In the world of commercials – I mean, information – it’s hard to find time for your spouse, your kids, and your life. We are bombarded from all sides with information of all sorts, with requests to help, with obligations we either assume or have thrust upon us. We think we have no time. What we’re really doing is giving all our time away.
In the insane blend of things-to-to, you may lose yourself somewhere between the checkmarks on your list. You can find yourself by eliminating things from your life, and by changing a few of your routines. Simplifying your life is surprisingly simple.
Start by making a list of what is really important to you. Let it go on as long as you wish, but at the end narrow it down to no more than five items. These are your goals, and whether it’s raising great kids or finishing your novel, everything you do in your life should center around these goals.
You need to be ready to change some long-standing habits. Chances are, you already know which ones.
Where You Live and Work
How far do you drive to work every day? A mile? Twenty? Does it take you an hour and a half to get to work? That’s as much as three hours a day spent in traffic, more than half your weekday free time. Look at your home and your job. Which do you like more? If you love your job, try to find a home closer to work. If you love your home, start sending out resumes to find a job in your hometown. Or ask your boss if you can telecommute a couple of days a week.
Include your home and work balance in your goals. Make sure you know how much time you’re really spending on work, and remember that while you can always make more money, you’re trading your time to do it. A job near home involving a $5000 annual pay cut may be worth it if you drive 90 minutes to work each day at your current job.
This one’s tough, but surprisingly effective once you find ways to buckle down: spend only half the money you earn, and save the rest. This isn’t possible for everyone; there is a such thing as subsistence level.
But look around at what you buy. Do you really need all that stuff? You can check books out at the library. You don’t need all that time-sucking cable television you flip through all the time. Clothes? You probably have some you’ve never worn.
Americans as a group suffer from something no nation has ever suffered from before in history: we are killing ourselves because we have too much. We eat too much, we sit too much, we buy too much. By spending only half what we earn, instead of listening to the ads and consumer marketing that assaults us daily, we can cut down on that too-much condition and save money toward expenditures that are really important, like a house or retirement.
Social and Family Life
Your family should take precedence over your social life, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to have friends. Determine where your friends fall in your priorities. Organizations you belong to are not friends. If you dread the meetings of any particular organization, resign. You don’t need that in your life.
Start living with your family, not for your family. Set up a family game night, have a traditional Sunday afternoon picnic, take bi-weekly trips to the library. With older teens, start a reading club or start listening to one another’s music. Family arguments are terrible, stressful, and time-consuming. If you take the time to understand your kids and help them understand you, a lot of arguments are defused.
Do your kids really want and need the ballet lessons, the seven sports leagues, the after-school clubs? Make sure that all your child’s activities are important to them. If you think they’re overcommitted, ask them to eliminate the least important one. Helping your children simplify their lives will help you simplify your own.
Turn off the television. Talk to each other. Require an hour of book reading daily from everyone in the house. Not only will your life be destressed, you’ll rediscover one another as a family.
Clean house. We have so much stuff we often can’t find the things we really want. Start throwing things out that you really don’t need. And don’t tell yourself that you may need it in a year or three. Get rid of it. You can buy another if you do need it someday. Meanwhile, getting those “someday” items out the door ensure you can find the “right now” items you really need.
Turn off your cell phone when you don’t have to be bothered, and limit email and other online communication checks to twice a day. We do not belong to our friends and family, and being attached to an electronic tether is no way to go through life. If you can’t turn off the phone (for instance, if you have children in school), then at least set it on vibrate, and when you’re busy or just relaxing don’t answer for anything other than emergencies.
Watch less news, read fewer magazines. We are over-informed today. While it’s important to understand the truly important issues that affect you directly – the presidential candidates, the housing market if you’re buying or selling a home, direct safety issues – it does you little good to obsess over celebrity scandals. Learn to stop worrying about the news you can’t control in your life.
Create a fortress of solitude for yourself. Married couples share a bedroom, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have their own private space. It could be as simple as a backyard gazebo, or as complex as a home gym or study. If you spend a half hour every day resting and gathering your thoughts, the serenity will last throughout the next twenty-three and a half hours until your next moment of solitude.
Go to bed by 9 pm at least one night a week. Few Americans get enough sleep. If you catch up on your missed sleep time one night each week, you’ll be more energetic and less tuned-out, helping you make more of the time you have available to you.
Above all, remember everything you have, and don’t worry about the things you don’t have. The expensive electronics and cars don’t match up to your inner peace, to your loving kids and husband, to your great rewarding job. Over a billion people on earth live on less than a dollar a day. They aren’t miserable. When you have so much more material wealth, why are you?