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Simple Living Lessons for 2021

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In 2019 I was a recent master’s grad, working full time, with one kid in nursery, and another in elementary school. I was busy ALL the time. Mornings were manic, afternoons were frenzied, and evenings were hurried. I didn’t have time to go to the grocery store, so I outsourced to Shipt and Instacart, I ordered pet food and cat litter online, I had several hundred dollars a month in Amazon subscribe and save items, and I thought I was keeping it all together. I was organized, right? I was, but I longed for a simpler life.

Well, in 2020 I got it, but not in the way I expected.

Last March, my daughter left for spring break and never returned to in-person school, my son’s nursery closed, and my husband started working remotely. My life completely flipped upside down and I’m one of the lucky ones. As of this month, almost 600,000 Americans have lost their lives to Covid, millions are unemployed (including my mom), millions have lost their health insurance, and millions more have fallen into poverty. These are truly desperate times.

This is also a Tale of Two Cities. I don’t want to generalize, but studies have shown that WOMEN ARE BEARING THE BRUNT OF THIS PANDEMIC. In September, FOUR TIMES more women than men left the workforce. This figure continues to increase as the pandemic wears on. There are many reasons why, but one reason is the MENTAL LOAD. In 2018, French Cartoonist Emma made shockwaves with her brilliant comic “You Should Have Asked,” which details how women are the default organizers of their household’s “invisible labor,” like planning, cleaning, maintenance schedules, appointments, calendars. When you add the pandemic to it, it’s almost unmanageable.

So here are 12 things I’ve done to lower my anxiety, manage my household, and keep my sanity.

Simple Living Lessons for 2021

embrace incrementalism simple living

1. Embrace Incrementalism

Right before the pandemic, I left my high-stress job for health reasons. I become a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) “temporarily.” Well…then Covid happened. I wasn’t able to work with a child in virtual learning and a toddler at home. When I became a SAHM I thought I would have so much more time, but I really don’t. Being a SAHM is a different type of stress. There is NO DOWN TIME. I’m on call ALL THE TIME with little time to myself. I feel like I had more freedom when I was working full time.

Being home more means I’m easily distracted. I find myself reaching for my phone more. Checking social media, arguing with people on the book of Faces (Facebook) or basically wasting my time on unimportant things. I have to purposely make time for the things that are important. I also have to do things incrementally.

If you haven’t embraced incrementalism during busy seasons in your life, now is the time to start.

When I try to do everything well, I do nothing well. Every day I have a goal (or a few goals). Instead of overwhelming myself, I focus on a primary goal for my day. Sometimes the goal is small. Sometimes it’s big. Some days my goal is just to clean my house, run errands, update my calendar, pay bills, write a paragraph, or return phone calls. I’ve tried block schedules, but I can’t keep up with it. I need flexibility. There are some days when I handle the emotional labor of my household really well. There are other days when I completely fail.

I visualize my goal before I start my day. Do I need to empty the dishwasher, fold laundry, call the doctor’s office, go to the grocery store? I visualize myself doing this task before I get ready.

progress not perfection simple living

2. Give Up on Perfection

Social media makes us think we should have a perfectly clean home, nice furniture, balanced nutritious meals, and organized pantries. Some people do and I’m happy for them! I am not in that camp, but I would love to be, but nothing happens overnight. As a novice gardener, I won’t wake up a master gardener. It takes time. Day by day and hour by hour. We tend to not see our progress because we’re moving through our accomplishments slowly, but we actually accomplish more than we realize.
“We curate our lives around this perception sense of perfection.” — Chamath Palihapitiya

Growing up a poor young girl of color, I daydreamed of a life in which my mother didn’t have to work two jobs to keep food on the table. I imagined living in a stable household with my mom wisping around in loungy cotton dresses all day, baking bread, gardening, and doing crafts with her kids. Of course, fantasy and reality are two different things.

Instagram is frequently a fake snapshot of someone’s life. It’s only what they want you to see. It’s not reality, and no one wants to see reality. We want to imagine those perfectly clean kitchen surfaces with no food splashes or messes. It may exist for people who can afford to hire a house cleaner and professional organizers, but for most of us, we’re stuck with the messes, with the junk drawers, and unmade beds.

slow living lazy genius

3. Get Lazy

If you haven’t read ‘Lazy Genius,’ I highly recommend it. Lazy Genius teaches you how to slowly build routines to make your life easier. If you want a better morning routine, don’t completely upset the applecart. Start small. If you’re not a morning person don’t set yourself up for failure by trying to wake up at 5:00 am. Instead, try a 15-minute head start and then work from there. As I noted above, accomplishments are incremental.

