Archive for the Minimalism Category

How to Embrace the Basics of Hygge (Even in a Small Space)

How to Embrace the Basics of Hygge (Even in a Small Space)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are you’ve heard the buzz about the concept of hygge. The basics of hygge are about adopting a warm and cozy décor.

But for many people this means buying a lot of extra items—candles, blankets, or decorative items like pillows. If you prefer a minimalist lifestyle, and especially if you live in a tiny home, adopting the basics of hygge seems tough at first (but once you get started, it’s pretty easy).

embrace the basics of hygge

I was lucky to go on a spur of the moment trip to Stockholm in 2018. It was an amazing experience that really let me see just how prevalent the concept of hygge is in Nordic cultures. I was hanging out in Copenhagen and had a few days to explore, after spending Christmas with my family in Germany. Since it was my first time there, I had no idea what to expect.

Hygge was everywhere! There were charming Christmas markets, beautiful twinkling lights, churches, coffee shops, quaint stores, and museums (that managed to be both light and cozy at the same time). I really enjoyed the atmosphere and I couldn’t wait to implement some of the ideas I learned about the basics of hygge into my own home.

So, here’s what I learned during my visit to Sweden about hygge. This will help you add more warmth and comfort to your life without buying items you don’t need.

The Basics of Hygge

the basics of hygge in a small cozy space

Hygge is pronounced “hu-guh” and means warm and cozy in Swedish. It doesn’t only refer to furniture, blankets, or candles. Hygge is more of a concept or a lifestyle and it’s a big deal in Nordic countries.

The concept is quite popular in cold climates because, obviously, when the weather’s chilly, you want to stay comfortable. When you live in a small space or have limited resources, you may wonder how to still invoke a relaxing, calming feeling in your home.

To me, it’s even more important to make a small space relaxing. In a larger space, you may find more flexibility, but it can also be more difficult make larger spaces have that cozy feel. You can add lots of options. The light of a TV or overhead fluorescents aren’t as harsh in a big room. Small living, on the other hand, is all about embracing the cozy.

This may seem like a winter-only concept, but the truth is, you can implement the basics of hygge all year round. Apply the principles to your living space and you’ll find your home is more relaxing, comforting, and feels happier. It’s about a shift in mindset.

What I Learned About Hygge in Sweden

what i learned about hygge in sweden

As I said before, during my time in Copenhagen I was lucky to have a few days to explore. I really fell in love with the atmosphere and the overall vibe. When I was there, the concept of hygge really stood out to me. You’ll see the word pop up a lot in comments and reviews of different spots. Most places I went in were around 80-85 degrees (much warmer than the 75-78 degrees considered normal here in the U.S.). They really amped up the heat there.

People in Sweden also wore a lot of hats and winter accessories. They’d dress in layers with jackets, scarves, gloves, and more. So, even when people were indoors, they’d often wear several layers. In addition to wearing plenty of layers, people in Sweden love to wear sweaters.

With the long winters, there’s a lot of nesting going on, especially since the winter is so long and cold. The people of Sweden take hygge seriously, making a really cozy place to spend a good chunk of their time throughout the year.

hygge winter in sweden

There are other ways they accommodate the long winters as well. Coming from a building background, I couldn’t help noticing, that despite the really cold climate Swedish windows are typically very large. Usually houses in colder climates feature smaller, more efficient windows. But in Sweden, since the winters are long, many people have huge windows in their home to let in as much natural light as possible.

While this isn’t as efficient for heat retention, they’ve made the decision to prioritize natural light exposure. It keeps the people there feeling mentally healthy and happy during the winter months, keeping away seasonal depression disorders. This is especially key since they don’t spend a lot of time outside for at least the good part of the year.

Now, what does light have to do with coziness? A lot! Following the basics of hygge means keeping your space really bright, utilizing a lot of natural light. The décor is often quite minimal, with plenty of openness and texture. Again, hygge’s more of a feeling than anything else.

warm cabin interior

I saw lots of natural materials—wool and cotton. Textiles used in interior design are often natural and highly textured as well. I saw a lot of big fluffy blankets and soft pillows. The colors are often lighter and soft as well. This all contributes to a comfortable, relaxing atmosphere.

One of the biggest parts of hygge is the lighting. Lighting is a HUGE deal in Sweden. I saw candles and twinkle lights nearly everywhere I went. Almost every home has a really great focal fireplace in the center of the room (as opposed to the United States, where we often see TVs as the centerpiece). If a family has a TV in Sweden, it’s often hidden or set off to the side.

Softened edges, plenty of texture, neutral colors, warm wood tones, and earthy colors all contribute to the feeling of hygge along with the natural light. You see a lot of plants—succulents and leafy plants—because when you’re spending so much time indoors, plants help recycle the air and improve the air quality of the space.

candle lighting in sweden

There’s a lot of thought put into the vibe of each room when applying the basics of hygge. People think of the atmosphere and feeling more than the look or style of the place. The feeling of hygge is achieved alone or with family and friends. It’s found in a public space or in your home. What it really means is cozy, charming, light, warm, and relaxing.

Most importantly, you can’t buy hygge. It’s not about adding more stuff to your space. It’s really about clean, cozy, comfort. For this reason, you often see natural materials used in hygge design, rather than plastics, bright colors, or cold, metallic surfaces.

Adding the Essentials of Hygge to Your Home

the essentials of hygge

No matter the size of your home or the current style, adding hygge elements and accessories will create the feeling you desire. Remember, hygge is about ensuring most items serve a functional purpose. So, for example, a fireplace may serve as warmth, a cooking hearth, and a light source. Blankets are used for snuggling up on the couch, sleeping in your bed, or folded as cushions on the floor.
If you want to add the basics of hygge to your home, here are a few ways to create a soft, cozy feel.

1. Add and Use More Blankets

add blankets for warmth and a cozy factor

Warm, cozy, fluffy blankets are perfect for cuddling up and reading a book in front of the fire. Look for blankets in natural materials and light colors. You’ll see a lot of cotton blankets (especially helpful in the warmer months we see here in the United States), down comforters, and big, chunky knitted afghans. Oftentimes, blankets are used as seating, for padding a bench, or draped across the end of a bed to use as needed.

2. Layer Up in Warm Clothing

layer up for warmth

Now, if you’re like me and live in a warmer part of the United States, you may not need all kinds of layers. That said, a soft sweatshirt is practical and helpful, especially in the spring and fall when the weather gets chilly in the evening. I’ll admit I’m partial to hoodies when a chill comes into the air. Scarves, sweaters, gloves, and hats are a big part of the hygge “look” but obviously it’s all about being practical. If the weather’s warm, there’s no need. A pair of comfortable slippers or a nice warm set of socks may be plenty.

3. Embrace Mood Lighting

mood lighting in a hygge space makes it feel calm

The basics of hygge include making the most of lighting. Hygge focuses on natural, warm light and following the rhythms of the sun. So, during the day, bright sunshine through a window is nice. In the evening, warm, soft lighting from candles and strands of soft twinkling lights help you wind down and meet the time of day. Changing switches to dimmer switches is an easy DIY project and can tone down the mood of a space to the perfect Hygge lighting feel. This style of lighting is certainly practical for any lifestyle, especially the tiny life. I prefer to use natural light whenever possible.

4. Warm Up with a Fireplace

cozy fireplace for warmth on a cold winter night

It seems like everyone in Sweden has a fireplace. It’s a great way to invoke the feeling of hygge. However, if you live in a small house, you may have a wood burning stove, a firepit outside, or use another heating method. You can still get the feeling of hygge using candles and soft, dimmed lighting in the evenings. This helps prepare you for sleep and creates a toned down, relaxing atmosphere.

