Simplify by Sarah

3 Ways I've Simplified My Life

Simple LivingSarah Anne HayesComment

When it comes to simplicity, it's easy to talk about things in the abstract. It's a personal journey and simplifying looks different for everyone, so it's often difficult — nigh impossible — to give hard and fast rules for the "best" or "right" way to simplify.

In fact, I'm a pretty firm believer that there is no "right" or "wrong" way to simplify. But the abstract only works for so long. Sooner or later, it's the concrete ideas and examples of how others have done this whole simplifying thing that are what helps us figure out what does and doesn't work for us.

So in the spirit of tangibility, I'm sharing with you three ways I've simplified my life — tangible, practical, (sometimes very) specific changes that I made in my own personal life that have led to a simpler, less stressful life.

SETTING A SEASONAL FOCUS

If you know me from anywhere else on the internet, you probably know that I do a lot of different things. Many would argue that the number of projects I have my hand in makes my life anything but simple, but the truth is, simplifying a lot of other things in my life has allowed me to focus on as many different things as I'm able to.

One of the ways I'm able to do this is by setting what I call a seasonal focus.

In the same way we go through seasons in the year, we also go through seasons of life — seasons of busyness, seasons of calm, seasons of growth, seasons of loss, seasons of change. And so, for each season, I choose a seasonal focus.

In my current season of life, that focus is on two main things — my creative projects and time with my family. During my 3-5 month stint (at my friend Holly calls it) down in Florida, I have the unique opportunity to spend more than just those outside 9-5 hours working on this blog, my YouTube channel, and building up my small business. The time I'm not working on those things is mostly spent hanging out with my adorable nephew, sister, and brother-in-law, because I know I have a limited amount of time where I'll basically have unlimited access to the laughter and snuggles of a 1-year-old bundle of joy.

This doesn't mean that I'm not doing other things, but in this season, those are the priority. And when my season in Florida is done, I'll look at where I'm at, reassess, and choose a new focus for the next season of my life. 

EMBRACING OUTFIT FORMULAS

My closet is where I began my simplicity journey over two years ago, and while it's still not quite where I want it to be yet, one of the things that has helped me increasingly simplify my style as I've refined it over the last couple of years is by embracing outfit formulas.

Now, you've probably heard of this concept already. People like Mark Zuckerberg practice it in its extreme, wearing quite literally the same thing every single day, but the general principal for how it works is coming up with a few formulas and mixing and matching those with different pieces throughout your week.

For example, one of my outfit formulas is shorts or pants, a shirt, a layer (like a cardigan), and sandals. Another is a dress, a fun necklace, and sandals. On any given day, there's about a 95% chance you will find me in one of these two outfits formulas because they look great and they make getting dressed in the morning so much easier.

Going back to the seasonal focus thing, there may come a time in my life where I'm able to dedicate a bit more time to really refining and honing my style by spending a bit more time coming up with new outfit combinations, styling them in different ways, and more. But for now, I'd rather stick with what I know looks good and makes me feel good, and spend my time and energy on those projects and people I'm focusing on for this season.

SOCIAL MEDIA FREE WEEKENDS

It's no secret to anyone how easy it is for social media to take over our lives. We  can spend hours mindlessly scrolling through our computers or phones and, as a result, miss so much of what's happening right before our eyes.

Never mind the fact that the amount of information overload we can get from social media can make our lives feel way more complicated than they were ever meant to be.

Toward that end, at the beginning of this year I began instituting social media free weekends. Plain and simple, I don't check social media on the weekends. By making it an all-or-nothing kind of thing, it eliminates the question of if I'm spending too much time on it or if I could be doing something else instead.

Within the paradigm of a typical 9-5 work week, the weekend is our time to relax and refresh, to spend time playing and being with the people we love. You can't do that if you're constantly checking social media. I also believe it's difficult to truly rest if you're plugged into social media all the time. It certainly varies from person to person, but I find it hard to believe the constant barrage of noise and notifications would be restful for anyone, no matter what your personality.

