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2018 was a GREAT year- and I hope it was a great year for you, too. But I do have a few things I need to work on in 2019. Did I say a few? I mean several. I have several things that could use some improvement. I’m sure I’ll be going through all of them either in blog posts or on facebook (@lookslikehappyblog <– like & follow if you want!) but we’re going to start with The Biggy.
I need to simplify.
It’s a constant quest for me, this simplified life. There is a very fine line between me being busy enough to distract myself from my anxiety, and not being so busy that I am totally and completely stressed. My wonderful husband bears the brunt of that one, so I really REALLY try to maintain a balance that ends up benefitting both of us.
When we moved to the city a few years ago we naturally simplified. We moved from a 5 bedroom house in the suburbs to a small 2 bedroom condo in the city. We had three garage sales, a few Dumpsters and many trips to Salvation Army to get rid of everything we weren’t in love with. We gave up seven board positions (between the two of us) at our town’s little league. We were about 40 minutes from family & friends, so we were able to say “no” more often, which allowed us to say “yes” more often to things we actually wanted to do.
Thennnnnn we bought my family cottage from the rest of my family who wanted to sell it. When you’ve been going somewhere for 40 years you do what you can to hang onto it! Of course as a second residence you have to buy everything you will need. You can’t exactly haul bedding and furniture and dinnerware back and forth between two houses. (That would be the opposite of simplifying, right?) Yes, poor timing because 90% of what we got rid of when we left the suburbs would have worked here! Not exactly the definition of “simplify.”
Thennnnnn we decided to move to Michigan full time. So again, we got rid of stuff and downsized again because we were back to one manageable house. My husband’s job was pretty flexible and he was able to AirBNB it Tuesday-Thursday and work from home Monday & Friday.
Thennnnnn his position changed and he had to be in Illinois Monday-Friday.
Thennnnnn my dad and grandmother decided they’d had enough of Chicago winters and wanted to move to their other house in Arkansas, which would normally be fine, except my dad owns two small apartment buildings in Illinois and the market in our area is still not quite where it needs to be, so selling the buildings now is not ideal.
With my husband in Illinois 5 days a week and my dad moving to Arkansas, naturally it makes sense that we would take over the day-to-day responsibilities of managing the buildings in exchange for a unit for my husband to occupy. Win Win, right?
Well, not so much. It turns out being landlords is not our jam. We’re not very good at it. My husband is very handy, so that aspect is not awful (although fixing other people’s toilets is also not his jam) but collecting rent blowwwws. Like really, really blows. Half the people are barely making ends meet and constantly late with their rent. I feel bad, but it’s really not up to me to let them slide for a few days or weeks- this is my dad’s income source, kwim? I think we’d be fine with one building or a couple houses, but 7 tenants is just a lot. Plus I’d let way too many people slide on their rent, so this is probably not an ideal side hustle for me. ?
So in taking over these buildings we’re helping my dad and ourselves, but it’s chaotic and messy and probably more trouble than it’s worth. It’s definitely not simplified.
Because of this I need to work on smoothing out the wrinkles in every other aspect of our lives in order to fully simplify. The apartment building gig is THAT much of an anxiety inducer for me. By the time my husband works his real job for 50-55 hours a week, deals with the enormous lawn, makes routine repairs, spends an hour & a half a day in the car for his commute, and all of the other little things that go with household maintenance, by the time he makes it to Michigan Friday night the last thing he wants to do is more yard work and house related stuff. Did I mention we’re in the middle of a whole house remodel? Yes, 1976 called and it wants its brown bathroom and horrific vinyl flooring back. Of course when my husband’s position changed that came to a screeching halt. Mama needs new bathrooms. If you could see them you would agree.
So we need to get back on track to living a stress-free, less chaotic life where we can do things we want to do, like work on our actual house and have time to enjoy living on a lake when our family and friends visit! It’s time to take this whole “simplify” thing seriously.
So, how to simplify? And I mean REALLY simplify?
A few months ago I wrote this post: Simplify Your Crazy Life in 7 Easy Steps. It’s full of 7 tips that will totally simplify your life. The problem is, I’ve done them. That’s the life I live: my house is clean, I meal prep and meal plan, I declutter regularly, I say NO whenever I want to outings & invitations, I prepare in advance if I have a hectic few days coming up.
I need to hardcore simplify. I know it’s not going to be easy, but sometimes we need to do difficult things in order to make your life easier. I think this is going to be one of those things. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I think the key is going to be getting super organized. I’m already a list maker, and I think I need to take it up a notch. Let’s get started laying out the new plan.
Simplify Your Life
If this looks like your life, keep reading.
Ok, let’s go simplify.
One. Change Your Social Environment
I was spending too much time on social media. In the year leading up to starting this blog I took a lengthy social media break. Now because of the blog I need to be more involved in social media, but I don’t need to be involved in social media that wastes my time, brings me down, or doesn’t benefit my blog or other business.
