Reject the busy. Reject the overwhelm. Here’s 21 ways to simplify your life in 2021.
The start of a new year is the perfect time to evaluate where you’re at – especially after surviving the year we’ve just had!
I don’t know of there’s ever been a time in our living history that we’ve collectively been so grateful to turn our back on a year.
And while it’s true that the last 12 months turned out to be unlike anyone could have imagined – it wasn’t all bad.
Many of us learned to embrace, even thrive in a life where we weren’t so crazy busy – where we weren’t so over-committed, overstretched, and overwhelmed.
And then things started to go back to normal (or as close to it as possible) and many of us found ourselves back on the hamster wheel.
But this time it was like we had a taste of how things could be and that left us wanting more.
Because the truth is that life gets complicated when we’re forced to make too many decisions and are presented with too many choices. We’re often happier the less choices we have.
For that reason, choosing to simplify your life through removing some of the choices you’re making on autopilot is one of the best moves you can make for yourself.
Here’s 21 ways you can simplify your life in 2021.
Simplify your home
If you look up from reading this and can count more than five things that you neither like nor use, then you may have a clutter problem.
Physical clutter has an adverse mental effect.
It increases those feelings of anxiety and overwhelm.
As with many things, getting started with decluttering can be the hardest part.
My top tip is to start with removing 120 things to declutter now for items I promise you won’t even miss!
How much time do you spend every morning thinking about what to wear?
How many outfits do you put on, only to discard one item after another because it doesn’t fit right, look right, has a stain on it?
I have a two week rotation of clothes and as much as possible, I wear them in the same order every time. I even hang them up in the order I wear them.
This saves me not only hours of time but significant amounts of money because I buy all my clothes for the season in one go, 9 times out of 10 from the same store.
Help yourself in 2021 by decluttering and then curating your closet.
The same thing can be said for meals as I said for clothes.
We grocery shop once every two weeks and meal plan for the dinners that fall within that time frame.
We have some nights – most notably Nacho Friday – where we always eat the same thing (I can confirm that it is possible to eat nachos every Friday night for over eight years and not be sick of them yet).
I like to experiment when I have the time and energy to try something new, so that’s what I do on Saturdays.
Meal planning saves all that angst about what you’re going to cook.
Routines are freedom.
We eat at the same time every night. We go to bed at the same time and we wake up at the same time.
I know what hours I have free in the day to do what I want.
I know I’ll always have clean clothes and clean cutlery.
I know I’ll get enough sleep to be at my best.
This is the daily routine that keeps my life under control and gives me the freedom to use my thinking power for the kind of tasks that need it.
If you can afford it, make 2021 the year you get a cleaner.
Now a cleaner is not without its own hassles. I can tell you of many a time the night before the cleaner was due, we’d be running around tidying up enough so she could do her job.
In addition, sometimes they don’t do things how you want them done – a settling in period is always required.
But nothing can compare to the feeling of coming home from work (especially if the cleaner can come on either a Monday or a Friday) to a clean home.
Nothing can compare to having those two or three hours back in the weekend.
Nothing can compare to not arguing with your husband or kids about doing their chores.
Any household that has two working adults and dependent children in it should have a cleaner for their own sanity.
Simplify your finances
Simplify bank accounts
My husband Ben and I sought out a professional financial adviser a couple of years ago and one of the main thing we did was work on creating a simple, easy to follow system for our finances.
To sum it up, after creating a monthly budget that was based on a) an evaluation of our current spending patterns and b) standard sums for things, we created three bank accounts: spending, bills and main.
Basically, the “main” account had our pay put into it. We then had a predetermined sum transferred automatically for spending and bills.
In case you’re wondering what exactly “spending” entails, it’s food for our bellies, gas for our car, and entertainment for our souls.
Having these three bank accounts has made sure we never overspend as we only have card access to the spending account. (If you don’t want a spending account and are responsible with credit cards, you can use a credit card instead).
It also means we never miss a bill because we have the correct amount of money in our bills account based on three years of data, plus a $500 buffer, at all times.
Meanwhile the main account gets bigger and bigger with annual expenses and other larger sums “living” in here.
Having these three bank accounts has saved me hours of time and stress.
