Searching for courage in all the right places

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The world is desperate for, even envious of, people living purposeful lives that are free from fear.

Jeff Goins

In a reflection about the past couple of years, I evaluated the heaping piles of reading material and bookmarked blog posts consumed on simplicity and minimalism. It’s quite impressive, really. When I am intrigued by something, somehow every orifice of the earth is excavated to hunt and gather books, movies, articles, websites and blogs that fill my internal subject file with wisdom. I’m stopping short of calling this simplicity quest an obsession, but lately as I scan my bookshelf, it feels it might be heading in the direction of “dog with a bone land”.

I decided to ask myself why.

Why do I feel compelled to read the thoughts of people who have successfully pursued a more simple lifestyle?

The simple answer…

I’m looking for courage.

I’m mining the minimalist masses for inspiration and stories of change that mattered.

I’m learning that people really can let go of the conventional and embrace the meaningful.

I’m understanding the degree of discipline and self-evaluation it requires.

Intention. Purpose. Meaning….these are new friends at my table, asking the hard questions, pointing to the places where courage lives and waiting for action.

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What it comes down to is this: I can do hard things.

In 43 years I have:

-Endured a whole heart surgery process with my first child

-Run four marathons

-Started over with my husband in New York with two toddlers in tow

-Started over again after we moved back to the Northwest

-Successfully dealt with eating issues in college that nearly broke my spirit

-Created a thriving photography business

-Published a book

-Met with my parents to talk about the damage of their divorce

-Dealt with and healed from said damage

-Re-entered teaching after 13 years and discovered the whole climate has changed.

 

I. Can. Do. Hard. Things.

 

Then…..why the heck is it so hard to hold up two shirts and decide which one needs to go?

Why does clearing out my attic in this house feel kin to building the Golden Gate?

Why do I get stomach flutters when faced with the neck-breaking pace of our week’s schedule?

It’s not rocket surgery, as my daughter likes to say…and although I know this, the process somehow has become a little more pie-in-the-sky than I’d prefer.

By reading stories from successful simplifiers, I think I’m looking for someone to make it look easy…and I might even be looking for permission, which seems ridiculous, given my can-do list above.

What is the metaphorical jack-knifed truck in my minimalist highway?

Fear that I might not succeed is one. What if the crapola in the attic never gets to a small manageable pile? What if I miss items that have been ruthlessly purged? What if my friends and family think I’ve lost it? What if I don’t appear minimalist enough to the community I write this blog for?

Yet…with every story of simplifying, I find a little smidgen of courage. With every blog post read over breakfast I gain a little more wisdom about why it’s important.

You know what?

I decided I’d like to provide that kind of inspiration for others on the fence. Sometimes it’s just plain awesome to read about someone else’s process and how they overcame their hard things.

There’s a book in the works. I’ve been chronicling this journey for awhile now. I’m diligently writing it for an hour and a half each morning before I leave for my 3rd grade classroom. It’s encouraging to read what I’ve written and discover that I’ve come a long way, baby.

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It also helps to chronicle what’s been done for change and what still needs to be done. Writing keeps me sane and I love it. I’ll keep you posted as to the when and where of it all.

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How ’bout you, friends? What gives you courage to move forward with something you know is needed in your life? What are your hard things?

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On my SIMPLICITY radar

Radar

There have been many posts about the power of one…

…as in only owning one thing in a category of stuff. I’m not a one fork/one bowl/one glass person, but in the way of wardrobe and beauty regimens, I’ve found some staples that can stand alone. The Hayes did a great podcast about splurge items and I found that there are a few I love in my universe and I can pitch the rest:

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1. I am a one-purse-girl now. Too many purses were taking up space in my closets and I found that I used one 90% of the time. I figured out that a backpack is the way to go because I’m always errand running and need my hands. Plus, I’m sporting a closet that channels Johnny Cash, so it goes with everything.

2. Got rid of all old sandals and invested in one good pair. Spendy, yes, but they’re comfortable/durable/adorable—worth it.