5. Enjoy Warm Drinks

enjoy warm drinks

Most of us enjoy coffee all year round. I like to drink mine out on the porch in the morning before I start my day. This helps me destress, prepare for the morning, and gather my thoughts. If you’re not a fan of coffee (or prefer hot drinks later in the day), how about a cup of hot chocolate or tea? Cozying up with reading material, a soft blanket, and a warm beverage is the ultimate way to unwind and get the hygge feeling (no matter the time of year).

6. Move Away from Technology

embrace simplicity

While we may not think of hygge as synonymous with minimalism, they do have similar values. With hygge, you embrace cozy simplicity. This means putting down your phone, turning off the TV, and taking time for more mindful activities. Reading, listening to music, and even journaling will help you get into the spirit of hygge. As I said, I barely noticed TVs in Sweden, and they certainly weren’t the focal point of the room. Taking a break from your phone will give you a chance to relax, feel less stressed, and get refreshed.

7. Declutter Your Home

declutter your home

Here’s the deal, many people own stuff just to, well, own stuff. They forget the purpose of owning stuff is to serve a function and enhance your life. The essentials of hygge living, include decluttering and letting go of stuff that weighs you down. Hygge should help you feel safe, cozy, and happy, not weighed down and stressed out. This means cutting out the clutter and parsing down to what really matters. Buy quality items that are built to last.

8. Avoid Hard Edges

avoid hard edges in hygge

With soft fabrics and fluffy textures, hygge is all about softness and comfort. This means natural materials without sharp, hard edges and lines. Furniture and room décor should fit with this comfort-focused approach as well. Plants and lights, wood, stone, cotton, wool and other natural components are important to creating the feeling of soft, fluffy hygge.

9. Create a Space to Gather

create gathering spaces

I typically prefer to entertain or gather outside when I have visitors, but this doesn’t mean an outdoor gathering can’t still invoke the basics of hygge. When your friends are enjoying themselves around a campfire in the yard, wrapped in blankets, enjoying conversation, it still fits with the idea behind hygge. When you live in a small space, entertaining is often a challenge, so organize the room around your kitchen table, your stove, or fireplace (rather than the TV). This helps people connect without distraction and enjoy each other’s company.

10. Enjoy Comfort Food

enjoy comfort food

One of the biggest ways to enjoy hygge all year round, in any space, is to embrace comfort food. The concept of hygge is all about being warm and welcoming. Mealtime should fit with this same philosophy. Think of a delicious bowl of soup, golden cornbread, or a yummy pot pie. Even in the summer months, a delicious bowl of chili is everyone’s favorite and there’s nothing better than pasta on a cold winter day, right? Focus on foods that are warming, rich, filling, and delicious for the ultimate comfort.

If you’re looking to make your home a more relaxing place of retreat and rest, embracing the basics of hygge are a great way to do it. Even if you live in a very small space, it’s not about adding more stuff to your home, but selecting functional, natural items that will bring you comfort.

Your turn!

  • What are your favorite ways to make your space comfortable?
  • How do you relax and create a cozy feeling?

How to Destress Your Life

How to Destress Your Life

how to destress your lifeI get asked for advice by a lot of readers. One of the most common is how to destress your life and live a simpler, calmer existence.

Now, I’ll admit, paring down and living a life with less stuff has helped address the root cause of my stress quite a bit. The simpler your lifestyle, the less chaos you need to worry about. Minimalism lends itself to a calm, orderly way to focus on what matters.

But, of course, there are plenty of times when I get stressed out about money, too many commitments, or social drama. Even though I’ve managed to cut way back on the typical stressors, there are times when I still have to step back and destress. So, if you’re wondering how to destress your life, here are the practical steps I take to cut out the chaos.

1. Recognize Your Stress

recognizing stress

Many people don’t know how to recognize stress or figure out when they’re feeling it. Yes, there are obvious signs of anxiety or distress, but with “normal” stressors, many people don’t even realize how much they’re feeling.

Sometimes, small stressors will eat at you. You won’t realize it until you’re completely stressed out, seeing effects on your sleep, eating habits, and happiness. This is especially common when people are very busy. You may look back on periods of your life and think, “Woah, my stress was way out of control and I didn’t even know it at the time.”

Personally, when I get stressed, I clean. Suddenly it’s a Wednesday afternoon and I’m scrubbing down my kitchen and I’ll stop and realize there’s something weighing on my mind. I don’t normally grab a broom and start cleaning just because. It’s typically a sign I’m really feeling pressure and I need to figure out how to destress my life.

recognize what gives you stress

Maybe cleaning isn’t your coping mechanism. Some people eat sweets, some people run, some people sleep, others stop sleeping, while others lose themselves in a TV show or video game. Whatever your coping method is, it’s important to recognize it.

If you recognize the signs of a stressful time, it will better help you know how to destress your life by taking the right approach to mitigate the problem. From there, strategize ways to address the root cause of your distress.

Some people experience common signs of stress, while others show very minor symptoms that go unnoticed (but still ultimately take their toll. A friend of mine told me she really only notices she’s stressed when every little thing gets under her skin—an offhanded comment, traffic, minor inconveniences. Another friend grinds his teeth in his sleep.

Discover your signs of stress and learn to recognize them right away. This will help you start to plan your approach to address the stressors.

2. Cancel One Appointment

cancel one appointment to reduce your stress level

If you want to know how to destress your life, take a look at your calendar first. How packed is your agenda? How much free time do you have scheduled? Is your calendar full and your to-do list long?

The first action I take when I’m feeling stressed is to look at my schedule for the week and find something I can cancel. It doesn’t matter if it’s a fun social outing with a friend, an activity I had planned, or a show I have tickets for. I write it off.

Now, a lot of people push back on this idea. There’s a lot of guilt tied up in our commitments. People are convinced they can’t possibly cancel anything.  It would be laughable how predictable humans are on this point if it weren’t for the fact their health was taking a hit by being so stressed. So, put aside your excuses, your reasons, just choose something, and cancel it.

cancel appointment to make life easier

Even if you live a minimalist lifestyle and simplify your routine as much as possible, chances are, your calendar still gets booked now and then. Be mindful of how you schedule your time.

The counterfoil to stress is time to step back, catch your breath and collect your thoughts. What helps you destress? Is it exercise? Cooking? Reading a book? Whatever your hobbies are, take that chunk of (now free) time and enjoy yourself.

Going forward, learning to say “no” is one of the most empowering actions you can take. Avoid scheduling or committing when you know it will cause you undue stress. Learn to say no to perceived obligations and let go of feeling guilty. Remember, when your schedule is less stressful and packed, your work will improve, you’ll feel happier, and you’ll get more enjoyment out of the activities remaining on your calendar.

3. Fix the Actual Problem to Destress Your Life

fix the problem to fix stress

Many people attempt to fill up a leaky bucket by adding more water instead of stopping the hole. When it comes to stress, people feel like they should pour more time, energy, and effort into the problem, rather than addressing it at the root. This is a vicious cycle, one that will run you into the ground, leaving you sick, tired, and worse off than before.

The next time you’re wondering how to destress your life, step back and ask, “Why am I stressed about this? How did I get in this situation in the first place?”

Money is a good example of this. People often stress about their finances and debt without addressing the root cause. How do you minimize your spending and figure out a way to stop living a lifestyle you can’t afford? I’ll admit, when I decided to shift into tiny space living, it was mainly out of financial necessity. I realized I simply couldn’t afford to live otherwise. Once I made the choice to address the problem, money became much less stressful. I could afford the way I was living and that was freeing.

