Thursday, May 7, 2015

to the woman who bought my stuff

Our shopping fast prohibits buying gifts for our kids, so with Chelise's birthday coming up, I've had to think creatively as far as what we can do. She is such a girl and loves anything pretty, and I have a huge stash of beading supplies, so I decided to make her some bracelets. I realized this was a good decision when she had a major meltdown because I took off the bracelet she was wearing to measure its length.

Unfortunately, I lacked 2 items I really needed to actually make the bracelets (clasps and wire). What to do? I dug through my supplies and found 3 recently-purchased items that I hadn't opened, so decided to return/exchange them in order to get what I needed. I ran this by Morgan to make sure he was on board with the sort-of-compromise. He was, so I went to do my shopping.

Even though I wasn't spending more money, and even though it wasn't technically breaking our fast, I still felt not-quite-right going through the aisles of Hobby Lobby. I was determined to stick to my budget of returned-merchandise money ($3). But still... I was buying something I didn't technically need.

With my 2 items in hand, I went to stand in line. The lady in front of me saw I only had 2 items and apologized for not letting me go first since she had a cart full (people frequently feel sorry for pregnant women of my size, I've noticed). Then she told me to toss my items on the counter, she would pay for them. I graciously thanked her but said no, that's ok, I didn't want her to have to do that. She insisted. I protested again. She insisted again. So I did and offered her the cash I'd just gotten for my return. She refused. And so she paid for my items.

It was so little, but I was so overwhelmed. It was a gift, not just from this total stranger, but from God who put it in her heart to do. I was SO blessed. After a little chat, and a huge thank you, I went to the car and thanked the Lord with tears. I felt so loved! The $3 from the return I used for groceries, and even though it was only $3, it was still a reminder that He is the One who provides for our needs, and sometimes even provides for something we don't really need.

She had no idea what buying my 2 little items meant. There weren't really words to tell her in the 5 minutes of interaction we shared. But she showed me Jesus, and that blessed me more than words could say.

On a side note, I love the bracelets I was able to make with the items she purchased. I think Chelise is going to love them too!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

What I Want to Shop For

I've hit my first obstacle in our shopping fast. 1 month down and I haven't really struggled with overwhelming shopping desires so far. I have, however, come across a stumbling block.

I the past I've had a hobby of making/selling pens out of wood and other materials. I had someone approach me with a request for a pen to give as a gift, so last week i got to make the first pen I've made in about 7 years.

One of the decisions pen turners have to decide is how to finish the pen. One of the most beautiful and likely the most durable finish you can use is a super glue finish. Sparing you a more detailed explanation, using a super glue finish gives you a thin, high gloss, extremely durable layer of plastic over your wood. I never have figured out how to do this finish properly - until last week. Having finally figured it out, I was super-excited to make myself a pen, the 2nd pen I've made in the past 7 years. That's the pen in the picture above.

The problem now is this - I'm out of super glue! No more super-shiny beautiful finishes for my projects! I do have a Lowes giftcard leftover from Christmas which falls under the birthday/Christmas gifts from other exemption, but I'm definitely feeling the need not to blow it, since it's all I have for the next 11 months.

I guess I won't have any true need for more super glue until I have another reason (other than just wanting to) to turn any more pens, but having picked up the hobby again, I'm itching to do more! One thing I've realized about creative hobbies is that unless you have people wanting to buy or take whatever it is you make, you end up accumulating stuff. So even if I had all the super glue my heart could desire, there would be no point in amassing a huge stockpile of pens around our house - it'd just be one more thing to minimalize.

Sigh... Time to focus on the things around the house that actually need to be accomplished...

Friday, May 1, 2015

something to fill the void

1 month down, 11 more to go on our shopping fast. It's been an interesting journey so far, and I've noticed several things about myself:

1) Consumerism is an addiction. Or at least it has been for me. I have to avoid looking at the ads, avoid looking at the fabric (new projects are my weakness), avoid looking at the style boards showing me all the outfits I could put together if I just had ___. I know that if I look, I will want, and if I want, I will have to go through the whole internal struggle, the desire to justify a purchase, the ultimate pain of saying no... It sounds so serious, when it's really quite ridiculous. So I can't buy myself fabric to make a new scarf! Why should that be hard?!?

2) I was spending money like a fiend and never even realized it. Since we've gone on our fast, our spending (obviously) has come to a screeching halt. It's amazing how little I'm spending if all I'm shopping for are groceries and diapers! I had no idea I was spending so much, and now looking back, I'm not even sure what in the world I was buying! It was simply the attitude of consuming, of buying more, of allowing myself to be attracted by something and taking part because I could.

