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How to Improve Your Life By Sweating the Small Stuff

Little steps you can take to make things more manageable

By Denise SheltonPublished 3 years ago 6 min read
How to Improve Your Life By Sweating the Small Stuff
Photo by Vincent Erhart on Unsplash

By almost anyone’s measure, these are challenging times. I should know. I’ve been through the mill more times than I care to remember.

  • An autoimmune disorder blindsided me during my senior year in college, and a doctor told me I might be permanently disabled.
  • I had a father with Alzheimer’s in a care facility, a mother in a coma in the hospital, and a bipolar mother-in-law living with us who was not on medication, all at the same time.
  • My family went from a six-figure income to zero in an instant and pretty much stayed there for three years.

Got the daily news blues?

So yes, I know a thing or two about hard times. I remember as a child being under the constant threat of nuclear warfare, and as a parent watching children become the victims of terrorist attacks, serial killers, and mass shootings. It’s a wonder any of us has been able to hold on to our sanity.

The world is and always has been a dangerous place. Whether it’s a pandemic or a shark attack that takes us out, we’re all going to go some time. These days, depression and anxiety are normal. We have good reason to feel that way. So what can we do to feel better?

Bad solutions have a way of becoming bad habits

Some of the solutions we reach for, like alcohol, drugs, gambling, and inappropriate relationships, often only make things worse. Other things like therapy, losing weight, getting in shape, or learning a new language are great, but they take time. What can you do to feel better right now that takes very little time? The answer may surprise you.

By John Cameron on Unsplash

Yesterday, I was feeling low. Then a package arrived in the mail; in it was a battery organizer. Like a lot of people, I have dozens of batteries scattered throughout the house. Many of them are in junk drawers (I have more than one), some are in boxes with Christmas decorations, others are in weird places like my jewelry box or my pen holder. They piled up, in part, because I didn’t know which ones were still good. I saw this organizer advertised, and I decided to buy it.

Small changes lead to bigger ones

The battery organizer I chose came with a battery tester, so at last, I was able to tell which ones were useless. I gathered up all the loose batteries I could find and started testing them. To my surprise, a good third of them were just fine.

I put the batteries in the organizer, along with the ones I still had in packages that I knew were okay. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself until I realized I had a problem: where was I going to put this thing? The package indicated that I could mount the organizer on the wall, and it contained four screws, but I wasn’t confident that I could successfully hang up something so heavy.

The organizer stands nicely on its own. I thought about putting it in the garage on the tool chest, but that didn’t seem like a convenient location. I realized that the most logical place was in the junk drawer, where I found most of the batteries in the first place. It would fit nicely, providing I removed most of the remaining contents.

Looking at them, I sighed. It was an assortment of cup hooks, picture hangers, velcro fasteners, plant markers, dried-up glue bottles, and a single earring, among other things. I bit the bullet and found new places for most of it. A few things I was able to throw away.

By Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

This seemly insignificant improvement in my life had a curious effect. Not only did it make me feel better, it made me want to do more.

I went over to my desk, piled hbilligh with a mixture of writing notes, bills, medical explanation of benefits forms, eBay sales receipts, to-do lists, and trading cards I plan to research and then sell. Just looking at it stressed me out, but with the battery organizer experience fresh in my mind, I got to work at once.

I sorted and filed paperwork, paid bills, and created special boxes for the medical papers and paid billing statements. I put the trading cards in one pile and my writing notes in another to deal with later. The desk wasn’t immaculate, but it was in much better shape. I was also able to get a handle on what my budget should be for the next few months after getting my bills in order.

As you may have guessed, I’m not a very tidy person. I was probably born to have a maid. Unfortunately, I can’t afford one. I think that keeping things in order is partly nature and partly nurture. I was never really taught how to keep things neat and orderly, and, although I can’t say I like clutter, it doesn’t drive me nuts. But when life, in general, gets overwhelming, I’ve learned that taking control over even a tiny part of your world can be therapeutic.

Before Marie Kondo, there was Marla Cilley

(Source:, fair use)

When I had a young son in school, managing things at home became difficult. Much of my life centered around his needs and activities. Around the same time, my ailing mother-in-law moved in, and I had another person in the mix who needed a lot of attention. I’ve suffered from depression since I was a teenager, and when things get overwhelming, I tend to lose my bearings. Just getting up in the morning becomes a chore.

I don’t remember how I found Marla Cilley’s FlyLady website, but it helped me immeasurably. Many years ago, Cilley wound up in a hospital due to depression. There she learned that small actions could lead to significant behavioral changes. One of the first things she tells people who want to take better care of their homes is to clean their kitchen sink. Just the sink, don’t worry about anything else.

Order and cleanliness tend to go viral

By Naomi Hébert on Unsplash

After a while, that sink looks so great and makes you feel so good that the countertops will soon follow, and then the appliances, the floor, etc. until the whole kitchen is clean. It may take you a day, a week, or a month, but if you keep at it, those routines will become habits.

If you struggle with maintaining an orderly lifestyle, I encourage you to visit the FlyLady website and try some of her techniques.

The focus on Cilley’s website is housekeeping, but you can easily apply her methods to different areas of your life, too. There’s so much great information there; you have to see it to believe it. She’s got routines for every room in your house, and even a plan for making holiday preparations stress-free and more enjoyable.

I haven’t followed FlyLady’s program for a while, but I think I’m going to dive back in. I used to clean when people were coming over, but that’s still not going to happen for a while.

You'll be astonished at what happiness you can find in small victories over chaos. Small steps lead to big improvements, and it's as simple as starting with a clean sink.


About the Creator

Denise Shelton

Denise Shelton writes on a variety of topics and in several different genres. Frequent subjects include history, politics, and opinion. She gleefully writes poetry The New Yorker wouldn't dare publish.

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