Our lives are frittered away by details.
— Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
I distinctly recall my parents saying to me, during all the years I lived at home, to turn up the lights and turn down the music. They certainly were not nagging parents and always wanted the best for me. This was helpful advice. But I rarely got it way back then, even though I complied with their wishes most of the time. At those moments when I forgot others lived in the house with me I was surrounding my very being with the music of the Rolling Stones, Harry Chapin, and The Doobie Brothers. I occasionally got so caught up in my own thoughts and teenage predicaments I was known to leave damp towels on the carpet, forget to tuck in my bed covers, and drape dirty clothes on the hamper instead of in it.
A neatnik I was not.
It’s still not a priority for me to have the perfect home, especially when I’m focused on a project. My powers of concentration are fairly exercised and over the years I earned the name “Ozone Joan” during those moments when I occasionally need to be called back into real time.
These moments happen less frequently these days as I zero in on midlife. I’m more aware of the bigger picture and when that picture gets loud and cluttered, I can’t seem to think as clearly as I used to. I sometimes stop and for a moment don’t know where to begin when there is lots of noise and commotion around me. It can feel overwhelming. This is unacceptable when you are goal-oriented like me and it’s a good day when things have been crossed off the “To Do” list.
It’s for this reason I’ve been enticed during the last couple of weeks to begin actively introducing simplicity into my life, each and every day. This world of instant messaging, e-mailing, Internet surfing, and downloading media onto an iPod is cool with limits. It’s now glaringly clear that my parents were wise. We need light and quiet at some point each day to live deeply and joyfully and productively. In addition, if we allow it, the clutter in our lives can and will dull our awareness of Him.
We’ll turn our attentions to the noise and the busyness and utter trivia that surrounds us. We’ll drown in it, even though He’s there. All the time. Always on watch. We must be mindful how easy it is to become disengaged and stressed and fritter away our valuable time with Him because we’ve been enticed by inane details.
When you take the time to quickly create a file and make use of it, you not only contain your clutter but you become organized. File children’s artwork (after a time on the frig!), photos, special occasion cards, appliance manuals, financial statements, and tax documents in clearly marked folders and you will save yourself a lot of time and aggravation. You can enjoy a family meal at the table because there is room.
Make use of a calendar
Whether it’s hanging on the wall, an Outlook calendar on your Blackberry, or a pocket organizer, take all those dates and get them incorporated into your schedule. Don’t depend on memory or write notes on scraps of paper. I begin my day by quickly reviewing my schedule and set an alarm in my Outlook calendar for each activity. I find it immensely helpful when I’m hopping from task to task to hear a gentle reminder coming from my computer that something is coming up needing my attention. My daughter Katie uses her phone alarm. Keep it simple and keep it consistent.
Focus on Each Day
Rather than worrying about everything, choose three tasks you’d like to work on, clean, organize, or accomplish. Rank your choices, if you’d like. All power to you if you get them all done and can add more. But if not, stick with three to eliminate the feeling of being overwhelmed and do those three well.
The motivation behind all these techniques to simplify your life is to increase your energy level so you can include time to get quiet and allow God to infiltrate your awareness. Clutter and anxiety, busyness and stress is noisy when you attempt to quiet your mind and heart. Without organization your mind will wander and your body will refuse to relax. Increased order gifts you with quality time to focus on God—to offer your praises and thankfulness, to whisper prayers for others, to read His promises, and to take this knowledge in deeply. We’re not talking intellectual experiences here. We’re talking about allowing these activities to profoundly mold our true selves so we can be love and light, hope and strength to those around us in solid, practical ways.
Turn down the noise. Turn up His light. Simplify. Simplify.