3) I'm bored. Shopping, consuming, new things... it was something to keep me occupied, something about which to be excited. Even if it was simply a pen, it was something new, something to go out and buy to fill my otherwise boring life with an interesting tidbit. Yesterday I went to Target to exchange a box of diapers for a bigger size. I decided to quickly peruse the sale section for kids clothes. Morgan and I decided that yes, clothes for the kids are actually a need, but I also tend to go a bit crazy with clothes, so I made myself an extremely specific list so that I don't buy more than they need (like: 2T gold tights, 1. 3T winter top matching black pants, 1. 5T khaki play-pants, 1. etc). I actually found 2 items on my need-list for the kids on the sale racks for awesome prices so I bought them. The purchase was so not exciting (I found the pair of khaki play-pants for Emerson and a pair of jeans for Chelise), but I felt like an addict getting a fix. I'm embarrassed even to admit how extreme my dependence on stuff has become!

But then I started thinking about it... My life really is pretty boring. My conversations are almost exclusively with a 4-year-old and 22-month-old, and my activities consist mostly of washing dishes, breaking up tussles, disciplining backtalk, wiping butts, occasionally doing something as exciting as getting groceries. Up till 1 month ago, I dealt with my boredom by shopping. Looking at how high our credit card bills were getting every month, I must have been really bored! I know I'm doing the most important thing I could ever do - raise my children and spend these precious and short years with them. I know it, believe it, and wouldn't trade it for anything!! This is what I want to be doing!! But... yeah, it can be pretty boring.

4) I need something better than shopping to fill my heart. I used to look forward to Morgan coming home just so I could run out and do... something! By myself, of course, alone in the van, without listening to Veggie Tales. But this week we haven't needed groceries, and until I needed to get diapers, I had nothing to go out and do. The boredom settled on me. It weighed on me as heavily as the persistent clouds. I needed the sunshine of something to fill that void. Harry Potter got pulled back out to play in the background as I do my daily chores. But even Harry Potter can't quite fill the void of needing something to enjoy in a day of humdrum. I need to learn how to turn to God and let Him fill this void. Jesus wants my heart completely, and so as I rid myself of the idols, I want Him to replace them.

Practically speaking, what does that mean??? I don't know. But I want to know. I want to be excited about Him, about the mysteries of His ways, about the incredible truths of His Word! This week, I have asked myself what I need to do in order to turn this idol into devotion. I don't want simply not to shop for a year; I want to be changed. And so I ask the Lord to show me what this means. Show me, Lord, what You want for my days, so that You are the joy that fills them and You are my excitement in them.

Jeremiah 33:3 'Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.' I believe You, Lord, and I am excited. I am waiting. I am wanting You instead of stuff. And I know You will do far beyond anything I can ask or imagine.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What's Making Us Discontent?

I heard a story that I can't verify is actually true (despite numerous searches on Google), but I thought I'd pass it on. The story goes like this:

A large american corporation opened a factory in a remote part of the world where the local people had little in the way of local commerce - no local shopping at all. The company was pleased that they were able to employ plenty of people to work and things got started well. The factory was running nicely for the first one or two pay periods, then people simply stopped showing up for work. The plant managers were confused until they learned that their employees, who'd never had much income at all, suddenly had all the money they could need, as they were living just as they had been before the company came but now had several good paychecks to provide plenty of security/comfort. The managers were baffled about how they could get the employees to return to their jobs, until one of them had an idea. They had a Sears catalog delivered to everyone in the village. The villagers, having never seen all the things that their money could buy, suddenly realized that they didn't have nearly enough money for everything they could want. They returned to work and the plan no longer had any difficulty getting the workers to show up. 

Whether it's a fact or a parable, the lesson is poignant. The villagers were perfectly content with the lives they were leading and the comforts they possessed until they let someone else, whose goal was to get them to buy more, start showing all the things that could make their lives "better". Once they'd been convinced that they "needed" those things, they were willing to trade large portions of their lives (M-F, 9AM-5PM) for the things they had just recently been content without.

The question I have is who am I allowing to make me discontent? There's a multi-billion dollar marketing industry who's whole purpose is to make me believe that what I have isn't sufficient and that what they offer is. The fact that this industry is kept in business speaks to the fact that they're successful at their mission. The mailers that come to my mailbox every day, the emails from the various stores/websites where we've spent money in the past, and the banner in my web browser - all of these are tailored specifically to convince me that I should purchase what they have.

One of the things I've really appreciated about being on our shopping fast so far is that I've come to see these things differently. I used to take the monthly mailer from my favorite woodworking store and keep it as my bathroom reader for a while. Though I don't buy new clothes too often, I keep allowing one of my favorite clothing stores to send me emails EVERY DAY - in case something comes across that I do actually "need." Since buying any of this stuff is not an option right now, it's been really easy to realize what these things are trying to do - they're trying to make me break our fast! Ok, that might not exactly be what they had in mind, but it comes down to the same thing.

