The Art of New Things

I’m not always good at new things. I love the idea of new things, but many times I can’t quite get behind them enough to follow through. This is why I was a bit nervous when I signed up for the the 31 day blog project again. The concept  of writing something every day is exciting, and even more exciting is the idea that people would come and read my words, but the space between the warm fuzzy of your comments and encouragement and the time it has taken this month to write all these thoughts is wide and there are days when I haven’t wanted to keep working my way across.  But here we are with only a few more days at the end of the month, and I have a plan to keep writing, and a plan to move just a wee little bit from here to my own website, another new thing to learn.

I sometimes think the idea of newness is a bit addictive. New is shiny and flashy and exciting until the time comes to put the work into it deserves.  Then it’s… well, it’s work.  Work isn’t always flashy or exciting so we abandon the old, new thing and move on the the latest, greatest new thing – on and on we go until we have piles of new things all around us but nothing has really changed at all, except for the amount of space our new things require.  And we just keep searching for that next “new thing” fix.

The reality of newness is that it isn’t an concept, a one and done approach to life, but an art.  Each and every new thing is an art and we are one of two people. We’re the people who just keep buying more art, or we are the artist.  The artist sees something beautiful and works to bring it to life.  The medium doesn’t matter, what matters is the true genesis not in acquiring but in creating. Ask any artist and he will tell you that beauty doesn’t just happen.  It’s work. It’s work and sweat and sometimes tears. It’s falling and failing and trying again, sometimes starting over completely from scratch. It’s not walking away when the shine wears off because you know that somewhere, buried deep, is a thing of such immense beauty that the world is less without it.

This is true newness.
We are the artists and the medium is our lives.
We can keep dressing life up, and masking it in all the trappings the world has to offer, or we can get to the real work of peeling away the dross and the excess, bringing to light a beautiful new thing that’s never been seen before, nor will be again.

But we have to decide to stop looking everywhere else and focus on the work at hand: our own unique life.
What we make of it will be our life’s work or our life’s waste.

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Rev. 21:5

 

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My Road to Minimalism

The Lord is my Shepherd. I have everything I need. Psalm 23:1

 

I know that not every person who calls himself a minimalist also identifies himself as Christian. I don’t believe that in order to be a Christian a person must also be a minimalist.  I want to be very clear about those two things before we go further today.  Throughout the month I have shared mostly how-to’s and observations about minimalism that could be applied to most people in most life situations.  Today, I am sharing the more personal story of how my faith and minimalism are bound together.

As I mentioned earlier this month, we came to Georgia from Florida unexpectedly.  This move is what finally spurred us down the road to minimalism.  But even before that, we made two decisions that would forever change the way we handled money and possessions.  In the spring of 1998, I became pregnant with my second child. My oldest child was two months old.  We joke now that we prayed for God to make it possible for me to stay home one day,  but we didn’t enunciate and God thought we said MONday. At the time I was a high school teacher. We crunched the numbers a thousand ways, but there was no way to arrange them that made returning to work after the birth of our second child a wise financial option. Honestly, I never wanted to return to work after our first child was born, so I was ecstatic that the math only proved what I already knew: it was time to come home.  Our family of four soon grew to a family of five living on one income.  We lived more simply than many we knew, but we still hung on to the American ideal, and lived well beyond our means.  Leaving the workforce was a step, but a tiny one, and we still had far to go.

About three years after the birth of our youngest daughter, my Hunky made the decision to leave his position as head athletic trainer at the same high school I left three years earlier.  That year we entered ministry for better and for worse.  We were part of a very mission minded congregation, which slowly began to change our thinking.  Over our six years there, we began to look at the world and our place in it quite differently.  However we still tried to reconcile what we knew of a world in need with what we wanted from the American Dream.  We overextended in buying our first home while attempting to live generously in other ways.  I certainly don’t think it is wrong to own a home, but I know for us, it was not one of our wisest choices.  Yet, I believe it was all part of God’s plan to teach us what lifestyle He intended for us.  I do not regret the time we spent in that house, in fact I have many wonderful memories of our time there and even today would love to live in a smaller space as that house was.