About a year before starting the blog I totally quit Facebook. Deleted my account and everything. I had hundreds and hundreds of “friends.” I had an Instagram, but rarely used it. I didn’t have Twitter or anything else. It was so freeing not to be bogged down with much negativity and constant updates from people I didn’t even really know. Allllll of the political arguing and constantly seeing what “the other side” was doing was seriously stressing me out. Local politics wasn’t much better and I was spending way too much time being irritated in our local “moms & dads” groups. It was time for a change, so I deleted the app and took a break. A few months later I didn’t miss it and deleted my account.
Fast forward to starting the blog and Facebook is now necessary, as is Instagram and Twitter. So, I opened a new personal Facebook and a Facebook account for the blog, a new Instagram and started a Twitter. The big difference on Facebook? On my personal account I have 67 friends. And they are actually my friends. When I started fresh I sent friend requests to the people I was actually friends with- the people I’d actually spoken to, hung out with and who are really part of my life for the past year. I joined groups and followed news sources and lifestyle sources I wanted to see that benefit me. I joined groups for blogging that help grow my blog and allow me to form relationships with other bloggers.
Butttt I got a little carried away with the groups and now I see the same groups over and over again, but they aren’t necessarily benefitting me.
So I need to make it a priority to use social media in ways that benefit me and my businesses. I’ve left several “fun” groups that are time wasters. I’ve begun to leave several blogging groups that aren’t working for me, which allows more of what I do need to see to show up in my feed. This will allow me to see if these groups are working for me, or if I need to find new groups that are geared towards my goals. My feeling is that if I simplify my feed, when I go on Facebook I am only seeing what benefits me.
I also started utilizing the “snooze” function for some of my friends about 3 months ago. If you have friends that share every.single.tidbit of their lives and you don’t need to see that much (especially if it’s someone you speak with outside of social media, so you’re up to date on their life anyway) try the snooze feature. For 30 days they will be quiet, allowing posts from other friends to come through. One person clogging your feed kind of defeats the purpose of trying to connect & keep up with friends.
By doing this I now see what benefits me: what my friends are up to, my few news sources, and the blogging groups that offer real, useful information to help grow my business. By changing my social environment it’s streamlined to benefit me, rather than entertain me, and I’m not wasting precious minutes being distracted b y fluff every time I scroll through my feed.
Two. Set Daily Goals.
Rather than having an enormous general “to do” list, set daily, attainable goals. I am a total list person. I love writing something down and the satisfaction that comes from completing the task and running a crisp, strong line through the item. I had sooo many lists! One for the house, one for the blog, one for the apartment, one for general things to do. I would prioritize, of course, but that means I would work 90% on blog stuff, 10% on general and never get to anything else.
I’m still in the tweaking phase of this new system, but so far so good- I’m getting A LOT more done because my focus is narrowed during chunks of time, rather than being scattered throughout the day or over the course of a week or month.
Now instead of spending 90% of my time on the blog and essentially getting nothing else done until it absolutely HAS to be done (which totally stresses me out, and my anxiety soars in the days leading up to what I know needs to be done…) I’m way more on top of things. Nothing is piling up. I feel like I will be in great shape INSIDE my house so that when warm weather begins I can focus on the OUTSIDE. (There’s a lot to be done here – we’re mid-remodel after all!)
Three. Take Responsibility For Your Mind.
You can’t live in the past or future. I am the worst when it comes to worrying about the future. The worst. My brain will just not shut off and it’s something I am working on, but need to work on more. There are just two things from my past that still impact my day to day life, but they are fairly significant and even with therapy, I just don’t see that changing. But all of the little things that have happened, the relationships that no longer exist, the things that didn’t work out as we’d planned – I rarely think of those things. But like I said, I do spend a fair amount of time obsessing over the future, and I need to stop that. It’s not productive, it’s definitely not healthy, and there’s no way to know what will or will not happen in the future. It’s time to get rid of negative habits that drain your mental strength. By focusing on what I’m doing today I can help shape my future. That’s productive and healthy.
This is probably going to be the most difficult one for me, especially as someone who has struggled with an anxiety disorder for most of my life. It’s hard to turn the thoughts off, especially at night, but I am hoping with the implementation of #2 above I will be able to spend the time I normally spend obsessing over the “what if’s” by reflecting on my day and planning for tomorrow’s daily goals.
Four. Live Life with Deliberation.
When you simplify your life, especially in big ways like the three ideas above, you create extra time. This extra time allows you to slow down and live your life deliberately. You have time to make hot chocolate with your kids, you have time to set the table the right way, you have time to read an article you’ve had open on your phone for 3 weeks, you have time to take a walk with your spouse.
My husband and I go out to dinner a lot. At least once a week and it’s rarely anywhere we escape from for less than $100. I meal prep dinners most weeks, but only for Monday through Thursday or Friday. When the weekend hits I’m ready to be done with cooking and eating at home. But it adds up and I need to get a handle on it so we can divert that money into something better, like our travel fund. Last Saturday my husband asked where I wanted to go for dinner, even though we’d gone out the night before and had friends coming over at 8:00pm. It would have been easy for me to say, “yeah, let’s just run out for Mexican. It will be quick and shouldn’t cost that much…” and an appetizer and 4 margaritas later and we’d be back up to an expensive dinner. AND I had steaks defrosting in the fridge… Instead I said, “nope- not doing it. I’m making steaks and it will be just fine.” Once I was able to put down my laptop and refocus my energy on dinner, we had a great meal. We even ate at the table and used real napkins. Just like we used to do all the time before we became crazy busy. We both agreed that a nice dinner at home is perfectly fine. Are we going to stop going out to dinner? No way. But are we going to work on not going out to dinner more than once a week? Yes. It’s doable IF we can use the above ideas to slow down a bit.
