15 ways to simplify your life
Winter's over. With spring here, it's time to clean up your life. But it's not just the closet or the garage you should be worrying about. Many areas of your life could probably be examined and streamlined, including your personal health.
Life feels so much busier than it used to. Kids have increasingly packed schedules. Work demands so much more. And sometimes it feels like the constant ping of your smartphone is running your life.
We long for simplicity. But most of us haven't quite figured out how to achieve it. Given our realities, how exactly do you simplify your life?
-- By Michael Ko for MSN Healthy Living
Study after study has linked exercise with decreased weight, reduced stress and better overall health. Working out – everything from walking to yoga to lifting weights – can help you clear your mind, sharpen your brain and decrease health problems in later years. Exercise improves energy, mood, sleep and libido.
It's the one simple thing that everyone knows they should probably do more to improve quality of life.
"Particularly as we get older, one of the big problems is we lose the strength and balance we used to have," says Dr. Jamey Wallace, chief medical officer at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Wash., one of seven accredited naturopathic medical schools in North America. "Your 70s, 80s and 90s, if you go into them with more muscle mass, balance (and) strength, you're going to feel better."
Create a family calendar
Jeff Davidson, author of dozens of books including Simpler Living and Breathing Space, and speaker at conferences about work-life balance, preaches the idea of "managing the beforehand as opposed to dealing with the aftermath."
"You can take care of things the night before that would dramatically change what kind of morning, what kind of exit you have from the house the next day," Davidson says. Lay out the clothes everyone's going to wear or put important things by the front door, he advises.
An extension of this philosophy is to create a family calendar. Take a big-picture look at the week. When's the late meeting? What about the dental appointment? Who's going to take the kids to soccer on Tuesday? Around those, schedule workouts, date nights and fun. Plan out opportunities for healthy family routines and reduce the chance of frustration or surprise.
Shop/cook once a week
It's dinnertime on Thursday night. Nothing looks good in the fridge, and you're short on patience, energy and ideas. So you pack up the kids and take them out for drive-thru fast food or tell your spouse to come home with frozen pizza or takeout. Sound familiar?
One way to simplify your life, and your diet, is to dedicate one night a week to plan all the week's meals. You can prep fresh salad ingredients, bag and label lunches for the entire family, and even plan ahead for splurges and snacks. You have the convenience of a regularly scheduled shopping time, and you have some peace of mind in knowing you're keeping track of what your family is eating.
"Do it with your kids and make it a family activity that supports the rest of your week," Davidson says.
Clean out your garage
Do half-used Drano bottles, paint cans and fertilizer bags litter the sides of your garage? Are your shelves cluttered with tools, loose nails, junked parts and old toys? Clean it up before somebody gets hurt.
And what about all your things? Is your garage just a storage unit? A 2012 book published by the University of California, Los Angeles Center on the Everyday Lives of Families called "Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century," found only 25 percent of garages studied could even be used to store cars because they were so packed with stuff.
"I don't think Americans intend to collect so much," said co-author Anthony Graesch, an assistant professor of anthropology at Connecticut College who specializes in household archeology. "But we're really bad at ridding our homes of old possessions before buying new stuff."
Organize your medicine cabinet
Get rid of expired or leftover prescriptions. Double-check childproof caps. Make sure you know where the narcotics are. Consolidate similar items. Reduce the chance for accidents and availability of medicine for unintended purposes.
This is timely, given the country's staggering use of medication. A record 4.02 billion prescriptions were dispensed in the U.S. in 2011, according to a study in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience. That's an average of 13 prescriptions per person. That's a lot of bottles.
Over-the-counter medication can pose dangers too. A 2012 University of Cincinnati study found that adolescent boys were getting high off of decongestants and cough syrups found in their parents' medicine cabinets.
The Food and Drug Administration recommends taking precautions when throwing out unused medicine. Many can safely go in the trash. A few can be flushed down the toilet. A growing number of community-based "take-back" programs offer another safe disposal alternative. This year's national take-back day is April 27.
Grow your own lettuce
Perhaps you're growing a little envious of your neighbor's vegetable garden. But you're overwhelmed at the thought of turning your backyard into a farm. Start simply by planting lettuce seeds in a container. Add water, sunshine and a little care, and you, too, can harvest fresh greens all summer long.
"Leaf lettuce is low in calories, and a great source of vitamin C, potassium and fiber, and, best of all, it's delicious in salads," says gardening expert Ciscoe Morris in The Seattle Times.
Depending on what area of the country you live in and the kind of lettuce you plant, you might be able to grow lettuce all year. Gardening is a great hobby, you can bathe in vitamin D, and you'll get the benefits of moderate exercise.
Seed packets for even the most gourmet lettuces cost just a few dollars. Plenty of online sites will help answer any questions you have along the way. And you don't have to worry about ingesting mystery bacteria or chemicals, as you might with store-bought lettuce.
Make a will
Every adult knows he or she probably needs a will. But maybe writing a will seems too complicated or inconvenient. A 2012 study by the online legal service Rocket Lawyer found that 71 percent of adults under the age of 34 – and 41 percent of baby boomers – don't have wills.
Give yourself and your family some peace of mind, tie up financial loose ends, and don't leave room for misinterpretation when it comes to your assets and responsibilities (including your beloved pets). Consult a legal expert and create a will. You can even do it at home with software programs.
A living will, sometimes known as a health-care directive, also allows you to make serious health-related end-of-life decisions with your loved ones. Do you want your body to be cremated, or do you prefer burial? Do you want to be allowed to die naturally or do you prefer to be treated and resuscitated at all costs? What exactly are your wishes, should you become unable to express them? Put it in writing.
Pay somebody to help
If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed or lost, find somebody to help. Look online and hire a baby sitter, gardener, maid service, personal trainer, organizational expert or financial planner. If those are out of reach, consider the teenager down the street. Is it worth paying him $20 to mow your lawn? Could you use that afternoon for something more productive like quality time with your family, working out or catching up on something more important?
"I've written 59 books," says Davidson, who has trademarked "The Work-Life Balance Expert." "Well, I don't do my editing. I've used college kids for years." Davidson suggests identifying activities that you can hand off to somebody else, and making better use of your limited time.
"Even if money is a little tight in your family, you still gain," Davidson says. "For every hour or two that you're not involved in manual labor, you can be a better mother or father. I look for all the help I can get."
Take advantage of technology
Apps and online communities can help you plan and track your schedule, workouts, and diet and health-related goals. A 2012 study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 19 percent of smartphone users have downloaded at least one health-related app to make working out simpler. The Huffington Post's best Fitness Apps of 2012 include the Nike Training Club, Couch to 5K, Pocket Yoga, RunKeeper and Cardiio.
Calendar programs can help sync family schedules. Communications programs can help you reach whomever you want, whenever you want. And productivity programs like Dropbox can help digital packrats lose clutter and streamline work.
Wallace, at Bastyr, says even a simple thing like using a pedometer can help kick-start good habits. A 2009 article in the Harvard Health Letter summarized 26 studies that showed that pedometer users walked at least 2,000 more steps each day than nonusers, and regular pedometer users increased their overall physical activity levels by 27 percent.