Healthy Living

How to Unclutter – Simplify Life Over 50

Lately, it seems like everyone I know is a perpetual motion machine. They’re all busy, busy, busy. At the same time, I keep seeing articles about leading a balanced lives. This led me to wonder if busy and balanced can coexist.

We all have busy lives. Social activities, work, family responsibilities, classes, pets – and the list goes on. I interviewed a few women who were involved in so many things that I was elated and exhausted by the end of the interview. These were women with full, vibrant lives.

I’ve also spoken with women involved in the same number of things and walked away feeling tired and sad. These were women with cluttered lives.

Four Women’s Lives

Barbara has a cluttered life. She is recently retired and has a long list of things she wants to do – trips, classes, projects. And she’s done none of them. Her days seem to be full of busy work. She intends to declutter her home. She takes on projects that she doesn’t really want. She can’t tell you exactly what’s taking up all her time, but she’s always busy.

Jane says she wants to be a writer. She says, though, that she’s too busy to write. The pool needs cleaning. The garden needs tending. The cats need feeding. There’s grocery shopping, home repairs, cooking – somehow, the day is gone.

If puttering brought joy to either of these women, I would say that they had full lives. Not what I might choose, but still a life that makes them feel happy and fulfilled. Because their activities keep them from doing what they say they want, though, I’d say their lives are cluttered.Loretta thought she retired. Lately, she’s been dividing her time between creating a consulting practice, exploring full-time jobs, and assisting her daughter, who is battling serious illness. She still finds time for concerts, sailing, community activities and religious observance. Oh – and cooking.

Larraine is a sought-after international speaker, creator of programs, author of many books. She stays in shape with the assistance of two trainers and works out and swims daily. She has an organic farm and sells some of the produce. She turns some of it into jams and pickles that she also sells. She writes children’s books and has recorded CDs of children’s music.

These two women are doing what they want to do. They have very full lives and find time to do the things that bring them joy even while taking on the difficult.

What’s the difference between full and cluttered?

The difference between full and cluttered lies in both the nature of the activities and how they are handled. Both Barbara and Jane are always in motion but never seem to be doing what they want. They have created so much clutter in their schedules that they resemble what a hoarder’s home looks like. Larraine and Loretta are equally busy – with a schedule full of things they love to do as well as things they need to do. A full life includes all the chores and not-fun activities and makes room for the exciting things, for fun. A cluttered life, like a cluttered home, is so full that there’s no room to maneuver. There’s no space to let good stuff in.

How to Simplify Life

If you want a full life, you’ll need to create space for new things. Here are three areas to look at:

1. Why is your life is cluttered?

Without sidetracking into psychological analysis here, the first step in decluttering may be to look at your motivation. Have you simply let your schedule get out of control or have you filled it up in order to avoid something. Think about this for a bit. If you’re avoiding, consider working through this avoidance with a friend or a coach.

2. What is the clutter?

If your schedule is out of control, track your activities for at least three days – a week would be better. This will give you a clear idea of how you are actually spending your time. Do a quick analysis. Look at how much time you’re spending on each type of activity. Are there areas where you seem to spend a lot of time? Too much? Can you separate important activities from what may be busywork?

3. How could the uncluttering be done?

Are there tasks that could be ignored? Delegated? For example, I finally hired someone to clean, started using a contact management system and signed up for an online calendar because cleaning, managing lists and making appointments are three things I hate.


Once you’ve identified ways to make space, look at how to preserve and fill that space to create a full life:

1.Collect information on what you would like to do

Yes, you’ve just decluttered. No, this isn’t about bringing in new “stuff.” What would you like to bring into your life? Make a list. Collect information about things you want to do. Have a small folder – digital or hard copy – of events, classes, trips. Keep your desires close at hand as a reminder to fulfill them.

2. Create your schedule

This is the old oxygen mask story – put your mask on before helping someone else. Build time for yourself into your schedule. Make sure that you have at east the equivalent of one day booked for things that you want to do.

3. Add the things you enjoy

Begin to fill the spaces you’ve created with activities you enjoy. Spend time with friends. See a movie. Curl up with a good book. Just do something that is fulfilling.

This may not be easy, but it does work. Sandra found herself overwhelmed with care-taking. She was spending many hours supporting her daughter by running errands for her and providing child care. She was supporting a neighbor through recovery from pneumonia. She was managing the affairs of a cousin who had a series of strokes.

She was miserable and exhausted all the time until she decided that enough was enough. She set limits on the amount of time her “case load” could have and set boundaries around what she would and would not do to support them. She arranged a weekly call with a group of old friends. She started playing mah jong. She’s feeling happy. You can too.

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