Set aside some time today and get ready to do some decluttering. Today’s task for 31 Days To Your Financial Future: minimize, organize, and focus.
I’m a firm believer in the value of a simple life. We live in a society that constantly tries to tell us that we need more, that we need to buy more, that we won’t be satisfied or valid or genuine if we don’t possess more stuff.
We’re pushed complicated devices and complex service plans and options, and asked to sign intricate documents crammed so full of caveats, exclusions, and contradictory language, all for the simple reason that complexity is an element that serves the very real purpose of parting people from their money.
Chasing all this stuff and all this complexity is just distracting, so much so that, left unchecked, it can get in the way of your ability to enjoy your work and enjoy your life.
Today’s topic is all about those three things: stuff, complexity, and distraction. All three are tied together, and reducing all of them provides a mental clarity that I think is so very important to have when you’re faced with daily financial decisions.
Let’s get started.
How much stuff do you own? Seriously, think for a minute. How many pieces of clothing or shoes? How many books? How many movies, or video games? How much makeup, or how many tools? What all do you possess?
How many of those things do you use regularly? Many of them, probably. Of course, you wear clothes every day. You may read daily, or spend hours every week playing video games with your friends. But do you use all of what you own?
What about that coat in the back of your closet that you haven’t worn in two winters? Or those jeans you’ve been hanging onto because “you might fit into them if you just lose a little weight?”
What about that book you keep because you “love it so much,” even though you only read it once six years ago? The ski equipment you bought a few years ago, but never seem to find the time to get out to the slopes? If you don’t use it, why do you own it?
Sentimentality and nostalgia are powerful forces. Things become precious to us for all sorts of reasons, some of them genuine, some of them imagined.
Think about some of the things you own. Would your life be less enjoyable if you didn’t own those things? I have a little brass naval spyglass on my desk that I received years ago from a friend in high school, and a small collection of old German beer steins that belonged to my grandfather. These items are truly sentimental; parting with them would not feel right.
But I also have possessions that I’ve been holding onto for no real reason. I have a copy of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. Wonderful novel, and Gaiman is one of my favorite authors. But I’ve kept this book for three years and only read it once. I don’t have any plans to read it again. The book isn’t out of print, and if Iwere inclined to read it again, I could very easily find a copy through the local library.
That copy of The Graveyard Book isn’t special to me the way my copy of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet
is special to me; that book showed me a way out of depression. I love it with an almost-religious reverence and I periodically pull it from the shelf just for the pleasure of flipping through it’s pages.
So why do I hang onto my copy of The Graveyard Book? Because Gaiman is “one of my favorites,” and that little bit of sentimentality has kept me from giving it away up until now.
When you tell yourself that you’re hanging onto something for sentimental value, or because you might use it, are you being truthful with yourself? Would your happiness be diminished if you sold that item or gave it away? How hard would it be to replace if you did finally need it? I’m not asking you to consider these things because I think you should necessarily go through your home and discard everything you own. I ask them so you can develop a mental filter to help you make conscious decisions about your future purchases.
When you find yourself tempted to buy something, that filter will help you; it makes you ask “Do I need this?” and “Will I be using this in six months?” and “Am I buying this to please myself or am I buying it to please someone else?”
If you feel inclined, take the time to clear out some old junk. If you like, see if you can sell it. If not, try to find a non-profit thrift store in your neighborhood. You can get a tax receipt for donating those items.
Americans work so hard. With the exception of a few other countries like Mexico and South Korea, we tend to work longer hours and take less vacations that just about everyone else in the developed world. Is it any wonder most people say the reason they can’t start their own business or go back to school or even keep their house clean is that they just don’t have the time?
You can declutter your possessions, but you can also declutter the processes by which you lead your life. What if, instead of waiting until your house is a cluttered mess to clean it up, you spent 10 solid minutes every single day cleaning something? My wife and I have been doing this, and I’ve got to tell you — our house is cleaner, the dishes get done, and the floors are clear of clutter. I work better, I think better in a clean house, and I think most other people do too.
Classic organization mantras like “A place for everything, and everything in it’s place,” are great to keep in mind, but organizing your life can mean more than just having a designated physical spot for each of your possessions.
Automation is a great way to do this. You can automate your bills and your savings, so you don’t have to stress over whether or not you remembered the pay the cable bill or send in that student loan payment. In some cases, you even get a discount or an interest rate reduction for automating it. With the right equipment and a little knowhow, you can even automate your home.
Sometimes it can be useful to minimize your options. Steve Jobs was famous for the black turtlenecks he wore every day. How long do you spend in the morning deciding what to wear? Jobs completely eradicated that decision from his day, so he had more time to pursue what he was really interested in. Maybe you don’t decide to start wearing the same shirt every single day, but you can apply the same principle of minimal choice to your own life. What if instead of folding all of your socks every time you did laundry, you just bought identical socks, threw them all in a drawer, and picked two every day?
Take some time and think about your daily routine. What steps could you take to streamline or eliminate certain processes? Once you free up time, how will you use it?
We juggle so many things. The kids have to be at this function and that function, we have an overload of stuff to do for work, most of us have social demands on our time like church or family gatherings. When we’re on our computers, we’re bombarded by distractions — social media, email, video games, YouTube. It’s hard to find time to sit down to do real, focused work towards bettering your future like practicing a marketable skill, going to the gym, or working a side-hustle.
My secret to this: I set aside a single hour (or other measurable block of time) for each thing that needs doing. During that period of time, I try to do nothing else.
I’ve mentioned our 10-15 minute cleaning sprees. I go to the gym three nights a week for an hour at a time. I read for an hour every night. I don’t have to struggle to find time to read; I plan for it. When my hour is up, I generally stop reading, even if it’s a book I’m really enjoying. I don’t feel any pressure to finish it NOW,because I know I’ll be reading for an hour tomorrow, and the day after that.
My wife and I usually watch ONE TV show per night, and we get our TV through streaming services instead of cable. We don’t typically waste time flipping through channels or trying to decide what to watch. We completely sidestep the pressure to keep up with a show as it’s airing, which has the benefit of letting us choose shows we want to watch instead of limiting ourselves to whatever happens to be popular at the time.
Lately, my wife and I have been setting a goal for ourselves every day. Before bed, we ask each other, “So what’s your goal for tomorrow?” A few days ago, my goal was to get our Adsense ads working with this blog’s responsive design. I was able to shape my day around that goal and get it done. Today, my goal was to sit and play video games for a few hours.
Does that sound like a silly goal? Maybe. But over the last week or so, I haven’t taken much time for anything fun like that. I’ve been working from about the time I wake up until the time I go to bed. So setting that goal was way to help me focus on my need for a little R&R.
Today, we talked about decluttering and minimizing our possessions. Tomorrow, I’m going to continue that train of thought, and share with you some ideas and resources to help you get rid of your extraneous junk — and maybe even make a few bucks doing it.
How do you minimize, organize, and focus your life?
Do you have any tricks you use to keep yourself organized and focused on your goals? Do you ever feel like your stuff is overwhelming you with clutter? What do you do about it? Tell us in the comments!