Lasting wellness might near the top of your #lifegoals—but how often to you ink it in onto your to-do list? Instead, it’s likely that your litany of tasks brims with obligations that have little to do with your mental, physical and spiritual health. And yet, time and again research shows that nailing these three biggies is the key to happiness and longevity, while overburdening yourself—with things, commitments, clutter, and responsibilities—increases stress, decreases productivity, impacts your relationships (and not for the better) and even triggers illness.
In short: In order to obtain enduring health, life around you must feel manageable. With that in mind—and in honor of Simplify Your Life Week—here are seven hacks to take your life from chaotic to calm.
1. Assign every significant item a home
Most of us bemoan the fact that we always feel rushed—but what if that frazzled feeling was, well, partly our fault? Heading out the door is hardly a piece of cake when you can’t find your keys, your jacket has been tossed on your (dusty) hardwood floor, and that important document you must mail pronto is either stuck between the pages of a magazine or floating beneath a tower of mail. To streamline your life, give each thing you consistently rely on a place to live—and make a point to keep it there when it’s not in use. You’d be surprised by the time you save by always hanging your purse in a specific, readily-accessible location.
2. Toss like your life depends on it
That Halloween costume from 2012, those earrings you swear you’re going to wear again, those Birchbox samples sardined in your bathroom cabinet—humans are known perhaps not for hoarding but for keeping things around. While there’s a reason behind it—research published by Outside Magazine reveals that parting with our possessions “triggers activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and the insula, the same parts of the brain that register physical pain”—studies also consistently show that an abundance of clutter can wreak havoc on our mental and physical health.
To that end, do an honest assessment of what you own. Clothes that no longer fit or have gone out of style, books you have no intention of revisiting (or reading for the first time), linens that go unused—decluttering by purging yourself of these and other unnecessary items can transform your perspective and give you a literal and metaphorical sense of expansiveness. Donate what might benefit someone else, toss what’s no longer functioning and appoint a home for those keepsakes you really shouldn’t part with (like your grandmother’s wedding ring).
3. Plan ahead
Nothing makes a supremely busy day more stressful then having to pause in front of your closet to find something to wear, pack a bag for that weekend getaway that awaits you or eat healthfully to keep your brain—and body—up to par (and able to handle whatever’s thrown in your direction). With that in mind, devote an hour to planning ahead. Create a kit of essentials (toothbrush, toothpaste, lotion, cleanser) and keep it in your car. Reserve a section of your closet for go-to outfits you can grab in a hurry without thinking. Assemble a snack pack that won’t spoil and that you can throw into your purse in a hurry, such as nuts, dried fruit, and low-glycemic energy bars, and reserve a small case for supplements you might need on the fly (vitamin C, anyone?) The point is to be prepared when you don’t have the time—or the mental calm—to prepare.
4. Pen in your workouts
Consistent exercise is often associated with a general state of ease—even a happy-go-lucky attitude—for a reason: It releases feel-good endorphins, diminishes depression and anxiety, enhances confidence, and makes even the most complicated problem seem doable. When life gets messy, it’s all too tempting to ignore your commitment to yoga, running, swimming—or whatever your workout preference might be.
Plugging your workouts into your calendar, however, provides a sense of accountability. Sure, you can ignore those reminders too, but you’ll be more inclined to honoring your personal promise if you took it seriously enough in the first place to mark it on your agenda or punch it into your phone. Plus, scheduling your workouts as you would do anything else of importance—dentist’s appointments, date nights—takes the whole when will I have time? aspect out of it.
5. Shop online
Shopping for new clothes, furniture and gifts can be a joyful undertaking—it’s a form of cardio, it brings you into contact with personable strangers (hopefully), and it’s a tactile experience. But trudging through checkout after work—or on a Saturday—can escalate stress and drain you of energy. Instead of going through the entire ordeal of finding parking and finding the best deal with dozens (or even hundreds) of others, order necessities from the comfort of your home. Big companies make fast, free deliveries a cinch, while smaller companies—often with a charitable or eco-conscious mission (like Better World Books and Better Planet)—make you feel good about where your pennies are headed.
6. Ask for help when you need it
The do-it-all (and have-it-all) mentality may have fallen out of favor in recent years but still many of us aim to manage life on our own—particularly those of us who have an independent streak or prefer to maintain control. One of the hallmarks of a healthy, balanced life, however, is in realizing when we’re complicating our days unnecessarily. It’s the small business owner who is trying to blog, bookkeep, and handle clients exclusively on her own, or the time-pressed physician who is up at 2 a.m. making brownies in time for his child’s bake sale. Admirable, yes, but at what cost?
Rather, recognize when you need help, whether it’s major (repairing your roof) or minor (waxing your eyebrows)—and hire out the task when it makes sense. It may come with a fee, but those Visa commercials are right: Chasing after a blissful life, spending time as you should be spending it (delightedly, and in the company of your loved ones), making memories—this is priceless. Learning new software to do your taxes on your own? Pricey—in more ways than one.
7. Banish one big thing per month
Simplicity doesn’t just mean having a clutter-free house or an organized inbox; it also means decluttering from the inside out. By taking a candid assessment of the things that are affecting your happiness—from toxic “friends” to harmful habits—you’ll be able to remove hindrances that create discontent or may even be deleterious. At the start of each month, ask yourself what no longer serves you. Is your afternoon coffee only adding to your insomnia and overall angst? Find a different pick-me-up to avoid that midday slump, whether it’s a crisp apple or a brisk walk.
Are you eating too much sugar? Dedicate four weeks to going sugar free and see how you feel at the end of it. Is that nightly glass of wine making you feel foggy-headed when the alarm goes off? Consider unwinding with a novel and a mug of hot tea instead. This approach doesn’t extend just to your diet, either. Whether you have a custom of binge-watching TV that’s ultimately keeping you from your fitness goals or a friend who sucks all the vitality out of you, you have the power to make omissions where necessary. There is only one you, after all—treat her like royalty.