Unravel your life

“Ever felt the need to slow down & declutter? ”

Perhaps it’s the economy, a wish to protect the planet, or something else entirely, but there’s a strong undercurrent rumbling in our society these days: a desire to step off the fast-track and find more than a little peace and quiet in our lives. It’s witnessed in the discussions about sustainable living, the emerging shift to buy local, and the increasing number of bicycles and hybrid cars on the road.

Skills like knitting, canning, and sewing are back in vogue. Instead of buying vine-ripened tomatoes at the store, more of us are growing our own. Relationships, not things, are the new prized possessions. We’re rethinking what it means to be happy.

Making a conscious move to simplify your life isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.

Here’s how to really unwind from the multitasking track.

LEARN HOW TO SAY NO. 
Make your new go-to response “Let me think about it.” This response will buy you some time to gather your thoughts and decide if a request is something you’d rather pass on doing. Saying no can also affect other areas of your life, as it has for Meerschaert. Now, whenever her birthday or the holidays roll around, she just says no to gifts. “I’d rather have time with someone,” she says as a way of explaining her no-gift policy. “I’d rather have my kids cook me dinner. I don’t want stuff.”

FOCUS ON DECLUTTERING.
Once you’ve worked on removing unfulfilling commitments or other stressors from your daily life, you need to begin attacking the clutter, whether it be digital clutter or your overflowing closet. Maybe your first step is to cancel all of the catalogs you get or finally give away the clothing that no longer fits you. Heidi Hackemer, 32, of New York City, approached decluttering her clothing with a passion a few years ago when she decided to take a page from the stylebook of some of her favorite icons.

“Truly fashionable people—Karl Lagerfeld, Jackie O—tend to have a uniform,” she explains. “They have this look, and I wanted to find that for myself.” Hackemer determined that the best way to simplify her wardrobe would be to limit it to six pieces in go-with-everything hues. Along the way she started a blog, Six Items or Less, and before she knew it, people from all over the world were joining in her quest to dress well with fewer items.

While Hackemer eventually eased up on her six-piece rotation, she still has a limited wardrobe and loves it. Plus she’s still reaping the benefits. “Because mornings are less stressful for me, I noticed that I started eating better,” she recalls.

CONSIDER WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS.
It’s easy to act like a pack rat when you think, I may need this one day. But what if you were to shift your thinking toward, what pleasure will this bring me in the future? That was the approach that Carol James took when she began decluttering her attic. Increasingly, happiness is being defined as “less is more.” Take Carol Meerschaert, a 43-year-old mother of three. Meerschaert simplified her life out of necessity when she divorced in 2001. Moving from a 3,200- square-foot home to one that was only 1,300 square feet forced Meerschaert to leave several possessions behind. One thing she chose to lose, however, was her big car. The director of marketing communications for a healthcare businesswomen’s association, Meerschaert moved to Paoli, Pennsylvania, (a Philadelphia suburb) because it has a walkable downtown.

“If you have fewer things,” says Meerschaert, “it’s easier to find the things you have.” Also, meal planning is easier because she started a garden. Instead of running to the store, she’ll make dinner based on what’s fresh in the garden. When looking back on her life before simplifying, she says, “what I find is that the mental exhaustion is gone.”

Carol James, on the other hand, simplified her life by choice. The economy and empty nest syndrome led James, 56, and her husband to downsize their Hancock, Maine, home in 2005. As they made the move to a modular ranch house, James, a medical transcriptionist, started blogging about her “simplicity experiment." See Carol's blog.

While she tackled the expected topics, such as giving away books and outdated clothes, James discovered the positive effect simple living could have on her food intake. She started eating a low-carb diet and along the way removed the nightly stress of “what am I going to eat?” She also lost over 12kg—something she’d wanted to do for years, she says.

Making the conscious move to simplify your life isn’t easy, admits Renée Peterson Trudeau, author of The Mother’s Guide to Self- Renewal: How to Reclaim, Rejuvenate and Re-Balance Your Life. It’s like learning a new skill. But you can do it if you strive to keep the following simple tips in mind.

START SMALL BY LEARNING TO SAY NO.
It’s OK if you decline when yet another person asks you to be a class mother or to organise your church’s yard sale. If you’re not comfortable immediately changing from the  yes woman to one who says no, Trudeau says she recommends making your new go-to response “Let me think about it.” This response will buy you some time to gather your thoughts and decide if a request is something you’d rather pass on doing.

Saying no can also affect other areas of your life, as it has for Meerschaert. Now, whenever her birthday or the holidays roll around, she just says no to gifts. “I’d rather have time with someone,” she says as a way of explaining her no-gift policy. “I’d rather have my kids cook me dinner. I don’t want stuff.”

While tackling boxes of mementos, James says, she asked herself, "what in these boxes will be important for my kids to have?" That question gave her the strength to toss old symphony programs and give her children their childhood Christmas ornaments so they could use them with their own children in their homes.

James makes sure to tell her kids and grandkids about the treasures she kept, so that one day when they have to go through her things, they’ll remember the story she once told them about the spelling bee she won in elementary school and why she still has the certificate from that event.

CREATE A SCHEDULE OR A PLAN THAT WORKS FOR YOU.
Lynn Rasmussen was able to simplify her life by assigning certain tasks to certain days of the week. It’s an old-fashioned approach, but it works really well for the formerly crazed Rasmussen, 59, of Maui, Hawaii. These days you’ll find her cleaning out her car on Monday, doing the laundry on Tuesday, and going food shopping on Thursday.

One of the benefits, besides being organised and always having clean underwear, is it makes for a calmer existence.  “I don’t wake up stressed, because “I like to do crafts as a way to relax and save money. I really enjoy making scrapbooks as inexpensive gifts using materials I already have on hand. Right now I’m working on a scrapbook for my 1-year-old niece.”

Here are some comments from Curves members on how they simplified their lives...

“The biggest thing I’ve done to simplify my life is to refuse to bring work home anymore.

When I walk out of work at the end of the day, that’s it for me. I also make sure that all my house chores are done by the weekend so that when I have days off, they are actually days off, and I can enjoy doing things I like. And I’ve stopped associating with negative people—that has been huge for me. It’s made nearly every aspect of what I do happier and simpler.” — Adele Smith, Atherton, Queensland, Australia

“In my journey of clearing and finding happiness with less, I’m turning inward— finding happiness in slowing down, becoming aware of my surroundings. Living first. Don’t leave that part until you are regretting all the things you could have done other than mindless cleaning. If you want the perfect house, decor, spotless interior, uncomfortable and expensive furniture, buy a copy of Vogue Living. Then grab a loved one, get outside, and breathe; leave the housework for later.” — Marianne Arundell, Brassall, Queensland, Australia