Spring is just around the corner, and if you’re ready to embark on some seasonal cleaning, decluttering, and organizing, you came to the right place. I’m a neat freak, organizational guru, and ex–celebrity personal assistant, and I’m about to teach you how to streamline your entire life. It may sound impossible, but trust me, you can make your daily habits more efficient and effective by employing faster and simpler methods. You have to be smart about things, plan ahead, and start now. The first step to doing something is to actually do it, so devote a half an hour of your day today to one of these projects.
Ready to streamline? Here’s how to streamline your life—the personal assistant’s way—in eight uncomplicated steps.
Step One: Purge
Begin by going through each area of your house and getting rid of anything that you don’t need. Follow the guidelines outlined by Marie Kondo in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Look at each item and ask yourself: Does it spark joy? If you feel no joy, get rid of it. If it sparks joy, keep it, but find a space to keep it and always keep it neatly in that place.
If the thought of getting rid of things scares you, start in an area of your house where it’s relatively easy to throw away things: the kitchen. Get rid of expired canned goods and moldy condiments. Pull out food items that have been in your freezer for several months and eat them. Go through your cooking utensils, gadgets, and Tupperware. Eliminate anything you don’t use or any multiples. You don’t need more than three sets of tongs. You’ll never use Tupperware that doesn’t have lids. Are those cookbooks gathering dust?
Donate them to the library. Once you’ve tackled the kitchen and have gained confidence in purging, move on to the harder rooms in your house: the closet, the bedroom, and the office.
Step Two: Go Paperless
Papers can take up a lot of space, so go paperless in any ways that you can. Set up an email account with your health insurance, so you can handle all prescription renewals online or over the phone. Sign up to go paperless through your bank. As soon as you get junk mail like catalogs or coupons, look at them immediately; then place them in the recycling bin. Unless you are actually going to go through them once a week, do not make piles of papers to be dealt with at a later time. Don’t hold onto old magazines and newspapers.
Keep them for a couple of months, read them, and then recycle them. Check your magazine stack now: Get rid of any issues that are from 2015 or earlier. You don’t need to be reading the December gift guide of Vogue in March. Recycle it now to ensure that you don’t end up with an intimidating stack of magazines that you’ll have to go through months down the line.
Pay all bills electronically online. Automate everything that you possibly can. If you order home supplies off of Amazon, set up a subscription order where you get toilet paper delivered every six weeks. Use your calendar as a tool to set reminders for regular appointments. For example, if you have to take the dog to the groomer every two months, set a reminder to go off every two months. Or if your groomer will let you, set up a standing appointment, where you bring Rylie the Yorkie in every other first Monday of the month at 9 a.m. The more automatic and easy routines you can set up, the more streamlined your life will become.
Step Three: Adopt Organizational Systems
You want all aspects of your life to work like clockwork, right? Take the time to create systems; then use the systems. If you go grocery shopping for your family of four once a week, create a list of all the items you like to have in your kitchen. Type it up as a Word document; then print it out each time you go to the store. Circle the items that you need. Or find a magnetic pad and keep it on your refrigerator. Whenever you run out of eggs or hot sauce, immediately write it on the pad that’s on the fridge.
The next time you go to the store, pull off the top sheet and buy all the groceries that you need.
Systems can be created in all aspects of your life. When you remove clothes, instead of leaving them on the closet floor or piling them on a chair, return them to the closet in the correct spot immediately or put them in the laundry. Keep dirty darks, colors, and whites in separate areas, even if it is just half of the laundry basket. Put clothes that need to be taken to the dry cleaner in a separate area and set up a regular time to pick up and drop off clothes from the dry cleaner. If you cook a lot, set up cooking systems.
Make batches of food on Sundays to eat all week, freeze pre-prepared meals, or learn how to use your crockpot to your advantage.
Train yourself to think ahead and plan in advance. On Sundays, take some time to think about the coming week. Map it out in your head or in your day planner. If you know that you have to stay late at work on Wednesday, mentally plan that night’s dinner now. Consult your freezer to see if there is any soup or spaghetti and meatballs you can pull out that morning and reheat when you’re home late. If there is a container of soup, set a reminder on your calendar for Wednesday morning, so you remember to pull it from the freezer.
Otherwise, make a note to buy something easy for Wednesday night dinner on your grocery list.
Think about where you’re going. Group errands and tasks by neighborhoods of your city. If you have to make a return at Zara and that’s downtown, figure out the next time you’re going to be down there. If you’re meeting a friend for happy hour in the general vicinity, schedule time for you to make the return before you meet her. Make a calendar reminder, put a Post-It by the front door, or leave the clothes you are returning in a spot where you won’t forget them.
Step Four: Delegate, Group, and Bulk Tasks
The simplest way to streamline your life is to delegate and outsource tasks whenever you can afford it. Hire a house cleaner to clean your house. Enlist a dog walker to walk your dog. Have your dry-cleaner pick up and deliver your dry cleaning at the same time every week. Sign up for a meal kit delivery service like Blue Apron. Delegate chores and simple work to-dos to family members or colleagues.
If you do certain tasks over and over again, bulk them together. For example, if I have to find images for four stories, I search for all four images at the same time, then I sit down and write the stories all at the same time. My mind shifts from image searching to writing. Instead of switching from searching to writing four times, I only have to make the mental shift twice. Bulk your work whenever you can. Do all your cooking for the week on Sunday night. Make a pot of soup for Monday, and while you’re in the kitchen, roast chicken and boil lentils to have on hand for easy and healthy work lunches.
Step Five: Review and Update Progress Regularly
Streamlining is a continual process. All of the steps listed here have to be repeated over and over again for them to become natural habits. I’m constantly getting rid of things and am constantly coming up with new systems. When you find yourself overwhelmed by something or that a system is no longer working, take the time to go through it and start fresh with a new system. I recently realized I had way too many reusable tote bags for groceries, so I had to go through them and get rid of a bunch of them.
I also realized that my schedule for writing—the previous system—needed to be updated, so I’ve changed it and am trying something new. There’s room for error, so if something’s not working out, remedy the situation.
In the following four books, you’ll learn more about streamlining and organization.
How do you streamline your life?