So on Saturdays and Sundays, I simply say no.

There have been a couple of weekends in 2017 where some things are happening that I wanted to share or document in real-time rather than after the fact. When this happens, I get on, post, and then put it away. I don't check or respond to notifications. I don't scroll through feeds. I share what I wanted to share and leave it at that. The rest can wait until Monday.

These three seemingly small, practical changes I've made have simplified my life and made certain aspects of it more intentional, more focused, and far less stressful. I'd love to hear some of the practical ways you've simplified, so please chime in in the comments!

Photo by averie woodard on Unsplash

The Simplify Series: Your Office

The Simplify SeriesSarah Anne HayesComment

If there's one thing I've always dreaded sorting through, even before my simple living journey began, it was paper. It piles up insanely fast and, before you know it, there are months of receipts, bills, mail, and who knows what else to sort through.

Beyond the entryway, the place clutter tends to accumulate the most is the room we're tackling today — the office.

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Now, I recognize that not all of you have a dedicated home office space, but today's advice applies to any space that functions like an office might — that place in your home where the computer or laptop sits, the paper clutter gets organized (or doesn't get organized), or where a major hobby like crafting happens. Particularly if you run a business or have a tactile hobby like painting or scrapbooking, it's easy for the stuff to pile up incredibly fast.

In addition to previously running a small business that required me to keep inventory, paper samples, and art supplies on hand, I've always had my hand in a bunch of different projects. I'm also one of those people who cannot focus if my work space is a mess, so keeping my office or office-like space organized and free of clutter has always been high on my priority list and this is how I do it.

WRANGLE THE PAPER

First things first, paper clutter can easily become your worst enemy when you're trying to keep your office organized. Even in our digital age, you can still wind up with all sorts of paper coming into your office and there are certain documents you should always keep in hard copy.

Whenever I do a major overhaul of my office or a regular clean up, the paper is the first place I start because it's usually the biggest culprit in making my office a hot mess. But how do you practically wrangle the paper?

1. Designate a Landing Strip

Before you start actually sorting through all the paper that's accumulated in your office space, start by designating a place it will all come in from here on out — a permanent inbox or landing strip.

I have a letter tray where all paper — receipts, mail, miscellaneous documents, etc. — gets placed. This way, when I'm looking for a document, there are only two possible places it can be — the letter tray or the place it winds up once I've handled it. And it means that when my monthly duty day happens, I can grab my letter tray and know that all of the paper I need to deal with is right there.

2. Handle Time Sensitive Items Immediately

Before paper gets placed into the letter tray, I quickly look it over to see if it's time sensitive. If so, unless I'm legitimately about to run out the door, I handle it immediately.

The reason being is, inevitably, if I don't handle a time sensitive piece immediately, I will almost always wind up missing the deadline for taking care of it. And that's one of the biggest stresses about paper clutter — when you don't have an organization system in place, things get lost and suddenly it's five months later and you find a document you needed months ago buried under a pile of miscellaneous receipts.

3. Develop a Processing System

Once you've designated a landing strip or inbox for all your papers, you need to come up with some sort of processing system. I say processing rather than organization because not all types of paper clutter need to be organized. In fact, the fact majority of it doesn't need to be organized, it just needs to be processed.

As you sort through the paper clutter currently in your office space, think through the stuff you really need to keep on hand in physical form, what could be scanned and stored digitally, and what can be trashed or shredded. From there, come up with a system for organizing the stuff you'll keep in physical form, the stuff you'll keep in digital form, and immediately trash or shred the stuff you don't need.

My system is pretty simple — I have a couple of filing containers, hanging file folders for different overarching categories, and tabbed file folders for subcategories. For example, in the "insurance" category folder, I keep documentation for my health, rental, and auto insurance, all filed in their own subcategory file folders. My digital filing system mirrors my physical filing system — with main folders, subfolders, and individual documents.

