I’m not gonna lie, times are rough right now – and it feels almost impossible to keep life simple. As I write this, the COVID-19 pandemic is raging hard and many of us are cooped up in isolation… which is a whole struggle in itself, amirite?
This past year has basically been one crisis after another: devastating wildfires, hurricanes, political unrest, the worst global economic decline since the Great Depression, and now a pandemic. And on a personal level, it’s brought the loss of two loved ones. Like, are you freakin’ kidding me, 2020?!
And the cherry on top of this shit sundae? Many of our usual activities and healthy coping strategies have been put on hold, leaving us with no choice but to cocoon ourselves in blankets and cry and re-watch Friends for the 874th time. (Oh wait… is that just me?!)
Being the potty-mouthed optimist that I am, I honestly believe that we can get through this shit together. Our routines may be totally out of whack right now, but there are still things that we can do to create little moments of meaning and, dare I say it, legit happiness. That’s why I gathered some of my favourite experts from the sustainability, mindfulness, and decluttering communities and asked them the following question:
What’s your best tip for keeping life simple and intentional during the pandemic?
Get ready for them to drop some kick-ass knowledge about self-compassion, finding calm in the chaos, and oh-so-much more. (Plus, if you stick around, you get my not-so-expert tip down at the bottom!😉) The best part is that these tips can apply to both a global crisis and a personal crisis, so feel free to share this with any friends going through a tough time… whatever the reason.
Now let’s get to it, shall we? Here are 21 ways to live simply and intentionally during a crisis:
1. Reframe your to-do list.
“What’s been helping me recently is focusing on a ‘done’ list versus a ‘to do’ list. It’s easy to feel unproductive and then down on myself if I’m looking at an unrealistic list of things I’d like to do in a day. It’s quite uplifting and motivating to see a list of all the *small and big* things I have accomplished.”
2. Find balance between routine and easing expectations.
“While there are many things out of our control during this time, it’s helpful to work on finding balance between easing the expectations we hold for ourselves and still doing small things consistently that move us forward. Just like any major transition, even the strongest habits are easily disrupted in this environment. Be kind to yourself and others while still looking for tiny bits of familiarity in your routine to gain some consistency day to day, even if it’s much less than you’d typically expect of yourself.”
3. Acknowledge your feelings, and ask for help if you need it.
“These times are fucking hard, but you are a lot stronger than you think. Don’t deny what you are feeling. You can’t avoid your emotions, but if you’re not quite ready to face what you’re feeling, learn something or do something that you always wanted to learn or do. It might surprise you! If that doesn’t help, and you still can’t shake the feeling, it’s best to seek help (if you can). Showing that you need help is the strongest thing you can do.”
4. Focus on being, rather than doing.
“It’s a simple approach that applies whether or not we’re in a pandemic, but it’s difficult to apply. Focus on BEING rather than DOING. I can easily get caught up in doing activities with little energy spent on how I feel in the process. This is the fastest way I’ve seen burnout occur and this puts my physical and emotional wellness at risk. When I shift the focus to BEING in the present moment, I can more easily tap into connecting with myself in a way that benefits me the most.”
5. Prioritize what's most important to you.
“It’s funny because the question seems simple on the surface, but it’s really more like an onion once you pull back the layers of each person’s personal circumstances. Right now I believe the best way to keep life simple and intentional during this pandemic is to prioritize what is most important to you. For some people, that might mean keeping their kiddos fed and occupied while juggling working from home. For others, it might be about maintaining their mental health as anxiety has been kicked into overdrive. Some people might have more free time, in which case it’s a good chance to prioritize learning about sustainability and how to avoid excess – while others might be overwhelmed and hanging on by a thread. No matter what we’re experiencing right now, it’s all valid.”
6. Get some fresh air.
“Spend as much time outside as nature (and your local government) allows. It’s amazing how the monotonous task of laundry folding can become a peaceful practice when done in the presence of fresh air and sunlight.”
7. Try out some new skills.
“Before the pandemic I was one of those people who had every hour of every day booked with something. Now that business is not as usual, I have a lot more free time. Rather than fill it up with TV or excessive Zooms (it seems like there are opportunities to be on Zoom calls all day every day), I have honed in on opportunities to teach myself new skills. After some trial and error, I figured out how to make kombucha (nailed it with strawberries). Now I’m onto sourdough bread.”
8. Focus on your values.
“I spend more time focusing on what I value, and I spend a lot less time with everything that distracts me from what I value. I’m pulling myself away from the inevitable hurry and hustle.”
9. Create mindful rituals.
“For me, simple and intentional living all comes down to little rituals: small moments of joy or mindfulness that I actively create through the day and aim to follow routinely. Especially when I’m running around after my toddler son, these little rituals mean so much! It can be as simple as making a cup of tea, having a hot shower with a DIY body scrub, or taking a few deep breaths. Even wiping down the kitchen counters or unloading the dishwasher can be meditative and helpful for living in the ‘now’ when I’m feeling stressed.”
10. Assess what you truly need.
“Quarantine has many of us sitting with everything we own, which can cause a lot of discomfort though we may not understand why. We are having to adjust our wants and our purchasing habits, something I hope we take with us when life returns to “normal”. Now is a great time to assess what you (and you family) truly love, use, and need. If you are using this time to declutter, please do so with the environment in mind! Consider actively giving your items away to folks who will use them, rather than doing a big donation dump. Let this time be your gateway to the sharing economy, sustainable consumption, and community resilience.”
