Time poverty is often a mentally distracting and stressful side to modern living. Working full-time—particularly with kids and other dependents—means my list of household tasks keeps growing. Wobbly pot handles, fallen curtain rails, and replacing the fuse on the hair straighteners are all manageable tasks by themselves. But, unless I outsource them, it could be months before I check them off my to-do list. However, having grown up in a ‘handy’ household, paying someone else to fix things feels like an admission of failure.
While not typically one to make New Year’s resolutions, this year, I resolved to become my own Dread Pirate Roberts, make my household and life clear-ups manageable, and pull myself out of the to-do list quicksand.
Here’s how I learned to do it, a few tasks at a time.
Step One: The Bits
I select my frequent-use real estate and identify the space vampires. Household storage space, particularly in a city, is always an issue. No matter how many cupboards I add or cute rope baskets I buy, there is never enough space. What I’ve learned over the years is that there never will be. So stop hoarding. Say goodbye to that bag of hangers in the attic and that childhood art project. Cull what you can, take pictures to preserve the memory, and move on. There is freedom in letting things go.
Problem area: Pens
Despite mostly using digital tools to write, my unscientific observation is that pens love to breed. They spill forth from mugs—or, if you’re fancy, a decorative pot—whereby removing one results in their united upheaval and spillage. Same with shampoos and deodorants in the bathroom.
Solution: Put all but three or four in a ziplock bag and tidy them away in a less conspicuous location. You’ll always have backups this way, and it also helps with decision fatigue. For instance, former U.S. President Barack Obama limited his choices on low-consequence things, like choosing a suit, to keep his mind sharp for more important matters.
Problem area: Kitchen paraphernalia
We all have a “pretty” garlic press/lemon squeezer/set of chopsticks/mug/tupperwares, etc. But let’s be honest. No matter how stylish they may be, these are surplus items and not actual kitchen requirements—just acknowledge the old trusty is your go-to and accept it.
Solution: Purge! You don’t need them. Give them a new lease on life. I recommend passing them on to friends moving into their first home or dropping them off at a thrift store where one person’s throwaway is another’s treasure. You’d be surprised what people will pick up if you post them for free on Facebook Marketplace. And those single-use takeaway chopsticks? Great kindling if you’ve got a fire pit, but if not: time to say goodbye.
Purge areas can also include your handbags/backpacks, items in your car, the vegetable drawer in the fridge, desk drawers, the “man drawer” (we all have one, regardless of gender), the bathroom mirror cabinet, etc.
Start with one, and slowly make the rounds over time.
Step Two: Energy Drains
Problem area: The phone and social media apps
With all the information on how much time is wasted on social media, you’d think people would have become savvier to the black hole they disappear into every day. It’s 147 minutes on average. We’re time-poor yet still surf the socials, which are not feeding the human need for social interaction. For most people, this is a passive bystander activity rather than an intentional interaction.
A few years ago, I created a folder on my phone containing apps labeled “Time Wasters.” Now I have to make an intentional choice to go and waste time. Those apps are no longer on my home screen; I must swipe to find them. Has it worked? Somewhat. I no longer jump on Imgur or Facebook without consciously choosing to do so. If I do, it’s at my own peril.
I also work on making my social media apps, such as Facebook, less time-wasting and more social by performing a friend cull every year. I look through my ‘Friends’ list and think, do I care about this person’s life? If the answer is no, they’re culled. They will no longer appear on my feed, and I will likely never think about them again. Sounds harsh? Have you ever written a personal message or genuinely interacted with that Facebook person? If not, you probably won’t give them a second thought if they disappear from your feed. While our society tends to value the number of social media followers we have, it should be about the quality of the community we cultivate.
Your contact list also deserves a second look, especially those former work colleagues who have piggy-backed on the data transfer each time you’ve updated your phone. The only reason you remember their names is that when you try to text Claire from work, the old Claire from five years ago pops up, and you accidentally send her a message intended for new Claire. Time to say bye-bye to old Claire and her number.
Problem Area: Real-Life “Friends”
Let’s face it: some people are simply not good for you—the amount of negative energy they require is no longer equal to or less than the positive enjoyment and love they bring. In your 30s and beyond, time is your most valuable asset, and maintaining good friendships should be an intentional action.
If I’m choosing to spend time with someone, my phone is not on the table when I sit across from them, and I am definitely not checking it. As my colleague Ross Chandley wrote, phones are ruining relationships. And it’s not even generational—old and young alike are glued to the screens.
The reality is, investing in your friendships should produce a quality ROI. If it consistently doesn’t, if a meet-up requires an agonizing lead-up and fraught wind-down, maybe that person no longer fits into your life. (Of course there are caveats to this, as your friend might be “going through something” and needs to be cut some slack for a while.) Memories alone are not a good enough reason to keep a friendship alive when other friends nurture you, cheer for you, and challenge you to be better. So, grow up and have the conversation if the friendship is of true value to you—silence inevitably leads to resentment.
In the long run, where you invest your time and energy is up to you, but this year, at least once a week, make an intentional ‘spring clean’ of an area in your life or home… and make loving yourself a focus, not an afterthought.