I still push myself to address the money stress often. I’ve been on a buying freeze for the last year (buying only consumables and necessities), which has gone very well. I’m surprised at how much it’s helped me really focus on my needs and prioritize.

what bothers you, fix that

There’s not enough credence given to creatively fixing problems, either. For example, if your house is always a mess, instead of stressing out over cleaning (or not having enough time to clean), why not look into how much a housekeeper costs? Is it worth it to you to hire a housekeeper and eliminate the root cause of your stress? Another example: I hate doing laundry. I pay $15 per week for someone to do my laundry. Is it an extra expense? Yes, but it’s 100% worth it. One of the most stressful jobs on my plate is gone.

We can often fix problems simply and cheaply for good if we think about new ways to address our stress. Can you afford to outsource the problem? What could you do preemptively to avoid the problem in the future?

If you have financial issues, could you schedule time to review your budget each week or month? If you hate doing dishes, could you commit to rinsing them each night before they pile up too much? Could you schedule laundry time twice a week to avoid falling behind?

4. Set Up Rituals and Routines

setup routines to help with the chaos in life

Ritual and routine are the secret way to destress your life. When we face chaos and uncertainty, it adds to our stress. Even deciding what to wear each day, what to eat, or how to plan your workday all become additional stressors.

Minimizing your lifestyle helps to reduce these extraneous stressors immensely. For example, dressing in a sort of uniform style takes the stress out of deciding what to wear to work each day. You don’t have to eat the same food for lunch every day, but packing your lunch routinely each night will help you prepare without hassle in the morning.

When you wake up every morning, aim for a similar time. Set up a regular morning routine (especially since mornings are notoriously stressful for many people). Wake up, take a shower, make breakfast, sip coffee. Personally, I like to drink my coffee on the front porch while I figure out my plan for the day.

set up routines to help with every day stress

These rituals become anchors for us in times of chaos. The idea is, even if your life is a mess over there, you know what to expect over here because you have a ritual and a routine. It helps to create more balance.

Be sure to build in something you really love in your daily routine. Take a short walk, listen to music, check out a podcast. Whatever it is, that calms you down, build it in. Take time for those little rewards so you feel refreshed and recharged.

On the same note, don’t let your ritual or routine become an obsession. Stress often stems from fighting against the flow and trying to keep up with everything in our lives. If your routine breaks for a day, no big deal. You may forget, may not have time, or may simply want to do something else. That’s totally fine. Don’t beat yourself up about it.

Staying on a routine even offers health benefits like better sleep and less anxiety. So yes, it may seem a bit boring to stick to a routine but in the long run, it will help you figure out how to destress your life and keep up with whatever life throws your way.

5. Schedule Time for Nothing

schedule nothing to make life eaiser and happier

When I had a big corporate job, there were times when I had to create pockets on my schedule to destress (and to keep my boss and coworkers from requesting my attention). I would put a webinar or another “away” note on my calendar, giving me a little uninterrupted time to finish up my projects, think creatively, and problem solve.

If your schedule is back-to-back all day, you may need to sign yourself out of your email, put an away message on your office Slack channel, or simply block out “busy” time on your calendar. These little breaks give you a chance to breathe, collect your thoughts, and will honestly enhance your performance.

schedule nothing to relax and enjoy life

If you can’t afford to take time out of your workday, be sure you’re at least taking full advantage of your breaks and lunchtime. Employers should give you time to get in a walk, eat your food away from your desk, and recharge. There’s a tendency in today’s corporate culture to see if employees can out-do each other by taking on more and more work. This tendency leads to burnout and stress.

When you’re out of the office or outside working hours, take time for yourself at home as well. Allow yourself time to do the activities that refresh you and recharge your batteries. Block out time on your calendar to simply think or if you like, meditate. No matter what you do, don’t feel guilty about it—this free time is helping you perform better at your job and life!

6. Put Away Your Phone

put away your phone and enjoy life

Phones are a real problem for many people. Try as we might, most of us can’t get rid of (or put down) our phones. There’s a constant barrage of messages, notifications, emails, and activities pulling at our attention and eating away at our time.

Unless you’re a doctor, a heart surgeon, nurse, or EMT, most telephone communications aren’t critical. Typically speaking, you can wait 20-30 minutes to return a phone call and even more time to return an email. (After all, if it was really all that urgent, wouldn’t they call?) Put down your phone and give yourself a chance to focus on what’s going on around you. The more you give yourself permission to stop being at the literal beck and call of everyone around you, the better off you’ll be in the long run.

Cutting back on your phone (and internet) use is one simple minimalist habit that will make your life better. Remember, you don’t need to be there emotionally or mentally for everyone right away. It will only add to your stress.

Similarly, don’t answer work-related correspondence outside of work hours. Whenever you reply to an email or take a phone call, it sets the expectation with your boss and coworkers (or clients) you’re readily available all the time. Give it a break when you aren’t on the clock. No career, no matter how critical, should expect you to stay on-call 24 hours a day. Even doctors know they can burn out and make mistakes under stress.

put away your phone and talk to people

Recognize how social media may stress you out as well. If you want to know how to destress your life, stop comparing your life to others online. Don’t get involved in the drama we often see in online conversations. If you find yourself stressing about something someone said on social media, it’s probably time to take a break.

Stress is a natural part of life. There are many people who tell us adding more “stuff” to our lives—from lavender scented candles to white noise machines—will help us destress. There are others who encourage building in more time at the gym, more yoga lessons, or classes on stress reduction. While some of those suggestions may help in the long run, most people simply need a fast way to destress now.

Think of ways to remove stressors from your life. Spend less money on stuff you don’t need. Cut back on social obligations you don’t enjoy. Say no to commitments that rob you of your free time. Destressing your life is doable, especially if you cut back and learn to live with less.

Your turn:

  • How do you destress?
  • What do you do to make time for yourself?

How to Find Products You Only Need to Buy Once in a Lifetime

Choosing products you buy once in a lifetime
Living a (close to) zero-waste lifestyle means only buying what’s really necessary, and when you do need to purchase, finding products you only need to buy once. There are times when I’ve found items I needed to buy or replace only to be disappointed when the new product breaks down. So, how do you find products you only need to buy once?

You see, everything’s built to last a finite amount of time. A rule of manufacturing is to never invent the perfect lightbulb. Back when lightbulbs were first made, they were practically indestructible. Lightbulb makers quickly realized their business wouldn’t last long if they made lightbulbs you only need to buy once. Thus, lightbulbs were made with filaments to burn out after a few years. Occasionally you’ll see one of these very old lightbulbs that keeps shining, but as we know, lightbulbs, like many other products, aren’t built to last a lifetime.

There are, however, certain items you only need to buy once. Either they’re guaranteed to last or they’re built with such high-quality workmanship, they keep working for years. Here are the rules you should use to find practical products you only need to buy once in a lifetime.

How to Find Quality Products You Only Need to Buy Once

find quality products
For the last year, I’ve tried to maintain a zero (or close to zero) waste lifestyle. The biggest step I’ve taken toward doing this is that I’ve largely stopped buying anything other than consumables (like food, toilet paper, and toiletries). Not only does this cut back on the amount of waste and trash I produce, but it’s also great for saving money.

When I do need to buy or replace an item due to wear and tear, this is how I go about finding quality products I only need to buy once (or at least won’t need to buy again for a very long time).

