How I overcame obstacles on the road to simplicity

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When you go to the optometrist for a checkup, you are told to look through lenses at the eye chart (This one…or this one?). At the beginning you will see double, everything a bit fuzzy. Then she tweaks something magical and the image comes into crystal clear focus as one image.

This is the perfect metaphor for what has happened to my life in the past three years.

There were obstacles in the road on this quest to simplify. I didn’t see them before, but now with a new pair of eyes, I hit myself in the head cartoon style and laugh that I didn’t see them before. Looking at this list, it’s no wonder a simpler life eluded me for so long.

1) Time wasting and mindless habits

With each minute I wasted trolling social media or needlessly checking email there was a completely missed opportunity to do the things I love. Read, write, walk, dream, read, converse, de-clutter…did I mention read? That’s the thing about habit (especially the digital kind)—they won’t change unless you mindfully remove the distraction. This is where digital sabbaticals and the release of Facebook came into play for me.

I also noticed that I have a tendency to do things the way I’ve always done them simply because I haven’t taken the time to look at what it blocks from my life. I do not need to spend an entire Saturday running errands and cleaning the house. It’s become a day for family fun, reading, hammock time (weather permitting) and slow cooking.

2) Excessive focus on what others think

It’s a beautiful thing to fully let go of the opinion and approval of others. We’ve always done things a little differently with our family, but I finally realized (wonders of all wonders) that this same principle applies to me. Out of this way of thinking has come a simplified wardrobe, changing my job back to working for someone else, taking note that my interior design style has completely changed and that I don’t want to drive the typical over-scheduled mom taxi. There has been a tremendous amount of freedom that’s come from being brave to just be me, however much I’ve changed over the years.

3) To-do lists that become cement blocks attached to my ankles

There will always be 101 things to do. I never get through the list and for awhile this used to send me into a hand-wringing state of tizzy-fitting. No more. I see now that more than half of the stuff just doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Do I really need to wash the bead board in the powder bathroom today? No one dies if things don’t get purchased, cleaned or organized. Phew. As a teacher there is the list for the day, but I love doing that list. It means wonderful things for little people who depend on me. But even with my constant state of flux in my colorful classroom, I know the difference between right now and in a few weeks.

4) Anxiety about What-ifs and JustInCases

I used to have an ability to turn borrowing trouble into an Olympic event. The good news is that constantly fretting about potential inconveniences and catastrophes really doesn’t change the outcome. If they appear, they appear and as adaptive humans, we learn to deal. I’ve had my share of dealing, believe me. Yet, the fussing and anxiety? ‘Tis best to let go of that rope. Now, for the JustInCases (I love this post!), those are a bit more challenging to release. I’m getting better, but I practice it monthly. This week there is a massive garage sale transpiring at the abode. I’m hoping it will spring forth much needed momentum!

5) A firm grasp on a career I wasn’t loving

If you had told me two years ago that I would be back teaching 3rd grade at this point in the game, I would’ve had a good belly laugh. My photography studio and book were front and center and I was hustling on that marketing Disco floor like nobody’s business. It is so great to let that piece go. It wasn’t me, but I was forcing it because of all the work I had done up to that point. So, so much time and effort went into building a successful business. The news flash was: Just because it’s successful financially, doesn’t mean I have to love it and stay with it. It took some letting go of pride and ego squelching to walk away and return to an old profession. The big surprise was that I didn’t even know how much I missed working with kids. To me, it’s the most important job there is. I go to bed every night knowing that I made a difference (even on my worst day). Invested time and money do not require a person to stay the course.

My friend Cecilia met a man in Texas who let go of his dentistry practice to become a craftsman of saddles. He told her he was not a happy dentist and was brave enough to make the change. His saddles were works of art and he lived more simply in order to something he loved every day. It completely overhauled his happiness. I love stories like that!

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Removing simplicity obstacles is not a go-to-a-workshop-have-a-good-cry-and-reinvent-my-life territory. This has been a incredibly long baby-stepping journey where each obstacle was noted and conquered gradually. A control craving person does not have an epiphany over coffee. She documents the need for it and then intentionally releases it with each (almost) fearless step toward the Land of Letting Go and Changing Circumstance.

I’m also clear on the fact that this boulder removing process isn’t even close to being done. I will forever be sitting in the optometrist’s chair with adjustable lenses…and that’s a good thing.

How ’bout you? What obstacles have you uncovered in your quest for a simpler life?

