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Streamlining Your Life

People frequently complain about a lack of time. Is there a realistic way can we steal back precious hours for what we really want to do? Streamlining your life may be the answer. Call a halt on “putting up” with things, which is essentially a trap that consumes energy and is not good for you.

We live in one of the most affluent cultures that the world has ever seen, with unprecedented access to technology designed to simplify our lives. And yet time is in short supply, taken up with people, possessions, tasks, habits, rituals and routines that make us anxious, drain our energy and do not give pleasure or add value to our lives.

John Lennon of the Beatles famously said: “Life is what happens when you are making busy other plans.” And busyness is contagious. While we are preoccupied with our self-imposed obligations, ambitions and endless to-do lists, our real friendships get neglected, our bodies expand and migrate south, our children’s childhoods pass, and we never get around to writing that novel/taking that trip/learning that skill or whatever our real desire or passion is.

It takes energy to be really happy with your life. Make a note of what’s currently dragging you down, and then add to it as you read through the areas of life listed below. Get rid of all the physical, mental and emotional clutter you have accumulated over the years and you will gain the time, space and inclination to enjoy life more.

Physical clutter

Physical clutter is everywhere: on our shelves, in our pockets, purses, cupboards and floors, even on our computer. Do you use it? Does it give you pleasure? If not, then get rid of it. The acquisition cost is in the past. Those things you hang on to use up your energy every time you pass them as you try not to notice them.

Identify the stuff you do not want. Now you have four choices: sell, give away, donate to charity, or dump. Keep the rest, repairing anything that needs fixing and organizing proper storage so that everything has a place. Tackle this in stages, perhaps an hour or one large item a week. It may be hard to start with but you’ll be amazed how good it feels.

Mental clutter

Mental clutter is an even bigger energy drain. It has three primary manifestations: information overload, aspirations, and busyness. All three are highly addictive and are valued by our society.

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Information overload is exhausting, as are unmet aspirations. Think of the silent reproach of the piles of books you’ll get round to reading “someday,” the uncooked recipes, the unwatched DVDs. Increase mental energy by giving up on at least one of your long-held aspirations, one of the vague ones that has been hanging over you for years. Also try reducing the media input in your life.

Delegate when you can and create systems to save time. Set up automated reminders of birthdays and other important events on your PC. Consider automatic bill payments. Alternatively, mark crucial dates on a wall planner. Establish a filing system for paperwork and organize appropriate folders for computer documents. Online shopping could save you time.

Emotional clutter

Emotional clutter is the most insidious of all. Why do we waste our precious time on social obligations that eat our leisure time without giving pleasure? Because we think we should? Because we like to feel needed? Or because we’re scared of being neglected or forgotten if we don’t go?

Aim to create new patterns and expectations for all the relationships you value. Eliminate “shoulds” by controlling the frequency, timing and duration of visits, phone calls and emails. If you no longer have the time or inclination, abandon long-established rituals, such as weekly nights out or monthly visits. Break away from the need to be needed; it seriously impedes your ability to streamline your life.

Free of mental, physical and emotional clutter, you will no longer waste time trying to manage situations that shouldn’t arise in the first place. Feeling lighter and happier, you’ll have more time for loved ones. You will have an abundance of energy with which to carry ideas and projects through to completion.

Reference and other resources

Passof, Michelle. Lighten Up!: Free Yourself from Clutter. HarperCollins, 2000.

Declutter your home

Declutter your mind

Streamlining Your Life

Jane Collingwood

Jane Collingwood is a longtime regular contributing journalist to Psych Central, focusing on topics of mental health and dissecting recent research findings.

APA Reference
Collingwood, J. (2018). Streamlining Your Life. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 9, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.