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I love going into my day in a well put together outfit and a smile on my face, but often the truth is that under the calm, confident smile I am overwhelmed and stressed out. I pretend I’m completely under control, but I feel utterly inadequate a lot of the time. I feel the pressure to perform and impress.
And I know that I’m not the only one. The whole world seems like it’s stressed out! Everyone I speak to seems to have a story, a drama that is draining them out and making life a struggle. Our society is suffering from anxiety, depression, stress and worry. Almost everyone I know is too busy, too tired, and just hanging in there until their next vacation.
Our culture says that we need to do more, to be better, and to push harder. The advertising world has done a very good job of convincing us that we will be happier if we have the latest, greatest and biggest of everything. Just yesterday my son tried to convince me that our TV was completely out of date. Apparently, technology has improved so much in the last five years that we should definitely look at replacing it. There is nothing wrong with our TV. My son has become discontented with what we have, and he wants more.
Just one or two generations ago women like me, married with children, had fewer choices. It wasn’t until 1966, just a couple of years before I was born, that married women were allowed to work in the Public Service in Australia. Women were expected to be at home to cook, clean, do laundry and take care of the children full time. As a child, I spent my afternoons playing outside and my weekends arguing with my sisters. If we complained we were given jobs to do, and if we didn’t occupy ourselves we were bored.
In many ways, life seemed simpler then.
I don’t think we should go back in time. I love that as women we have so many opportunities to work outside the home, build businesses and follow our dreams. But with all of the new freedom comes an expectation that we not only can conquer the world but that we should conquer the world. Women have gone from having limited choices, to having so many choices that we are constantly run off our feet and overwhelmed.
We structure our kids lives that same way. Instead of long, boring afternoons practicing conflict resolution skills with siblings, our children are busy, making the most of every amazing opportunity that is available. They play sport, learn musical instruments and get tutoring for maths. Their weeks are full of organised activities, and the family calendar runs like a well-oiled machine.
We live in a constant state of exhaustion, and often, so do our kids. We have no capacity left over; no margin. Our pages are full to the edge.
So, we focus on our productivity. We buy the latest planner and decorate it with stickers and washi tape. We focus on storage and organisation to keep our clutter labeled and well organised. We schedule and plan and pray and push, and the next day, we get up and do it all over again.
It’s not good for us. I know! I’ve been the victim of my own ambition and crumbled under the pressure to keep up with everything I’ve taken on. I’ve been sick with stress-related illness more times than I would like to admit. I’ve subscribed to mediation apps, bought adult colouring books, practised mindfulness and had professional counselling.
I’ve also read some great books that have slowly been teaching me a different way to think. “The Joy of Less” by Francine Jay, “Simplify” by Joshua Becker and “The Art of Stillness” by Pico Iyer have all been pivotal, to name just a few. I have joined some great Facebook groups, I subscribe to “Simplify Magazine” and took my daughters to see The Minimalists.
Slowly, I've been making changes, and I'm learning to be content with a simpler life.
1. Simplified meals
I no longer feel the pressure to cook elaborate meals from scratch with vegetables of every colour in the rainbow every night of the week. I am content with a much simpler menu. The 5 Ingredients cooking trend is my newest best friend! (I cook from this cookbook several times a week!) We still love fresh, good quality food, but I avoid the meals that have a long list of ingredients and use multiple pans to prepare. We eat simple meat and veggies or salad that can be prepared quickly and easily with minimal fuss and washing up.
We have also stocked the fridge with some pre-prepared meals that are delivered each week. They are fresh, tasty and cost-effective. They are convenient, and there is no preparation, no cleaning up, and no food waste. For this season in our family life, they are a good solution for us.
Are meal planning and cooking stressing you out? Take some time to sit down with a cuppa and a notebook and think outside the box for a solution that will work for you. I have a good friend who has set a rotating 3-week meal plan with a pre-populated internet grocery list. She just has to click the 'Week One' order, and her meals for the week are sorted.
2. Simplified calendar
This is still a challenge for me; there are so many amazing opportunities to be involved in! But, they all take time. I am slowly learning to say no to good things so that I can say yes to what is better. It's hard!
I try to stick to my routine, and have time built in for the 'extra opportunities'. Then, when that time each week is full, I can say no without feeling guilty. I generally do things at the same time each week, just like I did when the children were young and there was no room for flexibility.
I try very hard to protect my Fridays. I sleep in, spend time doing activities that refresh and refill me, and take time to rest and be still. On Friday night hubby and I go on a date. Every Friday night. Sometimes with friends, but often it's just the two of us. When our lives get busy we know that on Friday we will both stop and reconnect. It is a priority for both of us, and we look forward to it all week.
Having a regular rest day gives me the energy to work hard for the rest of the week. Is there a time in your week when you give yourself permission to stop and rest?
3. Simplified wardrobe
A couple of years ago I cut my wardrobe down. You can read about it in The benefits of owning less clothes. I bought 40 new coathangers and donated the clothes that didn't fit well or match a lot of other clothes. I now have a manageable mix and match wardrobe. I regularly go through and donate clothes that I haven't worn for a while. I go shopping for clothes a lot less often, and when I do, it is usually to very intentionally find a key piece that I have planned for and know it will fit well with what I already have.
I also have a simplified laundry routine. I wash weekly, I hang my clothes on hangers straight out of the machine, so they dry on the hanger. This makes things much easier to look after. I intentionally buy clothes that don't wrinkle easily, and I invested in a steamer. I give the clothes that need it a quick swish over with the steamer between the line and the wardrobe.
I taught my kids how to use the washing machine and dryer from when they were 12 years old. There have been a few casualties along the way, but overall they have all learned to look after their clothes themselves. Some may call it laziness. I call it teaching good life skills!
4. Simplified ‘stuff’
I have less stuff than I used to. There have been many little light bulb moments along the way, and they keep happening regularly.
I no longer buy craft supplies because they are cheap and cute and I might use them one day. I no longer have multiple supplies of sticky tape, rubber bands and scissors in different places around the house. I only have one potato peeler, one stapler, and one can opener. I have less spare linen, less coffee mugs, and less serving dishes for special occasions.
By limiting the duplicate items and the 'just in case' things in the house, we have downsized our belongings significantly without missing anything. Just like that.
I like my simpler life
A simple life is easier. Shopping is easier. Getting dressed in the morning is easier. My laundry routine is easier. Cleaning is easier. Emptying the dishwasher is easier. Finding time to do things I love is easier.
As we move into the next season of our lives, there are new opportunities, new freedoms, and new challenges ahead.
We are seriously looking at moving into a much smaller apartment later in the year, and we need to purge once again. But instead of feeling overwhelmed with anxiety and fear, I am excited to lighten my life even further. I know it will be difficult. I know that I will have to get rid of lots of things that I love, are not broken, and have served our family well in the past. But it's time to move forward into the next season, and I will not be held back by my stuff!
Here are some more resources that will help you on your way to a simpler, more meaningful, life.