Research the Life of the Product

research product life

I’m a big proponent of researching before I ever spend money on an item. This was especially true as I built and outfitted my tiny house. Of course, there are certain cases when I haven’t had time for extensive research, but usually I follow a rule to check reviews and thoroughly compare options before I buy.

At the very least, I always read the reviews on any product I plan to purchase. I look for independent reviews and unbiased sources whenever possible (and I post my own product reviews for others). Of course, most manufacturers put glowing reviews of their own products on their website, so it’s usually not the best source for honest product comparisons or learning the pros and cons. Look for independent sources. For example, when looking into solar ovens, I tested several brands against each other and posted my solar oven reviews online as a helpful resource.

Solar Oven Review and Guide

I look for review forums that I trust. If I’m looking for tiny house supplies, like a power generator or solar panel gear, I go to other tiny house forums and websites. Someone with a large cabin or a residential home will offer a very different perspective on these types of items because chances are their needs are different from mine. As a blogger, I also think it’s very important to share my own experience to help others navigate issues like how to find the best tiny house plans.

When I’m buying a larger item like an appliance or electronic, I’ll also check Consumer Reports (when possible). Most of their product reviews are only accessible with a paid membership, but many public libraries carry issues of the printed reports. It may also be worth the cost to access a report before a major purchase.

consumer reports for product reviews

Reviews on Amazon and Google are also helpful for products, but because they aren’t as carefully regulated, be wary of bias and false reviews. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people give items a poor review for strange reasons like, “It didn’t fit on my counter” or “the color didn’t match my house.” Read with discretion, paying close attention to mentions about the life of the product, common problems, and customer support offered by the manufacturer.

One tip is to read the 3-star reviews. People selling the product are only going to give themselves 4- or 5-star reviews. Competitors might try to fake bad reviews with 1- or 2-star reviews. Three-star reviews are the sweet spot; no one is going to pay for a fake 3-star review, so you can usually get a good view on what the product is really like.

There are also sites like Buy Me Once and Buy This Once that offer full listings of products built to last. Many of these items either feature a lifetime guarantee or are so highly durable, they’re proven to last years, so you only need to buy once. Reddit’s sub r/buyitforlife is a great source to learn what will last and get advice.

Budget to Spend Extra

budget to spend extra on quality goods

Personally, I tend to live on the frugal side. However, I’m willing to spend extra if it’s an investment in quality. I’m a firm believer of avoiding a “pennywise and pound foolish” mentality. This is especially true if you’re seeking items you only need to buy once. As a general rule, if I use something every day, I give myself the permission to spend big if I find the perfect item.

For example, I ordinarily wouldn’t spend $20 on a pair of socks, but these Darn Tough Wool Socks feature multiple excellent reviews, promising they’re durable. Better yet, the company offers a lifetime unconditional warranty. So, if you stick to a uniform wardrobe like I do, then a few pairs of tough, long-lasting socks may be the last sock purchase you ever need to make. In that case, the price seems worth it.

darn tough socks

Of course, there are other times when the price isn’t justified. For example, buying certain brand name cast iron cookware is more expensive than a second-hand, generic, or cheaper brand cast iron skillet. Yet, the life of cast iron is proven across the board. So, in this case, paying extra for a fancy brand at a culinary supply store isn’t worth your investment.

For the most part, quality items require more workmanship, design, and high-quality materials. The reality is quality is often more expensive. If you research the product thoroughly before purchasing, you’ll get a good idea if the price tag is justified.

lodge cast iron skillet

The other area to look at is the planned use of the product. If you’d like to find a product you only need to buy once but plan to use every day, a high price is easier to defend. A pair of dress shoes that cost $100 that you wear once or twice a year means you’ll pay $10-25 per wear over the next few years. On the other hand, a quality pair of sneakers that cost $100 but you plan to wear every day may cost much less than $1 per wear over their lifetime.

Test the Return Policy

test return policy on products you buy

Does the product come with a lifetime guarantee? Does the store offer a “no hassle” return policy?

Don’t feel afraid to test the limits of warranties, guarantees, and return policies. Typically, when a guarantee is offered it’s because the manufacturer believes the product is built to last. The other reason is company owners know returns are a hassle, so they bet on the fact most people won’t take them up on the promise. They may also require complicated documentation in the hope customers will give up.

It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, keep receipts, (typically a scan or photograph is acceptable, but read the fine print) and send back warranty cards, especially on major purchases. If you’re already minimizing the number of items you buy, then chances are you won’t have many receipts and warranties to keep track of anyway. Certain credit card companies also offer purchase protection and extended warranties on major purchases.credit card

Many retail stores—like grocery stores—guarantee the quality of their products as well. This means when you find produce that goes bad too fast, or mold on a block of recently purchased cheese before the expiration date, return the item to the store for an exchange or refund. While consumables aren’t meant to last a lifetime, it’s still worth it to ensure you get what you pay for. Stores with great return policies include Nordstrom, Costco, and Eddie Bauer. Both Aldi and Trader Joe’s offer satisfaction guaranteed, easy returns.

Ask Around Before You Buy

ask around before buying

Another way to find products you only need to buy once is to ask around! Talk to your friends and see what they’ve found reliable and trustworthy. Check with product experts and repair people to find out what products will really stand the test of time. See if someone will let you test, borrow, or check out the product so you can see it in use.

worn red wing bootsIt’s amazing how experience changes your impression of a product. Many of us feel gung ho about a purchase at first, but then once we’ve tried it for a while, we may change our perspective. I like to check with friends who’ve used a product for a long time before I go out and purchase it for myself. Everyone loves a new set of pots and pans, a great kitchen knife, or new power tools. The real question is, how do they feel about those same products 3, 5, even 10 years down the road?

Again, this type of information sharing is so important, especially in the tiny house world. When you have a minimal amount of space and are living a minimalist lifestyle, each purchase should be deliberate and long-lasting. This is, again, one of the main reasons why I like to share reviews as much as possible with my readers. I also like to do follow up reviews, like my three year review on the Luggable Loo composting toilet.

When you ask someone you trust for their opinion, you know you’re getting the full, unbiased picture of how the product will work. I’ve found maintenance and repair guys often offer a lot of insight on products like power tools, small machines, and appliances because they’re the ones who get called in when something goes wrong. So, listen to the advice of friends and those with experience!

Seek Quality Materials and Simple Designs

quality-materials

Call it the Occam’s razor theory of finding items you only need to buy once: the simplest choice is often the best. Typically, products that last will feature simple, straightforward design and are made from the highest quality materials. Truth be told, a simple design is loaded with nuances and details you have to get perfect.

When it comes to design, the reason simple products are the best is well…simple. When there are a lot of bells and whistles, there’s more pieces to break. There are more areas where something will go wrong. Unnecessary complexity leads to bigger complications and concerns. Think of all the different “cutting-edge” technology and gadgets that flopped after consumers got their hands on them. When something breaks on a complicated machine, it’s often the “extras” that cause a problem.

surefire flashlight

While it’s tempting to seek the latest and greatest product with the most modern conveniences and digitization, at the end of the day, simplicity and function win out. Think about what you really want the product to do, then seek a trusted brand with quality materials and manufacturing.

For example, Stanley Thermos has been around for hundreds of years. The simple, insulated design works time and time again, even as new versions of water bottles, coffee mugs, and thermos-type containers come out on the market every day. It seems the more complex the designs, the more likely imitation brands are to leak, spill, or lose heat. Many reviewers report they’re still using Stanley thermoses for 25, even 40 years (that said, there are reports the quality declined in recent years). Stanley also offers a lifetime warranty.

mason jars

Another example is DeWALT tools. The simple designs and quality materials have been used for decades and they’ve become a household name and standard. They also offer a lifetime warranty and have stood strongly behind their products.

