4 Simple Ways to De-Stress

Simplicity is everywhere, from Real Simple magazine to pre-washed-salad-in-a-bag. So why aren't our lives any less complicated?

Achieving greater simplicity doesn't necessarily require huge lifestyle changes, but it does require living consciously and deliberately. Think of your time and energy as limited, not infinite, resources. Here are a few ways to streamline your life, from one of the easiest steps you can take to a life-altering move that can permanently change your perspective for the better:

1. Check your e-mail less often. "The biggest black-hole time-sucker that exists, without a doubt, is e-mail," says Julie Morgenstern, president of Task Masters, an organizing service based in New York City. Morgenstern says more executives have stopped checking their e-mail first thing in the morning. "They do their most important tasks first, then check their e-mail an hour into their day," she says.

Often, people use e-mail as a procrastination tool, Morgenstern adds, and leave stressful tasks to pile up. If you're guilty, cut back to checking yours once every half-hour or hour at work, and once a day at home.

2. Pen in your priorities. To minimize invasions on your time, keep a "time map," Morgenstern suggests. Write, in ink, on your calendar what you wish to accomplish in the next four to seven days, whether it's to spend time with your family, finish a personal project, or work out. "If you've marked down your plans in advance, turning down requests becomes less about saying no to people and more about saying yes to things where you've predetermined your time," Morgenstern says.

3. Work out on your way to work. Tracey Rembert, 30, combines her commuting and exercise needs. Rembert walks more than a mile each workday to public transit from her home in Takoma Park, Md., then reads during her 45-minute commute. By building exercise into her day, she gets a rejuvenating boost.

Like Rembert, Jessica Coleman, 26, of Springfield, Ore., has simplified her life by meeting her transportation and exercise needs at the same time. Coleman, who considers owning a car an unnecessary complication, rides her bicycle to her two part-time jobs (a total of 12 miles a day) doing errands along the way. "It sounds like a lot of riding, but it's broken up over nine hours and it's on fairly level ground," she says. "And I can fit a week's groceries into my backpack."

4. Live in a smaller space. No wonder there's a growing backlash against "McMansions." Smaller spaces are not only warmer and more inviting; they also require less maintenance. A rule of thumb for living simply: Choose a home with only as many rooms as you use every day.

Sometimes even a modest-size home can be traded for a smaller, more rewarding environment. Andrea Maurio, 37, SHAPE's photo-shoot producer, moved out of her apartment last summer and onto a sailboat in Santa Barbara, Calif. "It really taught me to live more simply," she says. After putting most of her belongings in storage, she learned she didn't miss them. Without her CDs, she fell asleep to the sounds of the boat's rocking. Inspired by her natural surroundings, she even pared her makeup routine to a coat of mascara.

By learning how to live a balanced and fulfilled life, you discover your true self and priorities under the clutter and gain time, energy and peace of mind: life's most valuable assets.

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