Simplify Your Life: 50 Tiny Ways to Fight Stress and Find Calm
The world is stressful right now. It’s no wonder that you would be looking for any way to simplify your life.
It’s an especially stressful time for type-A lawyers. Many people think being type-A means you’re a jerk, and there’s definitely a lot of overlap. In reality, Type-A people just think that they are in a constant battle with time. Because of that, Type-A people are prone to stress and stress-related illnesses. And that can easily translate into being a jerk. For all those type-A people out there, or anyone else just existing in a crazy world, here are 50 tiny ways to simplify your life.
Why You Need to Simplify Your Life
I have a fair amount of built-in anxiety that manifests physically. Growing up, my piano teacher would always tell me to relax my shoulders. My doctor always tells me to relax my tongue; my dentist tells me to unclench my jaw. Basically any part of me that could be tense, was tense unless instructed otherwise.
I was also a worried little kid. We spent a lot of time in Chinatown in Manhattan when I was growing up and whenever we would go shopping, my eyes were stuck on my dad’s back pocket, to make sure he didn’t get robbed. Even now, when I enter my apartment by myself, I check all the closets and the bathtub for murderers, just in case.
I only recently learned that this was not normal.
But rather than consign myself to a life of anxiety and fear, unhappiness and stress-related illnesses, I’ve really tried to fight it. I’ve tried to reduce as much stress as possible from my life. Here are some of the tips I’ve used over the years to simplify my life.
Simplify Your Life When You Wake Up
1. Have Something to Look Forward To.
I’m a morning person, which means that I have no problem waking up early. That doesn’t mean, however, that I find it easy to get out of bed. So even when my body feels well-rested, I can linger too long in bed when I don’t want to face the day.
To get myself out of bed, I just need to think of something I’m looking forward to that day. It doesn’t have to be something big or even that fun. It could be finally finishing an annoying project. A delicious dinner. Drinks with friends. A cute outfit. Whatever it is, try to think of something good for your day and keep that thought so you can stop hiding under your covers. Simplify your life by believing it’s going to be a great day.
2. Wake up with sunlight.
I purposely picked an apartment that got a lot of sunlight. I don’t even own curtains (they get dusty anyway). It makes it much tougher to stay in bed when there’s so much light streaming through. And even during the winter, I use a Light Therapy Lamp so I can wake up to a gradually increasing bright light (simulating the sun) coinciding with 6am.
Light is a great way to start the day. I don’t use an alarm but this habit helps me wake up at the same time every day. And routines are a great way to simplify your life.
3. Drink lemon water.
Lemon water just makes my body feel so clean in the morning (ahem, it helps with bowel movements). Plus I get tons of Vitamin C, which is helpful for iron absorption (I have an iron deficiency, like many women). Also, lemon water doesn’t make me hungry the way tea or coffee do so I can drink it throughout the day as a little flavor to my water without making me ravenous and hangry (and that means less sugar and less caffeine – for a calmer me).
When I don’t have my lemon water in the morning, my body and mind just feel sluggish.
4. Leave the Phone Outside of the Bedroom.
This might not work if I have kids who go to sleepaway camp, but while I still don’t have any real responsibilities, the phone is always outside my bedroom. My bedroom is a no screens place. No TV, no phone, no other electronics (except for the light therapy lamp). It’s easier to simplify your life when you’re off your devices.
I wake up in the morning and have to leave my bedroom to check any devices and I can’t fall asleep to the boob tube, which is supposed to make falling and staying asleep easier.
5. Do the Hardest Thing First.
I’m a strong believer in “eat the frog first.” That is, if you have something difficult to do, it’s best to do it as soon as possible. Once I wake up, I go to my phone first thing to find out if there’s anything that needs to be done immediately or later that morning.
Most of the time, there’s nothing new when I wake up (because I’ve checked my phone right before going to bed), which helps me find immediate calm. The other times, I can handle requests in a few minutes or reply to all that I will handle whatever needs to be done when I get into the office. It’s hard to go through the rest of the morning not knowing what is expected of me. That would be a recipe for dread and dread is the opposite of finding calm. This quick action of doing the hard thing first gives me the peace of mind I need to go forward with my morning.
