How to make fewer decisions (and make your life a lot easier)

Want to be more productive? Have more energy? All the productivity tips in the world won't help you if you make the wrong decisions. Decision fatigue is real - Read on to find out what you should do instead. #growthmindset #inspiring #motivation #motivational #personaldevelopment #getoutofyourcomfortzone

I spent most of 2011 traveling and living out a backpack. I had three options for footwear, five tops, two dresses, and two pairs of pants. (You can see my definitive ‘what to pack’ list here) 

You’d think being limited to a black tank top or a green tank top (for when I’m feeling kicky) would make me feel sartorially smothered.  Nope.  I felt free.
When your choices are limited to black tank top + pink and black scarf + jeans or green tank top + blue and green scarf + jeans it’s pretty easy to choose one and then get on with your day.
It’s a well-documented fact that having too many choices actually makes us depressed, overwhelmed, and  downright cranky. (Though maybe that last one is just me?)  But it also feels weird to actively remove choices from our lives. Didn’t we bust our asses so life would be nothing so much as a smorgasbord of opportunity and options? Whatever.

I’d like to argue that when we make fewer decisions life gets easier + happier + better.

Even if you just removed one decision from your day-to-day life! Don’t get rid of the decisions you enjoy making – where to go on holiday, what to buy your BFF for her birthday, which fancy drink to order, which suitor to encourage.

But do you actually enjoy thinking about what you’ll eat during your 30-minute lunch break? Is it fun to spend 15 minutes in Target looking for a decent birthday card? Does it thrill you to waffle over what you’ll wear to your former co-worker’s wedding? Probably not.

When you remove those non-awesome decisions, you free up time and mental space to actually enjoy your life and those decisions that you actually enjoy making.

Here are the decisions that I’ve removed from my life:

What to bring to a house party or barbeque

I made the executive decision that this would be the summer of the elevated jello shot. So far I’ve made watermelon, mojito, lemondrop, green apple, and greyhound jello shots. I love them and so does everybody else who encounters them. Autumn and Winter will be devoted to mini pies.

What card to send anyone, ever

I buy boxes of these cards. Seriously. (Though I obviously write a personal message inside the card so it doesn’t feel oddly dismissive.)

What to wear in the summer

Sundresses + sandals + bangles + my favorite lipstick. I bought three ‘fit and flare’ knit dresses and I just rotate through them.

What jeans to buy

I have five pairs of jeans and four of them are this brand. I will never shop for jeans again. I will just walk into Old Navy and buy these in bulk. (Or better yet, buy them from ThredUp!)

What to buy people for their wedding or baby shower

Something off of their registry at Target. I use the rule of thumb that you should purchase an item that costs .1% of your yearly income. So if you make $40,000 a year, you buy a $40 present. I just scroll through the list, find something in the right price range, buy it, put it in a gift bag with the gift receipt and one of the aforementioned cards.

What to say when it’s time to give a toast

“To friends who are family, and family who are friends.”

When to pay my bills

Every single bill I pay is set to auto-deduct from my checking account. Once a week, I look through my account to make sure all the charges seem legit.
I don’t mean to indicate that I take card-writing or toast-making or jean-purchasing lightly. (Because how my butt looks in skinny jeans is Extremely Important, guys.) When you find something that works? Keep doing it. Click To Tweet Removing some of those tiny, non-joyful decisions gives you more time and space to enjoy the decisions that thrill you.
What choices have you removed from your life? Which things can you automate?
Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

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  1. Meg

    Agreed. Agreed times 10. I've been in a mission the last 6 months or so to reduce number of choices I have to make in the morning, including but not limited to what to wear, how to do my hair, which earrings go with which outfits, coffee or tea, what's for breakfast, and what to pack for lunch. It's making a huge difference in my life. First step: only comfy, professional, layer-able clothes are welcome in my closet in a limited color palette. Everything goes with everything, I'm super comfortable, and no one knows that I've worn that dress twice this week with different accessories.

  2. Harmony

    The idea of having a standard, one that suits you, is very appealing. A go-to that you can be counted on to deliver. It is a refreshing thought to think you don't have to one-up yourself for each toast, gift or card.

  3. erin e flynn

    Love this! I just wrote a blog post about trying to simplify my life, and this will definitely help! =D So tired of over-thinking everything!

