How to spring-clean your life

It's one of the greatest ironies of life: We're too frantically busy to deal with the stuff that makes us feel frantically busy—the to-dos that overwhelm us, the clutter that eats up our homes, the niggling personal and professional issues that preoccupy our minds. Tackling them might feel like a someday project, the kind you'll get around to when you have the time. Right.

The key to a calmer existence, experts say, is finding bite-size, everyday solutions for stressors and releasing what we can, be it physical or psychological clutter. "When you start to let go, your life lightens up because you have less to think about and less to maintain," says Geralin Thomas, a professional organizer in Cary, N.C. "You finally feel in control."

The payoffs don't end there—you can sharpen your focus and even lose weight, too. These are the strategies that will ease your load and let you enjoy life a lot more.

1. Clear your schedule
As we juggle it all, we're often fueled by an I-can-do-it! sense of pride. But we might be deluding ourselves, suggests a study in the Journal of Communication that found that people misperceive the emotional high they get from multitasking as productivity.

And we're not even as good at it as we may think. Another study, published in Psychological Science, revealed that women's ability to keep track of several tasks at once dipped significantly during ovulation, when estrogen levels are high (and can mess with brain function). Surprising Ways Stress Affects Your Health

How to lighten up:
Stop the auto-yes. "Everyone lives in an optimistic world and thinks that if we say yes we will find the time, but the truth is we are in denial," says Julie Morgenstern, one of the top organization and productivity experts in the country. Instead, experiment with saying, "Let me think about how I can do that," says Morgenstern. "This way you can step back and evaluate if you really can do what is being asked."

Have a plan. "Most people's to-do lists actually create fatigue, because they don't clarify how, exactly, they are going to handle Mom's birthday, so tasks feel bigger than they are," says David Allen, a productivity expert and author of the best seller "Getting Things Done." Take a second to jot down how you'll tackle something. Feel better already? 9 Things to Stop Worrying About 

2. Clear your clutter
Dusting, mopping, vacuuming: That's easy. Getting rid of all the junk you have to dust, mop and vacuum around? Not so much.

The thing is, those pile-ups of possessions can create anxiety; a study at UCLA found that just looking at clutter elevated women's stress hormones (although, no surprise, the men's cortisol levels remained unchanged).

Motivation to get going on cleaning house: You may look better, too. As Thomas points out, "One big change I see in clients who have de-cluttered is weight loss. Once they have shaped their environment, they're ready to shape up themselves."

How to lighten up:
Be a regular. Perhaps you dedicate, say, 10 minutes a weekday to an organizing project. Or you commit to doing a couple of hours for a few weekends in a row. The point is, be consistent and attentive; turn off your cell phone and schedule child care. Thomas does a weekly "Trash Eve" de-clutter: "The garbage in my neighborhood is picked up on Wednesdays, which makes Tuesdays the night I make an easy supper and clear the decks!"

Pre-arrange pickups. About 40 percent of people who purge never manage to get the stuff out of their homes, per a poll of 23,000 people on Morgenstern's website. Avoid becoming a hoarder statistic by scheduling a pickup before you start to clean your house. Try, or, a not-for-profit that connects people with local schools and charities in need of specific goods. 7 Steps to Organizing Clutter 

3. Clear your mind
It's not just that we have a lot to keep track of—it's our DIY mentality, says Dr. Orit Avni-Barron, director of Women's Mental Health at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "I hear women say, 'My husband is so great, he helps me,'" as if our partners are our sous chefs instead of co-cooks.

Another issue: Women worry twice as much as men, research shows. "Worrying impairs concentration and memory," says Robert Leahy, director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York City. "You can't tend to the present and worry about the future at the same time. It's overwhelming."

How to lighten up:
Be hands-on. Weed, knead dough, do a craft, says Dr. Gayatri Devi, associate professor of neurology at New York University. "When you think about something tangible, you stop thinking about the theoretical."

Grade perfection on a curve. "We have reached a tipping point in perfection. People are realizing we can't do it all at the level that we used to," says Morgenstern. That means you, sister! Start with the obvious: Divvy up more responsibilities with your partner, even if he does them differently. And try Morgenstern's, "Minimum, Moderate, Maximum," strategy: Decide what level of effort you can give tasks (and get away with). As she says, "You may be surprised to find that everything works out OK."

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