Episode 103: 4 Things I Did in July to Simplify My Life

The series continues with July’s installment of small things that add up over time to help simplify your life.


Show transcript:

Welcome to the SimpleMoney Podcast, where we make personal finance less intimidating. I’m Dawn Starks, a financial planner and lover of the simple life. I’m here to talk about money and simplicity. Let’s dive in. This is episode 103: 4 Things I Did in July to Simplify My Life. So as I’m recording this in September, I’m thinking back to the things that happened in July. And of course I wrote about it,

so I’m going from that as my outline here, but I do remember July being just super, super hot here in Asheville, North Carolina. But you know, I got a lot of rest compared to how I did in June where I could not get my sabbatical going properly because I was just going, going, going, I did slow down in July and that was

a blessing for me. So I got a lot of writing done in July, which is great. I got, I actually finished writing my book, Simplify Your Financial Life, which now I’m hot on doing final editing and getting all the formatting done. So that’s all that is taking up my time now.

But you know, when I look back at my calendar from July, there is a lot of pencil on there. So I switched to pencil not too long ago because writing in ink on my calendar and then crossing things off or using white-out tape or you know, all those things, was just making a big mess. So I decided, kind of stupidly and belatedly,

because I know better, pencil would be a smarter thing to do because then I could just erase things and it wouldn’t be so messy. But looking back at my calendar – and I like doing this, it’s probably, I probably shouldn’t do this because it kind of makes me unhappy sometimes. But I look back at the prior month after it has ended and I look back and I just kind of see how filled are the boxes on the calendar?

Was it really, really filled? Were all the days filled or were there some days that had nothing on them, that were just empty days with regard to not having obligations or reminders or things to do. So despite the fact that I was off work all of July, there were still too many things going on, so that wasn’t so great.

But one thing that I’ve become better and better at is recognizing what I call the “cray-cray”. So when I see it, when I see the calendar starting to fill up, then I sort of say, I call “Whoa!” on myself and I say, “Whoa. Got to slow down, got to stop, you know, obligating myself to other things or taking on new,

you know, new responsibilities or activities or whatever.” So that was the first thing that I did in July is that I said “No” to things. So, I mentioned my calendar was pretty busy. And so despite being on sabbatical and purposefully not trying to be busy, I was filling it up. So the only way that it wasn’t even more crazy than it turned out to be is that I did say no to quite a number of things.

So it’s kind of – it’s a little embarrassing. If I was to show you what the calendar looked like and then talk about how many other things I could have added to it, it would be a little bit insane. But taking, you know, saying no takes practice, it really does. So in general, I’m a people-pleaser, you know,

I want to help people. I want to be busy, I want to be productive. That’s how I thrive. It’s how I feel like I’m at my best. I like to say yes when people ask me to do things, whether it’s a social engagement or something they need help with. And it’s taken me many years to get to the place where I can say no without feeling guilty or like I have to explain myself.

Although I will tell you that I do tend to explain myself a little bit, but it usually has a different purpose now. So instead of trying to make the other person know how terribly busy I am and why I can’t possibly honor their request, because that’s what I would normally do. And I would certainly do that if what they asked me to do

was something on my calendar where I did have a legitimate conflict, then I would say so. But now I really want to strive for honesty. If it’s on my calendar and I have a legitimate conflict, I will say so. If I have nothing on the calendar but I know that the week prior or the week after or just the month in general is too busy for me,

then I’ll say, “No, but thanks.” But I want to be a little bit honest and I’ll say, “It sounds fun and we appreciate the invitation, but that’s our free day at home.” So I’ll actually tell people and why do I do this? Well, because it helps reinforce to me that it’s okay to do that. That just because the box on my calendar is empty and someone asks me to do something or go somewhere on that particular day,

just because it’s empty doesn’t mean I should do that thing. I need to think long and hard about whether it aligns with what we’re trying to accomplish in our lives right now. You know, what are the priorities that we have and if it’s just not, even if it sounds super fun and even if these are the people that we love most in the world,

I’ll say no. And I’ll say, “That’s our free day at home.” Now you may or may not be surprised to know how the response has been to that kind of an answer. When I give that, when I say no and I say it’s because it’s our free day at home – in other words, I’m admitting we don’t have anything going on that day,

but I just am still going to say no to your request or your invitation – most people are like, “Yeah, good for you! Good for you for leaving that space open and not just filling it up and being honest about it.” So people tend to really appreciate the honesty and they appreciate that I’m trying to maintain my priorities to have empty days and white space in our calendar.

