So my 50th has come and gone—and I was blown away by your thoughtful words. Thank you for taking time to share with me the ways you have let me be a part of your miles, your challenges, your workouts, your life. I am truly grateful.
Without further ado, my final set of rules: 10 rules for making life easier. I love solving a challenge, puzzle (as long as they’re at the level of Monday-level crosswords), a complicated situation. But as I get older, I am (finally) realizing that not everything needs to be supremely difficult in order to elicit that feeling of satisfied accomplishment.
So I’m here with a few guidelines to make your all aspects of your life a little easier.
1. Do it when you first have the thought.
So many things get bookmarked: an article I want to read; a kitchen floor I want to sweep; an ice cream shop I want to try. I’m not saying I jump off a call to go grab that mint chocolate chip cone I’ve been dreaming about—although that’s not a bad idea—but I am saying, I put too many things off that can be done much sooner than later.
And that postponement can stress me out; instead of a longform article being enjoyable, I go to my bookmarked page later and now it’s one of 23 articles. Now it feels more like a chore.
So I’m trying to be more impulsive, at least with the little things: when I think about calling a friend, I just do it, instead of putting it on a list for the weekend. When I see a charity I want to support, I send a donation right away instead of letting it linger. Immediate action on small, doable things always feels good.
2. Except for spontaneous purchases.
Herr Neumann was my high school German teacher, and while he was super skilled at helping us learn the difference between die/das/der, the piece of advice that has lingered the longest is this: If you’re about to make an impulse purchase, wait three days. Think about it, then if you still decide you want it, go back and buy it. This was the late 80’s, so if you heeded his advice, there was a chance that the XL hot pink Forenza sweater wouldn’t be there anymore and then the universe would have intervened: you clearly didn’t need it after all. (Although not really because The Limited had stacks of those fisherman sweaters…)
Now, with one-click, credit-card-and-passwords-saved websites, waiting those three days take much more restraint. But I still do my best to walk away and deliberate for a stretch. Life is easier without packages you need to return. Life is easier with smaller credit card bills. Life is easier when you don’t have bulging closets and drawers—and the guilt that can accompany them.
3. Choose your gear wisely.
The compact crank that Grant gave me for my 50th birthday—and had installed on my road bike—was truly one of the best gift ever; it gave me a couple of easier gears so I can, on long or intense climbs, pedal my legs more fluidly and not just mash the pedals. Climbing had been the thing I dreaded, but a small, albeit spendy and complicated, change has quite simply, changed my perspective.
I went from hating climbing to knowing that I can climb anything. I may not win Queen of the Mountain, but I also am not Bitch of the Mountain, a state Grant often had to contend with as I whined my way up plenty of climbs.
The shoes with the extra cushioning you need—or extra width your bunion needs; the perfect-fitting hydration pack so you can train for marathon through the summer; a set of flippers and a pull buoy so you can mix up your swimming workouts. Investing in the tools you need to succeed makes you feel confident and capable; I just wish I would’ve done it sooner.
4. All your gear wisely.
I was telling SBS recently how much I love my leather purse, which I bought a few years ago from a BAMR named Meghan. My favorite part? The key keeper with a hook. I used to play where-are-my-keys-roulette daily and now? They’re always there. As the British say, brilliant.
Other things that make my life easier and I appreciate almost daily: serrated knives I don’t need to sharpen regularly; having two sets of dog beds (one for each floor) so I don’t have to haul them around the house as my canines plead at me with needy eyes; and a small wire basket that corrals my vitamins so I don’t have to constantly fish them off the top shelf to read the labels.
5. Double it.
I am not a fan of cooking, nor do I have an especially wide culinary palate. (I’ll be just fine if I go to my grave never having tasted caviar.) So when I make something, I typically double it. I double everything from my favorite Cookie + Kate’s Roasted Veggie Enchilada Casserole to my current fave afternoon snack: energy bites from the back of the bag of Trader Joe’s Flax Seed.
Sure, I may be eat veggie casserole for a week for lunch, but I’ll happily sacrifice a variety for the ease of minimal mental anguish about what to eat or the physical meal prep.
6. Limit choices.
Who else has spent a ridiculous amount of time scrolling for a show or a podcast? (Raises both hands.) Sometimes, it’s best to love and logic yourself. (My take on love + logic, which may be totally wrong: you give young kids two choices so they have a sense of independence but not overwhelm. Do you want to wear your green shorts or blue shorts today?)
I don’t give myself two choices (The Staircase or Hacks?), but I do give myself a time limit: you must pick a show in 3 minutes or by 7:10 or whatever feels reasonable at the time. Otherwise, I’ll scroll until I feel paralyzed by indecision, end up watching one thing but wondering, in a small place in my brain, if I made the right choice. Not helpful.
7. Remember: You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.
I realize most of us know this rationally, but dang if this phrase still doesn’t make me go, oh yeah, right. I am somebody who thrives on the challenge of doing everything. I also know, from years of personal experience, that trying to do everything is not a healthy or sustainable life strategy.
When I’m engaged with an “anything” that is in line with my values and my heart, I actually don’t want to do everything. When I’m hiking Yosemite, reading next to my mom, writing in my journal, I don’t worry that I’m not learning knitting or traveling around Thailand or writing the next Moby Dick.
These days, I am doing my best to slow down when it comes to engaging in my anythings, and give them the consideration they—and I—deserve.
8. Downsize your ambitions when something is off.
By off, I mean things like this: your normal routine isn’t scaffolding your day. You may be traveling, or taking care of a kid who just had his wisdom teeth yanked, or just have had a string of bad nights of sleep.
When things like that happen, I typically mentally minimize the disruption. Oh, I’ll just finish up this post on an airplane flying through turbulence while the guy next to me watches YouTube videos without headphones: no prob!
I’m getting better at acknowledging that while, yes, I’m still in the office and can execute work, transporting ice pack up and down the stairs and timing the sessions doesn’t make for ideal flow. I can’t say I’m great at it yet, but hey: at least I didn’t try to write this post from an overheated O’Hare terminal full of delayed passengers, so I’ll count that as a win.
9. Consciously decide not to rush.
I always have my eye on a clock. In second grade, I got a red-banded Snoopy watch for my birthday, and I’ve been wearing a watch ever since. I don’t think the wrist accessory automatically makes me rush, but it does make me acutely aware of time. What time is it? Where do I need to be? I’m constantly either working forwards backwards. In fact, I still do the “kids get out of school at 3:30 what do I need to do before then” mental math, even though I haven’t driven a carpool in nearly two years.
Lately, I’ve been trying sand those hard edges. The other day, I arrived at the pool around 7:15, and quick created my itinerary: swimming by 7:30, showering by 8:25, home by 8:50, working by 9:15. As a experiment, I told myself I wasn’t going to rush. I didn’t beeline in or out of the locker room. (Although, to be fair, it’s a rec center locker room. You don’t necessarily want to linger.) Then I stopped for a coffee at a new shop (see #1), and took my favorite (indirect) route home.
The “cost” of this “chill” morning? 10 extra minutes. The benefit? A calming sense that I wasn’t already behind. Yep, worth it.
10. Speak your mind.
I’ll admit: this is a whopper for #10, and it’s one I’ve debated putting on because I—a Midwestern middle child—am really not so very good at it.
But I can say, when I take the advice from this quote, which is taped to the bottom of my computer monitor to remind me to speak my mind, things are definitely easier. And that is a gift.