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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Why I never use the word BALANCE

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Balance has been a word that has rubber-balled it’s way through my life from the moment my kids came into this world. I’ve never been one to put complete focus and attention in one area. I am just shy of looking like a poodle on a unicycle juggling tennis balls most of the time. In my quest for simplicity, I have felt a little inadequate, guilty, and in some instances the F word crept in as well…

FAILURE.

Feeling like you’ve failed at some things is one thing, but the worry about screwing up the psychological development of your children can sit on your chest like a stack of parenting books. You know, the books that are hard to get to because you’re so busy teeter-tottering on a wobbly tightrope.

I know now that balance is an illusion.

To best serve my career and family I must choose a different word entirely. I heard the perfect replacement word recently on a podcast: Harmony. It resonated with me, so I looked it up.

Harmony: agreement; accord; harmonious relations: congruity.

My own definition: things are going so well that it feels like a million me’s get it all done with reasonable amounts of effort.

In the search for this new friend Harmony in one’s home (he is not under the couch cushions…I checked), I’m beginning to understand how to do it.

 

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1) What do I want?

2) What do you want?

Asking for what you want sometimes takes bravery, as in:

“Instead of going to a three hour long track meet this weekend, I’d really love to attend this writing workshop. Can you be our family representative on the field on Saturday?”

Or it could take less bravery and more innovation, as in:

“It seems like 10 years since we’ve had a grown-up conversation without teenage voices interjecting demands. Wanna go on a adults only get-away?”

Granted, question one is a lot harder to ask then question two, because question one benefits one person and in the other it’s a win/win. BUT that doesn’t make question one any less important. Women are so quick to squish their own demands when it comes to a full calendar of living in the car and fluffing the nest. That saying still rings true in my house: If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

‘Tis true that your idea of harmony may not jive with your partner’s or your children’s grand pre-teen narcissistic ideas, but that’s where the question asking comes in. You’ll never know if you don’t ask! Of course, passive aggression can be a monster living under your staircase (He loiters at my dinner table sometimes). There might be emotion-stuffing, something I refer to as the Emotional Mute Syndrome, but take heart! If you ask the “What do you want to create harmony in our schedule and home?” as you smile sweetly, the answer might surprise you. When I ask this question of my girls, their expressions can look somewhere between complete shock or skepticism. When I asked my youngest what she wanted her Saturday to look like, she gaped at me as though I had poured spaghetti sauce on the floor and rolled around in it. I think kids are used to being told where to go, what to do and how it all is going to go down. Now, whether said Saturday resembled anything like what she envisioned is up for debate, but I did ask and got points for that. I really do try to cram in some 12-year-old friendly activities so that she feels listened to.That’s the goal:

All family members’ ideas matter, as well as his or her feelings about how things are going.

Voila’….Har-mon-ee.

Sometimes to recognize harmony, you have to have discord….like loud, boy-band, tone-deaf discord. We’ve had some “Hey, waaaaaiiiit a minute” moments when we have family meetings about the family climate.

There’s frustration.

There’s dissatisfaction.

There’s even a chance of someone committing the ultimate sin, walking away from the discussion.

Yet, there is always a coming back to home base. We figure out what’s working and what needs to change. Not everyone will be cheerfully doing a happy dance about things, but we do try to address all needs on the table. I like modeling that for my kids—it’s so important to show them that asking for what you want and listening to others’ wants should always trump throwing up your hands and hitting the road.

The self check-in is also a key to this Harmony Thing. I do this at least once a week…usually at 2:00 am when I wake with a nap jerk.

Is our schedule too full?

Are we getting enough alone time as a couple?

Is clutter creeping back into the house?

Are my kids acting stressed out or tired?

Have we eaten more than one meal at our dinner table as a family this week?

Do we flop into bed at night satisfied with our days?

I use that inner compass to find the Harmony North Star…it’s out there, I just need to adjust my sails.

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What questions do you ask yourself to readjust your own harmony sails?

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3 Ways for your family to Zag while the world Zigs

via Be Happy

It’s not that the 70′s were this picture-perfect time frame. Goodness knows we ate enough cheese doodles and watched enough horrible syndicated Brady Bunch to cloud our judgement and arteries (it was all so great, wasn’t it?). Yet, lately I seem to be old enough to reminisce about the “good old days” when we road our banana seat bikes until dark in the summer without fear of abduction (even though there probably was some risk), and ran through fields and climbed trees because we were shooed out of the house by our moms.

When someone called your house and you weren’t there, the phone rang and rang. The caller couldn’t find you anywhere in the world…you simply were unavailable and you didn’t have to have an excuse about why.

I miss those days.

Yet, the random reality is that I, just like so many of the we’re-so-connected-we’re-not-really-connecting generation, have a permanent crick in my neck from looking down at my devices, texting to everyone and their dog, checking the weather and pulling up the blog to see who’s commenting on my commentating.