6. Use All Natural Oral Hygiene.
Oil pulling is basically swishing oil in your mouth like a mouthwash. Then you use a tongue scraper to remove any weird things that the oil has loosened in your mouth.
I use Baking Soda and Coconut Oil with a little Peppermint Oil as my toothpaste. I’ve heard that I need to use “regular” toothpaste. I don’t think is true, or at least, I haven’t had any problems. Lots of commercial toothpastes are incorporating baking soda into their formulas. Regular toothpaste tastes like sugar now.
My dentist previously noted that my gums were receding, but hasn’t mentioned it since I started doing this routine. My dentist (and some of my friends) have all noticed my naturally white teeth (the oil pulling naturally whitens).
It’s nice to start your day with a super clean mouth. When I stop my oral care habits, I worry about bad breath and just my mouth rotting in general (see, I can worry about anything).
7. Simplify the Beauty Routine.
I’ve come to terms that I’m not great at following routines and I’m not vain enough to care. Even when I would buy into a fancy routine, I would never follow it and it would add clutter to my bathroom. Plus who has the time in the morning?
I found that my face improved when I stopped washing it. It’s no coincidence that non-Westernized cultures have virtually no incidence of acne. Also whenever I read beauty blogs, the people who never wash their faces had the most beautiful skin. The comments always attributed this dichotomy to luck but maybe they’re avoiding the culprit – skin cleansers that strip skin of their natural oils.
8. Buy in Bulk.
I always see these money diaries where people buy a single chicken breast, 6 oz of rice and 1 potato on their shopping trips. What a waste of time! Instead, I can skip shopping for weeks without worrying about running out of things. So this saves me a fair amount of time shopping because if I don’t HAVE to go to the store, I won’t. It makes it easier to cook, because I have everything I need, which means I’m healthier and saving money. And it means I don’t have this nagging worry about running out of things.
Some of the things that I buy in such large quantities that I consider them annual purchases include – dishwasher detergent, garbage bags, baking soda, Swiffer refills, liquid soap, sponges, laundry detergent, Chlorox bleach wipes, toothbrush heads, epsom salts, and coconut oil.
Other things I buy in the largest quantities I can find – rice, meat, frozen veggies, tea, hair conditioner. It gives me comfort that work could go crazy or the apocalypse could come, and I would still have everything I need.
Simplify Your Life in the AM
9. Easy Eating.
Now, I know this is going to sound a little extreme, but I’ve found that only eating one meal a day works for me. For one, I save the time required to plan for, shop, make, and clean up after two meals a day. Additionally, I save the money required to buy the food.
This would all be nought though if I was dragging. Oddly, by eating less I typically have more energy. It could be because my body isn’t burdened by digesting all the time.
10. Lift Weights.
I was always terrible with lifting weights, but I know I need to! Now I just have a short routine with simple Adjustable Ankle or Wrist Weights. No excuses, it’s in the routine now. Lifting weights makes me stronger and better able to face the day. It’s also a great stress reliever. I realize I’m never going to look like Madonna by doing a simple routine, but even a little boost of strength is better than nothing. As they say, the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.
11. Read A Few Pages in the Morning.
I realize that a lot of people are very anti-Tim Ferriss but I find his latest books – Tools of Titans and Tribe of Mentors to be fascinating. They’re basically chock-a-block full of little life hacks from the most successful people in the world (perfect if you like reading lists like this). Also, the inspiration for my one-meal-a-day habit and the one-good-breath-a-day habit (below) came from Tools of Titans.
Problem for me is that 1) I never read books that I own and 2) both books are incredibly long. But each chapter is only a few pages long. So I’ve decided to tackle each book by reading one chapter a day. Yes, it’ll take me the whole year to finish reading, but I will finally finish reading it. And I get to digest each chapter for the day. It’s like my mini-meditation and it makes me feel good that I’m learning new ideas in the morning, even if only bit by bit.