I’m a big fan of using mason jars for storage as well. They work much better than plastic products, seal tighter, and are usable again and again. When you’re looking for a solution to a household problem, the tried and true answer is often the best. Look at what your parents or grandparents did. While modern conveniences and technological advances have improved many areas of life, there are also places where it’s unnecessarily complicated life too.

Ryan’s Top Ten Lifetime Products (for Everyone)

top ten lifetime products

I’m not a proponent of going out to buy items you don’t need simply because they’re recommended. Use what you have on hand first and wait until you’re ready to replace it. Once you are ready to buy a new item, here are my top ten items you only need to buy once (or will at least last for years).

1. Cast Iron Skillet

lodge cast iron skillet

2. Mason Jars (for storage, cooking, drinking)

mason jar

3. Vitamix 5200 Blender

vitamix blender

4. Stanley Classic Vacuum Bottle thermos

stanley thermos

5. Chef Knife

chef knife

6. KitchenAid Artisan Tilt-Head Stand Mixer

kitchenaid-mixer

7. Pendleton Wool Blanket

pendleton blanket

8. Yeti Cooler

yeti cooler

9. SureFire LED Flashlights

surefire flashlight

10. Le Creuset Dutch Oven

lecreuset-dutch-oven

Hopefully this gives you a few ideas of how to buy smart, so you only need to buy once or twice in the future. Choose high quality items, read reviews, and do your research before you spend your hard-earned money on products that won’t last.

Your turn!

  • What quality products have you found that are built to last?
  • What stores and retailers offer superior warranties and customer care?

How to Embrace the Zero Waste Lifestyle, Realistically

How to Embrace the Zero Waste Lifestyle, Realistically

The zero waste lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but everyone in the world benefits when we create less trash and cut back on waste. Not only does our trash take up room in our homes, but there are plenty of concerns about the environment as well.

how to start zero waste lIfestyle

Cutting back on trash is also important if you don’t get regular pick up of trash or recycling. Save yourself the time and energy of hauling garbage to the dump when you could simply make a few adjustments.

In my own life, I’m not yet 100% zero trash, but I’ve cut back significantly in the last few years. This what I’ve learned and how I’ve made a zero waste lifestyle (or close to zero waste) work for me.

Getting Started with the Zero Waste Lifestyle

getting started with a zero waste lifestyle

If you’re ready to get started with a zero waste lifestyle, there are a few steps to mentally and physically set yourself up for success. There are many zero waste products out there to help with waste free living. Items like bags, bottles, and food containers can be reused over and over. Storage containers can even be created from items you already own.

Here are my tips on how to go zero waste easily.

1. Be Realistic

be realistic when starting with the zero waste movement

Get yourself in the right mindset to before you even start exploring how to go zero waste. Focus on how you will make a zero waste lifestyle work and how you will deal with any anticipated roadblocks.

Most importantly, stay realistic. Don’t expect yourself to go completely zero waste overnight. We all see people in the news and on YouTube who commit to going zero waste 100% right away. While this works for a few people, most of us need to simply take steps over time to cut back on trash and waste. We’ve been living with our wasteful habits our entire so it will take some time to reverse that.

2. Do an Anthropological Study on Your Trash

study your trash to see what you throw away

If you’re ready to start, my first recommendation will sound a bit odd, but stick with me here. Go through your trash! Take your most recent bag of garbage and go through the items in the bag piece by piece. Approach it like an anthropologist—what will you learn from your garbage?

Your garbage will probably tell you a lot about what you eat. Many people find the majority of their trash comes from the kitchen. Food containers, drink containers, straws, bottles, bags…all these items add up quickly. As you separate out your trash, look at the items to recycle (typically, recycling isn’t counted as “waste”). Sometimes cutting back on your trash means recommitting to recycling as well.

Keep an eye out for items you could have repurposed. This isn’t to say you should hoard empty containers and jars to the extreme. A cupboard full of repurposed containers still takes up space in your home. Simply see what is recyclable and how you could minimize your current trash footprint.

Understanding what you actually throw out will let you guard against those things in your zero waste future.

3. Focus on Small, Meaningful Changes

focus on small changes to acheive the zero waste life

Once you’re ready to start the transition to a zero waste lifestyle, check out zero waste resources. Read zero waste blogs and books about the zero trash lifestyle. Find small waste reducing adjustments to implement without changing your routine too much.

Something as simple as carrying your own water bottle or reusable coffee mug makes a big difference without much effort. When you went through your garbage, did you notice many of the same items, like Styrofoam coffee cups or takeout containers? That indicates a good place to start.

Would your favorite takeout place let you bring your own container for food? Could you carry your coffee mug with you each morning?

Beyond your convenience food purchases, look at your shopping habits. Is your grocery store zero waste friendly? Some stores allow you to bring your own bags or jars, offering ways to minimize your food containers (more on creating a zero waste kitchen below).

4. Purchase Zero Waste Products to Set Yourself Up for Success

purchase zero waste products: water bottles, resuable bags, reuseable straws etc

There are many products available to help those who want to live a zero waste lifestyle. Metal and silicone straws are a great example of now-common zero waste products. Bags and food containers are also widely available.

You may also want to look at products with minimal or recyclable packaging. Some health and beauty companies sell products like “bar shampoo” without a bottle. For example, the company Lush promotes that 35% of their products are sold “naked” without package. Look for minimal waste or recyclable options for items like toothbrushes, deodorant, and more.

If you buy items like candles, look for ways to reuse the jars. If you read magazines, exchange or recycle them, use them for crafts, or donate them to a local school or library when you’re done reading them (better yet, switch to an e-reader). Whenever you make a purchase, ask yourself if there’s a less-wasteful alternative.

5. Find Simple Swaps

find simple zero waste swaps, there are lots of products to reduce trash

There are many simple swaps to help set you up for success with your zero waste lifestyle. On the blog The Greener Girl, she outlines many easy zero waste swaps. Straws and bags are two of the easiest switches.

Other items to swap for zero waste (aka reusable) items include fountain pens, razors, feminine products, and laundry soap. Change your kitchen sponge for a microfiber towel. Rather than using napkins and tissues, switch to washable handkerchiefs and cloth napkins. Once you explore the zero waste swaps out there, you may be surprised at all the areas where you can implement a simple change. In the long run going, zero trash will save you money.

How to Create a Zero Waste Kitchen

create a zero waste kitchen

Hands down, the biggest area of waste is usually the kitchen. When I studied my trash, almost everything I was throwing out on a regular basis had to do with food. Many convenience food products come in plastic bags, bottles, boxes, and containers. What we’re saving in convenience, we’re making up for in garbage.

If you’re wondering how to create a zero waste kitchen, there are a few easy areas of focus to start to cut back on waste.

1. Bulk Buying

bulk buying to reduce trash from food waste

Many stores offer the option of bulk buying, especially natural groceries and health food stores. People might feel a little intimidated at first but buying items in bulk is simple. Best of all, bulk buying creates zero trash.

When people plan to buy bulk, often they bring containers with them to the store. Purchase simple mesh bags made to hold all sorts of items like rice, nuts, oats, and coffee beans. Bring a paper bag with you for items like flour. Jars are typically used for deli meats, cheese, and other items requiring a sealable container.