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5 Ways to engage your inner hobbyist (without the stuff that goes with it)

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~My creations~

Charm soldering

Fine Art photography

Darkroom printing

Mixed media art

Sewing

Headband-making

Plaster sculpture

Encaustic wax

Diorama model making

Jewelry making

Lamp design (say, what?)

Purse design

Skirt design

Card-making

Book binding

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This, my sweet friends, is a list compiled of my interests within the last six years alone.

Good grief, it’s frightening to look at it as a long list. Each and every one of these little forays into artsy-land brings a plethora of GEAR stocked and ready in my studio…and my home…and the attic…and the garage…

I’m feeling an epiphany welling up from my hobby-obsessed heart:

In the past I decided to dabble in a creative interest and proceeded to troll Amazon for every book known to man on the subject (used, so it’s ok, right?). I also managed to purchase all the fixins’ to get it going long before the drive to actually do the hobby showed up.

Madness.

In my bouts of purging and donating this past year, I began to stumble across little tombs of hobby supplies in all areas of my life. I expected to hear a voice ask me if I’d like to lie down on the couch for some inner excavation. It’s one thing to chalk it up to being creative and having a ton of interests, but quite another to realize that very few hobbies on this list lasted more than a few rounds. I think I actually believed that if the stuff was acquired for the hobby, I would actually do the hobby on a frequent basis.

That would be wrong.

Lest you fall into this same trap (or..sigh..you see this pattern in your own creative home), this is for you:

 

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1) Attend a class that supplies you with everything for a nominal fee. You pay your fee, make a craft, have some fun, and evaluate whether you’d like to do it again. No fuss, no muss (and no vats of plaster loitering in your studio closet either…true story. Yikes.)

2) Watch someone do the hobby and do a mini interview about why they like it. Observe, ponder, shelve it. If you are dreaming about it 2 months later, it might be time to take a class (see #1).

3) Find a buddy who’d like to share in the cost of the needed items for a specific hobby (a soldering gun is not cheap, friends. It’s especially distressing when you make 10 charms, badly burn your index finger and call it good).

4) Commit to a hobby that doesn’t require gear and see if you actually follow through for at least three months…mmmm..say, blogging...or writing. Minimal start-up costs, lots of rewards (funny how my favorite hobby ended up being the one without physical stuff! Epiphany, indeed).

5) Go on a spending moratorium for a specified number of months and see if you had any grand withdrawals over not being able to ______________ (fill in the hobby blank).

I’ve already admitted that I have an Amazon Issue…a sickness, really. My art/craft library is ready for its close-up—and rather than hang my head in shame, I’m committing to one hobby-dabble a month for the next year. If it doesn’t stick, the gear (and the books) must be given to someone who actually will DO THE HOBBY.

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Being the prideful creative that I am, this post was hard to write. I had to admit some disturbing (and expensive) consumer-induced mistakes. Yet, I can honestly say I feel better now. Ready to fix the issue and press on in this simplifying journey. This blog is definitely helping me be brave and that makes me happy.

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On my SIMPLICITY radar

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I’ve been waiting for this new read to come out.

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Have you ever watched Dee Williams in action on Youtube? She is so incredibly likable and charming. I just wanna have tea in that little bungalow.


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Another good read comes from Claire Diaz-Ortiz, who really has some fabulous ideas in the area of our digital lives:

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This book  speaks about a topic that is going to become hot in our country as our brains morph from our digital connectedness.

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Ever since the Happiness Project I’ve been tirelessly mindful of the small things that bring joy in my life. I like this idea:

 

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100 Happy Days is a fun challenge. I think it will require more effort on my part to recognize what I’m grateful for….not a bad idea.

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When I took complete control of my health, juicing and green smoothies became a big part of my diet. I have at least one every day. A girl can run out of interesting recipes to toss in the Vitamix!

Enter my new favorite kitchen tool:

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If you haven’t seen any of Farnoosh Brock’s stuff, it’s worth a look-see. She is lovely. And positive. And inspires one to take charge of his or her gut health.

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I wish I could go to this conference.  Joel and Dan really know how to put an event together. If you’re in spitting distance (or further) from Minneapolis, this should be on your list.

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‘Very excited to be Freshly Pressed last week. Thank you, WordPress! Super fun to reach some of you I would have never found. Your comments were so appreciated and it absolutely made my week!

Also thrilled to be a link on the BecomingMinimalist newsletter. Joshua Becker makes me think on a weekly basis. ‘Love that guy and his message.

