Simplicity isn’t necessarily about austerity. It’s about making your life easier. Here’s how.

Photo: lordsutch

I’m writing this article at a desk that’s in a state of barely controlled clutter. There’s a stack of books on my far left, piled nine high; a shorter but more rowdy collection of papers, magazines, and press releases to read on my immediate left; cords for two external hard drives snaking out of the laptop, and more books, notebooks, business cards, article clippings, two pairs of sunglasses, and an empty cup of coffee on my right.

This is no way to start a Monday.

It’s time to put some order to this mess. Streamline and simplify: it’s my project for this week.

If you’re in a similar situation, here are 5 ways you can simplify your life along with me:

1. Organize your finances once and for all.

In that pile of papers on my desk you’ll find bank statements, bills, notes to invoice clients, and brochures from the IRS telling me how I can be more responsible about taxes. I hate all the paper. And I have nowhere to file it all.

Let’s start organizing by getting our finances straight. I’m going electronic: paperless bank statements and bills and auto bill pay, for starters. I’m also going to move all my invoicing from paper to PayPal.

Photo: bandita

Finally, I’m going to take the online financial service Mint for a test drive. Mint is a free budgeting and money management site that lets you link all your accounts and track where and how you’re spending your money. Worried about privacy and safety? Mint is certified secure by VeriSign and TRUSTe.

Once a month, I’ll schedule a day to review all my finances online, making sure that bills paid automatically were correct and ensuring I’ve been paid by clients.

2. Get rid of clutter. No, really.

If there’s paper that’s been sitting on my desk for more than a week, I’ll be ruthless with it: Am I really going to read it? If not, it’s off to the recycle bin.

Once the desk is clear, I’ll tackle a few other trouble spots in my apartment: closets and drawers. If I haven’t worn a piece of clothing in a year, I’ll donate it to a local charity thrift shop. If I have lots of electronics I no longer use (and I do–chargers for defunct cell phones, spent batteries, a collection of USB cords), I’ll donate or recycle those, too.

3. Practice saying no, thanks.

One of the most valuable pieces of advice I ever received was from a taskmaster of a boss, who continually piled new projects on my plate (not surprisingly, these were never coupled with a pay raise). One day, after asking me to take on yet another new project, I hesitated. “You don’t have to say yes, you know,” she told me. “The only reason I keep asking you is because you’re organized, you’re professional, and you always say yes. But really, you should practice saying ‘No, thanks.'”

Maybe she was sorry she ever told me that, but it was a powerful lesson. And it’s just as useful in one’s social life as it is in one’s professional life. I’m going to practice saying “No, thanks” to requests of my time when the offer really doesn’t interest me.

4. Plan less.

Photo: Florian

Lots of simplify your life advice involves making lists about goals and priorities or designating blocks of time for scheduling activities that are important to you.

Personally, I think it’s a bunch of bunk.

When my schedule is packed tight with meetings, plans, and obligations, I feel pressured. I also feel guilty if I fail to uphold them. Do I have to go to the gym every day at 6 AM? Nope. I’ll get there when I get there, and I’ll feel a whole lot better about it.

5. Say good-bye to gimmicks.

My wallet and my organizer are thick with all types of “saver” cards, peddled to me by stores where I hardly, if ever, shop. It’s time to shred them and say good-bye. Even if I do shop at these stores, it’s not with enough frequency to accumulate their supposed benefits.

Community Connection:

What are your tips for simplifying life? Share your strategies in the comments below!
For more ideas about what do with all the clutter you’ve accumulated, be sure to check out “Random Things You Didn’t Know You Can Recycle,” one of the thousands of articles from Matador’s archives!