Jan. 4, 2018.
“Take a picture, it’ll last longer.” It’s a tongue-in-cheek saying, but in 2017, Ohio State University researchers found that this wisdom proved useful in helping people to declutter.
The real reason we hang onto our stuff as if our lives depend on it, researchers say, is because we don’t want to give up our memories. But when Ohio State, Penn State, and UT Austin researchers organized a donation drive for 797 Penn State students living on campus, they had the clever idea to post signage asking one group to take a photo of their beloved belongings before donating. Funny enough, the “memory preservation” tactic worked. Donations increased to 613 items in the photo-taking group versus 533 items in the control group.
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In some cases, parting with the excess may be as simple as taking a picture before giving a special sweater or childhood chair to Goodwill. Other times, it can take a little creativity — and organization — to pare down the parts of your life that feel out of control.
20 ingenious ways to streamline your life and restore your sanity
If you want to feel financially fit, socially and digitally balanced, and less chaotic at home in the upcoming year, here’s where to begin. Don’t forget to take a photo of your most nostalgic items first:
Getting your house organized isn’t just for vanity. Taming clutter can restore a sense of personal control, so much so that it could help to curb compulsive behaviors like impulse spending. Start to:
- Throw away anything you can see right now that you don’t need. This one is easy. Go from room to room and fill up a trash bag with papers, broken toys and knickknacks, and torn or stained clothes.
- Prioritize your memories. This is where the latest “memory preservation” research takes center stage. Only keep gifts, pictures, art, and furniture in good shape and with good memories attached. Everything else can be thrown out or donated.
- Download electronic manuals to all appliances and devices and store in the cloud. Throw bulky paper product manuals out.
- Don’t buy something you don’t need just because it’s on sale. While you’re at it, make a small profit by selling gently-used furniture, clothes, and other items on Craigslist and VarageSale.
Try the rule of five. Get rid of a minimum of five items in each room you clean, whether it’s a pile of paper, a broken lamp, or outdated electronics.
- Set up a swap. If you really, truly can’t bear to part with some of your prized possessions — like your paperback book collection — make a night of it. Invite friends over for wine, coffee, and snacks, and swap your favorite books, accessories, or toys for the kids.
- Get the family involved. Tackling the junk drawers — and closets — in your house doesn’t have to be a one-man show. Take this opportunity to explain to children about the importance of releasing clutter and donating gently-used items to those in need. Ask them to pitch in, take charge of their own rooms, and participate in a charity drop-off. (Giving has been proven to make young children happy.)
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The bad news: People who are in debt are three times more likely to have mental health problems than those who aren’t. The good news: Taking several proactive steps may be enough to make your debt more manageable. Start to:
- Cut out all extra subscriptions. You may be subscribed to a monthly magazine, a digital magazine, a streaming service, or a video game service that you’ve totally forgotten about. Any of these silent money-suckers can add an extra $10-20 per month to your household bills.
- Use a grocery list or app and stick to it. Even small impulse purchases at the grocery store can accumulate by the end of the month.
- Quit the gym. This may seem counterintuitive to your New Year’s resolution, but hear us out. If you don’t have time to go to the gym, end your contract and stop paying for it. Consider signing up for an online fitness program, joining a local and free running group, or working out at a low-cost community rec center instead.
- Sell your car. Can you downsize to a one-car household? If so, try sharing a vehicle or using public transport. Put that $300-400 car payment toward any outstanding debt.
Talk to your loan officer about a mortgage refinance. If you’re a homeowner, you may be paying a higher-than-necessary interest rate that can increase your monthly mortgage payment. Refinancing a mortgage can be used to potentially reduce a monthly payment, change or shorten loan terms, or consolidate debt.**
- Start putting money into an emergency fund, if you haven’t already. Set up automatic contributions from your checking account to save toward a $1,000 goal; every little deposit counts.
- Make a list of debts by interest rate. Start paying against the debt with the highest interest rate — the one costing you the most money — before paying off those at lower interest.
Clean up your mortgage by reducing its length or lowering your monthly payment: Use our free calculator to find out if it’s a good time to refinance.**
Social media stress
As you may have guessed, having more friends on Facebook does not a happier person make. University of Edinburg researchers found in 2012 that having a big social media following can lead to more stress. If you’re feeling overloaded online, start to:
- Unfollow and unfriend. Take a spare hour or two to walk down memory lane — go through your friends list and unfriend those acquaintances you haven’t spoken to in years (or can’t remember).
- Unfollow the media. If you’re no longer interested in a website or business, there’s no reason to have them on your feed. Unlike and unfollow to manage the daily content you’re exposed to.
Take a break. For some people, this may look like deactivating or silencing Facebook for a week, a month, or permanently. For others, committing to unplug for even an hour each day can work wonders in reducing stress.
- Unsubscribe from email lists. If you’re getting sales or newsletter emails you no longer need or want to read, the end is nigh – simply click unsubscribe at the bottom and make sure you’re removed from each list.
- Unsubscribe from notifications. Many times, you’re subscribed automatically to the apps you download and the countless blinking notifications they bring with them. Deleting all apps may not be necessary if you take the extra step to go into your phone or app settings and unsubscribe. Now breathe a sigh of relief.
- Write a letter or write in a journal. It sounds crazy enough to work. Give your brain and your hands a rest from screen-time and pick up a pen to jot down your feelings. For extra credit, write a narrative. As University of Arizona psychology doctoral students discovered in 2017, narrative express writing — writing a meaningful story about a tough life experience like a divorce — can help to reduce the negative effects of stress on the heart.
Here’s one less thing to worry about this year: A practically paperless mortgage that also happens to be fast, friendly, and easy. Download our free LoanFly app, plug in your details, and get prequalified to buy or refinance in minutes. Once you’re prequalified, you’ll get access to your secure LoanFly Borrower Portal, where you can upload loan documents and track your loan status until closing day.
*During normal business hours.
**While refinancing could make a significant difference in the amount you pay each month, there are other costs you should consider. Plus, your finance charges may be higher over the life of the loan.
For educational purposes only. Please contact your qualified professional for specific guidance.
Sources are deemed reliable but not guaranteed.