So, if I know that these things I've invited into my life are trying to get me to do something I don't want to do, why keep them around? I've been unsubscribing from every advertising email that comes through my inbox, and it's amazing how quickly the spam mail goes down :) We set up a recycle bin right by the garage door so all those mailers can go directly in the bin without them having the chance to try to make us discontent with the wonderful things we already own.

Stopping the mailers is a bit more difficult than stopping the emails - it turns out that signing up for the mailers is very easy, but unsubscribing takes at least a direct email, more likely a phone call. Another option is to mute advertisements while you're watching TV. Better yet, turn the TV off and put your time into a pass-time that's more personal gratifying - family time, playing games, reading, crafts, hobbies.

We can't stop the billboards on the side of the road, but we can definitely choose what messages we grant a forum in our minds at home.
- Morgan

P.S. If you really want to mess with the website banners, spend a little time "shopping" online for things you don't care about in the slightest. The results will be amusing and not at all tempting :)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Deer Tallow Soap Recipe

One of the areas we've been able to go green is in our body soap. Each fall I hunt deer and in the process of butchering them, harvest a good amount of deer fat. We decided to render the tallow, first thinking we'd use it for cooking. The cooking thing never really happened, despite it being good, grass-fed tallow, so we decided to shift the tallow into soap.

This is where things got a bit harder. We had a hard time finding a recipe we liked for a deer tallow soap. You don't want to use 100% tallow, because though it will give you a hard soap, it won't the other ideal cleansing properties. We eventually settled on the recipe we have here. It uses 50% deer tallow and 25% each canola and coconut oils.

This is our 3rd year using this recipe and we're really pleased with it. It suds nicely, is appropriately hard, and feels good on the skin. Here's the basic recipe.

16oz (454gm) Deer Tallow (can substitute beef tallow and it will actually improve the qualities of the soap)
8oz (227gm) Canola Oil
8oz (227gm) Coconut Oil
12.16oz (345gm) Water
4.59oz (127gm) Lye - NaOH
Optional Fragrance - varies on the variety, but 1 - 1.5oz fragrance oil seems to be correct.
Colorant as desired

I'll let others describe cold process making. This recipe is perfect for filling a parchment paper-lined standard bread pan. We divided this batch into two different pans because we wanted to try adding colors and fragrance oils. This is the first year we've used fragrance oil and colorants. The soap is perfectly fine without scent or color, but I'll admit it looks cooler this way :)

Friday, April 24, 2015

Being Realistic

In my dream-life, my dream-self makes all the consumable products we use (toothpaste, makeup, baby wipes, laundry detergent, etc. etc. etc. etc.). My dream-self also makes all the food we eat from scratch using organic ingredients, mostly raised by ourselves or bought locally, and never buys convenience food full of chemicals and additives. My dream-self also is never stressed out, and can somehow do all of this while raising children (who obviously are helpful, whine-free, tantrum-free, obedient and respectful dream-children), teaching them everything they need to know, and enjoying life in our perfectly spotless home where the dishes are done, laundry is washed/folded/put away, and everything is, in general, organized, simple and restful.

In reality, I spent several hours today researching homemade makeup, homemade toothpaste (because we need some), homemade deodorant (I used to make it; where did that perfect recipe we both loved go anyway?), printing recipes, figuring costs, and wondering if it's all really worth it. Is it worth trying to live a different way?

When I thought through our shopping fast, I made a choice to do my best to eliminate all the necessary-but-convenience items that drive up our bills: organic baby wipes (I can make them myself with paper towels plus a little extra time!), laundry detergent, etc. It takes being deliberate, a little extra foresight (making the wipes before I'm halfway through a dirty diaper change and realize there is not a single wipe in the house), and a few extra ingredients. Because I've been working on becoming my dream-self for awhile now, I've stocked up quite a few of these extra ingredients already (score! No need to buy more stuff!). I suppose it also takes faith too. Faith that what I'm doing is worth doing even when I feel like everything is chaos and I can't even do things as basic as feeding my children something other than peanut butter and jelly for the 3rd time in a row.

At our BSF lecture a couple weeks ago, our discussion leader mentioned how when she as a young mother she complained to God about not having time to seek Him with all the constant demands on her life, and He reminded her of Matthew 6:33 - "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well". I've thought of that frequently since then. I'm trying to accomplish as much as I can between now and Baby #3's arrival (make the products, sew the baby-stuff, make all the gifts we'll want to give over the next year when we're not buying stuff, etc), but there's only so much a tired pregnant mom can do in a day. And I know it will only be harder once she's here, and I'm sleeping even less with an adjusting 2-year-old and always-challenging 4-year-old, not to mention a husband who is away more than ever. I think, being realistic, how in the world can I do basic homemaking tasks (laundry, food, etc), let alone shoot for some of my goals (like a year's supply of home-canned goods and a homemade products)??