When it was time for us to leave Florida, the decision was sudden and shocking. We had not prepared for a drastic life change nor had we expected to leave the state. Our little house which we bought at the very top of the real estate bubble was next to impossible to sell from the market basement, add some catastrophic flooding to the area three months prior, and we were stuck.  The house foreclosed and the financial consequences were beyond our ability to absorb.  From a cultural standpoint, we were ruined. From God’s viewpoint, we were finally ready to get started.  When you’re standing in the rubble of a life, about the only thing you can do is reevaluate everything.  You know there is going to be rebuilding, but it’s time to decide if the same blueprint is what you want any more.  For us, it wasn’t, and it still isn’t.  As we packed…and packed….and packed….and packed our possessions in preparation to move, I began to question the contents of every box.  As we considered places to live from the viewpoint of everything being temporary, we found our needs had drastically changed.  The family that came to Georgia four years ago, bears little resemblance to the family that resides here today.  Every thing we thought we wanted, every marker of success, every physical possession we have retained has been through a refining fire.  We have new eyes and new hearts to go with our new lives.

We lost everything, but it wasn’t until we willingly let it go that we were truly free.
We have gone from financial devastation to being more fiscally stable than we have ever been.
We no longer view possessions with permanence but place our priorities in eternal pursuits.
We’re living more prosperously with less than when we let culture define prosperity for us.
The road to get here is one I would never have embarked on voluntarily, but I am grateful to have been set on it all the same.

Eight Lessons being a Minimalist has Taught Me

1. If you don’t know where every penny of your money goes, you are wasting it. Probably  a lot of it.  We’re still imperfect budgeters at best, but becoming minimalists has taught us to look at every dollar and determine if where it goes is really where we want to spend our money.  This behavior has led to cutting cable, stopping magazine subscriptions and eliminating nearly all fast food splurges ( we still hit sonic at happy hour on occasion. Mmmmmm cherry limeade.).  We’ve found money that we want to divert to other places and become able to be generous in ways that bring a return of joy which is beyond money value.

2. The American Dream has become a slave driver.  I do believe that at one time, what people were looking for out of life was an ideal worth striving for.  But lately, the American Dream has become a never ending chant of BIGGER BIGGER BIGGER and MORE MORE MORE.  This really hit home with me a few years ago when someone asked my thirteen year old what colleges she was looking at.  Thirteen. When I expressed my shock I was assured that the only way she was going to get anywhere was to be ahead of the pack in her college options.  Seriously? We’re told we need bigger homes, newer cars and to never stop climbing the corporate ladder.  Please don’t buy the hype. Life is so much more than these pathetic talismans.

3. People will take offense at your life choices, no matter what you choose.  I certainly don’t think that this is limited to people who choose a minimalist lifestyle.  There are always people who are threatened by those who have chosen  an alternate lifestyle as though choosing a different path than theirs threatens the superiority of their choice.  I do think minimalism is a better life choice than what culture is selling, but no one has to choose it if they don’t desire.  I’m not going to argue or justify my choices. They are my choices. We each get to make our own.

4. Life will always have troubles and take unexpected turns. Minimalism isn’t a magic bubble of perfection.  Bad days and difficulties come to everyone.  Minimalism does make it easier for me to focus attention where it most needs to be rather than being distracted by many less important details.

5. Routines matter.  Routines are what keep things flowing, especially when you are working through the minimizing process. I used to tell myself that I didn’t have to make progress every day but I could not go backwards on any day. Routines are what keep my mind from wondering what hasn’t been done and allow me to make order quickly when life disrupts the routine. The balance is in allowing routines to be your tools, but not strait jackets from which you cannot escape.