One of my favorite things from Lazy Genius was the recommendation of making your first step a stand-alone routine. Start with a single action and build from there. Focus on the ultimate goal. If your goal is to have a peaceful and serene morning, think of ONE thing that can help. Then try to implement that one thing. What matters most about this routine? What is the ultimate goal? You don’t need to have the same routine, but ask yourself what’s most important today.

cross off to do list simpler life

4. Cross Off Items on Your To-Do List

I am in the process of moving my son to a big boy room. I had a shelf in the attic that I thought I had to use. It came with the house. I had two wooden brackets that went with it. I didn’t like the brackets that went with the shelf, so I was procrastinating on putting the shelf up. I also didn’t know where I was going to place the shelf. Then I thought– “do I really need this? No, I don’t need this.” I could give this shelf away to someone who could appreciate it so I gave it away in my Buy Nothing Group and that was that. The weight off my shoulders was immediate. Some items on our to-do lists are unnecessary. Find out what’s essential (AND WHAT’S NOT). If you don’t need to do it, then cross it off and focus on what’s really important.

How to Organize Your Life

swedish death cleaning minimalism

5. Learn How to Swedish Death Clean

Swedish death cleaning is based on Margareta Magnusson’s 2018 book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter.”  It really isn’t as morbid as it sounds. Yes, it acknowledges our finite time on this planet, but it’s about being intentional with our belongings while we are still here. It’s a decluttering method with a heavy dose of intentionality. The purpose of Swedish death cleaning is to lessen the burden on the people you love. I’m in my early 40s, but death cleaning reminds me about what items I use and enjoy.

Losing my dad was gut-wrenching. After his death, I wasn’t in the headspace to properly clean out his house. I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare his house for sale so I hired a junk trunk to remove his belongings, most of which went to the landfill. Many of these items could have been repurposed or gifted. Looking back I wished I had time to thoughtfully go through his belongings.

I didn’t want to put my family in the same position. Our attic was a miserable place, packed to the gills with STUFF. We had no idea what was up there. After bringing everything down from the attic, we gave away about 95% of it. Once the attic was clean the house felt lighter. From markers to bowling balls to cat toys to fabric to old baby clothes, the vast majority of items were not useful to us. It was a relief to re-gift these items to someone who COULD USE THEM.

watching news depression

6. Take a News Break

I find myself watching the news A LOT and it can be depressing. It’s important to keep up to date on what’s happening around us (and to us), but sometimes it’s too much to bear. There’s a point in the day when we have to turn off the television or the computer and focus on something positive, like gratitude. Do you still have a job? If so, be thankful. Do you have a roof over your head? Then that’s something to be thankful for. Do you have enough food to eat? Then that’s something to be thankful for.

I don’t want to diminish the troubles or struggles people are going through. I lost my grandmother recently and two of my friends passed away in 2020. My mom caught covid (but thankfully recovered) and is still unemployed. These are trying times. We are in the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, the worst pandemic since the 1918 Flu, and civil unrest that mirrors the 1960s. We’re experiencing all of this at once. I use my phone to anesthetize me, but in reality watching “too much” news makes me feel worse and more hopeless. It’s important to honor my feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, and occasional boredom by confronting these feelings head-on. I don’t want to ignore them or push them down by focusing on another 24-hour cycle news story.

Lastly, watching too much news prevents me from THE DOING PART. I don’t want to become so cynical that I forget my role to play in how to make things better. last year I joined the fight for Medicare for All (in the U.S.). If you live somewhere else, you want to put your political energy elsewhere, such as Extinction Rebellion. I chose Medicare for All because it’s important to meet people’s basic needs before they can mobilize them to fight for the massive environmental changes needed. When the majority of bankruptcies in my country are because of medical debt–it’s time for a change.

RELATED CONTENT: What is Systemic Racism and Why we Need an Anti-Racist Environmental Movement

smart phone addiction

7. Put Your Phone Down.

This leads me to an ancillary point. Don’t take your phone out when you’re in the waiting room. Don’t fight with people on social media. This is hard for me. I am frequently frustrated with people on social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter. These apps are purposefully addicting and not easy to walk away from. I’ve noticed that the less time I spend on social media, the happier I am and the better my day flows. Read “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Account Right Now.”

Social media can create a dopamine deficit. Dopamine is a chemical released in our brains when we experience pleasure or excitement. It can be released doing normal things, like calling a friend or a hug. It can also be released by doing something destructive and addictive. When one of our social media posts is liked or shared it gives us a dopamine jolt. This “reward” of dopamine makes us want to check our social media accounts more. It’s why I’ve stepped away from my social media accounts. I still check my social media accounts and occasionally post, but I’m focusing on long-form types of media (such as blog posts or videos). Social media is a wonderful opportunity to connect with people, so I won’t give it up entirely, but limiting my time on social media has made me a much happier person.

daydream morning pages journal slow living

8. Let Your Mind Wander

It’s ok to have quiet moments of doing nothing. As a busy mom, these moments are few and far between. If I do have any downtime I’m usually working on this blog or social media, which isn’t always something I want to do. It’s only when I’m away from my phone and electronics, in general, when my mind is able to wander and settle on whatever it wants. When I’m in the backyard with my kids, I see the trees or I notice how the wind blows. Is that plant poison ivy? Why yes, it is. Stay away from it! That reminds me I need to till that area. Oh and there’s a big vine growing on that tree I need to cut. You know those hydrangeas need to be trimmed back. Today would be a good day to have flowers in the house. Wouldn’t it be nice to have some more flowers over there?