12. Foam Roll.
It is a luxury to get a massage, but you can’t actually pay your way out of pain. You have to put in the work (unless you have a personal Thai massage assistant at your beck and call every day). So in order to even appreciate having a massage, I have to get my body in shape to receive one.
So now I’ve become proactive. I realize that getting a massage is like going to the trainer – the pro can only do so much. Most of your advancement is in the homework. Most of what will help you or kill you is your daily lifestyle decisions.
Stretching and foam rolling (I also like using these Therapy Balls) are activities that require repeated practice. It can’t just be “I’ll stretch today for 2 hours!” and then never stretch again. You have to give your body some time to rest in between and after, so that your body will be able to go further into the stretch. I like this book for its foam roller beginner plan. After mandating a little foam roller time, my hips aren’t constantly in pain! Small (but significant) gains.
13. Streamline Clothing Selection.
My closet is divided in half with a blue ribbon separating the middle. I only pick stuff to wear from one side of the closet. Once I wear something I move it to the other side of the closet. I continue until everything is on the other side of the closet and start again.
As the system proceeds, my decisions get fewer and fewer. Decision fatigue is debilitating for me. This way, with fewer decisions, even if I become indecisive, I can just pick the next thing in line and I’ll be fine with my outfit. No decisions required because there’s no selection. And that’s fine by me. I make enough decisions in my day.
14.Simplify Your Life By Avoiding Stress.
My morning routine is as notable for what it doesn’t have as what it does. Of course I check my phone in the morning – I’m human.
But I stopped listening to the news. I’ve learned that it’s not helpful and it’s not important. When someone is surprised that I don’t know what the latest Trump tweets were about – well, then they’ll just be surprised. I’m not envious of people who know what the tweet is about or those that think that knowing means I’m informed or intelligent.
- Don’t watch TV in the morning (I don’t own a TV).
- Cut out all negative and otherwise toxic people.
- Don’t consume media that is negative
- Reduce coffee – coffee just makes me jittery and then sleepy. And I’ve read that even being exposed to coffee culture can make you see time as shorter – potentially making it harder to slow down and savor life’s experiences.
Basically, I try to simplify my life by starting the day with silence and peace as a stark contrast from what will soon happen at my job.
15. Get Rid of Something Everyday.
Whenever some item gets in my way of finding something else, and I can’t figure out why I would have this item anyway, I’ll just toss it. Also, if I hate something, I’ll throw it away.
It seems like a small thing but this list is about finding calm in the little things! I know I’ve gotten rid of a lot of little obstacles in my apartment every day because of this. I’m not very organized and I hate taking care of objects so I’ve learned to shop less. Not shopping means less stuff to take care of, organize, and then ultimately throw away because I can never figure out how to keep track of it all. Ultimately, for me, less stuff means less stress. And getting rid of stuff I hate is also less stress.
I used to date a guy who got the Economist and he would throw the old one out immediately when the new one came in. Such discipline! I’ve learned to be as ruthless.
Also, don’t have a junk drawer. Just get rid of the junk. You’ll thank yourself.
16. Spend Time in the Sun.
I bike to work and try to bike home. It’s often the only exercise I get through the day. It is also meditative (I usually think of blog posts on my bike ride). If I bike to and from work, it’s an entire hour out in the fresh air.
I also bike everywhere to save a few minutes on places that are really close by but would be annoying to walk to (there’s that Type-A resurfacing). It’s really hard to stay stressed when you’re on a bike in the sunshine for half an hour. Nearly everyone is Vitamin D-deprived, and getting more sun is a great pick-me-up.
Simplify Your Life Throughout the Day
17. Pick me ups in the office.
I always have red lipstick because seeing red puts you in a better mood. My favorite perfumes are in my office because, the same thing with smelling something beautiful. I have lotion for my face so it doesn’t get too dry. I have dry shampoo and hair oil so my hair will look ok. Hand sanitizer is always on hand because, well, that’s just good sense.
This little tip I got from Whitney Cummings: I keep a folder on my phone of happy photos. They could be screenshots of texts with friends that make me smile or cute photos. But when I’m stressed or lonely or overwhelmed, I have a little place to simplify my life in the world.