3. I now own a one-coat wardrobe and I love it. In the Northwest you can get away with all things casual, so a dress coat isn’t needed. I’m always cold and this wearable sleeping bag fits the bill.

4. I pitched all hair care products after experimenting to see which one really does the job. This is also not cheap, but you need very little to make it all happen.

5. I tossed all old lipsticks after I figured out that I just can’t keep it on. It’s either on my teeth or looking like a clown mouth, so I opted for a dark gloss that goes with everything. ‘Been wearing this one for years and I love it.

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Well…how many times have I searched under the subject of minimalism or simplicity on my Amazon.com prime documentary list.

Phew. Looks like the boys are here to save the day.

I just wanna squeeze their rosy cheeks like a proud grandma and tell them thank you. I can’t wait to see it!

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I’m late to the party with discovering Michael Hyatt, but I really enjoy his podcasts. It’s a cattle prodding kick in the butt for me when I’m feeling like a deflated balloon. Simplicity really is about taking charge and making things happen. It’s not an easy road and I’m mustering up the commitment to create lasting change. His words in my earbuds seem to resonate with my soul and I’m taking a proactive stance in achieving things on my list. Mundane things even…like finally de-cluttering the attic that looms like a T-Rex above me.

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I’m a huge Don Miller fan. I’m waiting on the edge of my seat for his new book (having read all his others twice). I loved the advice he gave on the Beyond the To-do List podcast about the discipline of writing. I downloaded his Storyline productivity schedule (on the sidebar of his blog) and it has really helped me with my own writing process.

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I hope your own quest for simplicity is going well, friends…I’d love to hear what’s working for you!

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Four Questions for the Chronic Volunteer

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I’m convinced there are a lot of women sitting in meetings making grocery lists on scratch paper or daydreaming about sandy beach vacation induced naps. I also have on good authority that a woman’s schedule can quickly be overrun with countless organizational get-togethers and frenetic activity revolving around chronic volunteering.

Friends, this can quickly become breeding ground for some B & R: burn-out and resentment

I’m not sure there’s wisdom in creating a mental tally of gold stars for oneself simply because the calendar looks like a crossword puzzle. To be honest, I worry about women I know and love when they proudly list off a daily schedule of meeting to meeting schlepping , only to stop for a triple tall mochachino because their tank is completely dry. If a woman’s kitchen island is consistently covered in scraps for to-be-made school art projects while the minivan sits in the driveway stuffed with sports gear for a whole team…there needs to be a pause and an evaluation.

Believe me, I’m not picking on women who volunteer precious time to help with school and the community. As a teacher, I personally benefit from this selflessness.  I see the results of the same select few in my own town and am extremely grateful for their sacrifice. I enjoy the school book fair and library events as much as any mother in my area. I do feel these volunteers frequently for-go their own needs and secret desires because either a) an excessive volunteer schedule has been modeled for them by their own parents or b) they feel their own worth only when they are serving.

As women we naturally take a look around the “camp” and see the needs.

We are do-ers and problem solvers .

Many of us are first in line when it comes to bringing the chips and dip, chaperoning the annual aquarium fieldtrip, or addressing the gala invitations. We know that such tasks, events, projects and programs won’t just magically appear and run well without people there to create the magic. Yet, I challenge these service-minded women to identify the volunteer opportunities they feel deeply committed to, with a head and heart-filling connection. Now, I might be making the sorting of art supplies in your child’s Kindergarten class sound far more meaningful than it will ever be, but the main idea here is:

What matters most to you?

Let me dwell in a sea of honesty and self-deprecation and tell you that I am not first to raise my hand when the PTA comes a-callin’. I discovered years ago that this was not an environment where I thrive and present my best gifts. I also recognized that internal eye-rolling and nervous nail biting is not something that will help my kids’ school programs. There was some interior battle going on for awhile with those awful snotty mean girls living in my subconscious. They try their best to convince me that “good moms bring cookies to PTA meetings and they stay late”. I was finally led to the self-realization that I would be better off serving somewhere else.

What did I choose?