What really matters here? That I seek Him first, His kingdom, and His righteousness. He gets it. He understands. He doesn't condemn me when I cannot be my dream self (or even half of my dream-self). What's more important is that He Himself promises that, as I seek Him first, everything else will be added to my life - food, clothing, etc. I don't need to worry. Yes, I can be realistic, and know I may need to buy toothpaste and deoderant down the road. But can I not also trust Him that He will provide the best? Like peace. Strength. Rest. Maybe I will need to buy something, but maybe not! He can provide in unlimited ways, for extra time, extra help, extra energy, etc!

Trust Him first, Kyra. Seek Him first. Everything else will fall into place when I do. Realistically, my dream-self is the mother who trusts Him like that and is at rest in my soul when my children throw a tantrum again about their food or can't leave me alone long enough to do 1 load of laundry! In the bigger picture of life, that's more important. That's an eternal dream-self with eternal value. I suppose, realistically speaking, that's going to add greater value to my children's lives than an all-organic, from-scratch diet and home.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


I was thinking about being content this morning, so I looked up 1st Timothy 6:6:-11:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness,faith, love, endurance and gentleness. (NIV)
Reading this passage, even though I've read it many times before, amazed me. So many verses and passages in the Bible seem to come to life in whole new ways when they're viewed with through the lense of simplicity, non-consumerism, and minimalism. The thing is, this passage shouldn't require any of those lenses to hit us, because it's so straightforward. It's so easy for us to think about the gain we want to have in life - possessions, money, status, promotions, status symbols. We spend so much of our lives and attention thinking about and pursuing these things, and the thing is that when our focus is on what we need to obtain next, we're by definition rejecting contentment because we're focused on and pursuing what we don't already have. 

I love that Paul didn't just say contentment is great gain, but that godliness with contentment is great gain. Basically, if we want to pursue advancement and gain, let's pursue it on the path of sanctification. In fact, this is one area in our life where we're not supposed to be satisfied, but to constantly quest for purer, more complete godliness and sanctification. 

Aside from that, Paul tells us, so long as we have food a clothing we ought to be content. Why should we be content with such basic supply? I think the answer is in the sentence before that - we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it. Our focus is life is not to be on the temporal, physical life we lead, but on our walking with God and journeying toward heaven. All the status symbols and possessions in the world will mean nothing as soon as we pass into the hereafter. What will matter? In Matthew 25 we're told what is going to matter - I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me. All these things that the righteous did out of the outpouring of their love for Christ are the things that will last for eternity, long after every possession, title, and accomplishment have been completely forgotten. 

To pursue anything else sets us up for  temptation, traps, and foolish and harmful desires that plunge us into ruin and destruction. Given the benefits and the alternative, accepting God's invitation to the joys of contentment sounds pretty awesome.
-   Morgan

Sunday, April 19, 2015

minimizing distractions

flickr: Hunter Langston
Morgan's smart phone broke this past week, and we were faced with a question: does he NEED a smart phone? We knew that yes, he does need a phone. As a doctor, it's rather an essential. But a smart phone with a data package that costs an extra $30/month plus all the time/distraction a smart phone adds? I wasn't going to ask him not to get a smart phone (that's a pretty big sacrifice to ask when he's had one as long as I've known him). But he admitted immediately that it was a luxury he doesn't need. It will save us money that can go into our debts every month. And possibly the biggest thing is that it will remove that distraction from our lives. I told him I think I may like the no-smart-phone version of him even better, and he agreed that HE may like himself better without the smart phone.

During Lent, we both gave up Facebook. As I looked toward the coming year (this was before minimalism, shopping fasts, etc) and what I wanted for my family, it was obvious to me what stood between me and my daily goals: the distraction of social media and all the time I waste there. So we decided to experiment with simply giving it up. And wow, it was incredibly freeing! I liked myself better. I got so much more done, I sat ignoring my children less. I had more focus. I was a better mother. When Easter came, I actually dreaded the option of getting back on and letting old habits into my life. I'm still trying to figure out what the balance should/can be. Maybe it needs to be a once a day thing... or maybe a once a week thing... or maybe I just need to accept it's a distraction not worth the gains... I don't know. We'll see. :)

With Morgan's smart-phone life being removed, I feel as though God has made our distractions smaller for us. Our children won't see our heads buried in the screen, or feel like they have to compete with technology for our attention. There will be the minor inconveniences of not being able to check the weather just before bed (I guess moms figured out how to dress their kids before smart phones, so I'll be ok), and we won't have constant GPS on trips (people used to look at maps; we can probably do that too!). But I think we're going to gain so much more than we lose! We have been forced to ask ourselves if the gains of technology are worth the cost on relationships and the time we aren't spending talking to our kids about truth and how to navigate life. I'm really excited about this! With less, we get to experience more. Yay for a broken phone!

