Episode 92: 4 Things that Simplified My Life in April, and One that Didn’t!

Another month, another handful of small things that have helped Dawn simplify her life. This time, she includes a decision her family made that actually made their lives more complicated. Don’t discount the power of baby steps!


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 92: 4 Things that Simplified My Life in April, and One that Didn’t! So here we are again, back again with another month’s worth of small changes or decisions that I made that simplified my life in some fashion.

But this time I’ve included a change in our family that has totally NOT simplified our lives. It’s very much added complication to our lives, but I thought it would be helpful to point out that sometimes our journey to living a simpler life is not a straight-line trip. Sometimes you’re going to move forward three steps and then move back a step, or even two, or even three – and sometimes four.

But you’re going to have bumps in the road. And so whether or not they’re intentional, like the one that happened to us in April, or unintentional bumps in the road. So without further ado, here are four things that I did in April to simplify my life. And then the one thing that the Starks family did that has not simplified our lives. So the first thing that I did was I strategically bought a dress.

So now that probably sounds silly to you, but listen, I don’t like wearing dresses. If I had my druthers, I would just wear jeans and a t-shirt all day, every day. But sometimes for work functions I have to wear a dress. And sometimes for other, you know, more formal functions

I have to wear a dress. And my firm does a Ladies’ Tea every spring. And so every year, at least once, I have to wear a dress in the springtime. So, for the past few years, I’ve been wearing the same dress to the tea, and just assuming that a year has passed, people won’t remember what I wore last year, and I’ll just wear the same dress.

But I thought this year, you know, it’s our 20th anniversary as a firm, maybe I should splurge and get a new damn dress. So I did, I decided to go and get a dress. And so dress shopping is not a fun task for me, clothes shopping in general is not a fun task for me, but dresses, it’s

not awesome. So, you know, here’s my motto, when I go to buy dresses; I want to get in – or buying ANY kind of clothes – I want to get in and get out. So I want to get in, get what I need and then get out. So I am not one that’s going to go and look at four different stores to see what’s where,

and maybe compare things that I find in one place and another, no way. I’m going to go to a store, just a regular, run-of-the mill department store. I’m going to get what I need, and if that store doesn’t have what I need, then of course I would be forced to go to another store. But in general, I have good luck going to this one department store, and I just go in,

I get what I need and I get out. And so if I can get in quickly and get out quickly, then that is extra good for me. So, I’m going to spare you the details of the whole ordeal, because believe me, it was an ordeal for me, but ultimately the dress that I bought was a kind of a rich,

royal blue color. And so now at first, you know, my idea was that I should buy a spring-colored dress. It was, after all, a springtime Ladies’ Tea. And so, you know, the springy-colored dresses, that’s sort of what I had in my mind going in. But, I found this dress and I thought, “Okay,

this dress can really be for all seasons, because I could certainly put a wrap on it if I was going to wear it in the cooler months. And it was perfectly fine, it was being sold in the springtime, so it certainly wasn’t not appropriate for a spring or summer use. And the main thing that really attracted me to this dress is that if I was to buy a light-colored dress,

I was going to have to go and buy some light-colored shoes. And I don’t have light-colored dress shoes to wear with dresses. I have one pair of low-heeled, black pumps. Simple pumps, there’s no ornamentation on them at all. One pair, that’s it. That’s all I have for dress shoes. And so if what I buy doesn’t go with those shoes,

then I don’t buy it because I don’t want to have to go and buy another pair of shoes, that I will wear, you know, once in a blue moon. So this was a total win for me, because I got this dress that was of a color that would work in any season. It would work with my black shoes, so I didn’t have to go and buy another pair of black shoes. And it was on sale!

So it was a total win. So I was on top of the world when I left the store that day, thinking what a total coup that I had just made. So that was one thing that I did in April that simplified my life. So it didn’t actually for that day, but going forward by adding this dress to my little, tiny

work clothes arsenal, it gave me a lot of possibilities for future use. The next thing that I did in April is that I turned down several social and charitable events. It’s super easy for us to get over committed in our schedules. I’m sure you’ve probably had this experience, you know, especially if you have kids in your house,

kids have obligations that you have to get them to, you as an adult have obligations, your spouse or partner might have obligations. And so there’s just all kinds of things, and if you’re not careful, you can fill your calendar up really quickly. Well, for us, it’s the same. We have these sorts of challenges, but also on top of that,

is that both my planning firm, but also as a personal, family contribution, we do a lot of charitable giving throughout the year. So, you know, a bonus, or a downside, depending on your point of view of that, is that we get invited to a lot of events. So charitable events that are,

you know, fundraising for the various charities and whatnot. And so they always look really interesting. And of course we support these organizations, so it’s not that we wouldn’t want to support the organization. But the thing is, is that we could, in the springtime – you know, about the time that I wrote this post about my things in April

that I did to simplify my life – I must have had maybe like a half dozen different invitations to different charitable events that were happening in the spring. And so I thought, “You know, I can’t do that. I don’t have time for that and it’s not a priority.” And so it took a lot of I think just focusing and being aware when the mail would come in and I would open one of these invitations and I would say,

