Sometimes life is complicated. It just is. But sometimes we make it WAY more complicated than it needs to be.
For the last few years, I’ve been working to simplify my life. I haven’t made any drastic changes; I’ve just been taking little baby steps toward slowing down, living with more intention, and guarding my time more carefully. My desire to simplify came from feeling constantly overwhelmed, stressed, and distracted. I felt so darn busy all the time, but so many of things I was busy doing weren’t adding any real value to my life.
One by one, I started to examine the various aspects of my daily routine to see what I could simplify. Simplifying isn’t just about getting rid of excess stuff and paring down your schedule (although that helps). It’s making a series of little decisions every day about what is and isn’t worth your time, thoughts and energy.
4 Ways You’re Overcomplicating Your Life
I pinpointed four major areas where I was making life more complicated than it needed to be. These are simple mindset shifts that will help you to find more time to breathe and make time for the things (and people) that matter most to you.
1) You treat every free second like a chance to get something done.
Have you ever watched the show “Chopped” on the Food Network? (If you’re unfamiliar with the show, it’s a contest where chefs have a short period of time to make a dish out of random ingredients in a mystery basket.) One thing that the judges reiterate on “Chopped” is that the contestants should use every single second they have before the time runs out. So if they’ve already plated their food and they have 10 seconds remaining on the clock, they should throw on a garnish, drizzle on a sauce, or make a tiny adjustment to their presentation. The contestants are often chastised if they finish early and just stand there (even if it’s only for 5 seconds) because they could have done more.
A lot of us run our lives the same way. We’re always trying to squeeze things in, do a little more, enhance, and improve. Being productive is a GREAT thing, but treating every ounce of spare time like a wasted minute is just asking for stress. We feel guilty if we’re done with our daily “to do’s“ with time to spare, and so instead of relaxing a little bit we look around for something else to do. And then we wonder why we’re so tired, unable to focus, and miserable.
Think about it: We have voice-activated devices, microwaves, drive-throughs, dishwashers, smart phones, and computers. We can pay our bills with a few clicks, order anything we need from the couch, and use apps to help us avoid traffic. But all of that convenience and “time saving” doesn’t mean anything if we just fill up every spare second it affords us. When cars start driving themselves, people aren’t going to relax more — they’ll just start doing more work from the car. The cycle will never stop unless you make a conscious effort to stop it yourself. It doesn’t mean lying around all day and doing nothing; it just means resisting the idea that you need to constantly be doing, and getting comfortable with the idea of a few spare moments in your day.
2) You give yourself too many choices.
I’m a researcher by nature. Before making a purchase or any type of decision, I used to comb the internet for resources, reviews, and ratings. All of that research was totally necessary when a big decision was at stake — a job, a house, a car, or a school for the kids. But I started to notice how much time I would dedicate to fairly insignificant purchases or decisions. If I needed a new pair of sandals, for instance, I would scour every website, or a zillion different stores at the mall, until I found the pair that was exactly what I wanted AND at the best price.
Have you ever heard the term “decision fatigue?” I read about it a few years ago, and it really makes a lot of sense. The gist is that the more decisions you need to make in a day, the more your decision-making abilities start to deteriorate. So if I’m spending each day comparing/contrasting toothpaste brands, wondering if the concealer I chose at Sephora is “the best,” and trying to choose between eight different taco recipes for dinner, I’m just setting myself up for a crash later on…and I’ll be much more likely to say, “Sure, eat a whole bag of chips!” when the kids come home hungry from school.
Taking more of a “grab and go” approach instead of overanalyzing some of my daily choices has definitely freed up some of my time and mental energy. When I’m pressed for time, I no longer feel compelled to agonize over small decisions. I’m getting better at saying “no” when that urge to over-research starts in, and focusing on making a good decision instead of “the absolute best” decision when there’s really not much at stake.
3) You have a constant need to change things up.
When my husband and I had the chance to visit Italy a few years ago, we were struck by how, well, Italian the food was. No matter which cafe we wandered into in the morning, the breakfast offerings were the same (usually hard rolls, cured meats and coffee). Dinner every night was either pasta or fish, and some sort of meat/cheese platter. Yes, there were some ethnic restaurants sprinkled here and there, but it was clear that they had a specific cuisine and nobody felt the need to deviate from it very often.
Contrast that to our house, where on any given morning our breakfast could include oatmeal, cereal, muffins, scrambled eggs, fried eggs, bagels, pancakes, waffles, smoothies, bacon, sausage, fruit, frittata, english muffins, or hash browns. Dinner could be Mediterranean kabobs, Thai curry, tacos, fried rice, or salmon cakes.
There’s nothing wrong with mixing things up in the kitchen — most of the time I love it! But if you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, there’s also nothing wrong with serving pasta every night for a week. Sometimes I need to just pull back the reigns and tell myself it’s OK to be a little boring, or to feed the girls the same breakfast five mornings in a row. We will all survive!
It’s not just about food; this can apply to so many areas of our life, from thinking we need a new outfit for each occasion to thinking we need to wear our hair differently every other day. If you find a good gift for a kid’s birthday party, buy 10 of them and stash them in a closet. If you find a pair of shorts you like, buy three pairs in different colors. You will be just fine without the constant change, and you’ll find you have a lot more space in your brain and in your day.
4) You always opt for “bells and whistles.”
When we moved into our current rental home, which was built in the 1960’s, there were a few things that took some getting used to. One of the biggest things we lamented was the fact that our refrigerator didn’t have a water dispenser/ice maker. I know that this is not a real problem, but after having those things for so many years, it felt strange not to have them. I can’t tell you how many times I absentmindedly pushed my glass into the front of the fridge before I realized there was nothing there.
But a funny thing happened over time. We grew to love our old school ice cube trays. My husband and I were talking one night about how our old ice machine used to break or malfunction fairly regularly. Ice cube trays never break! The more I thought about some of the so-called conveniences we’d lost in moving from a newer home to an older one, the more I realized that not having lots of bells and whistles in our home meant there was a lot less to a) figure out, and b) fix.
We’re trained to always look for the newest and most innovative, but bells and whistles can add a lot of unnecessary complications to our lives. I’m certainly not against innovation, but a lot of times all of the “features” that come with homes, appliances, cars, phones, and other electronics actually make our lives more complicated instead of easier.
Before you upgrade your phone or download that app or buy that state-of-the-art whatever, ask yourself if the “bells and whistles” are actually going to make your life better and simpler, or if it’s just one more thing that will need to be maintained, repaired, and figured out.
I’d love to hear from y’all about what over-complicates your life, and any steps you’ve taken (or want to take) to simplify. Please share in the comments!