Back to Basics: How to Make Your Life Simpler and Easier

Those suffering from anxiety can find simplifying their lives may be the simplest way to relieve stress. If you are someone with a busy schedule this may seem hard to do. Taking stock of all of your obligations and activities and prioritizing is the place to begin. By adding downtime to your schedule, you open yourself up to better rest, more chances to relax and more opportunities to be creative. But simplifying your life isn’t just about schedules. Our lives are also cluttered with too many objects that require attention and add to everyday stress. Looking at simplifying your life means not only getting rid of activities that take up time; it also means de-clutttering and organizing every aspect of your existence.

Simplify Your Home

Getting your home into a simple state of being is one of the first things you can do to help relieve anxiety. Those who suffer from anxiety are often stressed out when over-stimulated. The spaces you frequent can either contribute to the problem or help relieve it. Look at the living spaces in your home.

Home office areas with too much paper clutter look messy and add frustration due to lack of organization. Mud rooms with too many pairs of shoes and boots make getting outside seem overwhelming with too many choices. Closets that are messy and unorganized lead to anxiety as you try to pick out clothes and find items needed for work. Too many electronic gadgets in the family room can lead to distraction or frustration when the right controller cannot be found. Taking inventory in each space in your house and getting rid of things you do not need means less things to keep track of and to clean. Ask yourself the following questions as you go room to room clearing up the clutter:

  • Has it been worn in the last year?  Place your outmoded or unwanted clothing in bags and give to a charity. Get a record of your donation for tax purposes. You can also consider taking the items to a consignment shop if you want cash for your items right away. Take stock of outdated or worn out boots, coats and other winter items and give away things that don’t fit.
  • How many pairs do we really need? If your mud room is overflowing with too many shoes, use the two pair rule. Choose one pair of knock-around or dog walking shoes and one pair of regular shoes to keep in a bin in your mud room. All other shoes must be stored in your bedroom closet. This keeps the bin from over flowing and mud rooms free from floor debris. Make each person in your household stick to this rule and consider donating unworn shoes to charity with other clothing items.
  • Am I really going to read it? Each day kitchen tables, countertops and chairs get piled with sale flyers, coupons and newspapers. If you are constantly piling up the day’s mail without reading it, use a quick and easy filing system to cut down on the paper trail. Find a place in your kitchen to put four baskets or bins. Near the back door is a good place since you have to pass the containers as you come inside. Quickly sort the mail as you come in into one of the three bins labeled: bills, news, coupons, work. At the end of each week, or every three days, sit down and sort through what you have. Recycle coupons and newspapers, place bills at your desk and sort through work papers as needed. Knowing you can organize this area quickly without having to deal with it every day relieves tension as you come in the door. Those with anxiety especially benefit from having a place to put their papers as they come in, as they know nothing will get inadvertently tossed and they’ll deal with things that need to be reviewed.
  • Do I need so much? Many people shop at big box stores to stock up and get a good deal. The downside to stocking up is a pantry that is cluttered and difficult to keep organized. If you have the space to buy in bulk it can save you money, but if you are not organized with your buying you end up spending more money. This is especially true if things get pushed to the back of the cabinets and go uneaten before they become stale. Consider planning your meals and shopping only for a week at a time. You’ll have less clutter in the kitchen, eat better meals and have less waste at the end of the week.
  • Is there anything I can give away? People with anxiety need calm, soothing spaces to think, create and rest. That is why too many gadgets or distractions in bedrooms can become stressful because there are more things to worry about putting away or keeping organized. Remind yourself about the pleasure of giving by going through your bedroom twice each year – once before a gifting holiday like Christmas or Hanukah and once before your birthday. Use two large garbage bags, one for giveaways and one for broken things that cannot be recycled.

Finding ways to de-clutter your space gives you more time to relax and enjoy your home because you have less to worry about. Establishing de-cluttering habits helps you discover how freeing this can on an ongoing basis and give you the gift of extra time for years to come.

