Today I have a wonderful guest post from a great blogger and twitter who's here to tell you that less is more - really!
Kelly Gurnett, a.k.a. “Cordelia,” runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and encourages others to do the same. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook or send her an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We live in a “more, bigger, faster” world. We’re always plugged in, always on the go, always looking for the latest app to make our lives more productive, more exciting, more successful.
But more isn’t always better.
Sometimes it’s just hella stressful.
Take a Breath, Let It Go, Let In Some Space
We operate under the notion that the more we do, the more we have, and the more we take on, the better our lives will be. But the current trend towards minimalism and simplicity only shows that for many of us, enough has finally become enough. We’re overwhelmed and overworked and overstimulated.
I say “we” because I was one of the frazzled, constantly distracted souls myself until I stumbled upon minimalist blogs like zen habits and Rowdy Kittens and started to realize that they were really onto something.
I haven’t gone so far as to sell all my worldly possessions and live with just a toothbrush and one set of clothes. But I have learned to start cutting out and cutting back some of the things that only make my life more complicated. It’s amazing how much extra stress and hassle we allow into our lives without even realizing it.
Here are just some of the ways I’ve come to realize that less really can be more:
1. E-Mail – This has been a biggie for me. I used to be a compulsive e-mail checker. It cut into my productivity like crazy, and it made me feel frazzled all the time. There was always a new message coming in, pulling me away from whatever I was doing—and most of the time it wasn’t even important. But I needed to feel like I was always on top of things, even if all I was really doing was driving myself to distraction.
Now, I make a point of only checking my e-mail a couple times a day, and I’ve been thrilled with the results. I haven’t missed any life-changing messages. I’m actually able to get my work done in peace. And I’m starting to shake that antsy feeling I used to get when I was jonesing to see if anything new had come in in the last 5 seconds. It wasn’t easy to wean myself off, but oh baby, was it worth it.
2. TV – I’ll admit it. I have a healthy list of shows on my DVR schedule, and I thoroughly enjoy watching every one them. When I see a new Wipeout recorded, I get a little happy feeling inside (yes, it’s silly, but I dare you to watch and not laugh). But my attitude towards TV as a default entertainment option has drastically changed.
I used to waste my evening after evening watching TV. It was mindless, it was easy, and even the crappy shows were mildly amusing. But then I started blogging. And working on my writing again. And thinking about drastically changing my life in general. And now, I just have way too many other things I want to be doing to while away my evenings in front of the TV. I have my shows that I love, and I watch an episode or two a night, but that’s it. It’s not even a matter of restricting myself; I just don’t feel like spending any more time on it than that. There’s so much else to do!
3. Social Media – I do love me my Twitter, and I wouldn’t know half of what my friends and family are up to if it weren’t for Facebook. Social media is a great way to stay connected and to make new connections. But it’s oh, so easy to get sucked into its vortex and realize you’ve wasted a whole afternoon looking at photos of the wedding of a friend of a friend that your cousin dated in high school.
My rules for social media are just like those for e-mail: I let myself check in on things a couple times a day, for a reasonable period of time, and that’s it. I’m never going to be able to know every single thing that passes down the Twitter stream or every company my friends just “liked” to win a contest. And that’s o.k. Because there’s a whole real world out there full of more important things for me to be focusing on.
4. To Do Lists– I’ve always prided myself on being The Girl Who’s On Top of Everything. I always had Post It notes and To Do lists everywhere reminding me of the million-and-one never ending tasks that always seemed to need doing. And the more I tried to remind myself to do, the less I felt like doing any of it.
Here’s the thing. The really, truly important things will find a way of getting done. Everything else is disposable. When you’ve reached the end of your life, you’re not going to regret skipping the dishes one day or never getting around to fixing that loose board in the basement. You’re going to regret frittering away your time on busywork that no one even really cares about. So toss your To Do list, put down that Post It, and go and live, dammit!
5. Multitasking – I am so guilty of this one. It makes you feel like you’re being super productive, and you think you’ll be done with everything a lot sooner if you just deal with it all at once.