“Wow, that looks super fun. Or, wow, that looks really interesting. Or, wow, I love this organization and I would really love to go and support them.” And ultimately I don’t like saying no to people, I don’t like disappointing people. So it’s been a journey for me to get to the point where I’m just going to say

no, I just don’t have the time to do all of these things. And so certainly attending charitable events, while it would be a lovely thing to do, it’s not one of my top priorities. Certainly being here and available for my family, and making sure I’m getting my work tasks done, those are certainly higher priorities. But it’s still difficult to say no.

So in April, what I did, you know, that helped me simplify my life was I really, I focused on how I felt about those invitations when they came in and decided to decline them. And I declined ALL of them. I didn’t go to any of those events. There were a couple of purely social events in there as well that

I just declined. I decided not to do it. So that helped out. And it kept my calendar clear. Or maybe I should say more clear. I didn’t keep it completely clear, for sure! Alright, so then the third thing on my list of what I did in April to help simplify my life is I did something that I am now calling tidying up by walking around.

So I wrote about this method of tidying my house in my weekly newsletter, the SimpleMoney weekly newsletter. So if you’re not a subscriber, you should be, it’s free, and there’s content in there that doesn’t typically show up anywhere else. I am going to talk about this one thing here, but I gave more detail in the newsletter. You can just go to the website,

simplemoneypro.com, and then up at the top, there’s a button to subscribe to the newsletter. As I said, it’s free, comes once a week and it has content that’s not available elsewhere, and it also will always kind of keep you up to date of what’s going on with SimpleMoney. So what is this tidying up by walking around?

Well, let’s say that if we were saying on a scale of 1 to 10, if 10 is like perfectly tidy, our house is normally like 7 to 9. We’re pretty good about staying on top of clutter in the majority of the house. There are certainly areas in our house that are not very tidy, but on the whole, you know, probably 80% to 90% of the house

stays quite tidy most of the time. We just stay on top of it. We all like to be tidy. I shouldn’t say that, my husband and I like to be tidy, my daughter is a work in progress. We’re trying to get the brainwashing complete so that she will like to be tidy also. But she gets forced to tidy things up

and so that keeps her bit of it in order. So, but what happens though, is sometimes we have a busy week where we’re out and about and we’re going, going, going, and things just start to get crazy at the house and out of hand. Because it’s so easy to just walk in the front door and plop the stuff down,

and then maybe later you put part of it away, but you don’t put all of it away because you think you’re going to need it again, or whatever. For whatever reason, things start to accumulate on counters, on the dining room table, in the hallway, by the front door. So there’s various places that are kind of clutter-collection sites where things just start to pile up. And then,

you know, one morning will come along when I’m looking around and I’m thinking, “Wow, this is crazy. Look at how messy this house is!” And so, what I don’t like to do is to devote a whole morning to cleaning up the house. Instead, what I would prefer to do is just sort of do it ad hoc. So what happens is I’ll notice,

“Ooh, wow, this is kind of, you know, this is a little bit messy today.” And so what I’ll do is I’ll just pick up an item and go take it to where it goes. And then while I’m in that other room, where I’m putting the item away, I might see something else that’s out of place. And so I’ll pick that up

and take it to where it belongs. Sometimes I’ll pick up two or three things at a time, so I’m not just necessarily doing only one thing, but the point of it is, is that I’m just walking around and picking things up and then taking them where they go. So I know that sounds really silly, right? And it sounds completely inefficient.

Why wouldn’t I stay in one room and just get the whole room tided up? Well, sometimes I do that, but, and sometimes I’ll pick up multiple things, you know, I’ll pick up five or six things, however much I can carry, and go drop them off at four or five or six different places, wherever they are supposed to be.

But, the reason that I like doing it this way is that I walk briskly in the house when I’m doing it. So I’m kind of zipping around doing this, and so it kind of gives me a little bit of movement in the day, that maybe picks up my energy level some. And I also try to challenge myself,

so I’ll look at the clock and I’ll say, “I’m going to give myself five minutes, and see how much of this stuff I can get put away in five minutes.” And then I just start going, I just start walking around. And so I pretty much don’t go into a room without picking up something else that needs to go away, even if it needs to be carried back to the same room I just came from.