6. A minimalist lifestyle means you have more time for many new things, but you still cannot do all the things.  One of the most important components of the minimalist lifestyle is not only making space, but keeping space. We’ve done no real good if we clear out our possessions but cram our life full of obligations instead. Slowing down, pacing your activities, even doing nothing for periods of time are all part of the minimalist lifestyle.  Don’t let your freedom get rebogged down in new ways.  Keep some space in your life.

7.  You will never agree with every single thing that another minimalist says about his/ her lifestyle. We all choose for ourselves how our lives will be lived. Fortunately, I haven’t yet met an adamant minimalist. However, across the board we are all very passionate. Don’t mistake passion for judgement and don’t let someone “guilt” you into change you aren’t comfortable with. Not even me.

8.  Boundaries matter. Sometimes boundaries are upsetting. This can happen when we limit the number of Christmas gifts we allow for our children, or when we turn down bringing home Great Aunt Ruth’s bottle cap collection.  Remember to be gentle when people don’t understand, but also be firm in your decisions.  We cannot please all of the people all of the time, nor should they expect to be pleased always.

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Life Beyond Housework

So you’ve been through the closets and the bookshelves. You’ve donated and sold and thrown away.  You can find your batteries, your keys and the mates to all your socks.  Are you asking yourself what’s next?

I have to tell you that this is both the good part, and the hard part.

Once you’ve finished the tasks at hand, room by room, you’ll probably start reassessing and getting rid of more stuff. It’s inevitable that you will look at everything with new eyes once the process is complete.  You will find yourself working in areas you know you already covered and thinking, “Didn’t I just do this?” I’ve said it one hundred times this month, so here it is again: minimalism is a process. It is a process that will change you, and when it does, you will be a little bit addicted to the idea of less being more. Eventually though you have to stop giving away all the things lest your family put you on the curb too.  Then what?

Do you realize that most people don’t know what to do with time when it’s not crammed to the gills?  We’ve become too accustomed to always having five things clamoring for our immediate attention. It’s hard to believe that you will have time to do things that aren’t home maintenance related.  This is the part that’s messy and a little scary.  Maybe you start by reading a book for no reason, you know the one that sat on your bedside table for two years unopened and you still couldn’t bear to pass it on.  Maybe you’ll take that photography class you’ve had your eye on for so long.  Or you’ll become involved supporting a cause or organization which has tugged your heart for a long time.  You’ll try things you don’t like, and you’ll surprise yourself by trying something you never thought you would do and loving it.  You may try two or three things all at once and decide you don’t like any of them.  This is normal. We’ve been so busy, we’ve forgotten how to be truly us.  Living a life with time and space to grow and explore is a foreign concept. Sometimes, you might just sit and do nothing, though I wouldn’t admit it to many people.  They might say you are lazy, or worse yet, crazy. No one sits around just doing nothing, or if they do they ought to find better use of their time and stop wasting their lives, little knowing stillness and doing nothing are two things that make up some of the richest moments of our lives.

These are the fun moments of rediscovering who we are and what we love.  We’re finding the things we want to do and the person we want to become now that there is time for options.

Frustrating days will happen as well. Days like I had today where you run all over town, and your house feels like a cluttery mess (or as I like to call it, the pit of despair).  You’ll still sometimes have baskets of laundry waiting and dishes in the sink. You’ll snap at someone because “you just don’t have time to do that right now.”  Even when life has been refocused and relaxed, it’s still life.  It can grab you by the heels before you even know it.  There may even be seasons of time that you can’t seem to your breath or makes the pieces fit.  You’ll wonder if you are doing something wrong.  That’s normal too.  Despite all the changes we’ve made so far, we still only have a very limited sphere of control in our lives. There are times when we have to grin and control the only thing we truly can, our response.   The good news is once we’ve prioritized and minimized, life can usually regain its normal friendly flow with little effort on our part, once we’re through the rough patch.

