A journey through Emily Ley’s tactical tools for intentional living.
Life can quickly become chaos. Kids, jobs, marriage, church, sports, parents… We think we have our life down to a system, and one stick breaks, causing the whole house to come crashing down.
Setting yourself up for success in life isn’t as simple as just “keeping organized”. There is a constant development process that goes into staying well ordered and productive. That’s where most people go wrong. (This is definitely where I, personally go wrong too.) They complete the hard part, then have no idea how to structure the maintenance, so they find themselves in a cycle of perpetually having to complete the same tasks, and their homes and lives never get truly cleaned and streamlined.
What’s so great about Emily’s system, is that you can continue to evolve and develop as you go. Once the whole book is worked through, start at the beginning and work through it again. Staying organized and increasing your productivity is a constant process — A Simplified Life makes it easy.
Step 1: Just simplify. Don’t become a minimalist.
It’s important to define the purpose of the rooms in your house, and what you want your home to communicate to the people in it. If you can clearly define your objectives, it will make it easier to decide what items in your home are contributing to your happiness and which things might cause more stress than they’re worth.
Step one is all about defining your spaces, and clearing the clutter. Go through every possession. Organize, clean, and toss. Every time I go through this process, I try and gather at least a trash bag full of things from each room I can let go of. (My kids’ rooms usually get a contractor bag.)
Next, develop a system for keeping it clean. Every item in your house should have a home — a permanent place where it lives. We’ve adopted what we call a “one touch” system. We don’t shuffle things from place to place any longer. You’re not allowed to pick an item up, unless it is put back in it’s home. Otherwise, you could end up picking the same items up over and over again, just moving them from place to place, but never actually putting them where they belong.
Chapter 2: Simplified Style
Sometimes, it’s fun to dress up. Tonight is date night with my husband, and I’ll spend 45 minutes on my hair and make-up. I’ll drink a glass of wine, blast some Lauren Daigle, and invest in making myself beautiful for my spouse. But… While this is fun, this isn’t a realistic way for me to live every day.
In my make-up drawer, I have a single 8x5" make-up bag containing concealer, foundation, blush, eyeliner, mascara, lip gloss, and a small eye shadow pallet. I used to have drawers full of make-up. 45 different eye shadow colors, 15 lipsticks, different types of eyeliners, and a ton of other crap I never used but took up space and cost money.
My grandma wears White Diamonds by Elizabeth Taylor. She loves the smell, and it’s the only perfume she ever buys. She knows she liked it, and that it’s inexpensive. I asked her once why she doesn’t ever try a new scent. She said there was no reason to, she knows she likes White Diamonds — Why would she waste her time and money trying to find another perfume when she already has one she loves?
I took that sentiment and applied it to all the drawers in my bathroom. I just stock my favorite toiletries now. No more extras, no more impulse buys. Multi-level marketing makes this simple. I have a person whom I purchase all my make-up with. When I’m low on foundation, I shoot her a text and she sends me a new one. Not only is my make-up drawer streamlined, my make-up purchasing has been made easier.
In addition to a simplified bathroom, Emily also charges you with a simplified look. Get in front of the mirror and figure out how to fix your face in 5 minutes or less. I can do a full, fabulous looking face of make-up in about 2.5 minutes. Every now and then I stretch it out a bit longer, but being able to get ready quickly means that even if I’m running late, I don’t have to look like a slob. I get to look and feel fabulous any time, because it doesn’t take me very long to put my make-up on.
The same philosophy should be applied to your hair. Find a way to fix your hair in under 5 minutes or less in 3 styles. (Up-do, down, and half-up.) Master a handful of go-to looks, and no matter what you’re doing or wearing, you’ll be able to feel good about yourself and the way you’re put together no matter what social situation you find yourself in.
Once you’ve became an expert in 5 minute hair and make-up routines, turn your focus to your wardrobe. A small, capsule wardrobe with a few high quality staple items is better than a closet full of cheap clothes that go in and out of style. Pick out 3–4 “go to” outfits for each season, and if you’re in a rush, there’s no need to go out in your yoga pants, you’ve got a “never fail” option already lined up.
Simplifying your wardrobe and beauty routine can help you feel fabulous without much effort.
Apply the same idea to your kids’ appearances as well. Have a quick hair routine that works in a pinch for everyone. ( My girls wear a braid, or a messy bun if I don’t have time to tame their long, thick locks.) I also pick their clothes out for the week in advance. On Saturdays, we catch up on the laundry. As I put it away, I place all their clothes they need for the week on a shelf in their rooms. They don’t get into their drawers or closets at all, they just wear what’s already out. This has simplified our daily routine and allowed for less laundry since they’re not changing more than what’s necessary.
Step 3: Simplified Meals
Meal planning is a must. It doesn’t have to be hard. I prefer to eat fairly clean in our home. This generally requires a half day dedicated to meal prep, but you don’t have to get that involved to provide stress free meals for your family. You just have to plan.
