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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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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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.

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.

Numbering

I lost another friend today, a sister (sistah to be specific).  We probably would never have met had we lived normal lives in the normal course of time. Instead we got cancer.  Sheryl died leaving behind a husband, a nine year old daughter and a nineteen year old son. Because we shared so much for so many years, I can’t help but put myself in her place and wonder what I will think of my life when I reach the end of my days.

When I was twenty-two, I became mortal. Oh sure, we’re all mortal but there aren’t many twenty year olds who stare it in the face. I lost my hair and my eyelashes and my health and my dignity and for time we thought I’d even lost my fertility.

When I was twenty-four I became immortal again at the birth of my daughter, the first of three in the next three years.  I bargained with God for days and months. To see them be born, to see them walk, to live long enough for them to remember my smile.  I counted them off as though they were prayer beads, “Thank you Jesus, full of Grace for one more day.”

But time passed, and I began to count less frequently. Children walked and talked and ran. Days passed into years, even into decades.  I count infrequently now. Birthdays and anniversaries inspire me to look behind me at the string of beautiful shining days filled with so much more than I dared hope for so long ago when a gentle doctor spoke deadly words with tears in his eyes.

So many days.

These days are why I am passionate about living with less. It isn’t really less at all but a way to honor all the answered prayers for days I didn’t earn or deserve by living them with joy and love, not wasting them with grasping and fear.  I’m holding loosely to things because one day I will be like Sheryl, on my death’s bed looking back over my life. It won’t be the fashionable clothes or the investments or the cars or the rooms filled with things that I will want near, but the people I have made space to love deeply, the memories we have created and all the experiences I wasn’t to busy to do and enjoy.

This is why I am a minimalist.
Because life and time are finite, but they don’t have to be filled with finite things.

Teach us to realize the brevity of life,
    so that we may grow in wisdom. ~Ps. 90:12

31 days

The First Rule of Minimalism

I thought a great deal this weekend about what to share next. Many times when I talk about minimalism I hear the response, “I could never do that because….” when I get specific.  I don’t want to write things bog readers down with impractical concepts. At the same time, I can’t write about something without personalizing it to myself and my family.  I can only speak about my own experiences.
After all this thinking I decided it would be a good idea to establish some rules about minimalism, so here they are. Are you ready?
The first rule of minimalism:

Stop looking for the rules.

That’s it. That’s the only rule I know.
Over the next few days I am going to talk about our journey, mine and my family. It is the only experience I have to share, and I share it, not because I believe that you have to do everything just like me, but to possibly encourage you to begin rethinking everything culture ever told you about what you need or how to measure success.  This is what I love best about the whole concept of minimalism. It’s all about discovery and the individual ways we live our best lives. When I talk about giving up cable TV or driving twenty year old cars, it’s completely acceptable if those things aren’t practical in your life. If you work outside the home then, yes, you are going to need a very different, and probably slightly more extensive wardrobe than I do. If you have a hobby or a craft, there is no reason to get rid of those things to call yourself a minimalist.  Please don’t use my experiences as the template that will ensure your happiness or success.

What I am going to ask is this: if your immediate response is “I could never do that!” take a few moments, or a few days, to examine whether that response is because it would actually complicate your life or because change can be difficult, and we often resist it.

One more thing I want to share, which isn’t a rule, it’s just a good thought to keep in mind: it’s perfectly alright to try something and decide it won’t work for you. This isn’t failure; it’s learning. Maybe you pare your closet down to thirty-three items and after two weeks you just hate it. By all means add some clothes back! I bet you won’t go all the way back to where you started, though. That is progress. It’s learning what works for you and what doesn’t. We only become more joyful and engaged as we go through the process.

So now that we have established our ground rule, I think we’re ready to get started. Come on back tomorrow for some specific ways we’ve minimalized at my house. There may even be pictures of my closets.

31 days

Gypsy Life

There is an old Yiddish saying, “Man plans; God laughs”

Four years ago my family became gypsies. Before that time we lived in one town for sixteen years. It was Hunky’s home town so he had many years invested there before we met in college in my own home town. Four years prior to becoming gypsies, we bought our first home.

Did I mention it was in Florida? Did I mention we lived three miles from the ocean?
Yes, we’d have stayed.

Man plans; God laughs.

A series of life altering surprises for which we could never have prepared, led to a sudden out of state move and eventually to our losing the house in Florida. We were the unfortunate victims of buying at the top of the real estate bubble and needing to unload after the collapse. Long story short – foreclosure, bankruptcy and two people generally burned on the idea of home ownership.

We’ve rented three different homes since that time. All of them have been larger by far than the home we owned. One of them was so large, over three thousand square feet, that I began to question my own sanity. Before our move to Georgia, we’d never really questioned our pursuit of the American dream. Own a home, sell it to buy a larger home. Bigger is better; newer is best. Let the bank provide the means if we didn’t have it. But banks no longer like the looks of us, and our foray into home ownership had been stressful and expensive beyond our imagining.  It was also a mark of permanency, a kind of permanency I haven’t regained.

Life in the largest dwelling I ever intend to inhabit led to a new perspective on space and stuff, and the time and responsibility the two require. After taking care of my family and educating my girls, I spent far too much of my time maintaining my home and yard.  I began to resent the house and the time I had to spend taking care of it, but I dreaded the thought of packing everything in boxes again.  Sure we’d thrown things away when we’d left Florida, but we’d also lived in our first Georgia home for two years with a storage room filled with unpacked boxes.  We’d changed locations but we hadn’t yet changed our mindset about our stuff.

Two years after moving to Georgia we moved again, to a slightly smaller home with the most incredible view imaginable. The picture that I am using through out my 31 Days theme was taken on the boat dock of that home.  Our generous friends offered us a beautiful, temporary  place to live. From the beginning we knew time was short until we would be packing our things again.  I began in earnest looking at each item we owned and weighing the reasons why we kept it.  I discovered that my desire to keep things was directly proportional to my desire to pack and unpack it again. From clothes we never wore to books we’d never read, even after owning them for a decade or more, I was losing my desire to hang on to things for ‘just in case’. If we weren’t using it this week, it began to seem silly to keep hauling it around. Only our Christmas tree and one box of lights and ornaments are allowed to sit around in boxes.
Our most recent move at the end of May this year, was our easiest yet, and I’m still sorting and resorting with another move in mind.

I don’t love the process of packing and moving everything we own, but I don’t dread it any more either.  I have loved living in the vastly different houses have since we began living more like gypsies and less like all our faith was in the American Dream.  We’ll probably move again next year. I’ll be ready.

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