Women with breast cancer, dogs who need homes, a small school in middle-of-no-where Kenya, and a group of kids at a local high school who are risk of not graduating. In taking inventory, I found that my superpowers include capturing the spirit of people and animals with my camera, helping to create a fundraising event, writing, and building relationships to support growth. I will not be found alphabetizing novels in my kids’ classroom (much to their relief, I’m sure) or cold calling people for donations. It’s taken me years to recognize my “triangular shape peg-ness” when faced with circular shaped holes in the land of volunteerism. It’s taken even longer to not feel guilty about it. We should serve with joy and an excited heart…I believe this happens when we recognize that the gifts we possess are specific…diverse abilities and talents are poured into chosen people for a reason.

Yet, I will say that everyone can wash dishes, put away chairs, serve at a shelter, or cook for a neighbor in need. These circumstances pop up all over the place (especially when you’re part of a church community) and such serving is joyful, fulfilling and valuable. Whether a person chooses to wash dishes at every church picnic depends on their burning desire to serve in this area. It’s possible to have a running schedule for a cause you believe in and sprinkle in the occasional Sunday school teaching opportunity. Yet, trouble brews when the list of causes and occasional opportunities overshadow a day-to-day existence and already-packed schedule. Visualize the Sunday school gig being parlay-ed into  a month-long thing because there’s a constant need and someone is not able to say “no”.

Are you that woman?

That selfless, I’m-here-to-help, whatever-you-need, “Oh, it’s no trouble”, “I don’t mind at all” sweetheart whose volunteer list is rolled out on the floor like a roll of Brawny paper towels? Do you ever ask why this is? Do you kick yourself around the block for over-committing yourself?  Is there exhaustion, resentment, complaining…burn-out …loitering in your heart? This is a good time to grab your own lapels (hard to do, but so effective)….

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1) Which of these volunteer opportunities have significant meaning and personal investment in my life?

2) Which of these opportunities would be the easiest to let go of?

3) What will I say when I tell this organization that I’m no longer going to be volunteering?

4) How will I keep myself from taking on more opportunities to serve when I’m trying to pare down?

It’s a cycle friends…even (gasp!) an addiction of being available to do what others ask of you 24/7. Own your gifts (maybe that’s the first step—really identifying what those are) and then plugging into a few places that fit into your life. Pray and ask for opportunities to jump in your path that will Lego themselves into your gifts without force. We’re not talking about wedging yet one more commitment into your schedule like stuffing a pro wrestler into a pair of Spanx. It shouldn’t be stressful and a source of moaning and complaining (that’s your first clue that it might be best to let it go).

If you’re smiling and humming while driving to volunteer somewhere, that’s a good sign.

Go with it…and don’t obsess that you can’t fit in more.

More does not prove your worthiness.

You are worthy simply because you are.

Part of that worthiness lives in the gifts you use to serve others.

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The secret to raising happy, well-balanced kids

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There seems to a belief in the U.S. that scheduling one’s children in countless extracurricular activities helps them get ahead in life.

It may seem logical to want to expose your child to a large number of interests, just to see what “sticks” as far as attention and talent go. I remember sitting with my girls when they were toddlers wondering if I had little prodigies in the making. Prodigies of what I didn’t know, but I was curious, nonetheless. My own mother was a musical genius at a very young age, for Pete’s sake. A pie-in-the-sky dream was brewing that I had a Mozart or Monet on my hands and didn’t even know it yet!

So what did I do at this tender age of interest development to bring forth such mastery?

I scheduled my kidlets to the hilt, of course, and proceeded to drive to every mommy and me class known to man. Art, gymnastics, pee wee soccer, swimming, ballet…it was a quest to uncover The Interest with which my children were going to begin their love affair. This would be a discovery of the talent that would take them to high places through years of practice and hard work and possibly lift the burden of heavy college tuition hikes. Say, what?

Yeah…I went there too.

Who am I to dictate, dig out, discover, prophesy, or predict what my kids would glom on to in the way of activities? I’m thinking varied exposure to things is a good thing, but I’m finding out that if you really pay attention to your kid’s strengths and conversation, you will be led to where you need to take them.