Life after the work of minimalism is done isn’t all beach vacations and lazy afternoons, as much as I would like to tell you it is.  It may look very similar to how you lived before, but with more space and less debt.  Or, as you discover who you really are without all of the cultural expectations and wrappings placed upon your life, you may change everything entirely, moving homes and changing jobs, trying something completely different that fits you better than what you were doing before. Both of these experiences are completely normal as well.  There isn’t a right or wrong path to take once you’ve gotten through the initial hard work. That’s part of the joy of the lifestyle, the freedom to choose whatever it is that suits you and your family the best.

 

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Before I Die

I have thinkerly days sometimes. Usually when the wind blows wild and I feel restless.
Today is the perfect culmination of thinkerly conditions.  Fall is like that.
I spent some time thinking about what I want the last week of the 31 days project to hold, now that we’ve looked in my closets and discussed what’s in the pantry.  Where to we go from here?

I think we’ll spend the next week going outside the box of house keeping and talking about what to do with life once we’ve eliminated the things that weigh us down and steal from us.  Clearing our homes is just the first step, there is a life to be lived after that, and maybe its time we examined more closely what sort of life we want that to be.

A few months ago I watched this inspiring talk. It entered my mind again today in all my thinking. It’s the perfect prelude to what’s coming next. I hope you’ll take a few moments to watch it. It’s worth your six minutes.

Divided

I do not have a multi-tasking personality.  In fact,  I don’t actually believe that multi-tasking is an effective way to accomplish anything since we aren’t being fully mindful of any one thing at a time while we do multiple things.  However, there are people who can juggle multiple tasks and ideas well, whether or not this is a healthy way of handling life. I am not one of those people. I do best with one task at a time, one person speaking at a time – which means I often feel verbally overwhelmed in a house with three teenage girls – one area of focus at a time.  This is one reason that participating in the 31 Days project makes writing easier for me. It allows me to focus on one thing to write on at a time for a set period of time. I’m not distracted by a million shiny ideas in my own head and on other people’s blogs.

On the other hand, writing for thirty one days straight has taxed me far beyond what I anticipated.  Stretching is good; I am enjoying it. I hope to continue to write with as much enthusiasm and momentum once this project is complete.  What I didn’t anticipate was the amount of time writing and organizing my blog would take once I began.  Some days I have spent hours on the work, which again isn’t a bad thing.  But, before this project began I wrote a post about something that is weighing heavily on me still: Creating Space.  Three weeks into October I must confess that I have failed miserably at reducing my unproductive online time. Perhaps even abysmally.   Instead of creating space for creativity by limiting online time, I have allowed my online time to increase proportionally to my creativity at the expense of things I am not willing to trade. I have justified it, obviously, by directing my attention to how well this project is progressing and how much I am enjoying it.

Fortunately my friend, Angela reminded me that I can (not) do all (the) things.  I don’t know why we need permission to turn off all the voices demanding our attention, but sometimes we do.  I’ve been caught up in a whirlwind of excitement about this project and let many other things, important things, fall off the wagon making it unbalanced, and making me ill-prepared to handle my days.  In short, I’ve been multi-tasking and doing none of the many things as well as I would like, as well as I know I can when I give the proper focus.

I’m confessing this here for two reasons. First of all, I read back over these posts, and it seems like they are written by someone who has it all together.  I don’t.  But I do have a vision of where and who I want to be and how I plan to get there.  It looks good on paper, but I am far from perfect in the execution.  It’s a learning and experiencing process. You may need to know that. Secondly, confession lends accountability.  There’s a finality to words on paper (or the internet, I suppose).  People ask me about what I write. They want to see if the things I spend so much time writing about really are producing the life changes I believe in.  Another friend reminded me that I said, “I only have one today in my whole life.”   Lately I’ve done very well with talking about living a focused life, and not so well with actually living it. I want to change that now, today.

