October 11, 2022
In a 24/7 fast-paced world, it can be a challenge to keep up with all of our demands, let alone slow down. But this was something I had to do for my mental health and for my family since the speed of life was just too fast.
I had ventured into the minimalism movement years ago as a way to help my allergies and get control of our clutter. But I kept hearing some of them mention micro-decisions and it resonated with me deeply.
Everyone is busy these days and, as an educator, I feel like that is quantified with the added responsibility of taking care of so many additional kids. Waking up in the morning and deciding what to wear and eat for myself and my kids, then locating my stuff that gets hauled back and forth was exhausting–not even including if I checked email or social media that morning, before even getting to work. I had decision fatigue by the time I got to work to truly start in on the day.
I started looking for ways to take decisions out of my day and make them in advance. Then I assigned times of day for specific tasks and I got away from multi-tasking in general, to focus on the moment and task at hand. I was amazed how, on the first day, it made an impact and I wasn’t as mentally exhausted. Over time, things got refined or have to change as life changes, but I have maintained this course for year and have noticed better focus, better outcomes, less fatigue and less stress.
So let me share some of the areas I focused on and what I did.
CLOTHING making decisions about what to wear can be overwhelming, so there are two ways to tackle this area. First, create a uniform so that you simply grab items from the categories and they all go together no matter what you grab. When I worked in the classroom, this was a polo shirt and cargo pants, along with a pair of good quality comfortable shoes. If you are fashion-oriented and the idea of a uniform doesn’t appeal to you, hang your clothing up as a full ensemble on one hanger and move them down the rack. I did this for a bit and, when I did laundry, the newly washed/recently worn items got hung up on the left and everything moved down to the right. This allowed me to grab what was next in line and get ready with little thought. And don’t forget jewelry–hang that necklace, bracelet or earrings in the same hanger (use a small bag or I have seen little racks to hang over the hanger.
GROOMING in this category, we simplified our soaps into what we could all agree on and that is all that is in the shower for us all. Likewise for shampoo, conditioner and lotion. I no longer wear make up, but when I did, I had my go to items in a quick grab bag and kept my stuff for special occasions in another location. This method has allowed us to buy in bulk, which also helps the budget.
MEALS Planning and prepping in advance is a huge time saver, and by sticking with a staple for the week allows you to buy in bulk and makes prep easy. If the idea of the same staple all week isn’t appealing, choose two and rotate. We tend to rotate chicken and beef, so it is in bulk and we freeze it so we can set it out that morning, or use the instant pot for prep from frozen. We also can brown a few pounds of ground beef or cook and dice up chicken ahead of time, then just combine that day for the meal. We pulled our favorite recipes from several cookbooks and compiled into one book to grab and plan from if we are feeling stumped. I also plan out a dessert or snacks for the week and can bake those in advance, too. Oh, and don’t forget to plan a leftover night, or portion the leftovers into containers for lunch to make another decision for yourself in advance!
TECHNOLOGY I have heard it said that by the time it is released to the public, the technology is already outdated. Since I live on a budget, we don’t even try to keep up with the latest technology. We buy the newest product for what we need, then keep it until it no longer works. We do this for smart home products, smart watches, phones, tablets, computers and TVs–and even for our vehicles. We keep them updated and cleaned, have them in protective covers as needed, and use them until they no longer work. So when the ad for the new smart phone comes out, I can appreciate it, and move on without it taking up mental clutter–or better yet, skip the ad or go get a snack!
EMAIL/SOCIAL MEDIA These areas are challenging because of their 24/7 accessibility, but there’s a few ways to combat them so they aren’t a distraction. First, turn off alerts on your devices–this will keep you from being drawn in. Next, resist the urge to boredom check–this is a rabbit hole that can be very distracting! If you need a break, go outside and walk around or stand up and stretch or do jumping jacks, drink some water, or call and check on a friend of family member directly. Next, designate times of day or days of the week you will check these and stick to it. If you are able to, put an autoreply on your email telling them you check email every morning and will respond to them at that time. If you are able to, eliminate how many email and social media accounts you have, as well. You can turn off direct messaging on most social media platforms. For email, you can use an auto-forwarding option or use Microsoft Outlook and link all your email accounts into the one so you have only one place to check, write and reply from. If that isn’t an option, create folders and rules and have your incoming mail sort into those, then you can set up a schedule to focus on a person or category.
WORK As a workaholic, this area was challenging for me, especially as a virtual teacher with students and families with highly varied schedules from early birds to night owls, and classes with locked in meet times. I can’t be on all the time and I cannot do all my tasks every single day in the time I have available. By creating a task list and assigning days, I can tackle what needs done that day and then move on to the next. A rule I have put in place is “there are no emergencies in Education” and I stick to it. I use Google Voice for my work communications with students and Teams and email for coworkers, and I check and respond them first thing in the morning and at the end of the day. I may do a midday check, but only respond if it is something I was waiting for or was on my to do list. I also use spreadsheets to download and color code my information to help me focus each day (future blog coming on that-I promise!). When I was in the classroom, I streamlined the supplies I used and would put all like items in one container to come out when needed (a crayon box, scissors, markers, glue sticks, etc. all had their own box and place in the cabinet).
ENTERTAINMENT/HOBBIES As someone who enjoys new experiences, this one was tough, especially when we moved into an RV. But by pairing down what we filled our spare time with, we cut down on clutter and distraction. For our kids, we only allow ONE extracurricular at a time. With school and church already, we want them to learn to do one thing well, and learn how to handle being bored. This has meant delays in doing activities for a season or more, and giving up something that was done to try something new. It also saves on the budget and our schedules, so it doesn’t cut into family dinners and force us into the fast food rut. We love to read, so try to borrow or use audiobooks when we can, or we buy used and donate when done. We have a space for our favorites we will read again. This way we have a quick glance to find something if we have some time to kill.
KITCHEN ITEMS New gadgets always sound great when they promise time saving, but they take up space! We simplified down to one go cup, one coffee cup, one plate, and one bowl each. For cooking and baking I have a nesting mixing bowl set and we have a boiler, frying pan, skillet, cookie sheet, casserole dish, muffin pan, instant pot and a grill–and yes, a stove, microwave and coffeepot. We have basic utensils to cook with–and we can make everything we want!
DECOR We keep this category simple and useful, too. We have enough seating for us plus a guest and enough blankets and pillows for us. I have a few family photos and wall items, a task lamp, and a few other functional items. We don’t have a done of items to clean or repair, and if it doesn’t get used, it doesn’t stay. I do minimal seasonal decor with a throw pillow and an item here or there, but it often gets donated or is consumable so I don’t have a ton to store. What few items I keep are someplace easy to reach and I won’t forget about. Plus, I don’t lose a day or weekend decorating, I can enjoy the season.
CHORES/CLEANING PRODUCTS With less stuff comes less to think about and time to deal with it. We have daily chores to do, but then we do a weekly chore once a week as well. We streamlined our cleaning products to things that serve more than one purpose so we don’t have to sort and search, or carry a lot around.
BUDGET With less stuff, comes less spending, by default. We are able to put our funds into things that are important, or purchase better quality products that last longer. It also means less line items on the budget, which makes bill paying simpler. Most of our bills are on autopay. I have a reward card for our consumables like food and gas that can vary, but I pay them off every pay day, and we have an emergency fund for unexpected expenses and for annual expenses that we put a little extra into savings for. Being conscientious of how we spend has allowed us to cut down to a single income household and live a traveling lifestyle years before we ever thought we would.
I know I didn’t cover every category, and I know these won’t all work for you. But cutting back in any one will help cut down the decisions you make and help streamline your thought process and your productivity.
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