  4. Michelle English

    Love this post! I've been doing some bulk purchasing of frequently used items so that I don't have to constantly think "Do we need more toilet paper? How are we on toothpaste?" I, too, have found jeans that work for me, and have four pairs of them in different washes/colors. I've recently embarked on a 'buy only american made' challenge for myself, so that has cut down a lot on what I bring into the house. For food, I eat the same thing for breakfast every weekday (avocado toast– not sick of it yet!) and we do homemade pizza every sunday night. Takes the guessing out of what's needed at the grocery store for at least a few meals.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! (I also swear by avocado toast. Though sometimes I eat chocolate chia seed pudding or scrambled egg whites if I'm feeling fancy.)

  5. iris

    Do you know what country those jeans are made in? I'm a bit leery of Old Navy (and pretty much any bargain brand) due to the use of sweat shops…

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      It looks like their stuff generally comes from Cambodia, China, Colombia, El Salvador, Indonesia, Mexico, Moldova, Peru, Philippines, Turkey, Vietnam.

      The way I navigate this sort of thing is purchasing about 30% of my stuff from big box stores and then thrift/vintage/clothing swap the rest. And take good care of my clothing so I'm not replacing it constantly. 🙂

  6. Jess

    This is all great, and I LOVE those cards! The only choice I wish I could narrow down right now would be which of my many interests would I actually like to pursue as a career choice… Maybe I'm doing this wrong.

  7. Kristy

    This is definately welcomed news as I'm deep in the process of assessing a lot of stuff in my life already. I recently cleaned out my closet (Thanks to a healthy lifestyle change) and need to do the same with other parts of my life too.

  8. Linda Loui

    I very much enjoy putting outfits together so having a large wardrobe and lots of options works for me. I do have some fast fallback outfits for the times when I need to make a quick decision on what to wear. I pack almost the same lunch every single day and eat the same thing for breakfast 99% of the time. Jeans, Levi's Bold Curve – why look for others when you've found the awesome fitting ones? I auto pay everything possible, too. A while ago I decided to stop messing around with different shades of haircolor to cover my greys and just buy the one that matches my roots as closely as possible all the time.

  9. hungryandfrozen

    Excellent toast. Keeping that one in mind.

  10. Anonymous

    Make-Up is a Big Deal to me, so I've completely "routined" my morning face. I wear exactly the same base and eyes, and just alternsate the lipsticks. I buy everything in bulk when it's on sale and just roll out the same thing. The lipsticks are MAC and stay on all day, so I just switcharoo the colours for a bit of variety. EASY.

  11. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures

    This is exactly how I live my life! Although I do have to say people make comments here and there about how I need to stop wearing the same thing over and over haha.

  12. Hannah Camplin

    Sarah, the link to your summer dress is not working for me and am dying to see it! Could you please re-post the link for me. Great post.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Ah, it looks like it's no longer available since it was a sundress and everybody's carrying fall stuff now 🙁

  13. Beverly Miller

    I love this post! I've been wanting to alleviate the choices in my life but never do it. I'm going home tonight and empty my closet! !

  14. Janelle @ Two Cups Of Happy

    Love this idea. I've been needing to empty my closet lately. I get rid of a few clothing items on a monthly basis but there is STILL stuff in there I don't wear.

  15. Danai

    Ballerina flats that are cheap, cute and feel like i'm not wearing shoes? When I finally found a pair like that, I just went back and bought it in, wait, let me think, ah, yes 5 different colors. Only problem is, now with the new season, there are like 5 NEW colors available… But it's for a good cause: working towards having a shoe wardrobe that is completely consisted of the same shoe in different colors – that completely eliminates choice right? Right?

  16. Mercedes R. Donis

    Great advice, especially the what to bring to a party. Beware, though, jeans shopping at Old Navy isn't as straight forward as it seems! I DID THIS EXACT THING and bought four pairs of the rock star skinners in four different colors, all same size and they all fit differently. I think OLd Navy is notorious or size variance!

    • C

      I’ve had this problem, too!

  17. Liz

    This is good advice! I'm actually in the process of something right now, but I'm going to share exactly what it is when it's either finally resolved or somewhat safer and won't harm the process. BUT! I made the decision the other day to remove something that has followed me my entire life that I really think will not only help me, but others as well. It started with the question, "Do I want to spend the rest of my life living in paranoia, regretting NOT [doing this], and other things? Or do I want to put an end to the mess once and for all?" And I decided, with those questions, that I would be able to rid myself of a lot of worry and stress and depression. ♥

  18. NZ Muse

    YES. I am so indecisive and narrowing the options is a lifesaver.