Simplify bill payments
As part of the above system, we also made sure that no bills needed to be paid manually anymore.
If it couldn’t be a direct debit, I created an automatic payment instead.
This meant I could also apply a set and forget mentality to my bills, apart from a check every two weeks to make sure everything was working as it should.
When you set up your simplified bank accounts, you would have looked at all your bills. Go back to these now and see which ones you can automate.
Simplify your digital life
How many email addresses do you have?
Try cut them to two at the most – your work email and your personal email.
Use a mail app so you can have your accounts coming into the one platform so you’re not looking in two separate places.
Every day, make it a decision to unsubscribe from ONE mailing list.
Put a critical eye on every email you receive. Is it adding value to your life?
If it’s a store email, can you not get that information just by going to the store?
But what about advance notice of sales, I hear you ask.
Listen, if you needed something you’d be looking for it. You wouldn’t need an email.
All that sales email does is make you feel as though you should be buying something because it’s such a great deal.
If you didn’t need to buy it, it’s not a deal.
In addition, check your junk and spam folders.
If a legitimate email is in there that you want to receive, then drag it to your main inbox.
You may not not this, but the more emails a sender sends that end up in spam, the more likely they are to go to spam in the future. So if you love reading someone’s newsletter then do them a favor and get it out of the spam!
If you don’t love it that much then unsubscribe.
When you’ve read an email, don’t just leave it languishing in your inbox.
Your inbox is a through way, not a final destination.
This is especially true for work emails where so much is irrelevant.
As well as my inbox, I have a “to do” folder in which emails go that require a response or an action to be taken on my behalf.
I also have folders in which I save things for reference.
If you’re struggling with this, one thing to do is to create folders for years. Once you’ve removed those important things, then just dump the email into the appropriate year.
Then in 2021, you can delete 2019, and so on.
Finally, simplify your email by cutting back on the time you engage with it.
Checking it three times a day should be enough.
Make it easier on yourself by turning off notifications so you won’t be distracted by that little envelope.
Try to achieve your most important thing of the day BEFORE you check your email and start engaging with someone else’s crisis.
Simplify social media
How many social media channels are you on?
What is the purpose of each one of them in your life?
Could you cut down the amount of platforms you are engaged in?
Once you’ve done that, can you cut down who and what you engage with within that platform?
How many people are you following? How many groups do you belong to?
Again, take the slow and steady approach. Maybe unfriend or unfollow 10 people a day, and leave one group a week.
Like email, the other way to simplify your social media use is to limit the time you spend on there.
Remove temptation by removing apps from your phone.
Consider using an app to reduce or block your social media use (here’s 10 to check out).
Right now, I’m quite proud of myself because I only have nine tabs open.
It’s not uncommon for me to have 20 or more.
This does not help me be more productive and focused. It makes me scattered because when I see the tab, I think about a task associated with that tab, and then I get distracted from what I’m doing and go do that thing.
Moving from multitasking to monotasking is more challenging than you would expect.
You need to consciously work to close the tab when you have finished reading /working on the article.
If you’re on a computer right now, how about you close some of those tabs?
(I just got down to three!).
Simplify work management tools
There are so many work (and life) management tools out there, it’s easy to have far too many. You end up in a situation where you almost need a tool to manage your tools.
If you’re like me, for example, you have Cozi, Trello, Outlook (different accounts on both my personal and work computer) and a Google drive full of lists and other such things as well as a physical planner.
While there might be a method to using that many (for example, the free app Cozi is how my husband and I know what the other one has going on plus we use it for our grocery list, Outlook tasks is how I run my business and also how I manage my teaching tasks, and Trello has much of my home tasks), take the time now to evaluate them all and see if they are serving your needs.
Simplify by disconnecting
Actively make a decision to disconnect
- at specified times
- on specified days
- during specified activities
How many times, for example, have you been guilty of looking at your phone when you’re having a conversation with someone else? Eating dinner? Waiting in line?
Deliberately disconnect and practice being engaged with the world around you.
When you are on your phone, be engaged with that.
Simplify your schedule
Simplify date night
Every Friday night, or every Sunday afternoon – it doesn’t matter when, but block out that time to connect with your loved one.
If you’ve got kids at home, there’s no reason why you can’t have a mother/ son or mother / daughter date blocked in too.