And so I’m just kind of moving around. So this is what I would refer to as gamifying some housework. So there’s actually several things in my life that I like to gamify. I like to make a game out of it, and that just makes it feel less like a chore. And it makes it feel a little bit more like, “Oh, it’s just something that’s,

you know, I’m occupying my time right now.” And actually, so, here recently, since I wrote this, I actually now will put on my podcast, because I do that usually on the treadmill and sometimes I’ll do it – or I oftentimes will listen in the car – but sometimes I’ll do it if I’m doing some housework or something,

but now I might actually put it on while I’m kind of doing my quick-tidy. And then that gives me a little bit of extra bonus enjoyment because I get to do something that I like to do, that I’m not just sitting around wasting time, theoretically, listening to a podcast, I’m doing something active while I’m doing it. So you might try tidying by walking around.

So you’re just buzzing around, and tidying up and just making a little game out of it so that it doesn’t feel like such a chore. So now, here’s another bonus that has come from doing that, doing the tidying from walking around. So now, I kind of am in the habit of scanning my area for items that are out of place.

So for example, if I’m working at my desk in the den, and there’s maybe a cup or a mug or something there, and I’m heading into the kitchen or somewhere else for something, I’ll pick up what doesn’t belong and take it to where it goes, on the way. So I sort of have automated the response that I have, of picking up things that are where they are not supposed to be and putting them away.

So I kind of automatically tidy just a little bit throughout the day, all the time, in order to sort of keep things under control. So it sounds like I do a lot of tidying, but it’s not really that much. I mean, it amounts to, you know, a few minutes every day, I mean maybe max 10,

15 minutes a day. But what it does is it keeps the house under control. It keeps the house from getting completely bonkers. Alright, so the fourth thing that I did that helped simplify my life in April is that I worked on my morning routine some. So this has been a very, very long work in progress for me. So one of the ways that I like to

kind of stay on track and feel like I’m being productive, is by getting a lot of things done before breakfast in the morning. I’m an early riser, so I’m the person in the house that’s up before everyone else. And so I am always trying to get as much done as I can in those morning hours when it’s quiet and I have the house to myself.

So I consider my best days are those when I’ve gotten some writing done and I’ve gotten some exercise in. And so when that doesn’t happen, I kind of feel disappointed in myself at the end of the day. Even if I got a whole bunch of other stuff done, it’s like, “Well, gosh, I didn’t get my writing done, and I didn’t get any exercise today.”

So – other than maybe buzzing around tidying the house, I guess – so that’s why it’s really important to me to work on this, and see if I can improve on how I’m working my mornings out. Because what started happening, prior to April, is that I was getting into this really bad habit of checking email and news and social media

first thing. So after I get up and out of the bed, and I greet the pets and I make my tea, then I was sitting down and getting sucked into email, news, social media. Alright, well, I don’t know about you, but those things can be an absolute black hole, and they can also kind of put you in a crappy mood, depending on what’s going on in the world, or what’s going on in your email box.

So I thought, you know, I need to make some adjustments here and I need to cut back on doing that first thing, because it’s really getting, it’s taking too much of my time and it’s really getting me out of sorts. So what I decided to do is that, in the evening now, when I’m closing down my computer,

before I go to bed, is that I put my journal right on top of my computer, in order to remind me to do some morning pages when I get up in the morning. So that means just free writing a little bit in the morning, that was actually a tip that I got from reading something by Tim Ferris.

And it’s just to sort of get your juices flowing on things. And it also serves the purpose of getting things that are on your mind, out of your mind and onto paper, so that you’re not then distracted by those things that are floating around in your mind while you’re trying to get constructive or, you know, important work done. So, now, instead of immediately firing up my computer,

which would have been the crummy habit that I had developed where I would get my tea, sit down, open my computer, start browsing email and news and social media. Now, instead I have to write in my journal, my morning pages. So that’s what I would call a disruptor. So by putting the journal on top of the computer, I can’t open the computer and do other things without having to move the journal.

So it’s right there in my face, and so then I have to do it. So it has caused an alteration, or disruption, in my morning routine. So that’s been helpful. But you know, so far overall, I would say I would give myself a C+. And since April, since of course, now I’m recording this and it’s June, I haven’t really improved. I would say it’s still a C+, I’m doing the best job that I can on the morning pages, but immediately after that, what I would really like to be doing is getting into whatever that day’s writing project is. So instead of falling into the internet.

So I’m still getting too much internet time in that peak time of the morning where I really can be the most productive. So I still am a work in progress on that. And that’s all I can say. Because it seems like it would be really easy, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it seem like it should be super easy to just get the writing done and get my running done, before I get on the internet?

Right? That seems like, “Well, gosh, Dawn, why can’t you do that?” Right! I mean, but to me it feels like it’s just about as difficult as walking past the donuts, you know, in the kitchen at my office. People will bring in donuts, and they’re sitting right there and you have to walk by them,

and how difficult is it not to have a donut when you see a donut box right there?! So, it’s difficult for me not to want to just check, just, “I’m just going to check, really quickly, and see, you know, what’s happening in the world. Has, you know, the world gone mad? Has something blown up?” Whatever, I just want to know!