Get your containers weighed at the service counter before you start shopping. The grocery clerk will give you a printout or write down the weight of each container so it’s deducted from the purchase weight at checkout. Then all you need to do is fill up your containers. Shopping this way doesn’t take much extra time and you often save money because bulk buys are typically cheaper.

2. Store Items in Jars

store items in jars to reduce on trash

Rather than storing items in plastic containers, use glass or metal jars to hold the ingredients in your kitchen. If you live in a tiny house, this tip is useful anyway—often glass or metal containers take up less space than commercial packaging. Uniform containers help you maximize your storage space and look great too on open shelves.

If you cook meals ahead to freeze, use glass container to store your food. Leave extra room in the top of each container because food expands when frozen. Store your leftovers in glass jars and reuse them over and over—you can even heat mason jars and eat out of them. This makes food storage simple and there are no worries about chemical compounds in the plastic leaching into your food.

Even microbreweries get in on the trend of reusable containers. You can purchase a “growler” from many breweries and get your beer refilled over and over. This is a fun way to eliminate the need to recycle beer bottles or aluminum cans.

3. Compost

compost bin to handle kitchen waste

Composting is part of a zero waste lifestyle, and for good reason: so many of us throw out food we could instead compost. Gardeners know compost creates a rich, nutrient-dense soil for plants to thrive in. Even if you aren’t a huge vegetable gardener, compost is a welcome addition to any flower bed.

Now, all organic matter can be composted—including human waste. If you’re interested in setting up a composting toilet, it isn’t hard (but of course it isn’t for everyone).

Food composting on the other hand is SO simple, everyone can do it. There are great containers with charcoal filters to eliminate any smell. These bins are stored right on your countertop. Add food scraps, vegetables, coffee grounds, and even paper products to your compost. Most people prefer to avoid adding meat and dairy waste to their compost as it takes longer to breakdown and attracts pests.

When you’ve filled up your compost container, you move it outdoors to a larger composter, where it is mixed with grass, leaves and other organic waste. Vermicomposting uses worms (typically red wiggler worms) to break down the decomposing matter and turn it into harmless vermicast. This rich compost is excellent for gardens. Vermicomposting is an easy composting method for anyone and my personal favorite composting method.

4. Cut Out Bags

cut out bags by using reusable shopping bags

Plastic shopping bags are one area where nearly everyone can cut back on waste. Whether you make your own (make a no sew shopping bag from an old tee shirt) or purchase ready-made bags, fabric trumps plastic every time.

If you buy fresh produce at the store, did you know you don’t need to put it in the bags they provide? Add loose fruits and veggies to your cart and checkout without using plastic. The mesh bags used for bulk buying are also used to store fruits and vegetables, or you could use a paper sack if you prefer. No matter your choice, it’s easy to BYOB (bring your own bag).

5. Plant a Garden

plant a garden to grow your own food which means less trash from food packaging

One of the best ways to cut back on food waste is to grow your own food as much as possible. Now, gardening and homestead farming aren’t for everyone, but even planting a few herbs and salad greens will cut back on containers and waste. Put your new compost to good use by planting easy vegetables like squash in recycled containers.

If you’re ready to take farming further, chickens are often a great place to start. Not only will you get eggs aplenty, but chickens minimize bugs and even help you till the soil in your garden. As you start to grow your own food supply, you’ll see a huge reduction in the amount of waste your produce. Gardening and homestead farming are a great step toward the zero waste lifestyle.

6.Buy Local

buy local food

Another important tip for minimizing your kitchen waste is to buy local whenever possible. Farmers markets and fruit stands naturally produce less waste. Food doesn’t need transportation—there’s minimal packaging and you often pick up right at the farm. Check into your local CSA or farm-share program as well. You could get a bushel container of packaging-free organic vegetables every week!

Buying local also extends to meat, dairy, and baked goods as well. A loaf of bread at the bakery will need less packaging (and require less wasted energy to create and transport) than a commercial bakery. When you purchase from local purveyors, you build relationships and connections with your community. Choose your prime cuts, waste less, and request minimal packaging. Many commercial grocery stores won’t let you bring in your own containers for meat and deli products, but smaller natural food stores often will accommodate a zero waste lifestyle.

The same goes for joining a local co-op. Often, co-ops specialize in bulk foods and minimally packaged items. If your city or town has a co-op, consider becoming an owner. For a small fee, you’ll get access to a wide variety of foods and products, usually locally produced and minimally packaged.

7. Pack a Zero Waste Lunch

pack a zero waste lunchbox

Brown-bagging your lunch with zero waste is simple! There are so many products out there to help you pack a lunch and transport your food, it’s almost a no-brainer. I use a stainless steel box by a company called LunchBots. These containers are beautiful, simple, and so easy to transport. Your lunch is laid out in small compartments and it’s really appetizing.

bento box by lunchbots - a stainless steel lunch containerBento-style lunches have become very popular and for good reason. Not only are they a zero waste lunch option, but they’re aesthetically pleasing as well. In fact, a simple search on Pinterest will yield tons of ideas for making appetizing bento lunches your entire family will love to eat.

Plastic bags and utensils are really easy to cut out of your lifestyle because there are so many alternatives. Get rid of plastic wrap too. With beeswax wraps, you cover food airtight, wash the wrap, and reuse it over and over.

If all else fails, take a cue from your local deli and wrap your lunch in recyclable butcher paper. It keeps food covered and will help you maintain your zero waste lifestyle when you eat on the go.

8. Learn to Creatively Repurpose

creatively repurpose items that would otherwise go in the trash

Embracing a zero waste lifestyle means learning to creatively repurpose items whenever possible. Nowhere is this truer than in the kitchen. So many packages can be reused again and again. Spaghetti sauce jars are used as storage containers. Cans are reused to organize or as pots for plants.

A simple cutting tool will turn plastic bottles into strong rope to use in many different applications. You can recycle many plastic items into craft projects and gifts too. A simple search for repurposed or recycled crafts will yield hundreds of ideas.

Use your old toothbrushes as cleaning brushes. Reuse clothing as cleaning rags. The idea behind a zero waste lifestyle is to use up items as completely as possible. When you think an item has completed its purpose, ask yourself how to reuse it in another way.

FAQs About Living a Zero Waste Lifestyle

zero waste faqs

When considering the zero waste lifestyle, people often have a lot of questions. Like living the tiny life, there are no set rules you need to follow. The main idea behind zero waste is to find what works for you and do your best. There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to a zero waste lifestyle, but really, it’s pretty simple.

Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions I get about zero waste.

Where should I start?

Start by going through your trash to see your biggest area of waste. Then set small goals to help you tackle each area. If you see a lot of kitchen waste, for example, focus your zero waste efforts there. If you seem to throw out a lot of toiletries and beauty products, then that may be a good area to focus on.

simple clothing to wearYou may want to focus on a zero waste wardrobe as well. Having a capsule or minimalist wardrobe is a great start. Pare down to the necessities and simplify. As you clean out and get rid of items, find ways to recycle, donate, or reuse them whenever possible.
For most people, a zero waste lifestyle begins in the kitchen. Tackle that area and chances are you’ll take a huge step toward become completely zero waste.

Is it hard to do?

It depends on the situation. It requires effort, yes, but if you already recycle and minimize your purchases, then zero waste is the next step. If you plant a garden and grow your own food, then you may find it even easier to transition to a zero waste lifestyle.

My biggest piece of advice is to take it slow. Move in small steps. Tackle one area of your life at a time, like implementing a zero waste kitchen first. Then move to the next area. Like all lifestyle changes, baby steps make it much easier.

Does it cost money?