When I finally realized how silly and anal I was being about searching for these destinies, I let it go. Things really started happening with my girls as they asked me for opportunities for new activities. There was basketball, soccer, piano (more us than them on this one) and one very intense year of I-love-all-things-about-horses-please-let-me-ride-every-day. I embraced the horse girl thing, knowing that at some point my youngest’s athletic skills would probably trump her stable time. I actually had a moment of sadness when she couldn’t identify a horse at a parade last summer. Memorizing horse fact books used to be the favorite past time. Yet, I also was proud of her for recognizing that a girl just can’t do it all. It’s also a good thing to see that the mother of a girl simply can’t do it all (or drive it all) either.

We’ve had many discussions about what it means for school work when there are too many scheduled activities and events packed in a week. We’ve always sent the message that academics come first and if there is “slippage” in any way, other activities will be stripped away like bark on a whittled stick. I think the message that “sometimes you just have to choose the one you like the best” is a good one.

Over-scheduled kids have a much bigger chance of becoming over-scheduled adults…and we all know how that turns out.

Aside from the harrowing school time vs. athletic time dilemma, there is another thing that has been haunting my 21st century thought process (I’m a little late to the party).

Do you think kids really play anymore?

How is your memory of your own playtime? Is it full of days spent with dolls in your bedroom, banana seat bike races, driveway matches of H.O.R.S.E. and twilight games of Capture the Flag? It seems like my memory has more vivid images of these games and hard-core playing than anything else from my childhood. It’s where I learned to entertain myself (being an only child), fight fair with friends and listen to others’ opinions of which game should be next. They were times of being completely engrossed in my backyard refrigerator box fort without a care in the world. My imagination was marathon running to the point of having to be reminded six times to “come in, it’s getting dark.”

I find it disturbing to constantly see the tops of kids’ heads in public settings. You know…the stance of being fully engaged in texting or gaming with slumped shoulders and glassy eyes. This doesn’t seem right.

Has the gravity of our situation with this tech-savvy generation freaking anyone else out?

I’m just short of not being able to sleep, it bothers me so much. Of course, not to the point of being an excellent example with the closure of my own laptop (I’m working on that), but it does make me think these kids are seriously missing out on something they might see as old-fashioned.

It appears there is a lot of running from one activity to the next with gaming and tech time smashed in between.  In my own car I finally implemented a no-device rule. We either talk or listen to horrible pop music stations (I’m held grudgingly hostage by One Direction) and the car time seems to be a time of bonding and catching up. I actually learn quite a bit in the car about what’s up at school. I think it has to do with having the back of my head to them—-they must feel safer sharing stuff when there’s no eye contact.

I do believe kids learn about their strengths through playing, or as my girls have taught me to say “hanging out”. Interacting and genuinely having to communicate with one another is invaluable to learning to navigate the world in general.  I’ve had many conversations lately with other worried parents that the art of communicating (especially in the written word) is losing steam, especially with an internet connected generation. It has to be conscious and consistent—overscheduled kids miss out on this.

Down-time (with the benefit of being device-free) is crucial to social development and the ability to identify one’s own strengths.

If we interact with our kids and listen to their hearts speak, we know our kids. We hear the changes in interests and desires. We are keen to the possible directions their interests can lead them. It is then that we can make a commitment to a desired activity and support it with everything we’ve got.

Every once in a while I have a candid one on one conversation with each of my children.

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1) Which of your activities bring you immense joy and a sense of accomplishment?

2) Which of your activities do you see yourself doing in two years?

3) If you stopped participating in ____________ activity, what would you miss about it?

This usually takes care of it. Sports tend to win in our house, but the interest and passion is genuine.

I’m going with it.

Do you find a packed kid activity schedule to be an obstacle in your home? I’m interested in how you handle it.

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4 Ways to make family travel a priority

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via Travis Allen Photography

Fantasy Land is where I’ve been living lately.