I have things in my office that make me happy. It makes good sense to have a way of picking myself up and feeling good about myself throughout the day where I spent so much time.
18. Find Media Worth Sharing.
My ex and I used to keep a blog. We would link at least 3 articles that we wanted to discuss and then we would discuss them. So when I read stuff online, I would assess whether it was good enough for the blog.
It quickly became clear which news sources produced articles worth discussing. I started to wonder why I would I read things when it’s clear that I have no desire to remember it even tomorrow. If it’s not important to my future, it’s not important to my present.
Though I don’t have that blog anymore, I do write down important things I’ve learned in a journal. And it’s a reminder that I want to fill my mind with stuff that I want to remember. I don’t want to fill my mind with stuff I immediately want to forget.
19. Simplify Your Life By Finding Quality Time Away from Phones.
I was late to the smart phone game (I got my first smart phone in 2013) but I’ve finally started to get a phone addiction. Trying to circumvent this, I’ve stopped ALL app notifications. Also when I find myself checking my phone too often, I just switch it off. It’s such a relief to know that I can’t see it.
Another cute idea to remind you to give the phone a rest is by putting your phone in a cell phone sleeping bag.
20. Take One Good Breath.
People often hate it when you tell them to breathe in a stressful situation. For me, though, it’s helpful because I often hold my breath even during generally unstressful events. So normal breathing is something I still need to work on.
Deep breathing is the ultimate goal. I’ve heard that not only do you need to take a deep breath that fills your lungs, but when you exhale, you’re supposed to really squeeze your lungs to get all the air out. In any event, focusing on even one good breath is way better than the very shallow panic breathing I use throughout the day. It also oddly makes me feel accomplished – like hey, not all my breaths sucked today! Simplify your life through breathing just one good breath a day.
21. Secret Chocolate.
These chocolates are my favorite and I keep them in an office drawer. It’s not an affiliate link. Chocolate just makes me happy. And sometimes you want something sweet. And if you buy any kind of baked good around my office, it’ll run you at least $3. Having a little piece of chocolate satisfies the urge and gives me a moment of edible happiness. Simplify your life through chocolate – sign me up!
22. Get to Inbox Zero.
I try to touch everything only once in my inbox. And if I can’t respond immediately something I’m trying to do is take notes on why I don’t respond to any email immediately. But having too many emails stresses me out. It’s very calming to me to have a clean inbox.
Simplify Your Life After Work
23. Have a Landing Pad.
This idea seems so simply it’s almost silly, but I’ve lost my keys a lot less when I placed a dish on my foyer table for them. This marble dish is very cute, but I use a dish I received as a gift.
I use a TV stand to hold my shoes. Also on that stand, is a basket for all my accessories (it also doubles as my picnic basket). So when I get home, the keys go on the plate, the shoes go in the stand, the accessories go in the basket. And I spend a lot less time searching for my stuff in the morning.
24. Allow Imperfect Organizing.
I love neat spaces. I’m not a naturally neat person, however, so anything that requires perfection, such as neat lines of products, is beyond me. What I do instead is incorporate lovely places to hide stuff out of sight like covered baskets and beautiful boxes. Shovel stuff into these containers when necessary to have a neat appearance even without being a super neat person.
25. Hang Up Clothes Immediately.
It takes nearly the same amount of time to hang something up as it does to throw it on the ground. It keeps your clothes neat and clean, it keeps your bedroom clean, and it saves you time. It’s a no-brainer.
26. Ease Up on Laundry.
To be honest, laundry is my favorite chore. But I don’t overdo it. I’ll wear clothes several times before washing or dry cleaning. The washing and drying process damages your clothes, costs a bit (between dry cleaning costs, detergent costs, and needing more clothes when you haven’t had time to do laundry), and wastes energy (in terms of running the washer/dryer and picking up dry cleaning).
Change out of your nice clothes when you’re going to do something dirty, but don’t be worried about washing your clothes after every wear! Save time, save your clothes. You won’t be smelly or dirty, promise.
