Written by Lindsay Hills (Feature picture by Sophie Emma Rider)
Lindsay Hills is a Maltese mummy living in London with her British husband and their three young daughters. Her blog My Everyday Matters. documents her life with little people and everyday adventures in savouring the simple, living intentionally, and being present over perfect.
In Search of Simple
Since welcoming my third daughter into the world last December, I have been juggling the highs, lows and in-betweens of life with three children under four, in all of it’s glorious, messy, heart-warming, hair-tearing, emotional-roller-coaster glory. I’ve also been trying to turn our very first house into a home, one we moved into a mere four weeks before our littlest girl was welcomed into the world. In the midst of all of the above, I decided to launch a blog of my own. So it is safe to say that I know a thing or three about having my hands full.
One of the keys to navigating this particularly intense time has been my decision to intentionally declutter my lifestyle, home and diary. With so many demands on my time and energy, I genuinely had no choice but to simplify wherever and whenever I could.
It turns out I am not alone in my choices. Simplicity is a bit of a buzzword nowadays. Minimalism has gone mainstream, and busyness is being debunked from it’s once exalted pedestal. Books, blogs and articles on the subject abound. One of the movement’s advocates, author and blogger Tsh Oxenreider writes in her book Organised Simplicity that living simply and clutter free is “about living your life with a purpose that aligns with your values. It’s about enjoying the things you love and care about and not stressing over the things that don’t matter.” I am inclined to agree.
As a mother with full hands and limited resources, I have found genuine freedom in getting rid of the possessions, commitments and habits that do not add any value to my life, and in challenging myself to be more strategic with how I invest my time, emotions and finances. Living simply is a discipline, and in pursing it I have gained a new confidence in my ability to make better decisions for my family. I spend less time tidying because there is literally less to tidy, am a better steward of our finances, and have been able to carve out time for my own much-needed creative outlets for the first time in a long time.
For the benefit of anyone who might be overwhelmed by their status quo for any reason, or is interested in simplifying their own lives, homes or online habits, here are five things to think through as you start on your own journey towards living a clutter free, simpler and more intentional life.
1. Identify your Priorities
You cannot get rid of life’s clutter until you clarify what is and is not important to you. I’d encourage you to intentionally think through what your personal set of life priorities might be and to scribble them down somewhere. You can refer back to them when trying to work out whether a decision, new opportunity or idea is going to help or hinder your attempts to simplify your life.
One of my priorities is “living simply and stewarding our resources well”. So I avoid impulse purchases and aimless browsing, plan ahead for big-ticket items, prioritise saving, and work very hard to minimise waste once stuff actually makes it into our home. “Cultivating deep connections with my children” is also important to me. So I intentionally keep afternoons clear and slow so I can focus on them and give them my best (rushing and herding little children out the door makes me a grumpy mummy).
Further reading: Tsh Oxenreider’s book Organised Simplicity has a helpful roadmap on how to carve out a family purpose statement that is clear, concise and actionable.
2. Simplify your Season
Whatever your right now holds, it should not require putting your life and the things you love on hold until some mythical day when things get easier. Prioritise asking searching questions like – How can I do more of what I love? Have I set realistic goals and targets, or am I over-stretched and struggling? Am I devoting enough time to the things I genuinely enjoy and matter to me? Or am I trying to keep up with what everyone else is doing because I think I should? Then consider the following:
Declutter your diary: If you find yourself saying you are too busy, ask yourself why and what you can do to slow the pace down. Because ultimately, you do have the power to change things. Is there enough white space in your calendar for you to freestyle with and relax into? Are there any commitments you need to strip back? Refer back to your priorities as you do this. I know from experience that I can only handle one outing a day with the girls and one, possibly two evening commitments each week if I am to keep the house, my blog and everything else ticking along too.
Give yourself permission to say no: Because in doing so you are saying yes to something else, be it more time for yourself, a hobby you have been putting off, or a much-needed early night.
Stop comparing and despairing: FOMO be gone! There is peace to be found in not comparing your decisions and life choices to anyone else, and embracing your own narrative.
Simplify your to do lists: The best to-do lists have a maximum of ten items, with three of those ten highlighted as MIT’s (Most Important Tasks). If you only get the top three done, then consider it a good day. Or so I am told. In my current season of life with very young children, I limit my list to five things. Anything more is unrealistic. An uncluttered list takes the pressure off of myself and helps me remember that my most important job is loving my girls and being fully present with them.
Further reading: If you are serious about simplifying your day and making time for the important things in life I would highly recommend Crystal Paine’s 14-day Make Over Your Mornings course. It helped me prioritise myself, streamline my mornings and create a to-do list that serves instead of strangles me.
3. Simplify your Stuff
I spent months tripping over toys and trying to squeeze our possessions into a new house with considerably less storage space than our first. After a particularly fraught and frustrating week, I decided it was time to get serious about editing our possessions. Marie Kondo’s book “The Life Changing Magic Up” was an absolute game-changer for me (I wrote this post about what I learned from her and how it helped me). While I do not agree that living clutter free is the ultimate source of all joy as Kondo seems to, her book gave me the framework and methodology I needed to part ways with the possessions we no longer love or need that were taking up space unnecessarily. Out went clothes that made me feel frumpy or a failure because they didn’t fit, toys that the kids never played with, toiletries that we had kept for years and never used, gifts we held onto out of guilt, and all sorts of other things that we didn’t love. Bags and bags and bags of it.