Friday, April 17, 2015

When God does bigger things

Today is the perfect day to begin my own account of this journey. Some days it's so abundantly clear that the One who made the Universe hears our prayers and knows our hearts, and opens the windows of heaven to show us His blessings.

Months ago now, Morgan and I asked God to help us get out of credit card debt by the time our 3rd baby is born. The number was rather staggering to me because I couldn't see a way to get it paid off. But our money is His, our lives are His, and we knew it was time to bring ourselves back into honoring Him with how we use them. This whole year I've studied the life of Moses, and how the hearts of the people of Israel constantly strayed to other gods. Throughout the year, the Lord convicted me of my love of stuff. He kept reminding me that I cannot love both God and money! But yet, like the Israelites, I constantly turn to stuff - shopping for comfort, shopping for pleasure, shopping simply to have something new to be happy about. Why did I do that when HE is my comfort, HE is the greatest treasure, and HE is the only true joy that can last beyond the moment? I kept telling Morgan about it, trying to figure out what my limits need to be to combat this idolatry in my life. But it never really got to my heart.

Then Morgan proposed the shopping fast. I knew immediately this was the answer, and still my heart clung to the last bits of my idols... I could hold off buying stuff until my birthday, and then shop online, find what I wanted, and let others buy it for me! Plus I still had leftover Christmas money, so I could still buy those shoes I've been 'needing' for a couple summers... But Jesus wasn't content to continue letting my idol sit next to Him in my heart, even though it took a couple of weeks to show me. Just as the Israelites were supposed to physically destroy, cut down and demolish the idols of the pagan nations, I needed not to simply move my idols to a back closet, but cut them down, remove them, be DRASTIC! I knew I had to simply say no - nothing for myself throughout this fast. Nothing but needs, and for things like birthday and Christmas gifts, ask for the practical (and boring) things I never want to waste gift money on, and give the rest to people who really need it!

Who would have thought that telling myself no would give me joy? But as we go into a season of uncertainty, a season I have dreaded for months with more anxiety than I've ever had during our marriage, HE wants to be enough for me. Morgan will be gone so much this coming year, we will have 3 kids, and I will be so much more 'on my own'. He doesn't want me trying to worship other things this season. He wants to be the only God and King in my heart. And as I say no, I am truly free! I don't even know how to describe it. I'm so thankful to know He is going to show Himself in little ways, day by day, week by week, month by month, until we're here next year. He will be faithful. We will lack nothing.

And that brings us back to today... We asked God to provide ways for us to pay off the credit card debt, and then Morgan got hit with the minimalism bug. We started purging, wave by wave (so far I've gone through my wardrobe 3 times, and each time it gets better!), and boxes upon boxes of stuff stacked up. Why not take the 'stuff' clouding our lives and turn it into money to pay off our debts? So we planned a garage sale. I thought maybe a $100 or $200 would be good...

In the midst of planning, my friend (never go through garage sale-ing alone!) and I forgot to go to the bank for small change until it closed, so I started digging through our desk (a dangerous job I avoid at all costs) for small bills. I found $520 stashed away in there!! And day 1 of the garage sale? $430!!! Not to mention an absolutely perfect day, when originally it was forecasted to rain. My hopeful $200 turned into almost $1000, which has already been applied to the debt! Not to mention we have a full day of the sale tomorrow!!

Now, looking back at this day, I am so blessed, so content and full of joy. In seeking to remove our stuff and choose less for ourselves, He is showing Himself to be more. As our stuff becomes smaller, He does bigger things. What is an idol compared to the One who holds the universe together and breathes life into creation? It just took saying no to myself to see it. :)


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Making Your Life's Styleboard

When going through our stuff - clothes, accessories, knickknacks, decor - I've found it helpful to think of my stuff in terms of a style board. A style board is basically a collage of pieces that are put together to define a person's style. This can be super helpful to figure out how your various accessories go together to define your style, how your accessories work together, and identify anything that doesn't work well with the rest of the collection. This will also help you to identify how you might want to adjust your style.

For me, in defining my style as it's developed to the this point, I have a casual, but professional look. Jeans, a button down, and loafers are typical for me. So when I'm arranging my clothes in my mental style board, where do my old Converse fit in? Basically, they don't. These are a well-loved relic from a previous stage in my life that aren't adding anything to my style today. They're going to the garage sale tomorrow.

This can also be applied to a style board for your home. Are you leaning toward more of a sleek, modern kind of look? Then perhaps an ornate/vintage/country knickknack doesn't really fit in to your style. On the flip-side, if you're trying to put together a warm, comfortable, cozy environment, then maybe modern/mental furniture or accessories are actually preventing you from creating the space you want.