Letting our minds wander opens the door to creativity. It gives us the freedom to NOT focus on anything in particular. Mind-wandering allows our inner self to direct us to our destination. Studies show when you are faced with a tough problem if you take a break you’re more likely to come up with a solution. Another option to mind wandering is “freestyle journaling” or “morning pages.” Pouring your thoughts on a page without focus. Just see where the pen and the paper take you.

Another method is creative questioning. “How can I do better today?” “How can I be kind today?” “What can I learn today?”

connect with others simple life tips

9. Focus on Connection.

Call that friend you were meaning to call. Send a happy birthday card. Do it before it’s too late. I’ve had two friends die last year. Both of them were young. As I sit here, it’s still difficult to type this out. I wish I had reached out to them before they left this earth. I long for one more conversation, for one more hug, one more hello and goodbye, I want to tell my friend how much I love her and how much she meant to me. Don’t wait to have those important conversations. Have them now. We have been conditioned to be wary of other people (and for good reason sometimes). There are bad people out here, but there are MORE good people than there are bad people. Our greatest resource is each other.

Deaths of despair are rising all around the world. During these times connect with someone as safe as you can. Meetups are going virtual. It’s not the same as meeting people in person, but it’s something. Get to know your neighbors (safely). Don’t miss out on an opportunity at genuine connection.

garden minimalist living simple life

10. Grow Something.

If you have a stable home, then you can grow something. You don’t have to have a patch of land. I’m in a container gardening Facebook group and it’s incredible what people are able to do just with containers. I’m not the best gardener. I’ve always WANTED to love gardening, sewing, and baking…but I don’t. My ideal day would be watching Netflix, reading a good book, and sipping hot tea. My husband is the gardener in the house. I’ve never been one to get my hands dirty touching soil, but part of my sustainable journey is growing food closer to home. I wanted to learn how I could be more self-sufficient and grow my own food. It takes quite a bit of work and it’s messy. I don’t like being messy and I don’t enjoy doing something when I’m no good at it. I like to do things I’m good at, but like with everything you get better the more you do it.

I’ve been experimenting with cuttings, like rosemary, parsley, blueberry bushes. I’ve grown a few apple tree seedlings from seeds from apple cores I bought from the store. I have an avocado seed in water in my window. The squirrels love to plant acorns in my yard in the worst places, such as a flower bed right next to the house. So I have been pulling up these small saplings and replanting them (free trees).

Even though I’m no good at gardening, the act of it improves my mood. It helps me focus on something other than CONSUMPTION. Until the covid lockdowns I didn’t realize how much I focused on consumption, not necessarily shopping but GOING somewhere, meeting friends for lunch, going to the library, going to church, going to the grocery store. I was always going somewhere to do something, which inevitably cost money. I didn’t realize how much of a consumer I was.

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11. GIVE

If you look around you there will be people who need help. Given the pandemic, most of these needs can be found online on mom groups or on Nextdoor. If it’s a mom who is in need of diapers or a single mom in need of a birthday gift for her kid, there’s always someone you can help. You can help people in non-financial ways, by providing helpful information or your time. My husband has changed jobs so the month of January has been tough financially. I haven’t been able to help people with groceries, but I have been able to use my skills to help them. I was a researcher. It’s a skill that I take for granted and don’t appreciate as much as I should. There are programs, health clinics, rideshares, churches, and food banks that are filling the gaping gaps our government fails to address. One of the tasks I’ve taken on is to help people find the resources that they need.

schedule worry date ease anxiety

12. Schedule a Worry Date

Each day has its own worries. I give myself a DATE to worry. So instead of being preoccupied with my worry at the moment, I set a date later in the week to WORRY. Most of the time when my worry date comes I forget what I was so worried about. There are some worries that are continual, like someone struggling with joblessness or feeding your kids. It’s normal to be in constant worry about life and death issues. But if you have a job, a roof over your head, food, and your bills paid, then schedule a worry date for whatever it is that is bothering you. Write it in your calendar and plan to give yourself as much time as you need to focus on it.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this post on simple living lessons to embrace in 2021! If you have any ideas or suggestions, please share them with me in the comments or on Instagram

#simpleliving, #minimalism, #lifehacks, #selfcare

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