1. Embrace Your Insignificance
Even if you're a CEO, you're still only one spoke in the big wheel. Quit thinking everything depends on you.
2. Let Go
Something's got to give if you want to be serene. What's it gonna be? "Coming of age has a lot to do with letting go of what you were told were the right things and finding out what are the right things for you," says Judy, a first-grade teacher in Vermont who's also an accomplished artist.
The author of Keeping Life Simple suggests making two master lists, one of your responsibilities at work, the other of those at home, starting with the most important tasks at the top. (Just make one if you don't go out to work.) Now draw a horizontal line through the middle of each list. Rarely, if ever, do the things beneath that line. Do not waver. "The thing about being a stay-at-home mom is that people know they've got you -- there's nowhere to run when they call asking for something," says Alison, a mother of two children, ages 7 and 9, in Connecticut. "So I only say yes to the people who need me most. For example, I'm more inclined to volunteer at my son's school because most of the kids' mothers are working moms. At my daughter's school, where the PTA is being run by a bunch of former executives, I ask myself when they call for help, 'Do they need me or just want me?'"
3. Do Nothing -- Alone
Ask your husband to take the kids out for the afternoon, you don't care where. Then stay home and do nothing -- nothing planned, scheduled, or productive. If you end up asleep in front of the fire, great. Maybe you'll read old love letters. Maybe you'll paint your nails red. Whatever. Savor the rich pleasure of a timeless day.
4. Do Nothing -- With Your Family
Memories are spun of minutiae -- the marshmallows in the hot cocoa, the shared blanket on the couch in front of the TV. So you weren't productive. Ask the kids if they care.
5. Follow the Money Trail
We have to keep the job because we have to make the money because we have to pay for the car, the clothes, the restaurants, the vacation, the new hot-water heater, the new roof, and . . . yah, yah, yah. No wonder we dream of chucking it all and escaping. "When I realized I was making tons of money and still didn't have a lot in the bank, I knew I had to take a look at where I was spending it: You want to go out to dinner? Go. You want to take a cab? No problem," says Christie, a former Wall Street broker. "Here I was with a big salary but no money and no time. So I started to think, Less money, more time. It became like a mantra." Four years ago Christie quit her job and went to school to train as a massage therapist. Now she works in her hometown and makes about one-fifth what she did in New York, but also has proportionately fewer expenses.
6. Keep an Old Quilt in the Car Trunk
In case you want to stop and smell the roses along the way to wherever you're going.
7. Buy No Colored Socks
If you buy only white, there's no hassle of chasing orphans. Plus, in a pinch, the kids can all share.
8. Eat the Feast in Your Refrigerator
According to the excellent book Instructions to the Cook: A Zen Master's Lessons in Living a Life That Matters, in Buddhist monasteries, it was the cook's duty to make the most sumptuous meal possible out of whatever ingredients were available -- to use what he had rather than complaining about what he didn't have. The spiritual allegory is hard to miss, but there's a useful literal bit here too: Instead of thinking about dinner in terms of what you want to eat, think in terms of what you've got and work with it, so you don't have to run to the store every night.
9. Practice Gratitude
When you're grateful you're less impatient -- you're not constantly thinking you should be doing or getting something else. It's all about being in the moment -- being happy with what you've got.
10. Grow Things
You will learn patience, peace, and awe.
11. Express Beauty
Through your music, needlepoint, the cake you make, the flowers you arrange. Simplicity, beauty, comfort, and harmony flow in and through one another.
12. Pretend You Have Just Three Friends
I know, I know, you could never narrow the list down that far. But ask yourself: How many of these relationships are fulfilling? How many are habits?
Before you turn all guilt-ridden about pruning your social circle, remember, we're talking about your sanity. "I had to learn that it's okay to not keep in touch with everyone," says Judy. "At first, I thought to myself, I have no loyalty. I'm not social. But I can't accommodate that many people and still have a life. I had to realize that letting go of some friends didn't make me a bad person."
13. Spoil Your Husband
"We've made it a rule that Saturday night is adult time -- that's when my husband gets my undivided attention, and I get his. But when we're all together as a family, neither of us can expect that attention so we don't get frustrated wanting it," says Betts, a 36-year-old mother of two, ages 5 and 2, in San Francisco.
14. Paint One Room
Call it a sneak attack on clutter: "When I repainted my living room, all the books had to come down from the shelves, which forced me to go through them and throw out those I no longer wanted," says Judy. "Then, when I was done with that room, I saw that the room next to it looked shabby in comparison, so I had to clean it out, too. It's like a pebble in water: The rings keep moving outward until I run out of steam or things become acceptable."
15. Make Pillows
The solution to a full life isn't to run from it. But to embrace it. One pillow at a time.