    For our six month RTW trip, I have two dresses, two skirts, one pair of jeans, one pair of pants that also zip off into shorts, and I dunno, five tops and a couple of cardigans? Plus four pairs of shoes – Toms, sneakers, jandals and flats.

  19. mel

    Hmmm 0.01% of $40,000 is $4. Do you mean 0.1%?

    $40 doesn't seem like a lot when people talk about wedding gifts. Weddings are cray.I was curious about this but when I did this math for my own income it was like 12 bucks! ha! I don't think it would work for me LOL I wish I made $40k!

  20. Natalie

    I have a lot (a lot!) of dresses but more or less just wear one pair of classic, neutral shoes until they wear out, then get another one .
    I'm vegan and an environmentalist, so that almost always narrows down what I eat (almost never dessert!) and the purchasing decisions I make (always secondhand!)
    I always bring wine to house parties.
    I live near the beach but only have one bathing suit (1950s black one piece, yowser!)

    I agree so much with this post – and I'm always after more ways to simplify!

    pearl vintage archive

  21. Anonymous

    Old Navy jeans are the best!

  22. Shannon

    I like it! This is totally why I’ve narrowed down my work clothes to “things that go together.” I do like the idea of always bringing the same thing to a pot-luck, but my husband goes a little nuts around those sort of things. He used to be a professional cook, so he always feels the need to prove himself and gets way too stressed about it.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Ha! I am married to the same type of man 😉

  23. Kelsi

    Great post! I have automated my workouts. Basically, I know what works for me and I don’t try to force anything else. My cardio options are walking (low intensity) and dancing (high intensity). For strength training I do routines with free weights or resistance bands, and yoga. That’s it.

    Packing for trips is also automated. I have packing down to a science, and rarely need anything bigger than a carry-on. I know which clothes to bring based on climate, what to wear on the plane, and many of my toiletries are non-liquid now (solid shampoo, lotion bars, mineral makeup foundation, etc.).

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Solid shampoo is a game-changer, isn’t it?!

  24. Jf

    My favorite article I’ve read all year! One of my tricks is to go with a color scheme for clothes. That way i don’t have to have brown, tan, black, and white shoes, just whichever goes with my clothes. Also, ideally that way you shouldn’t have anywhere near as much sorting when you do laundry.

  25. C

    I’ve had essentially the same haircut (variants on a pixie) for the last 10 years, and I still love it! It takes me 2-7 minutes to style, depending on how fancy I want to be.

    As mentioned in a comment above, I also routinized my makeup: concealer, powder foundation, and brown or navy eyeliner. Takes me about 3 minutes and if I go out in the evening, I can just layer on some extra eyeliner/shadow.

    Regarding cards, I keep a box of spare birthday/anniversary/thank-you cards. Whenever I see a card I like, I buy it and put it in the box. Rarely have to go out for a specific type of card. Also, rarely send a card that is picked especially for a specific person. I’m known for usually sending cards that involve beach/ocean/shell/pirate/nautical themes, or flowery cards or literary/historical cards, because that’s what I’m into and find amusing when I’m in the checkout line.

    I am trying to figure out a way to simplify my wardrobe decisions. I am not someone who has a “full closet and nothing to wear.” I have a full closet and plenty of clothes that I LOVE to wear. However, having just moved to NYC from California, I’m still assessing all this weather stuff. Doesn’t matter if it’s cold or rainy in California, because you’re driving to your destination anyway. Now, I take into consideration things like, a) rain, b) walking distance, c) humidity, d) temperature, e) likelihood of someplace being over air-conditioned. I have problems when I set out an outfit that includes nude suede dress shoes, and then I look outside and there’s a surprise storm and that outfit doesn’t look so great with black rain boots. OR when it’s 75 in the early afternoon, but dropping to 58 in the evening. (So a summer dress with a wool sweater???) WTF is with weather, anyway?

  26. Heidi

    This post really belongs in a set with the post on Personal Policies. Both encourage an easier life by sticking with tried-and-true actions. I can see the e-course now: How to Make Life Easier.

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