So the second thing in July that I did to simplify my life was to slow my roll a little bit. And so, you know, it’s embarrassing I think sometimes, when I explain how I function most days. Most days are super frenetic. I’m hyper-focused, but I’ve got a jam-packed calendar and none of those things

are super healthy. So July was all about really being purposeful for me to make very short to-do lists. I usually have a fairly long to-do list, I’m getting better and better, but in July I really, really was focused on not having more than maybe three to five, depends on what they were, things on my to-do list.

And those were all that I had to check off in a given day rather than the usual 10 or more things, of which then I would only get, like, three done. And so that was awesome because it was great to come to the end of the day and have all of my things crossed off, even if there were only three or four or five.

But it felt good to do that. And so that is a habit that I’m trying to continue. I’m not perfect. So certainly some days, especially if I have a day that I don’t get everything done, even if it was only three or five things, and then the next day I just roll those things over. And now the three to five things I have on the new day are accompanied by the one or two things I didn’t get done from the prior day.

So that tends to snowball a little bit. And then I have to really give myself a talking to and figure out how I’m going to cut back on some of those things. The next thing that I did in July is I blocked out time to read. So I read a lot. Always. I’ve always, I’ve always been a big reader and I read every day,

but this summer I have probably watched more television than I’ve watched over the last 10 years total. And I know that sounds probably like an exaggeration, but that is not an exaggeration. So we are pretty much a no-TV, or video, family. We would very rarely watch a movie or something on the television. We just don’t,

we just don’t watch television. But this was the last summer of homeschooling. And it was the last summer of the life that we had while we were homeschooling, before Rowan headed off to school in August. And that was, you know, that was her first time ever in school. So it was a very significant shift for our family. And so it was

a difficult summer, for me for sure, but it was just us trying to get into new patterns and find new things and new ways to spend time together. So Rowan and I got into a television series called The Adventures of Merlin. And every evening for weeks, we watched at least two episodes of that program and totally enjoyed it,

but it really cut into my evening reading time. That would normally be the time when after dinner we clean up the kitchen, we get things tidied up or ready for the next day, take care of the pets. And then normally Rowan would go read and I would go read until it was time to go lights out. But I mean it completely replaced that.

By the time we would watch a couple episodes and then go to bed, we were ready for lights out. And so when the Merlin series was over, you would think that I would stop watching television, but we didn’t, because I really was loving spending this time snuggled on the sofa with my daughter because we were not spending the time doing schoolwork throughout the day.

We phased it out through July and were pretty much done by August, but we were not spending that time together during the day like we had previously while we were doing school. So this was kind of a new thing for us. So we started a new series called Once Upon a Time! And we are still in that series,

that series has seven seasons, at least, last I checked, and lots of episodes each season. So, every evening when we watch one or two episodes, it’s like I can feel my brain cells dying off every evening. But it’s fun, it’s what Rowan and I do together now in the evenings.

And it’s just been super enjoyable and a super fun series to watch. So what I had to do was I actually put reading on my list every day. That sounds super dumb, right? Like on my to-do list, I put reading on there to remind myself throughout the day that I needed to get some reading done because I wasn’t getting it done in the evenings like I was used to.

So remember, in July I was on sabbatical, so I had extra time during the day. I wasn’t working all day, every day. And so I would spend some time, I would stop working in the afternoons on whatever I was working on, and take an hour or more in the afternoon to pick up a book and sit and just relax and read.