27. Have a Backup Dinner.
28. Bring a Book Everywhere.
For a type-A nutjob like me, waiting in lines can induce so much anger. Having a book is a way to self-medicate. I always have at least 8 books checked out from the library at any given time, because the book I may want to read today may be different than what I wanted to read yesterday. And as a practical matter, only certain books are small enough to lug around.
If I forget my book, I have devised other ways to entertain myself. I try to practice seeing without my glasses (ok I’m extremely nearsighted, so this is actually very difficult for me). I focus on breathing. I try to work through problems. Basically, I focus on ways not to think about how angry I am becoming while standing in line.
29. Read poetry.
Don’t think that the media ban on negativity doesn’t also extend to books! Reading a book makes you feel calmer than watching TV and I think reading poetry is the kind of activity that makes time move much more slowly. It seems ridiculously luxurious, even if you only read a short poem. But reading poetry puts you more in touch with the big picture, with art, with your creative side. It’s a lovely addition to my day.
30. Simplify Your Life in Your Go-To Routine.
Even as much as having a book makes “wasted time” feel more productive, sometimes the snippets of free time are too small to whip out a book or maybe you’re in a situation where you can’t read book easily (like when you’re walking somewhere). In those instances, I can still:
31. Take the stairs.
I hate waiting. Taking the stairs is a little bit more exercise and keeps me from waiting. Honestly I do anything to keep myself from waiting. I use self-checkout. Sometimes I’ll put stuff back in the store that I don’t NEED to buy if I’m in a line without a book – so I can just leave the store without waiting in line. Any little movement – anywhere – makes me feel like my fight against time is less dire.
I’m moving – I’m getting somewhere. That calms my Type-A tendencies. And if I’m honest, every time there’s a fire drill I’m stunned at how out of shape I am – thus the need to take the stairs more often. It’s like lifting weights – every little bit counts.
32. Have Really Happy Things.
Like my Batman Shower Curtain. My Batman wall art. A gallery wall filled with family pictures, beautiful photos and dumb postcards. Tacky gold chairs. A little girls’ hot pink futon. My Keanu Reeves rug. Trinkets and souvenirs from good times.
My apartment looks like a college student dorm room. I have really junky furniture. It’s probably not befitting a lawyer who makes six figures. But I enter my apartment, I see all the things I love and I think, ahh I’m home.
33. Trim Social Engagements.
In the Myers-Briggs, I’m an ENFP, which means, though I’m an extrovert, I still need a fair amount of time to myself. If I schedule social engagements every night, I get very stressed out. Therefore, I always leave some nights open to introvert.
Simplify Your Life at Night
34. Take a Bath
I’m type-A so obviously I’m a shower kind of girl. But taking a bath is so soothing – I never regret it.
I add Epsom Salts because most people are low on magnesium and Coconut Oil so my skin is soft. Sometimes I’ll add this seaweed detox bath. The first time I used it, I slept like a dream. No screens in the bath. Only a good book, some ice water, maybe an aromatherapy diffuser or candle and myself.
35. Prepare for the Next Day.
Even if it’s just throwing most of the stuff I need to pack in the general direction of my bag, it makes everything a little bit easier in the morning. Because I bike to work, it can get complicated packing for the day – because you have to pack everything for showering at work and your work outfit. This wouldn’t be a big deal if I didn’t bike to work because I’d just use the same purse day in and day out. But with a bike, and then sometimes taking the metro home, it can be a little more work. I don’t want to add stress to my life by biking to work so I try to pack ahead of time.
36. List Daily and Weekly Goals.
I have a list of things I need to do everyday. What? A list within a list? Yep. This list is actually how I started many of these activities. It’s a way for me to remember to make progress toward my goals.
Some of the items on the list don’t necessarily make me happier or less stressed (so not on this list). Actually they often make me MORE stressed but the end goal would make me happier. The idea of finishing a large task and taking steps toward that goal consistently make me happier. And I have to remind myself that no matter what, I don’t want a zero day. Every day is important. I have to make SOME progress every day.
