How to simplify your life and be happier

Simplifying your life is the first step towards creating a new, authentic you - and less can really be more, explains Jodie Hedley-Ward.

Children need nature, fresh air,paint, bubbles and love. Believe it or not, they can learn to live quite happily and healthily without designer clothing, a dozen extra-curricular activities, and a new toy every day of the week. Contrary to what most TV commercials and letterbox junk mail would have us believe, young children can actually thrive with less "stuff" than we think. What they can't be deprived of, however, is unconditional love.

We can be forgiven for thinking that buying presents, clothes, toys - indeed, the never-ending list of things that children seem to want - is all part of our job as successful parents. It's difficult to not buy into the notion that the more stuff we are able to provide, the better we are doing at being that perfect parent. It can come as quite a shock to realise that there is another way, and perhaps that other way will provide more genuine gifts and lifelong learning opportunities for our children than any materialistic purchases could ever hope to offer.

This simple approach to motherhood combines the pursuit of authenticity with a desire to have a simple, more joyful motherhood experience. Once you realise that the happiness you derive from life is usually found in experiences rather than material possessions, it sets you free. How often have you bought something only to find that the initial buzz from owning it soon faded as your attention moved swiftly to the next "must have" item?  The problem with seeking joy through things is that there is no end to that behaviour. There will always be something bigger and better vying for your attention, and eventually you will come to a point where either you are over-stretching yourself financially, or your home will be bursting at the seams with clutter and chaos.  

When you start to see the benefits in terms of more quality time to just be, along with fewer worries regarding paying the bills and maintaining a high-maintenance lifestyle, downsizing areas of your life can become a truly enjoyable process. There are three key areas where this idea of simplifying and downsizing can really work to alleviate stress and provide a foundation for an increasingly joyful existence for all the family:

Your finances
The transition into motherhood is often associated with a drop in income as two incomes become one. At the same time, household expenses are greater as purchases need to be made for the new arrival, and then there are the on-going expenses as your baby grows  up. Financial security by way of spending less than you earn, and reducing or eliminating debt, is a powerful way to feel good. It acts like an elixir that no amount of shopping can replace, as there is something so personally satisfying in knowing that you are in control of your life and finances. Some simple strategies to help simplify your finances are:
*  Organise a weekly budget to help you stay on track and live within your means.
*  Eliminate takeaways and eat good food prepared at home.
*  Reduce your daily spending by taking a moment before you purchase something to decide whether you really need it.
*  Replace babysitters with family and friends, who may be only too happy to help out if asked.

Your material possessions
A great deal of stress around the home can be attributed to a sense of disorder and/or clutter. If you are tripping over stuff, or half the things you own are stowed away in cupboards or under bed
s, then consider the fact that what you own is now hindering your ability to move smoothly and happily through life.

The good news is that these items can be sorted and either put to good use or eliminated. There are always worthy causes looking for used items in good condition, or consider selling things and using the money to do something nice as a family such as a special outing.

Some simple strategies to help simplify your material environment are:
*  Sort out the children's clothing and give away or swap anything that no longer fits.
* Books, magazines and papers - all of these have the ability to fill up our homes and make them feel disorganised. Resolve to sort through all papers and look through books to decide which can stay, and which can be sold or swapped with friends.
*  Restrict the number of toys you buy when out and about with the children. This helps them to grow into appreciative adults and helps to reduce the clutter in your home.

The commitments in your life
Another area where we tend to load ourselves up to breaking point is with all the things we sign up for in a week. There is only so much time in each day, and it is up to you to decide how you want to spend that time.

Designing a successful and happy life for yourself and your family means learning when and how to say no to others. It means guarding your time and assessing the impact something will have on your life before you agree to it.

Keep in mind that you are learning to say no to some things so that you are then able to say yes to the things that truly matter to you and your family. This is a critical factor to the long-term success of your family unit.

Some simple strategies to help simplify your commitments are:
* Look at where you can reduce the number of extra-curricular activities you do each week. This can free up valuable time and money.
*  Resist the urge to say "yes" to yet another request to fundraise or help out unless you really can and want to.
* Ask yourself if you are guilty of going overboard when it comes to events such as children's birthdays or family celebrations? Look at ways to reduce  the stress you place on yourself during these times by coming up with simple, creative alternatives.

Remember, these three areas offer myriad possibilities in terms of downsizing your lifestyle in order to upsize your quality of living.
*  The more financial obligations you can eliminate, the less stress and worry you will have.
* The more "stuff" you can learn to live without, the more organised and stress-free your life will become.
* The more time you can free up, the more relaxed your days and weeks will be.

Play around with this idea of "less is more", and watch as your life becomes simply abundant and more joyful.

Jodie Hedley-Ward is the mother of two pre-schoolers and the author of You Sexy Mother: A Life-Changing Approach to Motherhood (Exisle Publishing 2008). She has appeared on numerous television shows and has been widely published internationally, both in magazines and online. Her website has more information on Jodie and her work.



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