It seems counter intuitive to spend money on more “stuff” to embrace a zero waste lifestyle, doesn’t it? I recommend using what you already own as much as possible. That said, there are items in the zero waste products section below to help you on your journey.

A one-time purchase like a reusable straw will cut out many future purchases down the road. Buying beeswax wraps or mesh bags might mean making an investment up front, but it’s a trade off when you never need to buy plastic wrap or Ziploc baggies again.

Does it mean giving up “normal life”?

People may raise an eyebrow at any type of lifestyle change. When I moved into my tiny house, people asked me if living in a tiny house meant giving up a normal life. When I’ve advocated for homesteading or minimalism, people ask if it means giving up their normal routine.

Anytime you change, it will mean giving up the conveniences and norms you’re used to. That said, there are zero waste options for almost any product you can think of. You don’t necessarily need to go without something, you just need to adjust your approach.

For example, while I don’t know much about cosmetics, I’ve been told there are beauty companies who allow you to bring your own containers and fill up your own products. There are also minimal packaging beauty products to fit with a zero waste lifestyle.

For clothing, you will find almost any item of clothing you need at a second-hand store. Check Craigslist, Freecycle, and other exchange networks. Borrow what you need and find creative ways to reuse and repurpose items to keep them out of the landfill.

What if I mess up?

Again, like living the tiny life, there are no hard and fast rules you need to follow if you want to live the zero waste lifestyle. There are people who minimize their waste to a mason jar while there are others who simply try their best to cut back on garbage. Join online forums to get ideas and support about living zero waste.

Just keep in mind, no one is perfect. Sometimes there are items that wear out or need replacement (for example, I had to buy a bathmat even though I was attempting a no spend challenge). If a zero waste lifestyle is right for you, do your best. Even making an effort toward reducing your waste is a step in the right direction.

Resources & Zero Waste Products to Help You Start a Zero Waste Lifestyle

zero waste resources - websites, articles, posts, and videos

There are many zero waste blogs and ideas out there for living a zero waste lifestyle. Check out Pinterest and Google for resources to help you navigate. There are also many social media groups for zero waste.

A few popular zero waste blogs are:

Trash is for Tossers
Going Zero Waste
Zero Waste Home
Litterless

The items I’ve found really helpful for a zero waste lifestyle are:

LunchBots Bento Containers
Klean Kanteen Mugs and Water Bottles
CamelBak Water Bottles
Epica Countertop Compost Bin
Flip & Tumble Bags
Flip & Tumble Reusable Mesh Produce Bags
ECOSIP Reusable Straws
Glass Food Containers
Handkerchiefs
Microfiber Towels
Safety Razor
Biodegradable Toothbrushes
Bee’s Wrap Food Wrap
Wool Dryer Balls
Bar Shampoo

There are a plethora of reusable and zero waste products out there. Research and purchase items as you go along to help you embrace the zero waste lifestyle. It’s a great challenge to take on and really makes you think about what you’re buying (and the container it comes in). While we aren’t all ready to go completely zero waste, we can all take steps toward minimizing our waste and cutting back on trash.

Battle the Busy Schedule: How to Simplify Your Life

Battle the Busy Schedule: How to Simplify Your Life


You’re late to work again. You forgot your niece’s birthday. You double booked yourself. You forgot three items at the grocery store…You’re fighting the battle of the busy schedule.

Here’s the deal: there are literally hundreds of decent time management tools out there to help you reclaim your time, get organized, and take back your schedule. And you know what? Not one of them will work if you don’t address the root of your busy schedule problem.

In fact, the advice you hear about time management (write a to-do list, download a scheduling app, buy a planner, set priorities) is completely WRONG if you don’t have control over your time in the first place. I mean, the tools aren’t exactly bad. In fact, many of them are quite effective (and I’ll tell you which ones are really worth it). But before you buy a time management tool, you need to address the real issue here.

The Root of the Busy Schedule: Saying Yes When You Should Say No

saying no to a busy schedule
In a given day, we all know we have 24 hours. Over an 80 year lifetime, you get 700,800 hours. That sounds like a lot of time, right?

Subtract out the time you spend sleeping. Figuring most of us get 7-8 hours ideally per night. We’re left with 16 hours, of which many people spend half at their jobs. 8 hours for work, an hour to get ready (prepare your breakfast and lunch for example), and an hour for commuting leaves you with 6 remaining hours in the day. For many people, the number is even smaller. Let’s say, 5 hours.

So, what do you do in those five remaining hours each day? If you exercise, cook dinner, watch a movie, or spend the average 2-4 hours on your phone…well, you’re left with precious little time. Becoming more productive and laser focused, is the answer, right? After all, if you only have a few hours of free time during the day, you must manage it carefully.

For many of us, myself included, the better time management solution didn’t work until I shifted my mindset. If you’re seeking a simple, minimalist lifestyle, chances are you’re trying to minimize clutter including the clutter on your schedule.

simplified life without a busy scheduleWhen I started to live more simply, my schedule underwent a big transition. To take back my schedule and simplify my calendar, I had to change my mindset and weed out the timewasters. This was long before I started using time management tools. First it was about getting into the right headspace and social practices.

We think if we had better tools, we could manage every second of our days. In reality, the answer is a little more complex. Going out and buying the latest planner, spending hours setting up a bullet journal, downloading and learning Trello or Asana, won’t help boost your productivity if you don’t address the root cause of your busy schedule. In fact, all these tools may leave you feeling overwhelmed and inclined to throw in the towel on your busy schedule (in other words, setting you right back to square one).

If you want to reclaim your time, you need to start saying no.

Getting Past the Fear of Saying No

get your time back and have a simplified schedule
For many of us, the thought of saying no grips us with fear. We don’t want to sound rude. We don’t want to miss out. Maybe we feel an obligation to our boss, our spouse, our friends, or our kids. We have a difficult time turning down the request to stay longer at the office, coach Little League, or attend a birthday party.

But realize every time you say yes, you are saying no to something else. Every time commitment you set is subtracting time from another commitment or activity.

  • Say yes to staying late at the office? You’re saying no to family time.
  • Say yes to happy hour with friends? You’re saying no to the gym.
  • Commit to helping your buddy out? You’re saying no to your personal time.

At first, this thought is jarring. Most of us don’t like choosing between, say, happy hours with friends or cooking dinner at home. But each day, and every time we commit to adding an item on our busy schedule, we’re making an either/or choice, inevitably. If you’ve never thought of saying no as a chance to reclaim your time, it’s an eye-opening realization.

If you want to take back your schedule and reclaim your time, you need to start viewing your time as a precious resource. Instead of focusing on the items you’re saying yes to, think about what you’re choosing NOT to do instead. Is it worth the extra commitment?

When we distill down our choice, not only are we tackling our busy schedule, but we’re regaining control over our time. Look at our time as a resource, we can start to figure out how we’re going to fit the necessities in and eliminate the unnecessary items. It’s not about saying “no” to your boss, your friends, or your kids, but about saying yes, to simplifying your schedule and finding time for the activities that are really important to you.

Understanding the Reason Makes it Easy to Say No

set priorities in your schedule to avoid being busy

Go through your commitments and start to separate them out into the yeses, and the noes. When you’re saying yes, what’s the flip side? What are you declining in the process?

When you change your mindset, it also helps ease the stress of saying no. You’re no longer saying no because you don’t “want” to do a task. You’re saying yes to another task instead. In fact, one of the best ways to say no easily, is to offer up a reason. If you’ve explored the yes/no question about a task, your reason becomes evident.

“I can’t stay because I’m doing something with my family.”