As I go through and process, anything that needs to be shredded, trashed, or recycled, gets placed in a specific pile, and once I've finished processing the rest of my paper, I handle each of those piles accordingly. I do this every month as part of a monthly duty day, and it helps immensely in keeping everything under control.

REDUCE THE SUPPLIES + PROJECTS

Beyond paper and electronics, the other thing that shows up the most in office spaces is supplies necessary for running a small business or practicing a certain hobby.

I spent a year and a half running a print design business, so my office was filled with even more paper than the average person. I had paper and envelope samples, loose paper, and notebooks, on top of pencils, pens, paint brushes, and more. Let me tell you, it is easy for all of that stuff to add up super fast and before you know it, you're drowning in paints or paper or whatever it is that you use for your business or hobby.

While it may seem impossible to reduce the supplies, it can be done. The key is to stick with the things you love the most and get rid of the rest. So if you have a favorite type of craft or painting or focus for your business, choose to focus on those things and forget the rest. This obviously requires you to make some hard choices about what's really important, but that's what this whole simplification thing is about.

With this area in particular, it's really easy to fall into the trap of "I might use it some day," but please don't do that to yourself! Particularly if your supplies is for a hobby rather than a business, keeping all those extra or half-finished projects around in the name of "some day" can put subconscious pressure and stress on you because you've "failed" to actually complete the projects.

If there's a hobby or a type of supplies for your business that you think you might need but aren't sure about, employ the same strategy as the "maybe" box from your closet simplifying. Box up the items you think you might need, put them in another room, and pick a date. Write it on the calendar so you don't forget and when it arrives, if you haven't used anything in the box, toss or donate it.

Similarly, with unfinished projects, give yourself a deadline. You can literally give the project a  to do date and put it on the calendar, or you can put a due date that you have to finish it by or it gets tossed. Having the deadline in place will either motivate you to get it done or really emphasize the fact that you don't care about the project enough to complete it, allowing you to get rid of it guilt free.

REMEMBER THE DIGITAL SPACES

When we think about clutter, the physical stuff is often what comes to mind first, but it's worth noting that digital clutter can be even worse than something like paper clutter, especially in an office. I recently spent two consecutive evenings organizing and decluttering my digital spaces because they'd gotten so unruly. I literally had an external hard drive with papers on it from high school!

There are different strategies for decluttering and organizing digital spaces from your actual hard drives to inboxes and social media profiles, and we'll touch on some of these in more detail in future Simplify Series posts, but with so much of our work happening online these days, keeping your digital spaces decluttered is often one the biggest keys to simplifying.

In the grand scheme of a full office declutter, start with an initial sweep of your inbox(es), social media profiles, and hard drives, just to get things a little more organized. Then, at a later date when you have a bit more time on your hands, really dig in deep and go through your digital spaces one by one and be ruthless in clearing out the unnecessary clutter from all of those spaces.

Information overload can happen incredibly quickly, so reducing the number of subscriptions you receive or people you follow on social media can go a long way in managing stress. It's also important to remember that just because you feel like or actually do have an infinite amount of storage space, that doesn't mean you need or should keep everything. Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it isn't impact your stress level.

Don't be afraid to hit that delete button or drag that file to the trash!

And there you have it! By wrangling paper, reducing your supplies (and resulting projects), and clearing out the digital spaces even a little bit, it'll go a long way in making your office simple and streamlined. We'll be back next week with another room where it's easy for little gadgets to pile up quickly — the kitchen!

The Simplify Series: Your Common Space

The Simplify SeriesSarah Anne HayesComment

If your house is anything like mine was growing up, then the common spaces in your home — be it a living room, family room, TV room, or music room — are one of the biggest battlefronts in your ongoing war with clutter.

It may seem like a battle you're never going to win, especially if you have children. But the culprit behind messy common spaces is often a combination of two things — an excess of stuff and a lack of clarity for the space.