I find myself waxing poetic about our Airstream holidays, somehow willing them to be cause for a great escape of sorts…a Vagabond Family type of deal. I’ve come to terms that this is not going to happen while our kids are in high school, athletes and academics that they are. I’m proud of them and love that our school district provides everything they need for success (and what I need too, as I teach in the same district). Entre’ the AIRSTREAM WEEKEND ADVENTURES to be wedged in every nook and cranny of our schedule. I’m itching for the open road and have the bins of pots, pans, towels and rugs at the ready to prove it.

Hitchin’ up and gettin’ out of Dodge never sounded so good!

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via.FB

While I’m sketching out these excursions online, I’m fascinated by people I’ve found who are living the Airstream Dream in full throttle:

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Airstream Family

Mali Mish

Wandering with Purpose

They are fearless folks who’ve got life by the tail and I admire them for it. U.S. travel really wraps your head around what this country is made of. Sitting with folks in their own local diners, Main street groceries and parks is such a dreamlike experience. The Open Road has a quiet little bell that rings for me more than I care to admit.

I also always thought that I would live overseas with my family at some point, knowing that exposing offspring to the world at large is one of the best things for their future. I lived in Germany as child, and although I was small,  my fond memories planted some kind of wanderlust seed in my heart.  I look back at my 1988 AFS experience in Tunisia as a turning point for becoming the person I am now.

It was magic and I want that for my girls.

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So…like I mentioned, knowing the life we’ve chosen is not going to amp up any big let’s-rent-out-our-house-and-be-adventurers kind of six month mystery tour, I’ve been percolating on the possibility of fitting in every kind of trip I can muster. One of my financial goals in this whole simplicity process is to create a little squirrel’s nest travel fund. Stealing away to yonder-ville on a whim always sounds like a good idea to me. The job thing...well, yeah, that’s an added obstacle in the trek of the wanderer…but I’m feeling convicted in my ideas about showing young minds what’s out there.

(Love this article about why family travel is so important)

I am now aware that in this busy time of child rearing, a proactive stance is the only way to get everybody on board. It’s so easy to over-schedule our lives and let those weekends slip by…Time is too short, and the memories that wait are too precious to allow that to happen. I simply won’t do it.

“If I only had a plan”, she said, while rubbing her hands together.

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4 Ways to make family travel a priority

1) Have the gear bins packed and at-the-ready so that come Friday afternoon at 4:00 we are out the door and on the road.

2) Leave margin in our weekend plans, so that if the adventure bug takes over, we’ve got space to just go.

3) Put a map in the utility room with pushpins on every spot we want to see. Allow every family member to pick their desired destination.

4) Discuss world travel dreams openly at the dinner table, atlas layed out in full.

5) When dinner guests are visiting, add their dream destinations to the list

6) Leave books about travel with enticing covers all around the house

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Once the momentum of getting out there and seeing new things revs up, I believe it creates an excitement…a buzz of sorts…in our daily lives. This kind of unified plotting and scheming can also bring a family closer. I’m betting on it.

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How do you get your family out the door? What are you dream plans of travel?

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This week on my SIMPLICITY RADAR

Radar

Good reads:

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Dan and Vanessa Hayes have written a book for moms….and friends, it’s a great one. If you’ve ever tried to be SUPERMOM instead of a super mom, this one is for you. So many  useful tips and lots of great videos and links. They poured their hearts into this project and it shows.

For the next two days, a pdf of the “Super mom vs. Supermom” will be available on the Edit and Forget it page on Facebook. You can request to be a member through this link. After that, I’m assuming it will be available on their site.

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Thank you, Jen Hatmaker, for completely obliterating existence as I know it in the Blair abode.

If simplifying, sorting and tossing were Olympic sports, you would’ve watched me on TV last month, instead of the crazy people on death defying jumps and small skirted cuties scraping ice chips off their tushes in the rink.

I am on a mission, friends, (hence the debut of c’est blog).

Mrs. Hatmaker is a personal hero of mine. In her latest book, Seven, Jen’s family identified seven areas of excess and in seven months fought against “modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence”. This woman makes me think—seriously think (and laugh out loud too, because she’s hilarious) about our own family ways. I feel a surge well up from deep down that has been festering like an active volcano with an eruption plan.