 

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Five design tricks to create simplicity in your home

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Even as  a young kid I was enamored with good design in people’s homes. My own room was a constant changing environment that mimicked what I saw on TV and in my friends’ homes. I had a pal in elementary school who lived in an amazing design-rich home. Her insanely hip mother owned an art gallery and their walls were a rotating display of giant colorful paintings. The square footage of the house was massive, but this woman did not feel compelled to fill it. There was negative space (probably so the art could “breathe” or something poetic like that) and everything was clean and white. I loved exploring the rooms during sleepovers, studying the giant paintings, admiring the fact that there was nothing to compete with them in the room.

This was the beginning of my love affair with simple home design–Scandinavian design in particular.

Clean palette. Lots of space. Unfussy furniture. Mix this with my paradoxical passion for color and you’ve got yourself quite a happy, clean environment!

I do not live in an all-white house and I probably could still afford to 86 some gear in our abode. Yet, I have figured out some design tricks to hep a home feel open, more fresh and inviting with a nod to some current design trends.

 

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1) Large art beats a collection of small pieces every time.

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When trying to simplify a room, go with bigger pieces. I think it has something to do with the eyes having one specific resting spot on a wall instead of having to dart your eyes all over the place to take it all in. When I visited the homes of my portrait clients, I always suggested an investment in one bigger piece instead of a hodge podge collection of smaller prints. Small prints are for bedside tables and albums. The statement piece should be loud and proud (be it a family portraitor an oil painting) and command your attention.

2) Create monochromatic rooms with wall paint and furniture & add colorful accessories to accent.

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If you suddenly decide yellow makes you feel queasy, you can pitch the yellow chevron pillowcovers without a huge financial loss. ‘Not so much with a couch! Also, you can edit accessories when your tired eyes need less color in view. You can change them out seasonally to match the mood of your days. I love white, but my husband fears it, so we compromised with a pale yellow. It’s calming and also cheerful in our dark Northwest winters. The colorful pillows and art I’ve got going on give it some personality. I change it out constantly (just like my childhood) and it’s easy because it doesn’t involve moving furniture or spending a lot of money.

3) Clear off those surfaces.

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Use a leafblower if you have to! A clear kitchen counter is as close as I get to nirvana these days. The mail lives in one little wooden bowl (not to be unleashed to other areas of the downstairs) and my whittled down kitchen utensil cannister enjoys its big open space on the island. I gave up decorative trinkets for Lent and never went back. Clear surfaces = serentiy. Believe it!

4) Create a furniture layout that invites conversation.

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I love doing this verses circiling up the seating to worship the idiot box (as the hub likes to call it). It does wonders for developing some quality family gathering, as well as free up some space because you’re not limited to TV watching angles with furniture placement. Better yet, nix the screen altogether–a feat I could personally do, but I fear the family may show up with picket signs.

5) Negative space: It’s a beautiful thing.

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Try not to subscribe to the typical room layouts…night stand/bed/night stand/foot-of-the-bed-settee/dresser chair/dresser/vanity….It’s your house. You can do whatever you want with your space. Don’t need a dresser because the closet is just enough space for you? Get rid of it! Voila’! Space for the eyes to rest. Don’t use your dining room? Sell the table and chairs and toss in a chaise and a bookcase–instant Library of Calm.

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I do little trial periods of hiding furniture pieces in the attic to see if we miss it. I’ve got quite the stash for our spring garage sale. Look me up if you’re in the area and are in need of a burlap ottoman. 🙂  Looking at this collection of sale-bound gear has motivated me to avoid purchasing decor “just because it’s lovely”. A minimalist home doesn’t have to consist of stark wood and two Eames chairs…although it is so lovely.

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You can take most appealing design ideas from this aesthetic and incorporate them into your own home. Just the subtraction of stuff can do wonders to simplify your space. It sure has for me.

Here’s to having homes that make us feel calm and happy!

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5 Ingredients for a Big, ExtraOrdinary life

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I found this ad as I was looking through a glossy at the dentist.

It was for a car. A big car.

According to the people at Suburban, BIG car = BIG life.

Hmmmm….this got me thinking of the definition of a big life. By America’s standards it may appear that big life means: A packed scheduled, huge home (maybe even a second home), many vehicles and lots of lots of stuff.

I choose to define a big life as an existence full of relationships, faith, good health, adventures, contentment, margins for down-time, and purpose within a career.

These are all parts that move the needle on my Happiness Barometer.

As a family we still have so far to go in the way of taking the big out of the material and putting more emphasis on my list above. That’s a true statement on the car ad: There is so much more to life, but of course I’m going in the opposite direction from the thinking of our friends at Suburban. So much more exists on the other side of making big purchases to fill up our big lives…according to one of my favorite minimalists and authors, You can buy happiness (and it’s cheap). The good news is you don’t have to pare down to 200 square feet of dwelling space or live out of a backpack to feel the thrill of a BIG LIFE.