You know, has anything happened during the night that I need to know about? And then of course, you know, “Well, what about my email box, inbox, what is in there, you know, that might need my attention today?” So it’s like, I’m well-intended because I want to be well-informed and I want to be taking care of my business,

but at the same time, what it’s doing is, that’s derailing my good momentum in my good energy in the morning, by taking me, oftentimes, into the rabbit hole of the internet, where you just end up reading stories, and then you read more stories, and you click on something else, and then you just check, “Oh, let’s just check Facebook really quickly.”

And before you know it, you know, time is wasted. So, still a work in progress, I’m a strong C+ on that whole morning routine thing. And now that it’s summer-summer, and I have a different rhythm in my mornings, I’m sort of back to having problems

getting these things done in the morning. But I’m going to keep working on it and I’ll report back. Now, what is the thing that the Starks family did in April that is NOT simplifying our lives? Well, we doubled our family size by adopting five chickens. So prior to the arrival of the chickens, on the 30th of March, we had three adults,

I mean, sorry, three humans in the family, two adults and one child, and then a dog and a cat. So there were five of us. And now we have doubled our population by adopting these five chickens. So this may seem sudden, but it wasn’t really. Greg and Rowan had been talking about raising chickens for eggs for a long time.

But, you know, over the years, it’s like, “Well, we travel so much. We can’t have chickens. You know, somebody has got to be here with the chickens. We can’t just have them.” And we usually travel with our dog and our cat, so it just wasn’t practical to have chickens. But we decided to cut back on our travel, for a lot of reasons that I’ll go into later on in the summer,

but we are not traveling as much as we once were. So we thought, “Oh, the time is right to have chickens.” So, let me just say chickens are not simple! So, when they first got to our house and they were in a big box in our bathtub, when they were itty bitty and they needed to stay warm – because of course here in the mountains of North Carolina at the end of March,

it is not warm outside yet, certainly not warm enough. And so, you know, the dust and just the mess that happened in our bathroom was one thing. And so that added to our chore list. But now we’ve got them outside, and they’ve got a nice henhouse, and they’ve got a place to be, and they’re safe and comfortable,

and there’s still chores, of course. And these chores, fortunately, are not on my plate, unless Greg is out of town. Rowan has chicken chores that she has to do. And then there’s things that Greg takes care of, like watering the garden and whatnot. And so I have to take care of those things when he’s not here. But the reason that these chickens,

even though it’s largely not my responsibility to take care of them, and wasn’t from the beginning, it does add to my mental load. And maybe you know what I’m talking about, that, you know, I think women in particular have this mental load that we carry around, even when it’s not our responsibility, we still are thinking about things and we’re going to remind our family about things,

because that’s just how we women are. That’s just how we’re wired. So having the chickens has added to my mental load, because now I’ve got to worry about the chickens. Because they’re outside, and of course we have predators, which we’re making all the precautions to make sure that nothing happens to them, but still, there’s worry. So,

that’s an additional thing kind of on my plate in the sense that it’s a mental load. And that’s just because I’m a worrier. But, all these things are a work in progress for me. So, remember, as I’ve said in the prior episodes when I’m talking about these little things that I’ve done in my life to simplify my life –

except this chicken thing, that was not a simplifier – you know, all these little things they add up. So there’s just all these small shifts or lifestyle changes, nothing major, just small things that I’ve done, or that we’ve implemented as a family, that have helped simplify my life. And so, think about that in your life because it doesn’t take big things, necessarily.

You can certainly make big changes in your life that will simplify your life, but all the little things add up over time. And so all you have to do is make small changes to your routines, to your household, to the items that you keep in your house, whatever, if you just make small changes over time, incremental changes, then you’re going to see big differences when you pass through a bigger period of time.

So, you know, months can go by and you can look back and say, “Wow, look at all the progress I’ve made!” Or years go by and you can say, “Wow, look at all the progress I’ve made, or that we as a family have made.” So just remember that those small little efforts do add up. So I’d love to hear from you about what things you’ve done in your life to simplify your life, small or large.

So you can certainly join the Facebook community that we have. It’s a free Facebook group called the SimpleMoney Community, so you’re welcome to join us there and have conversation. You’re also welcome to email me: dawn@simplemoneypro.com, and let me know what sorts of things you’ve done in your life. And as I mentioned before,

if you’re not already a subscriber to the newsletter, please feel free to subscribe. It’s free, it comes once a week and it does provide some additional information that’s not available on the website or the blog, or even on this podcast, except the rare time when I mention these things. So, that’s it for today.

So I will look forward to being with you next time. 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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