“I won’t be able to meet you tonight, I have an appointment at my gym.”

“My schedule’s full this week, and I can’t commit to another activity right now.”

Having the reason and rationale behind the “no” makes saying it much simpler. No guilt. Remember, your time is a resource, if there’s not enough to go around, there’s simply not enough.

Never Waste Your Precious Time

don't waste time and free up your schedule
When we’re too busy and frazzled, we often cease making practical deliberate decisions about our time. If you’ve ever felt you’re running around, or find you’re forgetting the purpose of an errand, you’re probably not deliberately managing your time resource. In fact, the more we multitask and take on too much, the higher the likelihood we’ll miss something, make a mistake, or run late for an appointment. If you want to boost your productivity and free up your busy schedule, stop packing in extra tasks.

When we narrow our focus to the activities that truly matter, we’re able to become much more efficient. It’s about eliminating the extra steps and processes that don’t make sense. For example, when I started a new job a few years ago, I was training and noticed we were running the same report over and over. I spoke up and asked why we were running a report that seemed redundant.

The woman training me stopped dead in her tracks, and said, “I have no idea. No one’s ever asked before.”

focus your life and your calendar on what matters

After an exploration, they determined the report was truly superfluous and a waste of time. There were many other tasks like that on the to do list. Whether it’s simplifying your work life and office, or deciding to take back your time at home, always explore the reasons why you’re doing something. If it doesn’t make sense, or seems unnecessary, don’t be afraid to ask!

If You Say Yes to This, What Are You Saying No To?

Eventually, it will become habitual to ask, rather than simply perform a job or do an activity. Each time you’re presented with something to complete, ask yourself:

  • If I say yes to this, what am I saying no to?
  • Is this worth using my time resource?
  • Could this be done more efficiently?
  • What is the reason for this task? (the reason may simply be fun!)

Once you’ve really clarified the necessity of a task and deemed it worthy of your schedule, mindfully commit! Block out time, to dedicate solely to the task at hand. This will help you really simplify and pare down to the job in front of you. You’ll complete the task faster and more efficiently.

If you’re fighting the battle of the busy schedule, adopting this strategic approach will help you parse your schedule down to the items you really want to do. You will feel at peace when you say no, and you’ll get the items on your to do list down faster and more efficiently.

The Best Time Management Tools For You

best time managment tools for you to master a busy schedule
If you purchase a planner, adopt the Pomodoro method, or download an app like Asana, before you’ve simplified your schedule, the tool becomes more of a distraction and an excuse. That’s why it’s so important we understand our priorities first.

We may spend hours writing items down, organizing our to do lists and planning out our tasks without really achieving anything. When we’re unproductive, we place blame on the tool. It’s important to remember each tool is only as good as the user. If you’re prepared and narrow down the items you need to tackle to what’s really important, any tool is useful. If you haven’t addressed the underlying mentality that comes with a jam-packed schedule, then any tool, no matter how great, becomes a procrastination excuse.

In reality, almost every commercial tool out there is pretty useful. They’re intuitive and user-friendly. It’s really about finding a tool you love and will stick to using. As long as you’re committed, a paper planner is as good as a robust program like Trello.

Here are a few of the better time management tools I’ve found:

Paper Planner

What it is: A paper planner may seem a bit old school, but for many people they’re easy to carry and give a nice, clear overview. Typical paper planners include a calendar and a daily/weekly/monthly agenda where you block out your time. A planner may also include goal setting tools and other helpful pages.

Who it’s best for: Those who are comfortable with paper, but like structure. If you love having something tangible to refer to, then a paper planner is a great place to start. The drawbacks of a paper planner is that it’s bulky and it’s harder to erase/change/move appointments. Paper planners to check out: Panda Planner, Erin Condren LifePlanner, Franklin Covey Classic Original.

Journal

What it is: Journaling is a different style of planning—more free-form and customizable. Some journals offer prompts or grids you fill in to track a variety of habits and activities. Journals are as simple as a notebook, or much more involved.

Who it’s best for: Goal-setters, creative planners and those who prefer a visual interpretation of planning. If you’re artistic, paper and list-oriented, and plan using mind mapping, then a journal planner could be a good fit for you. Look at resources on Pinterest for bullet journals, goal-setting journals and daily journals. A few journals to check out: The Habit Journal, The Mastery Journal, The Morning Sidekick Journal, The 6-Minute Diary.

Electronic Calendar

What it is: Google Calendar is available through Gmail. MS Outlook also uses a Calendar program. These calendar programs sync with the respective email programs and are accessible from nearly any handheld device or desktop. Both calendars offer multiple calendar options, automatic scheduling, and are very user-friendly.

Who it’s best for: People on the go, who don’t like carrying paper, and those who need a relatively simple calendar planning program to manage their schedule. If you always carry your phone with you and are comfortable with an electronic calendar, then these are two very easy-to-use programs. Outlook is available as part of the Microsoft Office Suite, and Google Calendar is free for Gmail users.

The Pomodoro Technique

What it is: The Pomodoro Method or Pomodoro Technique has been around for decades. This productivity method uses time blocks (typically 25 minutes) to work on a task. You decide on a task, set a time, work for 25 minutes, and then take a five minute break when complete (and a longer break when the full task is complete).

Who it’s best for: Procrastinators and those who struggle with distraction. If you enjoy working in short bursts and feel more focused “under pressure” then the timer is a big productivity booster. You will still need a calendar or a paper to track your tasks and block out your time. The method is explained in Francesco Cirillo’s book, Pomodoro Technique; there are Pomodoro apps and online tools as well, such as: Tomato timer and Focus Booster.

List Making Apps

What it is: When it comes to list making apps there are a huge variety out there. Most list making apps offer an opportunity to manage your to-dos, sync with your calendar and set follow up reminders. Certain apps are collaborative, allowing you to share tasks and projects with a team, while others are best for a single user. While, all list making apps aren’t created equal, at the end of the day, they all do a similar task: help you manage your lists.

Who it’s best for: If you’re a list maker, you may find any of the list making apps quite helpful. From the palm of your hand you’re able to access to do lists, receive reminders and keep track of all the tasks on your plate. Many of the list making apps are great for helping you break down goals into small, manageable steps. A few list making apps to check out: Wunderlist, Todoist, Remember The Milk.

Productivity Apps/Project Management Programs

What it is: A more robust and work-friendly project management tool, these apps are great for teams. For personal use, they’re helpful for families and for big projects with a lot of moving pieces (like building a tiny house). Some users simply prefer the interface and find project management tools help them really set goals and keep track of many different parts at once.

Who it’s best for: Those who use project management software at work, have large projects to manage, or really enjoy digging in. There are plenty of comparisons online between project management programs, but two of the most popular are Trello and Asana. Both have pros and cons but are worth checking out. One word of caution with project management software—if you’re new to planning, and simply hoping to manage a busy schedule and take back your time, the software is often too robust. Remember, you don’t want to use the project management software as another excuse to procrastinate (“I’ll get a handle on my schedule as soon as I figure out how to use this software.”)

At the end of the day, the tool you use is really about finding the best fit for your lifestyle. If you prefer an app, paper, or a timer, it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you stick with it and apply it to your time management.

Taking back your time and getting a handle on your busy schedule, doesn’t need to be a battle, but it does mean shifting your mindset. Remember, if you only have 24 hours in the day, you need to use them wisely. Once you decide to prioritize and take back control of your time, you’ll find yourself more relaxed.

If you want the peace that comes with a simple schedule, start saying no to the extra tasks and commitments weighing you down!