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 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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The top 10 tips I’ve learned from minimalists

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I’m not going to covet other minimalists’ lives anymore.

I don’t travel the world with a single backpack.

I haven’t packed up my family to travel across the country in an RV for a year.

I am not a single woman with a futon, a suitcase and a laptop.

I didn’t choose 600 square feet of dwelling space with a hobby farm ‘round back.

YET, I adore reading about these amazing people and their even more intriguing journeys toward transformation. In perusing books and blogposts, these characters seem like old friends. We’re all rooting for them. Their triumphs and courageous leaps of faith provide the inspiration for our own stories. However, through all this story following, I have found there is not one formula for choosing a simple life…it is not a one-size-fits all t-shirt. No matter what our life looks like, I do believe each and every one of these intentional & devoted people can teach a lesson worth learning.

A kind of minimalism for the rest of us sort of thing.

 

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1) Clear surfaces and uncluttered spaces create calm in the soul.

Disorganization in my environment used to create brain chaos for me. I learned the how-to’s of de-cluttering from almost all of these experienced minimalists and formulated a day-by-day plan to clear out. What a huge difference this had made!

2) Unplug and partake in digital sabbaticals regularly.

I’ve blogged about this before, but I can’t say enough about what this practice has done for my sanity, my kids and my marriage. Here’s a great podcast about what it can do for you.

3) The habit of saying NO can vastly improve your life.

With each and every post I read on this topic from various bloggers, I gain courage and inspiration to say it loud (yet, politely) and often. No to commitments that aren’t passions…no to stuff from family members and friends…no to social situations that make me feel stressed or uncomfortable. This allows the yes’s in that bring mindfulness and happiness.

4) Be realistic about how much entertaining you do in your home.

I got rid of all of the doubles in my closets and cabinets. I found that my army-sized set of champagne glasses all had dust, except two. Party themed decorations are only items taking up real estate in needed cabinet space. I also found that if there happens to be a need for party gear, people are more than happy to lend it to friends.

5) Choose work that you love and your life will improve overall.

At the moment I am not self-employed like many of these simple living experts. I owned my own photography business for 13 years and found it wasn’t fitting my personality. I didn’t have the gift of separating the hustle of entrepreneurship from family life. I’m in awe of people who live on both of those planets successfully—-and even more impressed with people who can do it on the road! After making this realization that I didn’t like working for myself,  I decided to go back to teaching. ‘Turns out I adore inspiring 3rd graders—I’ve never been happier in a job. This change alone inspired a lot of my paring down (goodbye closets of equipment!) and simplifying (hello, weekends spent with family). I think the act of simplifying can help you be honest with what is and isn’t working in a career and give you the courage to take the leap required to make it right.

6) Put limits on spending when it comes to offspring.

Although the whine-o-saur-us is alive and well in my house, I do believe my girls will thank me later. They are responsible for the “extras” with their own allowance. I communicate a price I’m comfortable with when it comes to clothes shopping. If my teens want the Cadillac of jeans, they must pay the difference. We show them what our bills are and talk about how important a budget is and have managed to squelch “the gimmees” with service oriented experiences. Somehow the new Nike Free Runs don’t seem as alluring when there are visions of the destitute and neglected in one’s head.

7) A closet with 33 items really can make your morning (& your life) more efficient.

Who knew? Thank you, Courtney, for informing the masses of this little gem. When I first read about Project 333, I hemmed and hawed as I visually took in my overstuffed closet. I whittled it down in the course of a month. I just got real about what was actually being worn and I made up a fantasy 3 month Airstream itinerary and pulled out all the items I thought I could fit in our Twinkie’s small closet. With the items laid on the bed, I had to laugh because it consisted of all my favorites…my 20%-worn-80%-of-the-time clothes. Then I gave myself a “have courage” speech–it’s all going in a box, not the Goodwill pile, for crying out loud—and I stood back to admire the extra space.

8) Choose quality over quantity.

The juicer, cutting knife, running shoes, winter coat, purse and lipstick (among many other things) were condensed down to one quality purchase per category. Less stuff, but stuff that will last. Joshua Becker’s The Simple Joy of One  is a great post that I took to heart.

9) Food and exercise can be simplified for maximum health.

