Real Simple readers reveal their strategies for eliminating obligations from their schedules.
Shaving Hours Off Getting Ready
It used to take me two or three hours to wash, dry, and style my long, thick hair. Then a friend told me about Locks of Love, an organization that accepts donations of hair to make wigs for children suffering from disease-related hair loss. I cut off 15 inches and sent it to the organization, and now I have a cute, shorter style that I no longer have to spend hours styling.
Finding Shortcuts at Home
I stopped sorting and matching socks for my family of five. It was such a waste of time. Now we pin our socks together before throwing them into the hamper, and they never get lost.
I take all my ironing to a local dry cleaner, where I pay $1 per shirt for pressing. It saves me hours of work every week.
I do not wash dishes anymore. When I have company, I use china, but when it's just my family, I use paper goods. But I do make sure to buy disposable items that are environmentally friendly and recyclable.
Far Rockaway, New York
I hired my niece to dust and vacuum my house. She earns some money, and I get free time.
The last time I moved, I threw away old receipts, statements, and college papers that I had been sorting and filing for years. Not only did I get rid of a burdensome system but I also ran the paper through a shredder and used the scraps in place of Styrofoam to pack my fragile items for the move.
Bronx, New York
I handed over the bill-paying duties to my husband. This way he shares the worry, completes a household chore, and even spends less money than he used to.
Vancouver, British Columbia
I take out the recycling every other week instead of every week. It takes just as much effort to lug a half-empty bin to the curb as a full one, so why not wait?
Controlling the Message
I have stopped sending cards (except thank-you notes). Instead, I call at least one friend a week, and I also schedule calls around birthdays. This lets me talk to all my long-distance friends several times a year.
Redondo Beach, California
I used to run myself ragged, trying to make time for each of my girlfriends. Now I host a potluck dinner about once a month. It frees up my schedule, and it guarantees that I see everyone I care about at least every few weeks.
I stopped writing in my journal. I used to feel guilty for not writing daily, weekly―even monthly. Now I refer to my "sent" folder of casual e-mails to friends and family for my chronicle. It captures more details and dialogue than my journals ever did, and it's far less time-consuming.
My friends and I always felt obligated to give one another birthday gifts. At the end of last year, we agreed to send cards instead and go out to lunch or dinner once a year to celebrate all our birthdays.
Farmington Hills, Michigan
Getting Out of the Kitchen
I no longer make dinner every night. My husband and I eat large meals during the day and exercise and relax in the evening. Instead of dinner, we eat healthy snacks like cheese and crackers and fruit. We are sleeping well because of the exercise and because we consume most of our calories early in the day.
I don't like to cook for group meals such as potlucks, so if I'm invited to one, I bring the highest-quality, easiest-to-prepare dish I can―sometimes opting for a favorite pasta salad from a local deli. If the dish is delicious and tastefully presented, nobody cares that I didn't make it from scratch.
I no longer make special trips to the bank. I opened an account at a bank with a branch inside my local grocery store, where I go once a week. And that branch stays open later than normal banking hours.
I have a newborn son, so simple tasks like picking up the dry cleaning are a challenge. I found a dry-cleaning service that picks up and delivers. An employee even calls to remind me to leave the clothes outside my door.
I like to entertain, but I stopped making desserts for my guests. I have a friend who bakes professionally, so I pay her a small fee to do the job for me. It's one less party-planning detail to worry about, and I get to plug her business.
I do all my grocery shopping using Peapod.com, an on-line grocery service that delivers to my area. I save my food list and submit it when I need a delivery. I never have to go to the store.
Dropping Extra Work
I used to cut out magazine articles for friends. This practice, while thoughtful, took up time and counter space, so I gave up clipping, trusting that these helpful hints would find their own way to my friends.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
I am a teacher and found myself overburdened by serving on too many school committees. I resigned from all but the three to which I felt I could contribute the most. I resolved not to accept any new assignments unless I gave one up, too.
North Logan, Utah
Instead of spending hours in the shower shaving, I decided to invest in electrolysis. It's so much easier to get ready in the morning, and I no longer deal with ingrown hairs, shaving rashes, or nicks and cuts.