled up to see Foo Fighters in a minivan?) If I wasn’t that cool and happening person anymore, then who was I? Can you say identify crises?
Caring what other people think. This holds most people back in all aspects in life, sometimes without us even realizing it. This was definitely happening to me. But one day something happened and I suddenly JUST DID NOT CARE ANYMORE. It suddenly made more sense for everyone to travel in comfort than for me to look “cool” – whatever that even means.
So the day we purchased a minivan I knew it was the right choice. I then used it to haul multiple loads of extra stuff away from my house and to a place where others could benefit from it. I hate to admit it, but this included some clothing and other items from my “cool” days.
How To See the Light
You see, we are all constantly changing and becoming a better version of ourselves, and with this wisdom comes a few points that we all need reminding of sometimes:
It’s okay to evolve as a person.
People who love you will still love you.
People who don’t like you will still not like you.
There’s no need to impress strangers (or your neighbors, your college ex-roommate, etc.)
And yes, buying a minivan added another vehicle to our driveway, but that is okay because it simplified our lives in other ways. It is now our go to vehicle for trips of any length, and therefore, stays loaded with most items we will need. It also carries all sports equipment and lawn chairs for practices, among other things.
It saves us so much time in planning and physically loading (and unloading) items that it was well worth the purchase.
And looking back now, I can see where our lives could have been much simpler for several years now if I had made the right decision – although my hubby was my partner in crime on that one.
So when working to simplify your life, make sure you look at what serves you best and gives you the most joyful life possible – regardless of what your ego says about your self image.