This is how I keep my meal planning simple:
1. Designate the last day of the week (before grocery shopping) fend for yourself day where everyone is allowed to eat anything that is left in the house. This way, you’re cleaning out the old before the new comes in, and you also get a day off.
2. At least two nights a week, make easy meal plans. This could be pizza, going out to eat, fast food, frozen food, or something you’ve prepped. My easy meal nights are usually salads. I prep two salads a week, and when it’s time to eat, we pour them in a bowl, add croutons (we use pork rinds instead) and dressing, and serve.
3. Realize what’s important and don’t overdo it. I like to cook, but I realized I was spending most of my days in the kitchen, and I didn’t like that. I started cooking a big meal one night a week (meal prep day) and the rest of the week, I pop something in the oven or pour it in a bowl and serve. We eat delicious meals, but I’ve developed a plan that works for me and I don’t have to constantly stand behind a stove any longer.
Making Healthy Meals
How I prep and feed my family of 6 (mostly) healthy meals for less than $150 a week without using coupons.
The most important part of this is having a plan, then continuing to modify that plan as you figure out what works for your family, and what makes you happy.
Step 4: A Simplified Schedule
I’m not great at daily schedules, and this has been my downfall as a parent, wife, and homemaker. I am very good at doing projects, but not good at maintaining regular housework. I get bored and burnt out when I do the same thing every day, in and out… It doesn’t take much for me to throw in the towel and drown my failures in a marathon of Green Arrow or 2016 Election Night coverage.
Throughout this process, I have done much research and came across what is called the “block schedule”. (Just like we used to have in high school.) A block schedule at home gives you time slots to complete certain tasks, and when your time is up, you move on whether you’re done or not.
Each day of the week gets assigned a larger task. For example:
Sunday- Meal prep
Monday- Yard work
Wednesday- Car clean
These tasks receive a 1–2 hour block. (Except for meal prepping, which spans afternoon-evening on Sundays.) If the tasks are completed in less time, the remainder is absorbed into our family, free, or personal development blocks. There is a block each day for general house cleaning and upkeep (sweeping, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, etc.) and during the house cleaning blocks, everyone is required to participate.
Having a simplified schedule has made us more productive and given us more free and family time.
Step 4: Simplified Finances
I freely admit, I’m the worst at finances. I’m certain that if Emily Ley can figure this out with her complicated financial picture, so can I — but I struggle here. We own multiple businesses and have approximately 8 different revenue streams. I never took an accounting class in high school or college, and past keeping my personal checking account balances, I get pretty lost.
Emily suggests assigning tasks: Who is the secretary (in charge of day to day expenditures) and who is the CEO (in charge of investments, and the overall financial picture). I am the CEO in our house and J is the secretary. He makes sure we have the money in our bank account to cover bills, and daily expenses, and I make sure our taxes are submitted correctly and on time (I use a CPA — I definitely do not do my taxes on my own.) and stress out about our savings, retirement, and future.
I have a block of time each week that I use to study our financial picture, fill in spreadsheets, organize tax write-offs, and make sure our weekly expenses are properly recorded.
Paying off debt should also be a priority. People swear by Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover, and although we haven’t tried it because we don’t have any debt outside of our mortgage, we are applying some of the basic principles to paying that off as quickly as possible.
Step 6: Simplified Hospitality
Hospitality goes beyond just caring for a guest in your home. It encompasses being a compassionate spouse, and parent, and being a good friend. Emily provides simple steps to serving others without getting overwhelmed.
1. Plan talk time with each person in your family. Make sure it’s a priority to spend personal time with each child and your spouse every day. On really busy days, this may just be sitting beside someone and chatting on a car ride, or having them help you prepare a meal. Talking and engaging with your family regularly is one of the most important investments you can make.
2. Buy generic cards for birthdays, thank you’s, anniversaries, etc. Having blank cards on hand that you can whip out in a jiff, allows you to show people a level of personalized care and attention that is mostly lost in 2019.
3. Keep your guest bathroom and/or guest bedroom stocked. I try to do this with extra or left over items so I’m not purchasing new things.
Step 7: Simplified Technology
If you’re not careful, technology can take over your life. Your time, your freedoms, and your relationships can all easily be negatively manipulated by media and technology. In order your safe-guard our time, hearts, and productivity we need to set guidelines in place concerning our screens. Emily recommends some easy ways to make sure you’re not allowing your devices to take over your life.
1. Track your time on social media sites. Your phone, tablet, and computer will keep track of the amount of time you spend on social media. A lot of times, people touch the Facebook “F”, or the Twitter bird on their home screen out of habit. Then, they receive a jolt of serotonin and they stay on social media, often wasting hours every week scrolling their online news feed without really even taking in what they’re seeing. Limit your social media time by watching your controls weekly, and sticking to a maximum social media timetable.