Living deliberately leads to a happier, more balanced life. If you do most everything with intention, paying attention to details and not rushing through life, everything becomes less stressful and more enjoyable.
Five. Outsource and Delegate To Find Better Balance.
This suggestion goes hand in hand with living with deliberation. Years ago I received a sales postcard from a cleaning service and the focus of their pitch was there is no glory in cleaning your own toilets, but they find a purpose in cleaning other peoples’ toilets because cleaning is their passion.
It really made me pause for a minute. It’s so true. There is no glory in so many things we do to maintain our houses and property. When I received this post card years ago we could not have afforded a cleaning service, although with working and little kids it was hard for me to stay on top of the house, but I forced myself to do it because clutter and mess drives me loopy. A few years later when we were heavily involved in our town’s little league program and one of our daughters was playing full time travel ball, something had to give during the Spring & Summer months, and that something was the yard.
I’m telling you, I NEVER ONCE minded paying one bill and that was the lawn service bill! Cell phone bill? Ugh. Electric bill? Ugh. Grocery bill? Ugh. But lawn care? TAKE MY MONEY! That $28 a week was worth so much more than $28. It saved me or my husband 2-3 hours each week that we just didn’t have. The yard was looking awful, it was embarrassing and it was putting a strain on both of us. For just about $120 a month we never had to have another discussion about the lawn and all we had to do was give up going out to dinner one time a month. It was a Big Decision to make, but it was by far one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.
Remember above when I said that my husband is in charge of cutting the grass at the apartments? The part that drives him the most nuts is that we have a lawn guy at our cottage, so he doesn’t have to cut our grass, but now he’s cutting grass that isn’t even technically ours. ?
Guess what we’re changing? My husband isn’t even entirely onboard with this plan, but he will concede once he “gives it a try.” There’s no reason for him to cut that grass. There’s a maintenance budget, so use it. If we go over the budget we’ll pay for it. It’s still cheaper than AirBNB was!
What is your biggest household task pain & time suck? If it’s laundry, look into outsourcing it. When we lived in Chicago I would drop our laundry off on Monday morning and pick it up on my way home from work. It was $1 a pound. $1 a pound! For $15-$20 a week our laundry was washed, folded perfectly and picked up in a large laundry bag. If you’re in a well-populated area you may be surprised how inexpensively some of these “luxuries” can be! Now at the laundromat in our small town in Michigan it’s a different story at $4.50/pound. For $90 a week we’ll be doing the laundry here. 😉
If it’s housecleaning, look into house cleaners. If you can’t afford a weekly cleaning, can you afford every other week? Once a month? Whatever it is will be helpful to you.
How about grocery shopping? I absolutely LOVE online grocery shopping. I was so excited when Peapod came to our area years ago. Now stores have their own services, there is Postmates and Instacart, or parking lot pick up if you can’t wait for delivery. There’s a big misconception that these services are costly. It’s true, you will probably pay for delivery, but prices are pretty much the same as in store. The real benefit to me was when my grocery budget was $100 a week I could tweak my cart to $100. I didn’t have to take kids to the store with me, which no doubt added 10-20% to my total because they were talented little lobbyists for their foods. Seriously, check out Instacart. If it is available in your area it’s worth a try! Be sure to find a “first time customer” code for $ off or free delivery, there usually is a code.
As for delegating, unless you’re single, run your home like you’d run a business. Odds are if you had a business you’d have others to help with certain responsibilities. It’s counter-productive to do everything when your goal is to simplify. Kids can help with just about everything from unloading groceries to gathering laundry and cleaning out the car. If you’re married, make sure you’re in a partnership. Make dinner together, clean up together, or split the duty. Simplifying your life means not being taken advantage of, even if it’s not malicious or even intentional.
With the extra hours you have from outsourcing even one task a week and delegating some of your responsibilities, you have more time to focus on living deliberately, which is one of the goals we’re working towards when we simplify.
What do you think? Do you need to simplify in a BIG way? If you’ve done all of the little stuff you’re half way there, right? I am actually really excited about this – especially since I can already see how well changing my social media environment is working! I really noticed last week while decorating my house for Christmas that slowing down and taking my time to get everything just the way I wanted it was surprisingly satisfying. In the past I would have thought that I should have gotten 5 more things done in the time it took to decorate, but not this time. It’s a noticeable change in a very short time and technically I’m still tweaking these ideas to fit my life. I hope you’ll join me on for this difficult-but-worth-it simplification project!
If you’d like some more ideas on “life,” I think you’ll really love these blog posts!