I put the word ExtraOrdinary in my blog title because I’ve always felt the pull to live differently in this conventional world…or should I say conventional U.S., because I do feel people in other parts of the world seem to get it a lot more than we do. Stuff clouds our collective American view and creates the disconnect so many people complain about. I’m a proud U.S. citizen, no doubt about that, but I do wish as a country we could re-prioritize our lives to maximize inner & outer happiness. I believe that a Big ExtraOrdinary life comes from making intentional choices. Along the way I’ve identified a few that have made all the difference.

 

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1) Invest time in your marriage/relationship.

What’s that quote from H. Jackson Brown? “Marry the right person. This one decision will determine 90% of your happiness or misery.” I tend to believe this. I was fortunate enough to get it right with husband-picking the first time around (I know lots of people figure it out later in life) and so much of the climate in our home is determined by how the hub and I navigate this vida loca. Over the last 18 years it’s been a team effort and I feel the reason it’s been a solid team is because we invest in date nights, vacations sans offspring, and the weekly check-in. When kids came on the scene, I craved time with him minus the crying and airborne peas and carrots.These days I yearn for peaceful couple time in the absence of teen drama. He’s my first choice every time when it comes to adventure partners….it was a joint decision to make this life ExtraOrdinary.

2) Choose work that fills you up.

It’s very hard to head in the direction of a Big, ExtraOrdinary life when you don’t want to get up and face the day. There are a lot of people out there who see the 30++ hours a week as a break in pursuing ExtraOrdinary-ness (if I can create a new word)..it’s a weekend thing. It can’t be! Big lives happen each any every day of the week. Yes, we have to do the laundry, go to the dentist and write checks to the cable company, BUT an unpleasant job that sucks the very humanity out of a you is always going to get in the way of living the life you know you are worthy of. There might be major financial sacrifice or a change of location in choosing work you love, but ExtraOrdinary is waiting and it will be worth it.

3) Put family before career.

It is a wonderful thing to love your job. I’m finally there in my 3rd grade classroom, but I’m very careful about creating boundaries between work and the clan at home. That old cliche’ about “it all goes by so fast” and “you’ll turn around and your kids will be all grown up”—both true. I’m looking at my high school-bound child #1 and can’t believe that in five short years two unused rooms will be collecting dust. These days, family adventure has never been so important. Luckily, child #2 is extremely skilled at getting us out in the world, whether it’s the park for a evening picnic or a weekend hike in the mountains. We are also intentional about dinners together at the table (with a napkin!) to catch up and make plans. The Airstream purchase manifested from our desire to travel as a family and explore the U.S. together.

4)  Recognize your talents and put them to use in everything you do.

Post 40th birthday, I finally stopped wishing for skills I didn’t have. I had confidence in the contributions I knew I could make in the world starting with my own house. I’m an extremely creative person with no left brain (luckily, I married a left-brainer—together we make a whole brain!) and if a project requires imagination, I’m your girl. It’s been so fun to create in every area of my life: our home, charity fundraisers, birthday parties, holiday gifts, Airstream interior…the list is long of the various things I’ve taken on, but I have to say there would be no ExtraOrdinary if I didn’t own the gifts I’ve been given and use them. Some of you—God bless ya—are left brained people who can organize, establish and regulate for yourselves and others. How amazing that we can make the world better by the specific gifts we’ve been given! And in turn, create an ExtraOrdinary life for ourselves.

5) Travel as much as you can to as many different places as you can.

I always come back from a trip amazed by how much is out there beyond my own little world. I love, love, love getting off a plane in a new city ready to explore. My 6’6″ spouse is not as willing to head to places like Australia (Melbourne, I need to visit you!), but I will get to the far ends of the earth at some point in my life. I did the Eurail thing after college by myself and I can honestly say it shaped me more than 4 years of college did. My AFS exchange experience in Tunisia in ’88 played a huge part in forming the person I was to become. My biggest dreams involve plane tickets & a small backpack and/or an Airstream and U.S. map. I have the same dreams for my girls because I know for a fact that it invites ExtraOrdinary in.

There are some great posts out there about being ExtraOrdinary. This one is great and of course, Courtney rocked this subject with clarity, as usual. I think it’s something we all want more of. Who wants to be conventional when you can squeeze every last ounce of amazing (and yes, I’m using it as a noun) out of your well-lived life.

What makes your life ExtraOrdinary, friends?

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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

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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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