This can also be applied to the style of your life. What's the theme you want to dominate your life? What are your priorities? Family? Recreation? Sports? Hobbies? Learning? Try building a collage of these things in your mind, then ask yourself if there's anything that seems out of place. Do you have a hobby/interest that takes away from the rest? It might be time to cut this from your life - especially if your significant other has suggested this to you in the past.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Tiny House Infographic

Here's an infographic I put together based off Andrew Morrison's TEDx Talk. Look at the graphic, but definitely watch the talk!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Celebrating What Isn't There

I know that really influenced right now by my new focus on minimalization, but a theme struck me today. As we've been trying to be more intentional what we have in our home/garage/life, I've been struck by the power of what's no longer there. The things we've gotten rid of so far were items that we thought we needed to have around - they added to/strengthened/bolstered our lives in some way. Instead, we're finding that their absence is having a far better impact on our lives than their presence ever made.

Though this is a new realization for us, it's by no means new. This past weekend the world, or at least large parts of it, celebrated the absence of something 2000 years ago - we celebrated the absence of Jesus' body from the tomb. The Pharisees and the Romans thought that keeping his body in that tomb would serve as a form of a trophy - this rebel had been defeated and here was the proof. Even his followers thought that they would find comfort from being able to visit the body, by having it kept to decay in peace within those stone walls. What NO one could have predicted was the power that was found when Christ left the tomb.

The question I have then is this - what "trophies" am I keeping in my life that distract me from the profound place that the empty tomb should rightly hold? What are the things that I'm allowing to clutter my life such that I'm not living with the intentionality with which I would truly desire to live? My call to action is this - to expel these things from my life and NOT replace them with new toys/trophies/clutter, but to keep the empty place they so recently occupied clear as a testimony to the power Christ's victory. I'm not saying that decluttering is a pious work or a spiritual discipline, but for me at least it needs to be about focusing on the important and eliminating the rest.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
                                - Isaac Watts
Original Photo: Flickr - emeryjl

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Defining the Shopping Fast

Ok, so we've agreed go on our shopping fast and I think we're actually already on it (maybe I should confirm that...). Things we've been working on a little bit in terms of finalizing our plan for the fast is what exactly are the parameters of a shopping fast. Obviously, you can essentially decide for yourself how exactly you want to define the fast, focusing on what your goal for the fast really is. A few points we've been working on might help if this is something you're going to consider.

  1. Duration. This is pretty much the first term of the agreement. I was originally thinking of making our fast 3 months long, but Kyra suggested stretching is through next June. I think this is where the purpose of the exercise has to be made clear. My thought was to go through with the fast for the sake of learning how little we truly NEED to add to our lives/household while keeping it at a manageable duration. Kyra was focusing less on experience for experience's sake, and more of removing herself from a dependence on shopping to deal with stress, boredom, etc. Since I'll be extra busy from this July through next June, Kyra wanted to extend it for that whole period. I've seen articles where people have tried a 1 month clothes fast and failed miserably, then I've seen (and shared) where whole families have gone a year without shopping for any non-essentials. The point of the fast is to challenge yourself to give something up and to grow through the experience, so if you're thinking about how do you need to go for it to be a challenge at all, then how long you're willing to maintain the challenge. 
  2. Scope. The second part is to determine what you're targeting for your fast. Again, what you're hoping to accomplish is going to be the driving factor in figuring this out. Are you wanting to do a socio-political freegan experiment? Are you wanting to curb your dependence on new clothes? Are you wanting to stretch your self-sufficiency by only buying food? Are you going to only allow yourself non-consumables? We're focusing on stuff, we're essentially stopping all stuff-related purchases. We haven't gone to so far as to say that Zip-Lock bags aren't technically consumed by use so we won't purchase any more. Instead we're going with if we use something up we can replace it - food, ingredients (including for our homemade soaps & toiletries), cleaning supplies, etc. 
  3. Pre-determined exceptions. We're human, and humans need some grace, so determining where you might be willing to allow wiggle room. One question we raised was about what to do with gifts at birthdays & Christmas. I found this excerpt from Joshua Becker that I felt addressed this subject well - "We have taken the approach of still allowing our relatives the opportunity to buy gifts... It is an expression of their love. They desire to show their love by giving gifts...We did not want to take that away from our family" So gifts of money/gift cards will be accepted and spent gratefully for the love with which they're given. Also, Kyra has a couple small, specific gaps in her wardrobe (don't even get me started on women and their low quality shoes), so she's perfectly free to spend previous gift money on those specific items. Also, we had a baby due in a few months and it's completely possible that a true need will arise that we didn't foresee, meaning we'll need to be flexible. 
  4. What about the kids? This is another question to get ironed out early if you have children. The temptation may be to exempt anything child-related from the fast, but the truth is that their clutter adds tremendously to the mulch in our home, not to mention to new expenditures. We're already getting our 4 year-old son involved in our minimalizing efforts (he LOVED ranking his stuffed animals until we mentioned that we were going to bag up the half that were least favorite) and he makes occasional comments about us selling some of our items. It's definitely a goal to have them grow through this experience also, so we need to take a cue from some of Becker's points in the article I linked earlier. Letting them know what's going on, start with our items, let them know what to expect, focus on positives, and work in special, bonding experiences. Now, we're ok making gifts for the kids for their birthdays and Christmas, but we do want them to experience giving to others. We toyed with the idea of having them make all their Christmas gifts this year (something we'll be doing), but decided that rather than giving all their aunts a macaroni & finger paint masterpiece that we'll relax the fast for them so they can continue to focus on giving to other at Christmastime. 
Oh, and I had to resist my first purchase yesterday. It would have been a great book to read, but the point is to have to grow and practice a little self-denial. If you read it, tell me the high points :)

