Sunday, August 26, 2012

How to Get Your Life Together in Three Simple Steps

It seems that when things get really  tough, the item "get my life together" always makes it on my to-do list. I would venture that this is the  case for a lot of people. I always feel like if I had my life together, my library books wouldn't be late, my laundry would get done, and I wouldn't constantly be flaking out on my family and friends. "Get my life together" is a cure-all balm for every ail in my life, no matter what stage or situation I'm in. If I had my life together, all my problems would be easily manageable.

I know that this is mostly nonsense. No one really has their life together, but like the model with artfully tousled hair or the Ikea catalog where everything is perfectly lived-in and perfectly neat, I can't help but idealize and sigh.

Wishful thinking was only getting me so far though, so I started to look at the systems in my life that did work, like regular credit checks, DVD organization, and grocery shopping. I know the list is haphazard, but these are the things in my life that work like magic, with low investment of my time and high yields of enjoyment and/or functionality. After a few days of analysis, I've developed a simple three-step process to get your life together.

1. Figure out what you love.
2. Eliminate the junk.
3. Go forth and do.

That's it. That's how you get your life together. Before you start yelling at me though, remember that simple and easy are two different things. Easy requires little work, but unless it was set-up with care, easy things often have disposable results. Simple things require effort, but focused effort with purpose, effort that will yield clean, clear, satisfying results. Before you can easily prepare dinner from scratch, you need to do the simple work of de-cluttering, organizing, and stocking your kitchen. Just because something is simple does not mean it's easy, but when you're establishing a routine or behavior, simple preparation will make future execution wonderfully easy.

Let's look more closely at the three simple steps to getting your life together.

1. Figure out what you love.

If you don't know what it is you want to do with your time, why are you bothering to free it up? Do you want to be with family, leave your dent in the universe, or just be free to enjoy a nice drink and a good book on a lovely day? What are your priorities, and how do they fit with both your goals for yourself and the basic necessities of life?

Having a hard time figuring this out? Look at what you like to linger on. Is it a good meal? A relaxing soak in the tub? Your favorite movies? Time spent with friends? What makes your heart sing? What do you "waste" your time on, but don't regret doing?

For myself, I love to cook, knit, garden, read, watch movies and TV, explore the world, keep in touch with family and friends, and spend time with my husband and our dogs. I don't care much for changing my home's look with the seasons, dancing, sporting events, eating fussy hors d'oeurves, quilting, rock climbing, painting, or spending much time with cats. All of these are valid activities, and can be enjoyable, but some I like, and some I don't like. Most importantly, I know which is which.

2.Get rid of the junk.

Junk is anything that gets in the way of your life. It clutters your home and mind, and hinders you from doing what you love, so it must go. Junk includes actual stuff that you don't use or love, routines that take longer than necessary or accomplish more-than-adequate results, behaviors that stifle your enjoyment of things and activities, and relationships that bog down your day or emotions. It will take time to get rid of all the junk, but you'll feel lighter, happier, and more content with each weight you shed from your life. Best of all, when you start to get rid of junk, you'll learn to recognize it quickly, and so be better equipped to keep it from entering your life in the first place.

It's easy (or at least easier) to identify physical junk, but behavioral and emotional junk is a little harder to root out. Do you hate doing dishes? Loathe chatting with your co-workers? Reluctantly do your grocery shopping? Or maybe things that are useful become junk when they're out of place. Are you tripping over clothes on your floor? Always stubbing your toe on that end-table? Frustrated with that floor fan when you don't use it in the winter? Lastly, and most difficultly, maybe your junk comes in the form of important relationships. Do your parents demand too much of your time? How often do your kids come to you when they're bored or hungry? Are there friends in your address book that you don't enjoy seeing anymore?

Once you've found junk in your life, it's important to eliminate it effectively. Purging paperwork is only helpful when you establish a system to keep it under control in the future.  Picking your clothes up off the floor once won't solve the long-term problem. Perhaps you need to place your hamper differently, or designate a corner of your room for a dirty laundry pile. If cooking's not your thing, embrace that. Buy frozen vegetables, canned sauces, and easy-to-prepare pastas and rice. You need to eat, but you don't need to spend a lot of time throwing a healthy meal together. Come up with standard replies to decline things, events, and activities you'd rather not deal with. If I don't want to say "Hell yeah!" to something, I often say "I don't have room for that, but thank you", "I'd love to, but that's just not my thing", and "I'm sorry, I need to ________ right now, but maybe later". Don't worry about explaining yourself; it's your time and resources that are being requested, so it only matters to you why you don't want to spend them.

If your relationships are what cause you problems, you'll need to get rid of the junk more carefully. Getting your life together isn't a good excuse to be insensitive, and some relationships are unavoidable. Setting clear boundaries, not acknowledging petty or belittling comments, and having a firm start and end time for activities are some good techniques for dealing with family members and work superiors.  Finding a different, better-tempered person  helps for clerks, cashiers, and customer service (it also does wonders if you're polite as well). For some relationships, firmly cutting off all contact may be the best solution, though I recommend you try the previous techniques at first, however, I've had to resort to this method for some more extreme, damaging relationships, and though I wish the person all the best, I entirely believe my life is better without them.

Cutting the junk out of your life doesn't mean those things or activities aren't valid or valuable, and limiting time with people doesn't mean you care for them any less; getting rid of junk is about making room for what you love, so that when you do let something into your home or share your time with some one, you can give your best.

3. Go forth and do.

Once you've figured out what you love, and gotten rid of the junk that's in your way, go out and live your life. You keep your house clean so you can have friends over and let your children play without worry. You've prioritize relationships that matter so you can spend time with those people, even if it just means taking an afternoon to talk about nothing in particular. You've streamlined household chores so you can spend more time creating something you love and want to share with the world. While you may have to repeat the first two steps often ( I know I do), don't become bogged down with dreaming and maintenance; go out and enjoy your life. Getting your life together may be a singular item on your to-do list, but maintaining your life is an everyday affair. Once you've invested in the simple work, take advantage of the easy routines to actually live a life you love.

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