How to Simplify Your Life and Reduce Stress

Streamline and simplify your life to improve your health

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Today, people tend to work longer hours, their children have more activities and we generally have more packed schedules than our previous generations did. This can be exciting and enriching, but it can also lead to feelings of constant stress and chaos.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to simplify life, you’re not alone; the concept of 'voluntary simplicity' has been gaining popularity since the 1990s because so many people have felt the same.

Here are some of the main ways you can reduce stress while still engaging in your favorite activities. 

Clear Clutter

Many overwhelmed people live in cluttered homes. But, house clutter is both an effect and a cause of stress. A 2011 study showed that having visual clutter, like having stacks of books or piles of clothes around, triggered the sections of the brain related to stress. Clutter can bring a general feeling of uneasiness and can literally drain your energy, but getting rid of it is difficult for people with busy schedules. One strategy to simplify life by clearing clutter is to take 15 or 30 minutes each night to tackle one pile at a time, de-cluttering your house space by space. Another strategy is to take several hours one weekend and just be done with it. Either way, you’ll remove a subtle but significant energy drain from your life and replace it with the feelings of relaxation that come from having your home be a haven from stress. Keeping it organized and clutter-free can make your home a safe, stress-free place to relax and unwind. 

Cut Out Negative Relationships

You may already be aware of the value of solid, supportive relationships in your life, such as the friend who picks you up when your down, celebrates with you when you’re happy and shares events your life as they happen. You may not be as aware of the effects of conflicted relationships, like the critical, unpredictable or competitive friend. It turns out that these "toxic friendships" actually drain us more than purely negative relationships. This is because we don’t always have strong defenses against the people who are sometimes nice to us, so we can get taken off-guard. If you’re wondering how to simplify life, save yourself grief, frustration and drama if you take an honest look at the relationships in your life and decide which are worth maintaining and which should be let go

Automate What You Can

Getting some of the daily, weekly and monthly work of your life into an automated system can help simplify life and relieve stress in two ways: You don’t have to take time to do the work and you don’t have to clutter your mind by remembering to do the work. Making little changes that take steps out of your daily routine like setting up automatic timers to water your plants or turn off your lights, signing up for automatic bill pay options or getting off junk mail lists can be an easy way to simplify life. By putting in a little initial work, you can then forget about it. 

Live Within Your Means

To say that money can’t buy happiness is cliché. We all pretty much know this, and research has supported it as well. Many people carry large amounts of debt, leading to worries about making payments, credit scores and bill collectors. The key to avoiding this type of financial stress is simple, but not always easy: Live within your means. This can be a difficult change at first, but one that will bring great rewards, and can significantly lower your stress levels if you’re not living within your means already. 

Learn To Say No

Many of us don't treat our time as valuable; we over-commit to requests from work, school, and friends, leaving us with no downtime on our own. While most of us have busy schedules these days, it’s important to schedule time for exercise, hobbies and other stress relievers, as well as time for our relationships. One way to find this time is to get better at saying no to time demands that aren’t serving you. After you trade some of your more taxing obligations with some more self-nurturing ones, you should see a lasting change in your stress level, and find yourself living a more simplified life.

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  • McMains, S., Kastner, S. "Interactions of Top-down and Bottom-Up Mechanisms in Human Visual Cortex". Journal of Neuroscience, 587-597. 2011.