Something is askew.

I’d like to make the crooked straight. I know that it will happen in phases, but I’m anxious to implement changes so that in my own little way I can put some of that memorable childhood back into my 21st century children. Three things need to be dealt with head on:

1) Digital Sabbaticals-

The hub and I have been talking about committing to an UnPlug Sunday plan where we avoid TV, cell phone games (the kids), blogging and pinning (me) and laptop work (him). There are a couple of really good books on this subject that can help in this process: This one is perfect for our upcoming Summer of Fun (yes, it has a title). 

Airstream Adventures will also require some unplugging en masse for maximum enjoyment. There’s too much fun to be had and too much sun to soak up that we’ve been missing for 9 months of rain here in the NW! To even forfeit one second of this fun to a glowing screen is a crime. Not to mention the fact that an absence of digital distraction can kickstart some great family conversations and memories. It’s amazing to read the expressions of your children when you’re conversing…we’ve decided to refuse to look at the tops of heads and we are all feeling the benefits.

2) Reduce team sports commitments-

Ah…The “parent of an athlete” thing.Those of you who are close to me know that I have some serious opinions about involving a child in every sport known to man, driving all over creation for every tournament with the intent that they will some day be the all-star who scores the giant scholarship. Do I sound jaded? Okay, to be fair, I really understand wanting to give a kid every advantage in succeeding, be it sports/academics/the arts/etc. and that there will be plenty of activities in their lives to accomplish this. What I have trouble with is lining up the daily/weekly schedule with multiple practices for multiple sports, choosing club sports over school sports to win the political game that is getting a child on a team. By setting limits in our home regarding sports, we’ve created margin for our weekends and evenings and my girls have invested more into the one they’ve chosen.

We have decided to heavily promote kids being kids in our house. 

3) Permanent changes in diet-

I’ve been stuffing my brain with documentaries and books about this and have been inspired to show my kids what I’ve learned. They are amazingly receptive and willingly join me on the couch for movies like Food, Inc. and Hungry for Change. They seemed to get it, which thrilled me to no end. My offspring will now suck down some green juice before school as long as it’s heavily laced with strawberries, of course. I was guilty of some spinach chunks last week and it’s been a battle getting them back in the saddle! There are more trips to grocery stores for organic produce and we put our heads together to decide what would be good choices for meals that would please everybody. The airpopper is always going here—replacing the array of salty crap-ola we used to have in the cabinet. They’ve always been fruit lovers, but the vege thing is creeping in as I use every culinary creative bone in my body (sadly, there aren’t many) to make squash and peppers more appealing. It has taken awhile, but my girls truly understand the danger in trans fat, fast food and a processed food-heavy diet. They do love their treats—I’m not a parent to deny them a doughnut or piece of cake, but it won’t be a Twinkie (another fun memory from my childhood!), if you get my drift.

The food thing, I’m finding, comes down to modeling. If I diligently fire up the smoothie blender each day, choose produce over chips on a weekend afternoons and avoid sugar, they are seeing me win the battle over poor food choices. It’s not a special thing mom’s doing to fit into her tankini on spring break (although that would be lovely). It’s habit and normal and hopefully they’ll want a piece of that.

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On child-rearing in this century:

I love this essay (originally found it in Downtown Chic by the my favorite design family, the Novogratz). It’s worth reading.

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Friends, what are you doing to Zag while the world Zigs? What is making your family life more simple and wonderful?

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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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It’s time.

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Using a sleek modern chair as visual inspiration, I’m reconstructing a world that is simpler, streamlined and lovely.

It’s no easy task. Frankly, I’d rather take out my own spleen with an oyster fork than declutter the garage…but (sigh) I know what I have to do….and I’m well aware that the declutter part is only the top layer of this journey.

I’ve been churning on this for awhile in my very colorful, complicated life. I do love the color in this vida loca, but I’ve also been craving some serious white space.

I will be looking at simplifying my wardrobe, design in my home, diet and fitness, and most importantly…family life. I am determined to temper the ridiculous schedule we’ve been maintaining. There has to be another way and I’m ready to find it!

Our family has found a wonderful escape in the form of a silver bullet we call The Twinkie.

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Our Airstream has already brought a great deal of adventure and fun into our lives. It will be a blast to show what on-the-open-road excursions can do for one’s state of mind….as well as squabbling siblings.

You can read more about my ever-evolving tale of suburban woe here.

‘Looking forward to sharing what I’m learning and what is inspiring this quest! I’m also ready to hear what works for you in your journey.

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 **A major shout-out and hearty thank you to the following smart humans who have led the way…I’m so grateful I found your message**

Becoming Minimalist

Be More with Less

Simple Life Together

The Minimalists

Rowdy Kittens