Pssst – if y’all are interested in learning how to declutter sustainably, I’ve got a whole blog post about it! There’s also some info about what to do with your decluttered items in my Ultimate Decluttering Guide. Grab your copy here:
11. Dive into hands-on projects.
“One of my favourite ways to keep life simple and intentional during these tough times is to take my mind off the chaos by diving into hands-on projects! Gardening is a great way to connect with nature and food. We’ve been growing everything from chilies, cabbage, squash, tomatoes and more! Another thing that has helped is learning new recipes and baking from scratch. This trying time has taught me that we humans have always been self-sufficient, we just need to reconnect with those traditions and bring them back into our systems. Brampton, a city in Ontario, has even given free soil and seeds to its residents! Growing our own food is so important especially when we need to focus on reducing our contact with others during this and future pandemics.”
12. Keep a gratitude journal.
“My best tip for keeping life simple during the pandemic is to keep a gratitude journal. We can get so caught up in the daily stresses and fear of the unknown that we forget that we have a lot of great things going on in our life NOW. Taking 5 minutes every evening to write down what you are grateful for, it will remind you that you have many things in your life that spark joy. Choosing to look at the bright side of life and being intentional about where you invest your time and emotions will help you find peace in the midst of chaos.”
13. Have a plan for your day.
“Have a plan, even if it is a loose one. I am working from home with my husband and 2 children, 3 and 14. Very early on everyone got their own daily schedule. Very simply put, have purpose. Make your bed, get dressed for the day, read a little, play a little, move your body a little. My main focus was to keep everyone mentally healthy. If we are happy and safe, only then can we focus on environmental sustainability.”
14. Listen to podcasts.
“For me, it’s all about recreating positive relationships with objects that would be considered ‘waste’ and shifting my idea of waste to create. During this time, I’ve been able to tune in to a lot of podcasts when I’m cooking, exercising, or doing nothing and enjoy conversations from people that have interesting thoughts to say. While I miss in-person human interactions, I’ve found podcasts to provide me similar forms of energy, and it makes me happy. Do whatever makes you feel comfortable at home since that’s the most important thing!”
15. Keep things flexible.
“As a mom of a toddler with a husband who’s now working from home, we do our best to keep things simple, flexible and intentional without putting too much pressure on things. For example, my son has as much independent play time both indoors and outdoors as possible rather than structured, one-on-one play time with me. This simplifies the day because I get to feel refreshed doing my own thing as much as possible.”
16. Reflect on each day.
“Every night I write a list with what I did well during the day, and what my intentions are for the next day. It has been a great help to keep track of what I’m doing with my time. And it has prevented me from falling out of balance by either procrastinating or overworking. And if I do overwork one day, I’m allowed to procrastinate on the other!”
17. Get creative in the kitchen.
“I can only speak for myself and what’s helped me maintain a feeling of calm during the pandemic! Cooking simple meals and challenging myself to use up as many ingredients as possible before heading back to the market; learning about the useful wild plants that grow around me and finding ways to incorporate them into my life; slowly and without pressure picking up new skills like fermentation and growing food; and most importantly, finding little ways to celebrate each day. Fresh sheets, an old jazz record, candlelight — just something special that makes me happy to be alive.”
18. Be inventive and resilient.
“One of the things that most attracted me to minimalism and sustainable living was that it gave me the opportunity to be inventive and resourceful. An unexpected result is that it has taught me resilience. So my best tip is to be flexible, and find creative ways to work with your limitations. Lose yourself in a rabbit hole of flourless baking, and seek out space-saving, long-lasting natural products, things like shampoo bars and soap nuts, which are not only eco-friendly, but are also incredibly practical right now.”
19. Reframe your thinking.
“Don’t focus on the things you could, should or would ordinarily do. Think of what you can and will do, and use this to inspire you.”
20. Focus on well-being and connection.
“I have been trying my best to maintain these three things to keep myself well during this time: physical health (exercise, staying hydrated, adequate rest and a balanced diet); mental health (journaling, meditation and virtual therapy); and community (staying in touch with family, friends and neighbors as well as volunteering).”
21. Determine what's within your control.
“For me it has been about categorizing what I can do to make the world a better place and what is beyond my control. I do the best that I can and try not to sweat the rest. I want us to be remembered as a society that dealt with this pandemic with grace and not with panic. We’ve used these credos to get us through this challenging time.”
BONUS: Keep life simple by dancing your ass off!
“To find some mindfulness in all this shit, I plug my headphones into my old iPod, blast an upbeat song, and then proceed to dance around my tiny apartment like an absolute fool. Doesn’t matter if it’s Motown or N’Sync or Lizzo, you bet I’ll be shaking my ass like I’m Beyoncé‘s backup dancer – even though all I really know are awkward Dad-style dance moves. It might not be a fancy meditation, but giving myself permission to boogie unabashedly for three minutes is a total gamechanger for mindfulness.”
So far, 2020’s been kind of a pain in the ass, hasn’t it? It’s easy to get lost in the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I hope these tips can help you take little steps toward intentional living. Here are some of the key takeaways from our experts:
Prioritize your time. Figure out what’s most important in your life, and then guard it at all costs. It might be family time, or time in nature, or “you” time to recharge.
Have a routine. Whether it’s regular mealtimes or mindfulness activities or dancing around in your underwear in the mornings, pick some sort of routine that grounds you. And then…
Be flexible. The situation is changing from day to day, and sometimes things don’t go as planned. Allow yourself to go with the flow.
Distract yourself. Find enjoyable hobbies that help you grow as a person and connect with the world around you. That might mean gardening or cooking or decluttering your kitchen – whatever it is, immerse yourself in the awesome feeling of learning a new skill.