But for the most part, multitasking is actually less efficient than simply focusing on one thing at a time. Every time we switch gears between projects, there’s a delay before we can get really back into what we were doing before. And when you’re doing too many things simultaneously, each thing is only getting a portion of your attention. Not to mention the fact that you’re getting more and more stressed out as you’re pulled in a million directions.
Focus on one thing, get it done, and then move on to the next. It really doesn’t take any longer, and it helps preserve your sanity.
6. Stuff & Clutter – I’m a clinical neat freak, so I’m overly sensitive to clutter. I just don’t feel at ease in a messy room. But even if you can tolerate a moderate amount of clutter, having too much stuff can just make your life harder. You have trouble finding things. You trip over things. You feel a nagging sense of guilt as more stuff piles up. And when you finally decide to tackle the mess, it’s a monstrous undertaking. Where do you even begin?
You’d be surprised how much calmer an orderly, simple environment can make you feel. Lately, I’ve been Freecycling, Craigstlisting, and garage saling anything I don’t really love or haven’t used in years. And I’m amazed at how much easier it makes my life. There’s less to clean, less to worry about, and when I look around my house, all I see is things I really, truly enjoy. I’m striving to realize William Morris’ quote, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Really, why would you want to fill your world with anything else?
7. Clothes – Every season I do a closet cull, and every season I’m amazed at how many things I have that I just don’t wear. Sometimes they’re just not my style anymore; sometimes I picked something up in the store thinking I’d love it and then never really found the right thing to wear with it. Either way, there’s no point in holding on to something I know I’m never actually going to wear.
The irony is that having less options to choose from actually makes picking out my outfits each morning easier. If everything you own is something you really like that matches a bunch of other things in your closet, putting together an outfit is a snap. (Plus, if you’re like me, you avoid that pre-wash-day awkwardness of wearing that sweater you really secretly hate, just because it’s the only clean thing left in your closet. That’s never a good feeling. Have some pride and send that baby packing to Goodwill.)
8. Hair & Makeup– It’s taken me 29 years to come to terms with this, but I may not need as much makeup and hair product as I’ve always thought.
When I’d been dating my husband long enough that it was time to stop pretending I woke up every morning with mascara on, I was amazed when he told me he actually preferred me in my pre-primping state! To me, no makeup and no hair product means looking like a 16 year old with frizzy, mad poodle hair. But the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve come to realize that who I am, “imperfections” and all, is actually not so bad.
I’m not quite at the naturalist hippie stage of going sans everything, but I’ve definitely cut down considerably on the amount of tweaking and altering I try to do to myself. And you what? All my years spent trying to make myself something I’m not kept me from appreciating my features for what they are. They make me “me.”
Plus, it’s just so much freakin’ easier to get ready in the mornings now.
9. Commitments – Learning to say “no” can be a sanity saver. How many things do you take on just because you feel like you “ought” to? A favor for a friend when you’re already overbooked, project you don’t have time for just to get on the boss’s good side, a pledge to buy 10 rolls of overpriced wrapping paper for a neighbor kid’s fundraiser. Too many of us are “yes” people because we’re afraid—afraid that we’ll look bad if we say no, afraid that we’ll make people mad at us, afraid that we’re not doing our part.
But we need to start learning that it’s o.k. to say “no” sometimes. Sure, you should absolutely help other people out when you can. But you can only do so much. It’s alright to stand up for your time, your budget, and your sanity and say, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t commit to that right now.” It doesn’t make you a bad person. It just makes you someone who knows their limits.
10. Relationships – You know the ones. The toxic kind that sap your energy and leave you feeling depressed and degraded.
The friend who calls you all hours of the day to unload her problems but is never there when you need her. The Debbie Downer coworker who turns every copier jam and deadline into a Woe Is Me sob story. The seemingly cheerful relative who always manages to make you feel horrible about your significant other, your career, your weight, you name it.
Some toxic relationships you can dump, but others you’re unfortunately stuck with (like the coworker or the relative). In those cases, you can at least refuse to engage with them. Avoid them when possible, smile and nod when you can’t, and excuse yourself as soon as the opportunity presents itself. You have no obligation to put up with people who add nothing but negativity to your life. You deserve better than that.
What About YOU?
What things in your life could you use less of?