2. Turn off your notifications. Rarely is there an actual emergency, and when there is, typically it’s a phone call we receive, not a text message or email. When we are constantly getting “dings” on our devices and we check them instantly, it interrupts our productivity. Instead, set designated times throughout the day that you check emails, texts, and social media notifications.
3. Make your devices work for you. Set reminders on your phone to help you stick to your specific daily routine. My phone goes on “bedtime mode” from 10pm-5am. I don’t get any calls or notifications during this time. Set alarms for typical block scheduling each day, and your device will keep you on track and remind you when it’s time to move from task to task.
4. Don’t be an over-sharer. Social media isn’t real life. It’s an online forum to share your ideas and experiences with your friends and family. Embarrassing photos of children or spouses should never be shared. Neither should personal information. Private parts of your life should remain sacred, and private.
Chapter 8: Simplified Self
Taking care of your own personal needs is an often overlooked, yet incredibly important part of your mental health upkeep. Women are very often running on empty. They are pouring into their families and aren’t always careful about pouring into themselves. This leads to a lot of emotional ups and downs for moms that could be avoided with purposeful self enrichment.
Designate at least a day or two a week for personal hygiene upkeep. Take an aromatherapy salt bath. Trim, file, and oil your nails. Wax or pluck your eyebrows. Give your hair a deep condition. Invest in yourself, and you’ll be better suited to invest in others.
“You have permission to make yourself a priority.”
Identify the situations that cause you to become overwhelmed and develop a plan to address them. If long car rides with your kids grates on your nerves, develop a system in the car that will allow you to reclaim this time with stress free productivity. Maybe it’s using the car ride as talk time, maybe it’s making the car ride quiet time and investing in quality content. (I love putting on positive content for the kids while we are driving.) If you get stressed out and overwhelmed during a specific part of your day, identify the issue and employ a plan to overcome and reclaim. “Identifying and alleviating these triggers is key to calming your heart and soul.”
Find an exercise routine you can stick to. When you exercise, you’re not only setting your body up for success in the future, helping stave off preventable diseases, and making positive deposits in your self-esteem bank, you’re also investing in your mental health. Regular exercise is proven to have a positive impact on your self-image, decrease your chance of depression, and reduce stress.
Step 9: Simplified Motherhood
Creating a routine that works for your family is important on the road to a simplified life. Simple charts and positive reinforcement works for most kids behaviorally. We use a tally chart on a chalk board in my office. Before bed, if the kids’ rooms and jurisdiction (one additional chore or space) are clean to my expectations, they receive a tally mark. Ten tally marks gets a prize. Don’t over complicate things, kids respond to simple ideas and systems. Figure out what is important to you, and structure your day and expectations around that.
“Affirming your children’s feelings, and gently and firmly correcting their missteps, and wholeheartedly celebrating their achievements builds character and trust between you and your kids.”
Have a plan when chaos takes over. With seven people living in our house, things are bound to get chaotic. Have a plan in place so you don’t get overwhelmed. Sometimes I tell my kids they have to go outside and scream as loud as they can, and run 5 laps around the house.
A lot of times chaos comes because of pent up energy and this allows them to get it out quickly and gives me a small respite in the meantime. Emily’s family has a “dance party” where they play a few favorite songs and dance and sing together. Sometimes, it’s throwing on a movie or favorite TV show. Other times, it could be going for a short car ride, or having them take a shower. It’s important find something that works for your family so you can hit a “reset” button when you need to.
Step 10: Simplified Faith
Be still and know that I am God. -Psalm 46:10
When we take time to simplify our lives, we are making more room for the things that truly matter: Faith and family. When our lives are less stressful and more streamlined, we have more time to focus on our relationship with God.
God and the Bible neither one are simple, but God’s command to love Him and love others is pretty cut and dry and a good starting place. God calls us to “…act justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him..” Simplifying our faith isn’t a call toplace God in a box. It’s a call to remember the foundational elements of our faith and spiritual relationship with our Creator. God is love, and we are to love others as he has loved us. It’s that simple.
Going through this process isn’t the end. It’s the start of an ongoing process. Working through a plan that simplifies and reorganizes your life is something that should happen over and over again. Decluttering your possessions, home, time, and mind is an undertaking that should be constantly evolving. I recommend going through this process quickly at first as a jump-start, then going through a task a month thereafter as a follow up.
Many moms that find themselves stuck in a rut are sticking to routines that used to work for them, but don’t any longer. Simplifying, streamlining, and destressing your life are actions that are constantly developed and refined as time goes on. It’s a never-ending process that can yield unbelievably fulfilling results.
Are you ready for a Simplified Life? Grab a copy of Emily Ley’s self-help manual HERE.
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Secret Coran-Stacy is an author, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and artist living the dream as a middle class suburbanite in Central Arkansas.