Photo: Flickr, hospi-table. Image altered. 

Why We Need to Live With Less

Living With Less: America's Quest for Simplicity
Image compliments of Masters in Human Resources Degree Guide

Monday, March 30, 2015

Minimalist Grammar Rant - Less vs. Fewer

I'll admit that I'm a little bit of a grammar Nazi. I was an English major in college and it's still with me. So when I read blogs talking about our need for "less things" it's a bit like fingernails on a chalkboard for me. Ok, here's the difference.

When using the words "less" and "fewer," we have to be aware of whether we're talking about quantities or measures. Quantities can be counted, while measures have to be... well, measured. You can count towels, shirts, and plates, but you can't count laundry, clutter, noise, etc. You use "fewer" to describe things you can count - fewer shirts, fewer plates, etc - and less to describe things you have to measure - less clutter, less noise, less space.

I just described the traditional "counting" rule. Maybe an easier way to think of it is to say "fewer" for plurals, and say "less" for singles. Examples: fewer appleS, less fruit (no plural); fewer shirtS, less clothes (no plural, despite ending with an s); fewer thingS, less stuff.

Ok! Now go forth and tastefully, not ostentatiously, use good grammar in a way that doesn't make you sound like the middle school grammar teacher that every hated!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

What to do with DVDs?

Flickr: bobbigmac

I'm not sure what your media center looks like, but ours looks beautiful - on the outside. But open the doors (and they always tend to hang open) and it's purely chaotic. There are DVDs stacked up that were haven't been put away since Christmas. Of '13! Really, you could argue that minimalizing our DVD collection could be extremely easy - just throw away all the DVDs that are sitting in our DVD racks! :P This situation is complicated by a couple factors. 1. I've never in my life been in the habit of putting my media (starting c/ VHS and tapes) away when I'm done. 2. Our kids watch the same cycle of about 5 DVDs day in and day out. Actually, that wasn't very many factors, was it...? It's hard to look at the media center and not get frustrated with the way we keep it, but that hasn't yet led to real changes in our system. 

Since starting to work on minimalizing our lives, I've developed this wonderful vision of ripping all our DVDs, storing them on an external hard drive, and streaming them to the TV. PC World has a good article here that describes how to accomplish this using a nice app called Plex. The problem is that doing with require buying more stuff.We could then get rid of all the cases, and just keep the disks in a nice disk binder. At a minimum I would need to buy another external hard drive, a large disc binder, and some way to splice a tablet to our TV.  I've argued with myself that buy more for the sake of minimalizing might be acceptable, but that argument isn't gaining in my mind. When you couple that with our impending shopping fast, it gets halted completely. 

So what options are left to us? The first step will be to do a minimalization just like we've started in the rest of the house. All the DVDs will come out of their racks - added step of going back in their cases - and then we'll decide which ones are really worth keeping. For the sake of ease we'll move the kids' FWDs (frequently-watched DVDs) up by the TV (in their cases!) and put the remaining disks back into their racks. 

The Minimalists advice for your DVD collection was basically this: get a life and stop watching the same movies all the time. Others have said to embrace Hulu or Netflix instead. I get those thoughts, but we're also trying to spend less time in front of the TV completely. We do really enjoy watching the movies we have and we found that when we had a subscription service we were spending WAY too much time watching it because there was always something new to watch. I think if we focus instead of having a core collection of movies that we actually value enough to keep around and watch repeatedly, we'll had the right things that we'll watch the right amount. 

Any thoughts/ideas that I haven't covered here? What have you done to try to mange your media? I'd love to hear some more suggestions!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Attacking the Kitchen

Flickr: rubbermaid

We started minimalizing our house about 3 weeks ago. We started in our bedroom closets and are gradually spreading out from there. I will admit that my closet isn't done, but I have several things still mentally tagged for the sell & discard destinies.