The good news is there are a lot of people who are stopping and redirecting themselves…and their families…just like the Hatmakers.

There is hope for our excess-filled nation. The promise of a new awakening to Less is More excites me to no end and books like this one push the movement further into view. Thank goodness for that.

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Documentaries:

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I have Amazon Prime and watch lots of documentaries for free. Stumbled on this one somewhere and I found it hopeful for a generation who might be changing the game.

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Blogs:

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For the design obsessed there’s Home Adore They feature many small dwellings that are loaded with good design and space efficiency.

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For the tiny house obsessed (raising my hand over here in Washington):

Small House Swoon

and

Tiny House Swoon

provide some dreams for what may be possible someday.

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Project 333 wardrobe additions:

After purging random multi-colored items that never seemed to go with anything, I have assembled quite the widow wardrobe. I found the perfect addition to my summer capsule items:

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Lovely for day or night (just add wedges and a sassy scarf). It is made of swimsuit material, so if you wanted to spontaneously hurl yourself into the waves, it would most definitely be okay.

Speaking of sassy scarves, I’ve been turned on to a wonderful company that creates the most beautiful accessories (and all for a fabulous cause):

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I figure this will be my go-to scarf for all of spring and summer. It’s light, neutral and goes with everything.

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‘Hope you find some of these helpful. Thank you for being here as I blissfully blog away the ideas scampering through my busy brain.

I’m uncovering a whole-lotta awesome in this quest for less.

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Project 333 ~ My closet struggle

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It’s a closet Johnny Cash would feel comfortable with. Minus the jeggings and striped pink sweater.

Have you ever seen so much black on one shelf?

So after reading about Project 333 for months now, I finally body-checked my resistance and started some serious sorting and pitching. My beloved calls this “playing closet”. It’s a quirky thing, but I only felt comfortable pulling the essentials out with all of my other clothes staying put on the left side…with a sheet over them…Casper-style. Yes, it looks like I’ve got a shower stall in there, but the whole point is that I can’t see them, right? Out of sight (or under sheet), out of mind.

It really does feel a lot more relaxed getting dressed in the morning. I can see what can mix and match so much easier, and I’m not overwhelmed with a sea of color and patterns. It’s no surprise that black dominates here, and I have the accusing teens to prove it..”Maaa-ooom, you look funeral bound 80% of the time!” Oh, well. It’s slimming, chic, doesn’t show our dog’s hair, and I happen to really like Johnny Cash.

I perused people’s wardrobe capsules while trolling online for Project 333 inspiration, and I found that many of them were just too monochromatic or one-color-heavy. The Northwest is a dark and rainy place…I’m desperate for many colors…like Joseph and his fancy dreamcoat. I have my Frenchie days where I just want to wear my BlackbootsBlackDressBlackcardigan. Then there are the days that only a bright multicolored sweater and sparkly Converse will do. It’s just. enough. variety.

I’m feeling like I should have done this long ago! Looking forward to the ease of having my wardrobe be an uncomplicated activity.

If you’re taking this project on, I’d love to hear how it’s going!

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updateWhole30

Hoo-boy! Hardest thing I’ve ever done, eating-wise. I’m doin’ it, though and following the darn rules. It started February 10th.

The positives:

-Skin is clear and a bit glowey…really enjoying that

-Bloat is gone and although theWhole30 folks recommend not measuring/weighing oneself until Day 31, I believe I’ve lost some cm in the waist

The Sugar Dragon is close to being kicked to the curb (don’t test me with gummy cokes, though…they’re a weakness)

-I discovered that alcohol does not need to play a part in my nightly ritual

The negatives:

-I’ve been cranky and short with my offspring

-I had a couple of days where emotions took over and I felt a bit out-of-body, and not in a good way

-My energy didn’t go up to the high level it is now until Day 18

-I experienced the “kill all things” stage for one day too long

*Looking forward to eating a bowl of Kashi (of all things!) on the 11th. Even though my spouse thinks it “tastes like the front yard”, I miss my sticks and twigs.*

Have a wonderful week, friends!

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