I let go of the the gym membership in lieu of my nifty efficient work-out space in the garage. All expensive “healthy snacks” (which are really just pre-packaged fare camouflaged in a Whole Food setting) were banished. We eat raw food–nuts, dried fruit, jerky, tons of veges & fruit–and it has really kept us well this year. As an elementary school teacher who’s been back in the classroom for one year, I’ve gotten one cold. I believe in green juice and I’m doing my best to help everyone in our home believe it too. Love The Minimalists take on diet and exercise.

10) Invest in experiences instead of things.

As a family we have made a decision to travel as much as we can. Whether it’s in our Airstream or by plane, I believe it’s important enough to require a separate travel savings account. Luxury cars and second homes were never going to enter the picture with our family—it has always been going places and doing things (that and good Thai food eating experiences). I like this Huffington Post article on the subject.

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What tips have brought you joy in your journey to simple? Which ones made the most difference?

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On my Simplicity Mission Radar

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Beyond excited to be the first guest post over at SimpleLifeTogether! Love those Hayes folks…just good people with a very important message. I am incredibly honored to be on their blog this week. It gave me a chance to hammer out how this whole thing ignited for me. I even learned a few things by getting it all down.

Thanks, Dan and Vanessa!

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Good Reads…

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I love it when passionate, smart people share their journey with the rest of us…and I think it’s cool that all three authors are in different stages of life.

1) Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus (two hip, single men on the road trip of life) tell the story of an incredible journey towards minimalism.

2) Courtney Carver, veteran minimalist and an incredibly pure voice on the internet for many of us, compiled some terrific articles that are great to read one at a time (for maximum chewing 🙂 )

3) Allison Vesterfelt, newly married and settling down, chronicles her “letting it all go and heading out” tale of adventure.

Inspiring, indeed.

~  Last week I did a separate post on Clutter free with Kids, Joshua Becker’s newest book. I’ve read it twice. What can I say? I’m on a mission! ~

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I’m a documentary junkie.

I could watch one every day. I find it helpful to be informed on all kinds of random topics.

These were my favorites recently:

1) Hungry For Change – terrific and inspiring when you’re on the path to good health (I’m doing theWhole30 at the moment and this keeps me keepin’ on when I’d kill for a bagel)

2) Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead (okay..so I’ve watched this 2 times) – I’m a juicing believer and benefactor…I haven’t been sick in 6 months, and I’m a 3rd grade teacher, for cryin’ out loud! Can you say petri dish?

3) Sprawling From Grace – What the heck is happening to America? Sad, but also hopeful little tale of woe.

4) Happy – Funny how this movie really emphasizes relationships and giving to create happiness  (in fact, owning a lot of stuff proved the opposite)

5) Tiny – I can’t find this on Amazon, but I can’t wait to see it. I’m a bit of a tiny house stalker, even though you could place one in my living room.

6) Wal-mart, The High Cost of Low Price – Okay, so this one just made me MAD. I can’t even drive by that store without having a reaction. My kids watched it with me and they said, “Mom, how can people shop there, knowing all of the bad business they practice?” I had no answer…except to tell the world to watch more documentaries.

7) Kids + Money – Another one the kidlets agreed was a source of good info. We’re really working to teach them smart money practices and this one put it into kid language.

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New blog find…

I’m a bit of a Hawaii fanatic.

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As in, I never miss Hawaii Life on HGTV  (“Don’t bother me, kids…mom’s daydreaming”) and I have a drawer of sand and shells under my desk to put my feet in when it is a rainy, sloppy mess here in the Pacific Northwest.

Exhibit A:

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Yes, I’m aware that this is weird and pathetic…

YET, it’s all part of my plan to will my life there in retirement with my Hawaii-loving spouse. Seriously, I will settle for a shack on the center divider of the King Kamehameah Highway.

I digress.

MauiShopGirl is my new spot to visit and it’s almost as good as putting my feet in the little sand shoebox! Hooray for me, strange teacher-tropics-obsessive-lady!

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Tania Ginoza’s interview on the Hayes’ podcast was terrific–‘loved it.

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Okay, friends.That’s it for this week. My head is swirling with all kinds of things I’m learning and experimenting with. So excited to have a spot to put it all! I’ m working on a good/but simple design post for a simplified home. I’m a recovering interior design magazine addict, but it did help me learn the basics to put it all together, minus the multitudes of STUFF.

I really appreciate you being here. Have a fabulous week!

Thank you!

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