I’ve been trying to simplify my life.
Life can easily become cluttered, busy and stressful. Some people like living fast paced, but not me. I like things clean, clear and organized. I like having time to sit in my clean room with sun coming through the windows. I like things to be simple and relaxed. Because for me, sometimes simple decisions can feel overwhelmingly paralyzing. Little things can unbalance my heart and my life. So where I can, I simplify.
Recently I moved house. I love my new home, with it’s big beautiful deck and tall trees in the backyard. I even love my new tiny room with beautiful windows and just enough space to breathe. But there is a catch: my wardrobe and storage space have significantly downsized from the last place I lived. My collection of clothing and books and things and stuff did not.
Every time I looked into my wardrobe to find something to wear, it seemed crowded with options and choices to make. I felt I had to dig and search to see all my options and choosing became an ordeal. I started stressing about what to wear each day.
Then I discovered the concept of a capsule wardrobe through Nina Kardia‘s blog. A capsule wardrobe is simple: excluding exercise, sleeping and sitting at home clothing, you have a specific and small repertoire of clothing items you choose from each day. Most people go for three months with each set before swapping for variety and seasonal changes.
Most of the sites I looked at used 33 or 37 items – so I chose 35. From now until January 21st, when I leave to go overseas to study for a month, I have 5 dresses, 4 skirts, 3 pairs of shorts, 2 pairs of three-quarter length leggings, 12 tops, 7 pairs of shoes and 2 cardigans to choose from each day. 35 items for the rest of spring and summer.
All these items are clothes that fit well, I feel comfortable in and are practical for my day to day activities of uni classes, nannying and seeing friends. I now have a small but familiar wardrobe of outfits I can wear happily and without feeling self conscious or anxious about my choices. Choosing what to wear is no longer an insurmountable task. It’s simple. Easy.
If only everything could be so easy.
I keep a detailed, ever changing to do list. I used to have lots of lists but I needed to simplify. Now I have one list. Everything goes on there – everything. If I think ‘I need to send this email,’ it goes on the list. If I think ‘I would like to do a puzzle sometime again,’ it goes on the list. If someone asks me to do something, I do it straight away or it goes on the list. If I want to think or read or research something, it goes on the list. Anything I will have to remember or come back to, it goes on the list.
Maybe I’m a little addicted to my list. I love crossing things off the list – well, deleting the line of text on my phone – and I love adding things to the list. I love knowing what I am doing next. I love having a plan and system. I love that I am not relying on my own memory or head space for important things or unimportant things or big things or little things.
I’ve been trying to simplify my life in other ways too. For example, I used to try to maximize each hour in each day by cramming in whatever I could – doing more is better, right? I would feel guilty for having a day at home being unproductive. I’d accept nannying or babysitting jobs even if it meant being exhausted, late or completely missing other things. It wasn’t working.
So I cleared my calendar. I spread out the appointments and activities. I started putting ‘buffer hours’ in my schedule. Why rush straight from a class to a doctor’s appointment? Why be late and stressed because I thought I could get from the city to Carindale in 15 minutes in peak hour?
I found that with these ‘buffer hours’ I was starting to enjoy my time more. I could choose to take the longer walking route if it was nicer – and I had the time to. When my calendar and life were less crowded, my head was less crowded as well. When I wasn’t accepting every invitation to every single thing I could possibly be doing, I started looking forward to the ones I did say yes to more.
Some of the things I did to clear my life and mind were somewhat selfish. There are commitments I quit. There are relationships I no longer forced myself to maintain. From outside in, it may have looked like I was shutting down. Actually, I was finally waking up.
Rather than auto-piloting through the expectations of me, I started taking control. Auto-pilot was the easy option when my mental health was fragile. It meant not making decisions and not upsetting people and not rocking the boat. But in the meantime my life had become too complicated and messy. So I did some spring cleaning.
I designed my mental health plan – it’s very simple. Medication, exercise, writing and animals. Medication keeps my brain balanced. Exercise keeps my body healthy and the endorphins flowing. Writing gives me a release and a chance to get it all out of my head. Animals, my cat and my dog, give me a routine and responsibilities, which keep me sane, as well as making me feel less alone and giving me joy and laughter in the things they do.
That’s my plan. Simple. There’s other things good things that fill my life and make it better – family and friends and work and books and church – but these are the things that keep me balanced. It’s working for me. It’s helpful to identify which four things keep you balanced – even if you don’t particularly struggle with your mental health. What keeps you balanced?
So now my life is simpler. I have 35 items of clothing. I have a 4 part mental health plan. I have friends I see and exercise classes I go to and uni assignments to do and a growth group and church I love and a nannying job I like. I keep things simple where I can. I have a continuously evolving to do list. I keep my calendar empty where I can. I do all my best work in the blank spaces in my calendar.
Of course life can’t always be simple. Life is rarely simple. Even now – especially now – my life is far from simple. But when things are messy and complicated, who has time to choose an outfit from an overflowing wardrobe? I’ve decided to control and simplify what I can, to reduce what stress and decision making I can. So when I do have to deal with the not simple things, I don’t have all the other stuff crowding my head.
The not simple things will come. We face them when they do. We trust God and do our best. But in the meantime, let’s not make life more complicated than it needs to be.