Two of the things Kondo advises are:
Hang onto the things that “spark joy”. Part ways with the rest. According to Kondo, the secret to living clutter free is to ask not, “Could it be useful in future?” or, “Have I used it in the last 12 months?” but rather, “Does it spark joy?” She advocates creating a home for the person you are now, versus one loaded with items from your past that you no longer love or enjoy. Quite the liberating revelation! My home is now full of things that make my heart smile.
A place for everything and everything a place. Once you have less, assign places for the things you keep, and to return them to their rightful home after you have used them.
Further reading: My number one recommendation if you are serious about simplifying your home would be to read Marie Kondo’s ” The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” . I also found The Complete Book of Home Organisation useful as I endeavoured to make the smartest use out of our modest family home.
4. Simplify your Spending
The way we spend our money is usually a good indication of our priorities. It is possible to live simply and indulge in the things you enjoy or love. It just requires deliberately allocating funds that are within your means for the purpose of enjoyment, and taking control of your money to achieve your goals. The following tools are helpful as you work to simplify your spending:
Budget: Stop wondering where your money goes at the end of each month and start telling it exactly where to go at the start of each month. Sit down, with your spouse if you are married, and assign a name to every euro you make on a monthly basis. Track your purchases, and regularly review your progress towards your intended financial goals (like saving for a house deposit, car or retirement). If you want to be debt free, your budget should reflect that. Your budget should plan ahead for big-ticket items – set aside agreed amounts each month for specific things like Christmas, kids birthdays, annual holidays, annual insurance premiums, so that you are not caught short.
Use cash: For some reason it feels harder to part with your hard-earned money when using actual money. Swiping a card is far too easy. Avoid interest-free “buy now, pay later” schemes like the plague, and cut up your store credit cards.
Shop the house: Look around your own home and possessions or something to re-purpose for whatever new need has cropped up, before looking to buy something new instead.
Sleep on it: Before clicking the order button, leave it in your online shopping basket for a week. If you still need it after the initial interest has cooled, go for it.
Be selective about what you bring into your house: Everything you buy needs storing somewhere. After all the energy I invested in de-cluttering, I am pretty ruthless about anything new getting past our threshold. I never shop without a purpose or outside of our budget. Consider using the “one in, one out” principle, giving away something old every time you buy or are given a new counterpart.
Further reading: If you are serious about simplifying your spending, getting out of debt, saving, and setting yourself up for retirement, then invest in a copy of Dave Ramsey’s Total Financial Makeover, read it cover to cover, implement his (super simple) recommendations, and thank me later. The book radically altered the way my husband and I view money, debt and how to make healthy financial decisions, and helped us achieve our dream of buying our first house.
5. Simplify your Screen Time
61% of people looking at their devices within 5 minutes of waking up. And let’s face it, a lot of the stuff we eyeball is nothing more than noise and virtual clutter. I have learned the hard way that I need to be disciplined about simplifying my screen time so that I am less stressed (information overload casualty) and less distracted around my family. Less time online also equals more time for other things. Overall, I am a more peaceful, happier me when I streamline the amount of time I spend immersed in my smart phone/tablet/laptop. Here are some ideas you can test drive yourself.
Tame that thumb: I’ll let you in on a little secret – whatever it is, it can wait. Dipping into your inbox and feeds distracts you from enjoying the people you are with and the opportunities right in front of you. Commit to checking emails and social media twice daily, instead of whenever you are bored, lonely or curious to know if anything has changed since you last checked five minutes ago. Give yourself a set period of time to do this, e.g. 30 minutes, so that you don’t get lost in whatever rabbit trail you could get led down.
Delete a social media app or emails from your phone, or turn off all notifications: You’ll be amazed what a difference doing this for a few days or season can make to your ability to concentrate and be fully present. I genuinely cannot recommend this highly enough. It is so liberating to untether from technology.
De-clutter your inbox: Carve out as many hours as you need to plough through your emails. Be ruthless, aiming to clear your inbox completely. Going forwards, archive, file or delete everything else as soon as you’ve read it.
Edit your email subscriptions list: Do the e-newsletters ‘spark joy’ (Kondo’s benchmark), or do they add to the feeling of overwhelm by clogging up your inbox reminding you of all the things you haven’t done yet? If the latter – unsubscribe.
Use paper whenever possible: If you are serious about simplifying your screen time, consider the move back to paper calendars and lists. I am a big bullet journal fan, which is part diary, part list and life management (check this out, and find out why I love it here). This step alone halved the amount of time I needed to spend with on my phone, and did away with all the annoying calendar alerts once and for all. It also means that my husband and I need to actually talk about our diary and what we need or would like to commit to instead of pinging invites to and fro.
Further reading: Rachel Macy Stafford’s Hands Free Mama is a personal favourite. It is an honest and heartwarming account of one mother’s journey towards transforming a distracted parenting life into one of meaningful connection and fulfillment.
So there you have it. Five ways you can simplify your life.
Do let me know if any of this proves useful in your own endeavors to de-clutter and live intentionally, I would love to hear from you! You can reach and follow me via my blog, My Everyday Matters, on Instagram or on Pinterest.