And so that was a good thing for me because that is not a normal pattern for me. Normally the daytime is for go, go, go. And then the evening is for reading and you know, kind of decompressing and then hitting the bed and going lights out almost immediately. So the last thing, the fourth thing that I did in July to simplify my life was the only decluttering project that we did in July,

other than sort of a normal day-to-day keeping things tidy sort of thing. So we decluttered under the kitchen sink. And so this is kind of speed tidying, because I’ve been known, or actually what I was starting to say there is that sometimes when we’re tidying up really quickly for something like when somebody is coming over,

I would shove stuff under the kitchen sink. Things that were on the counter that didn’t need to be on the counter but didn’t really have a place to live, would just get stashed under the kitchen sink. So that kind of got accumulated under there. So Rowan and I did kind of a speed cleaning of the kitchen cabinet. So I had her pull everything out of the cabinet, and then she wiped out the cabinet and cleaned it all up. And then we sorted all the things that came out and figured out which things did not belong in the kitchen at all, or rather just certainly did not belong under the kitchen sink.

So we either put them where they belonged or sometimes they went to the garage if it was something we just needed to store. Like for instance, there was some extra hardware that came from when we finished building the house, almost five years ago, there were some additional pieces to our sink that were just stored under there.

Well, those don’t need to be under the sink taking up space, those can go in the garage, we won’t need them unless something, unless we decide to add a soap dispenser or something else breaks. And then some things went in the trash, you know, there were cleaners under there that might’ve had a spray or two left in them.

And so we just, I just got rid of them. And so what was left was really pretty minor. It’s a big cabinet under there and I really only had a couple of things to put back under there. You know, the normal, the usual suspects, dish soap and the dishwasher detergent and sponges and things of that nature.

So we arranged them under there and voila, it was done and it was gorgeous and amazing. And so that felt really good. I love, love, love decluttering projects that are really small like this. And if you are interested in decluttering your life and simplifying your life, you should love them too. Because when you have a project that you can get the entire project done in 10 or 15 minutes,

start to finish, then that’s going to feel so good to you because you’re going to feel like, “Ah! I’m making progress. Even though I only was able to spend 10 or 15 minutes on it today, I made real progress!” It’s not like when you have to clean out a closet and you pull everything out of the closet, and maybe that in and of itself takes

20-30 minutes, and then you feel demoralized because you look at all your crap and you don’t really have any energy now to start sorting it and putting it back and organizing it. So these little projects, you should relish them and enjoy them when you can. So as I’ve said before, with this series of the things I’m keeping track of every month

to simplify my life, these all add up. You know, they may sound silly to you, these small little things, but if you start to pay attention to doing things daily or weekly in your life that are taking you one step further down the path towards simplifying your life or having a more minimal footprint in your life,

you’re going to notice over time. So you’re just, so instead of making these grand sweeping gestures and Marie Kondoing your whole house – which if you can do it, bravo to you, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but you will have maintenance that has to be done over time – and so just taking small steps over time is going to keep you going on the path, or keep you on the path if you did it all in one fell swoop.

So, you know that kitchen sink project – do you have any idea how long that was on my list? Forever. I mean really forever, and I felt so stupid after having done it because it took so little time to get the entire project done that I thought, “Why have I been taking all this time? Writing it, and then rewriting it, and rewriting it on my to-do list?”

And so that was kind of a big deal. And blocking time for my reading smack in the middle of the day, that was like a dream come true for me. Of course that went away when I went back to work. But still, now I know it’s possible and it’s something that I really enjoyed. So I will certainly keep that in mind.

But you know, the most important thing of all those things I mentioned for July was to keep that to-do list as short as possible every day. Keeping it to three to five items. And sometimes it was maybe two or three items per category. Like maybe I had some SimpleMoney tasks to do, or some writing tasks or some work tasks or home tasks.

Those are my four big categories. And maybe just a couple of things per category. So it might be eight things total. But I tried to be careful and thoughtful about not having too many big projects on the list at once. But that made a big difference because if I could get them all done in one day, boy I felt really good about things at the end of the day.

So again, they’re small things they add up over time. You can implement this too, in your life to get yourself in a slower, simpler rhythm just by taking these baby steps. Share your steps or things you’ve done to simplify your life with me. You can email me at dawn@simplemoneypro.com. You can also join the free Facebook group, SimpleMoney Community and you can share your thoughts there with like-minded friends.

And that’s it for today. We’ll join you next week. Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the SimpleMoney Podcast, be sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast player. We’d love it if you would leave us feedback and a review. And don’t forget to check out my blog at simplemoneypro.com. There you’ll find dozens of posts about financial issues that matter to you, as well as thought-provoking pieces about simplifying your life. Bye for now.


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