I’m not stopping the 31 Days project.  In fact, I’m hoping that re-narrowing my focus will allow me to continue to produce articles about change, intentional living and hope far more consistently just as I have for the first three weeks of the month.  I just wanted you to know that I haven’t forgotten my intentions, I just got divided in my focus for awhile. Now, back to the business of enjoying life.31 days button

Four steps to a Bedroom Beautiful

Let’s face it. Life is messy.  I  believe our bedrooms shouldn’t be. Too often we use the room where we sleep as a catch-all for anything we aren’t certain where to put in the rest of the house. We stack our clothes and pile our papers, completely covering every flat surface with odds and ends.  Shouldn’t the room where we sleep be peaceful and inviting rather than cluttered and confusing?  The moment we open our eyes -BAM- we’re hit with mess from every side, defeating us before our feet even touch the floor.  We can solve this by focusing on four separate things.

1. Clothes.  I discussed clothing briefly when I revealed my closets. Our clothes should always fit neatly into closets and dressers. Old, stained, stretched, worn, unflattering clothes do not belong in our wardrobes. Becoming Minimalist has a great guide to owning fewer clothes which I recommend. If you are feeling particularly adventurous, Courtney Carver has a project you can join (free!) to help you beat the clothes horse: Project 333.  Once you’ve handled your closets and dressers, all clothes should be put away each night. It’s either dirty or it’s clean; put it in the hamper or put it away. No other family member should have clothes stacked or stored in your room.  If you have so many clothes you can’t put them away easily, you won’t put them away at all. Reassess what your clothing needs truly are; what you already own, and how you are using your space. I do not recommend running out to buy more under-the-bed storage containers. These are seldom convenient for clothes and are usually an organizational tool more than a minimalizing tool. Whatever combination of actions you need to take for your needs, clothes and space to align in a way that allows an end of clothing clutter, do it immediately. Most of us have conquered half the bedroom problems when we have minimized our clothing.

2. Make your bed. At the risk of sounding like your mom, I’m going to say it again: make your bed.  Three minutes a day is all it takes to make your room less cluttered and more inviting.  This one action will make a huge change. From a health perspective, investing in a good mattress and pillows for your bed will work wonders on how you feel physically, which of course improves life before even lifting a finger.  Personally, I love to sit in my bed and read a book, so comfort and pillows are a must. We also enjoy the luxury of a king size bed which we first bought to accommodate mom, dad and three small children. The teenagers don’t visit our bed in the night anymore, but we still enjoy our spacious bed. It’s an area we could minimize, but we don’t want to.

3. Bedside space/ Nightstands. These can be terrible spaces making lazy piles, after all, we’re in bed and not dealing with minimizing anymore!  The only items that need to be on your nightstand, are things you use while in the bed. On my own I have a lamp, my books, lotion – I often climb into bed and decide my hands are dry, so I keep lotion by my bed-, lip balm, a reading light, a flashlight. There is a place for my kindle and my phone to sit while charging. Anything else that finds it’s way to this surface, is removed each morning right after I make the bed. Once this becomes a routine, you won’t even think about cleaning it,  There are things we need near us at night, but they are few and they shouldn’t present you with an “I really need to clean that” moment as soon as you open your eyes.

4. Try to find a place for everything else somewhere else.  Bedrooms should be about relaxing and recharging.  Keeping every hobby and project just complicates how your bedroom looks and feels.  It also makes it more difficult for your brain to stop focusing on the next thing demanding your attention. An uncluttered room gives us room to breathe and dream.  I have slept in bedrooms the size of a living room, and ones so small we could barely walk around the king size bed. I have seen both types become cluttered and overwhelmed by stuff. Whether your bedroom is large or small, you can control what goes into it, and how restful an environment it provides. Make your bedroom a welcoming place to come home to and the rest of your home won’t seem as daunting to minimize.

4 1/2. What about the TV?  There are many arguments against having televisions in bedrooms, however, my Hunky and I do have one which we very much enjoy. We do not watch it every night, and we do not have it on for “noise in the background,” especially since we don’t have cable. But we do enjoy snuggling up in bed at the end of some long days and watching a movie or a show together.  Personally, I believe TV is as useful or as detrimental as we allow any other items we own to be and it’s up to each of us to determine how much technology is too much in the bedroom…and every other room in our home as well.

 

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