I run through at least 20 Chinese flash cards everyday. I copy one week of old journal entries into Word. I write these to-dos on a list and they soon become habits. I read one chapter from each of these monstrous Tim Ferriss books – Tools of Titans. And building those habits makes me happier. Also, I eventually finish tasks that seemed impossible from the outset.
37. Remember Great moments from the Year.
I keep a text file listing every week for the year and something new or fun that happened that week. It makes me feel like my life is meaningful and enjoyable even when it seems like I’ve been cooped up in the office for weeks or months.
38. Do leg inversions Before Sleep.
I don’t know if it really works but to me, this feels like a collective sigh that the day is over. And because I always do this before bed, it reminds me to go to sleep, honestly. And it could just be me, but it makes me feel just a little bit skinnier after doing my inversions (ok I made that up but I do feel that way).
39. Write my Lessons for the Day.
Every night I evaluate my day and think about the lessons that would have helped me do better. I don’t remember if this is the accurate quote but I think Coco Chanel said, every day I simplify because every day I learn something.
40. Wear an Eye Mask.
If I used blackout curtains, I couldn’t wake up with sunlight (see #1). So I wear an eye mask. These Lovely Panda Face Sleep Masks Eye Masks are adorable. For whatever reason, these masks always come off in the night so my eyes are always greeted to sunlight, not to a mask. It’s probably a flaw in the mask, but it works out well for me.
41. Drift off Thinking of Something Positive.
I still always have nightmares (ugh to be type A) but fantasizing about wonderful things helps me fall asleep quickly. So go ahead and dream about your dream life, rather than worrying about what happened or what’s to come. This is your fun time.
Simplify Your Life Whenever
43. Collect Greeting Cards.
44.Write thank you notes.
It’s another way of creating a gratitude journal (which I never figured out how to do correctly because to me, it was writing 1. family 2. health 3. finances every day) except that the people I’m thanking actually get to hear the thanks.
45. See Beautiful Things.
46. Give up sleep shame.
Basically being type-A means you berate yourself for wasting time, even when it’s not a waste. For instance, I found that tracking my sleep meant I would berate myself for sleeping. And I don’t even know what that accomplished. If I’m tired, and because I don’t have a set start time at work, I can sleep in without repercussion. I don’t want to be someone who berates themselves for sleeping 7-8 hours like a healthy person. So I’m not going to track it.
47. Say no.
Anecdotally, my male friends are a bit less stressed than my female friends, likely because they do fewer activities, and they do fewer activities out of obligation. When I told male and female friends that I was going to start skipping baby showers because I loathe them, the female friends tried to pressure me to go for reasons beyond enjoyment (such as loyalty or societal pressure) whereas my male friends didn’t understand why I wavered about the decision.
48. Get Rid of Bad.
49. Invite People Over Often.
With the specter of friends coming over to a messy home, I always keep the place moderately neat. Left to my own devices, I’d be a mess. It seems like a lot of work, but honestly your friends don’t care what your apartment looks like, and they’re probably relieved to drink wine at your place rather than spend big bucks at a fancy restaurant.
50. Don’t Pick Fights.
Conclusion: Simplify Your Life (Even When the World is Crazy)
There are obviously bigger things I also do to make a better life (spending time with family, removing toxic friends, reducing bad habits, increasing financial security). But this list of habits includes things that almost anyone can start doing immediately without the need for other people or a lot of money. You can see a consistent pattern of reducing disorganization and clutter, reducing decisions (for decision fatigue), typical stress relieving activities and other tiny little habits that are just meant to encourage a positive outlook on life. Those are the kinds of habits that have made my life better by finding calmness.
A guy I had been dating was looking over my shoulder while I was on my laptop and noticed that the time on my clock displayed the seconds. He said, that’s needless stress. So I got rid of it. I can’t tell if it has made me that much less stressed but if there’s a way to reduce stress, I’m keen on it. I’m always looking for new ideas.
The best thing I’ve done to ameliorate stress though, is quitting my job. Until that happens for the rest of you, I hope you are able to simplify your life in some of these ideas.