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CLARIFY THE PURPOSE

Over the last several years, I've lived in nearly a dozen homes, sometimes with family, but most often with one or more roommates. Those homes have had anywhere from one to three common spaces, some that stayed calm and uncluttered the entire time we lived there and others that made me twitch each time I walked into them.

In my most recent home, we had two main common spaces that we divided into three — a living room, an entertainment room, and a...something room.

Throughout the time we lived there, the living room and entertainment rooms rarely, if ever, saw clutter for more than a couple of hours. The "something" room, however, was quite a different story.

I call it a something room because the purpose for the room was never clearly defined. We put the keyboard in there because it fit, along with an extra table, and used the storage spaces available to house miscellaneous items like luggage and holiday decor.

But as far as what we'd use the space for? Well, we never really knew. Largely for that reason, the space became a magnet for all of the stuff we didn't know what to do with. Boxes of items we were planning to donate or sell, miscellaneous things that didn't have a clear purpose in our lives anymore, wall decor we didn't know where to put — it didn't really matter, you could just throw it in the something room.

This is the problem that so many common spaces have and why they become such magnets for clutter, and that's why the first step to simplifying those common spaces is to clarify the purpose for the space.

For our living room, the purpose was to have a space that was relaxing, inviting, and open — both in its feel and furniture layout — where we could spend time with our friends or relax with a book. This meant our bookshelves went in the room, along with a couple of couches and chairs, sufficient lighting, and a basket full of blankets for people to use whenever they wanted. We also kept the layout of the furniture open so we could easily add more seating in whenever we needed it. Nothing else came into the space for more than a couple of hours because it distracted from the purpose of the room.

Depending on the common space you're working with, the purpose for your room might be the same, it might different, and it might be a hybrid of a couple of things.

Do you want it to be a space for gathering as a family not just to talk, but also to do things like watch a movie or play a game? Then set up the room to the fit that purpose — don't feel bad about having games or a TV or DVDs in it. But if the purpose of the space is to connect as a family without technology, then keep the TV far away!

You get to decide what you want the space to be and what is essentially for accomplishing its purpose, but without a clear goal in mind, you'll likely find the room cluttered again, no matter how hard you to try to keep it clear.

CLEAR OUT THE EXCESS

Once you've decided what your goal for the space is, it's time to quiet your space again. Just like with the bedroom, clear out as much as possible and let the space sit for 24-48 hours before bringing items back in again.

Take this time of quieting the space to go through all the items you've removed and determine not only if they fit the purpose and should back in, but if they fit the purpose of any space in your home. And don't be afraid to get rid of the stuff that isn't a resounding yes — even if it seems like it fits the space.

Let's take board and card games, for example. If part of the purpose for your space is to play those kinds of games with friends and family, your initial thought might be to put all of them back in the space. But when was the last time your sorted through them? When was the last time you played some of them?

Even if an item fits with the purpose of the space on the surface, it's still a distraction if you never actually use it.

I love to play games with my friends and family, so I have a fair number of them that I keep in my home. One of the games I've had for the last several years is Apples to Apples. Lots of people love to play it, but it's one of my least favorite games, so I will always vote for something else when someone suggests it. What then, was the purpose in keeping it as part of my collection? I never actually used it and groaned every time someone suggested it. So even though I do love playing games with friends and family, that one left my collection because it didn't help fulfill the purpose of enjoying games with the people I love.

It's at this point that you will need to ask yourself some serious questions and really consider if you need all of those board games, movies, books, or whatever else.

I love to read, I love to watch movies, and I love to play games. But that isn't an excuse for never going through my books and asking myself if I actually love them all or going through my movies and asking myself if I watch it enough to keep in my collection.

Two steps might seem like an oversimplification of the process, but if done with care, they will result in a common space — or spaces — that are calmer and free from clutter because there's not only fewer things in the space, but you know exactly why the things that are in the space stay there.

Next week, we'll continue the series with one of the biggest magnets for paper clutter — your office!