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.

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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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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Ten Kitchen tips for the Minimalist

I don’t know about you, but the kitchen is always my most challenging room. To begin with, we have five people in our family who make the majority of our meals right in the kitchen.  There are always dishes to be washed and crumbs on the counters. Please don’t think after all this minimalist talk that we keep an immaculate household here. We live  in our home. Living is a messy business. Minimalism makes it easier to bring order to the mess, but it doesn’t sweep the floors or empty the dishwasher. We still have plenty to do around here which is why keeping the kitchen an easy-to-clean environment is so important. Today we’re going to talk about ten things that can make our kitchen easier and more enjoyable to navigate.

1.) If you haven’t used it in the last 3-4 months, it is time to let it go. I realize that I keep repeating this statement, but there is literally not one other single thing that will clear our lives more quickly or efficiently than disposing of things we don’t use.  Kitchens are full of shelves, cabinets and drawers that simply beg for more things to be shoved in that we can “deal with later.”  Maybe it’s time for later to be today.

2.) Make sure your storageware has mates.  I honestly no longer have a problem with losing sock mates, but I swear my lids get eaten in the night by gremlins. Any stray lids or stray containers need to move on out. Most plastic containers are recyclable. Once you have matched your goods, carefully consider how much you use or need before replacing it. I have found that less storageware forces us to use up leftovers more quickly resulting in less food and money waste. Win-win.

3.) Clear your fridge, pantry and spices of old, stale and expired items.  It’s just clutter we don’t need.

4.) Cut back to one set of dishes and glasses.  We’ve been operating on two sets right up until this summer, when I reconsidered why one family of five needs sixteen plates and bowls with different patterns. The answer is we don’t, and unless you are have a larger family, you don’t either.  We’ve been using one set of everything since July, and we have yet to miss the extra dish washing.

5.) Stop stacking piles of pots and pans on top of each other. If our stoves only have four burners, why so we need so much cookware? We’ve pared down to one set of pots (three sizes) and a steamer, a set of five cast iron round skillets, a cast iron square skillet and a cast iron dutch oven.  I love cast iron. We store lids on pans and don’t stack anywhere. They are easy to get out and easy to put away.

6.) Clear your counter tops. Counter tops aren’t storage spaces; they are work surfaces. Mail, appliances, knife blocks, knick knacks and keys make using the kitchen difficult and visually overwhelming. Clearing cabinets of excess pots, storage containers and dishes should make room for the blender, the crock of cooking utensils and and any other item that belongs in the kitchen. Mail and magazines don’t belong in the kitchen, and nasty keys should never sit on a counter. Ew.  Clear surfaces make a room look neater before we ever lift a finger.

7.) Steer clear of unitasker tools. If it can only do one thing, it’s a space stealer.  Stick with items that can be and are used in multiple ways.

8.) Get rid of your junk drawer. No really. No one needs to keep junk. Stop calling it that and you will stop filling it. We do have a utility drawer for batteries, light bulbs and a few often needed tools. No papers enter the drawer, nor do I gather up things that I don’t know what else to do with and throw it in there.  If you don’t know what to do with it, it’s trash.

9.) Stop buying every new and improved cleaning product under the sun. I find it terribly ironic that one of the messiest places in the house is the cabinet with the cleaners. Most of us only need an all purpose cleaner, a glass cleaner and perhaps an abrasive, dish soap and dishwasher cleaner.  I keep a few Mr. Clean sponges as well.

10.) Create an empty space.  I wish I could remember where I first read this jewel that suggested having an empty drawer, just to be able to say that you have it. I don’t know why it works into helping the mind stay in uncluttered mode, but I have done it for several years and somehow knowing it’s there always helps me stay on track. I actually stepped it up a notch and stopped putting things on the top shelves in every cabinet. I’m quite short, so the only things I kept up there anyway were things I never used because I couldn’t reach to get them down.

There you have it. Ten ways you can start minimizing your kitchen today. These are simple and can be done bit by bit, or you can take a weekend and overhaul the whole thing. I promise once you get started you will enjoy your kitchen more and find it much easier to keep user friendly, the way kitchens should be.

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Some days are like that, even for a Minimalist

This morning I experienced my first minimalist fail in two years: I threw away our extra coffee pot. I don’t know when I did it, though I know it was sometime during the moving process. I don’t know why I did it, possibly some form of moving delusion or purging euphoria. What I do know is that I wanted coffee and thirty seconds prior to discovering my purging error, the bottom cracked out of what I now know to be the only coffee pot in the house. . Fortunately I had not disposed of the camping coffee cups my brother purchased for us the year four hurricanes marched through Florida and we went weeks without power. Eventually, a lovely friend came to the rescue with a spare coffee pot, the result of a very recent marriage and the joining of two households.

Then my power when out.
Then my internet went out once the power came back on.

I looked outside to see if the sun had turned red or a black hole was forming but that didn’t seem to be the case.

Oh, and right now, I’m blogging from my phone.

Normally I would simply grab my things and head to Starbucks for a few minutes of wi-fi and maybe a bagel. Instead I’ll be taking my daughter to chemistry lab in a few moments. After which my mom is arriving from Tennessee.  This is why going to Starbucks is out.

It also means that once again, I am delaying the “kids stuff” post. But I do have a few observations in the midst of my first world crisis. Often times we, yes even me, hold on to things “just in case.” It’s why I kept a spare coffee pot for two years.  But there comes a tipping point in our lives where we have to decide if we are to continue to rely on the accumulation of stuff and money as wards against just in case, to keep life constantly convenient, or are we going to stop grasping so tightly to everything but the one thing that will keep us from drowning?  Let it go. We cannot be prepared for every blip, bump and eventuality. We sure can’t guard against real catastrophe with stuff and money.  When chaos strikes, and it will, it won’t be our stuff that saves us. It is entirely possible we won’t be saved at all but will have to walk right through the fire from beginning to end. When that happens, it will be what we’ve gained  in the letting go that carries us: the relationships, the family, the friends that have taken root and flourished in the open spaces of our lives.  We weren’t meant to get through life on our own, but we keep building these imaginary castles of self sufficiency on foundations of a greedy American dream at the expense of the people who are simply waiting for us to need…something.

I’m not at all saying that today was a catastrophe. It has been particularly frustrating.  Take it from me, home school becomes exponentially challenging when there is no power on a heavy technology day.  Frustration, catastrophe, these things happen no matter how many coffee pots we store in the closets.   But had I only needed to reach for a spare, I would have missed out on the pleasure of allowing someone to touch my life in the simplest of ways.   I’m glad I threw my old junk away after all.

***Edited to add: after I typed this with my thumbs on my phone, I couldn’t get it to post no matter what I did.  It took the Hunky man coming home and unsnarling all the technology to finally be able to say anything at all.