Because you know you have that special time set aside, you will relax at other times of the week when you feel like you’re merely ships passing in the night.
Having a date night at home can be as much fun as going out, so don’t put pressure on yourself to make it a big event.
Simplify extra-curricular activities
Somewhere along the line we got the idea that having our kids play several sports, learn an instrument or two, dance, and get extra tuition meant that they were going to be well-rounded.
How this translates into reality is us rushing from school, to home, then out again every night of the week, and then every day in the weekend, taking kids from one place to another.
Being involved in several things means your children won’t be so much well-rounded as mediocre.
Getting really good at something takes singular focus and significant time.
Don’t believe me? Go read a biography of any successful sportsperson.
Your kids can do one thing and get good at that one thing.
Same goes for you.
If you want to take up a new hobby, go for it. but don’t try and do ten at the same time, especially if that hobby involves leaving the house.
Simplify by batching
Batch up similar tasks and allocate them to specific days when you can.
Batching your days enables you to go deep on whatever you’re focusing on. It also enables you to have that sense of satisfaction when you know that task is complete for the week.
Batching can work for both work and home.
As a teacher, maybe one day is planning day. One day is marking day. One day is long-term tasks day.
Or for home, one day can be errand day. One day can be housework day. One day can be social day.
Look to see what you do in a week and work out if batching could work for you.
As I mentioned before, every Friday night is Nacho night at our house.
We work super hard during the week, therefore Friday night is the time we kick back and relax without feeling the weight of any expectation on us.
There has to be something pretty special happening for us to give this up.
Decide what nights are off-limits to you individually, as a couple, and as a family.
One way of simplifying your schedule is to be clear on what it is you value.
When you decide whether or not to do an activity, ask yourself how this fits in with your values.
If it is does align, then simply say no.
For example, you’re invited to a girls only weekend of partying.
Straight away, that’s a hard no from me. After many years of such partying, I no longer drink. I also don’t like being around people who are drinking for the sole purpose of getting drunk.
A girls only weekend of yoga, meditation and clean eating?
Well, that I would consider.
But then it would also come down to other values including whether I wanted to spend that time away from my spouse and if we could afford it.
Is there something I could do that I would enjoy more that would be more in line with who I am?
Mindless shopping can eat away your hours. Not only that, it can have a negative effect on your bank balance.
Make shopping necessity based, not boredom based.
One easy way to do this is to shop online as much as possible. If there’s another plus we got from 2020, it’s that many more businesses allow you to purchase goods online.
Simplify your mind
The serenity prayer is a life-changing mantra that has saved me on more than one occasion.
If you’ve never heard it or have forgotten it, it goes like this:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
You can make your mind a frantic, flustered place by going over and over things you have no control over.
It serves no purpose.
Practice acceptance of things you cannot change as one way to simplify your life in 2021.
Simplify task completion
Make 2021 the year of monotasking.
Challenge yourself to work on a task for an increasingly sustained amount of time.
When you start, you might be shocked at how quickly you get distracted and break away from your main focus to do something else.
Every time you switch from one task to another, you essentially wipe your memory of the last few second’s work.
Over time, this can add up significantly, when you have to stop and think to get yourself back into the groove.
Multitasking does you no favors, so attempt to loosen its seductive call.
Aim to simplify task competition by working on one thing at a time until it is done.
Simplify by buffering
The word “buffer” is vastly underutilized in my opinion.
Creating buffers is one of the most effective ways to simplify your life in 2021.
Need 7 1/2 hours of sleep? Go to bed 8 hours before you need to get up.
Takes 25 minutes to get to work? Leave 35 minutes before you need to be there.
Think it will take 3 hours to grade those papers? Budget in 5 hours.
Much of creating effective buffers is about time management, however it also works for things like finances as well.
Groceries cost $200 a week on average? Buffer in an additional 10%.
Expecting that family vacay to cost $2000? Save an additional 50%.
I find that having a buffer is a huge stress reducer. In the zone between what you’ve prepared for and reality you’ll come out on the winning side every time.
We all feel like we’re on the Busy Train, with last stop overwhelm, but a lot of that is within our power to change.
These 21 ways to simplify your life in 2021 are a great way to start.