Simplify Meals

Another time snatcher can be the daily wonder of “What’s for dinner?” Planning a week of meals at a time can make trips to the grocery story less stressful and free up time to do other things. Weekly meal planning also allows you to decide what days are cooking days and what days are leftover days. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Cook in large batches whenever possible. Chili, spaghetti sauce and soup freeze and re-heat well. Serve with a side salad and bread, and you have a complete meal in just a few minutes.
  • Plan leftover meals for those days when you have late work hours, after-work activities or other obligations. Since these nights should be no more than two to three a week, a typical meal plan could be Monday-cook, Tuesday-cook, Wednesday-leftovers, Thursday-leftovers, Friday- cook, Saturday-leftovers.
  • Decide ahead of time what night you might want to include carry-out or a meal at a restaurant and plan this into your food budget.
  • Purchase healthy snacks that travel easily for treats on the way to after-work activities and keep them in car. This avoids the temptation of grabbing something at a drive-through that may or may not be a healthy snack choice.
  • Recreate leftovers to prevent boredom. Meatloaf on Monday can be made into meatloaf sandwiches on Wednesday. Tuesday’s chili can be five-way chili over spaghetti on Thursday or chilidogs on Friday.
  • Keep meals simply and still provide balance. Get protein and carbs by putting together casseroles. Add veggies and fruit with a side salad and applesauce. Make enough for two casseroles on a day you are cooking and put one in the freezer for a quick meal another week.

Consider stocking up on some of these pantry staples to make flavorful meals fast:

  • Couscous
  • Pasta
  • Canned beans: chili, great northern, pinto and cannellini
  • Eggs
  • Shredded cheese
  • Frozen vegetables and fruits
  • Pre-washed lettuce
  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Lean ground turkey
  • Chicken, beef and vegetable stock
  • Fat-free Greek yogurt
  • Frozen pie crusts
  • Canned whipped cream
  • Brown and white rice
  • Canned tomatoes and tomato sauce
  • Chili powder, cumin, oregano, basil
  • Fresh lemons
  • Baking mix

Cooking for yourself is the best way to make sure you are getting all the nutrition you need on a budget you can afford. Taking time to enjoy your meals is a great way to relax and reduce stress on a daily basis.

Simplify Your Finances

Getting your budget under control is the best way to simplify your finances and bring more peace to your life. Money matter problems cause more tension than just about anything. The more you get yourself on a budget, the more time you will have to really enjoy the things most important to you. Simplifying your budget by making a few easy changes:

  • Get your finances organized into a central location so you have easy access at all times.
  • Budget all money that comes into the house. Set amounts for savings, retirement, groceries, gas, entertainment, bills and any other area you regularly spend money on.
  • Make a list of each area with the budgeted amount and the actual amount spent in one month to get a good overall picture of how you are spending you money.
  • Make adjustments to the budget according to those amounts and stick to it.
  • Pay bills online whenever possible. This saves time and money since there are no checks to write and no trips to the post office to make.

Once you take a good look at how much you earn versus how you spend it, you are less likely to splurge on unnecessary purchases and more likely to develop good spending habits going forward.

Simplify Your Schedule

With all the time you will save having less clutter, better meal planning and a budget in place, finding more time in your schedule will be easier. This is probably the most difficult area to simplify, as we tend to think everything we do is of equal importance. For people with anxiety, over-scheduling can be a recipe for disaster. Overscheduled people are more likely to be tired, cranky and less able to focus than those who have a more balanced life. Those with anxiety already suffer from a heightened sense of worry and fear, and adding too much pressure to perform in too many areas is overwhelming. For most, two to three afternoons a week of extra activity is more than enough. Remember to choose things that you really love rather than choosing just because others are doing a certain activity. If you begin to realize that you are not happy in a particular activity, it is time to re-evaluate. Remember that letting something go makes way for something else, so saying no is not always a bad thing.

A great way to keep your schedule in check is to review it regularly. Remember every activity takes away from time you could be spending on something else and some activities can create additional stress if the time spent getting to and from the activity is particularly lengthy or jammed with traffic. Also remember that time to relax and unwind is a daily priority.

If you are overly tired and stressed out from too many activities you will not be able to set the right tone for other areas in your life. The more rested and relaxed you are, the better you’ll be able to perform at work and fulfill other responsibilities.

Simplifying your life may seem impossible. But spending a little time now evaluating what you own, what you need and what you do can free up more time for appreciating the things that are really important.