The biggest area of clutter in our lives is our kitchen, though our bedroom was a top contender until very recently. It was difficult to know where even to start, so I started with the most visible thing in our kitchen - the utensils canister that holds the kitchen tools we use on a near-daily basis. I took some cues from Leo Babauta to guide me. Here are some of his tips:

  1. Do it in small chunks. One canister, shelf, or drawer at a time. 
  2. Take everything out of a shelf or drawer at once. Dump it all out, and maybe take the chance to clean the drawer/shelf/canister while you're at it :) 
  3. Sort through your pile, one item at a time, and make quick decisions. Put back the stuff you KNOW you really use. The other stuff sort into sell/give away and throw away piles. 
  4. If you are on the fence with a lot of things, create a “maybe” box. There were some kitchen tools we weren't sure of, so we put them in a grocery sack so they could possibly be saved from donation/selling. These were things like the 4th and 5th spatulas - Kyra does a lot of canning, so maybe she really does need that many, but probably not :P
  5. Celebrate when you’re done! Don't forget to admire your accomplishments!
After we'd gone through this process with the canister, we'd managed to take out 1/3-1/2 the tools without eliminating a single type or size of tool that we frequently use. Duplicates were an easy choice, as were damaged items. 

2 days ago we started in on our glasses. We had multiple sets of very nice breakfast glasses that we simply have not used. If we hosted more breakfast parties, then perhaps they'd get a lot of use. That's DEFINITELY not where we are in life. 

The first real difficulty we had was our mug collection. I was all for eliminating most of the non-matching mugs and sticking to the mug set that matches our plates and bowls. Kyra felt the opposite - she prefers to have unique/special mugs to drink from on a regular basis and wanted to get rid of the boring matching mugs. We were at a small impasse until later that day I realized what our family norms are. My mother's kitchen only has matching mugs, my MIL's kitchen only has random mugs. For their family, choosing your morning mug is almost a part expressing your feelings about the morning. 

One thing we've learned in our marriage is to respect family norms, then work around them in a way that works for our little family. So with that we got rid of the random mugs that just didn't have much significance or were just plain ugly as well as about half of the matching mugs. We decided to keep 12 mugs. That number might end up going down in the future months, but it's still a good step. 

Other high points from the kitchen so far - if you honestly can't remember that last time you used a kitchen knicknack - no matter how useful it seems in theory - get rid of it! 

We're going to have a great garage sale in a couple weeks :P

Anyone need a couple sets of barely-used breakfast glasses?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Barriers to our progress

Flickr - jonbro
When I think about where we want to go vs. where we are, I start seeing the barriers that are preventing us from getting there. This can be either good or bad, depending on how your respond to them. Here are the barriers I'm seeing for us

1. Not Knowing Where We're Going to Settle. This is really in the forefront of our minds right now. I'm a little over a year from starting my "real," post-training job. We don't know yet where that is going to be. We have 1 good offer and the possibility of another, but we're still very much in limbo and not sure in which direction to proceed.

2. We're amassing stuff. We've just very recently starting working on trying to rid ourselves of the clutter in our lives - particularly the clutter in our house. We're very early in this journey and need to make a lot more progress before I feel we're ready for the next step.

3. Debt. We're in no place to make a down-payment for a property, as we have a significant consumer debt monkey on our backs. We want to make sure that we move forward from a position of security, not continued instability.

4. Time Demands. I'm about to start a 1-year job that is about 1.25 hour away from home. Currently I live 8 minutes from work. It's a wonderful opportunity and Kyra and I are both fully on board with it, but at the same time we know that this is going to eat up a good chunk of the margin in my life/our lives. Again, we want to move forward from a stable place, not from a shifting sand.

I'm tempted to list the stresses of parenting a toddler, a 4-yr old, and a newborn, but these aren't the barriers in our lives - these are the goals. As we work on focusing in on our lives/goals, we need to be intentional that everything we do is to add value to our family, not to give pleasure to us individually.

So I'm curious, what barriers in your life are keeping you from where you would like to be? Please share!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Our path to the simplified life

After settling on a destination, the next step on a journey is deciding how you're going to get there. Sometimes the way someone decides to get somewhere defines almost as much of their journey as the destination itself does. Two groups may both tour Ireland and see the same sites, but if one group travels with a large travel agency-organized tour bus they'll have a very different experience than a group that undergoes a wandering backpacking trip.

The path we've chosen involves a combination of several things: homesteading, a small farm, gardening, raising our own animals, food preservation, minimalism. Most of these things are totally new to us, though we're slowly working on integrating them into our lives. We have a 220+ square foot garden, my wife can's quite a bit during the growing seasons, we're raising meat rabbits, and I hunt for our red meat every fall. Still, we're very much urbanites and have a long way to go to getting our family where we hope to go.

Fortunately, it's a path we'll get to travel together.

Our Shopping Fast

So, last night Kyra and I went on a great date. We saw the new Cinderella movie (really, very good!) and had some great conversations. I've been spending a lot of time lately reading through the Becoming Minimalist archives, and I came across this article that talks about the idea of doing a "shopping fast." I also found a trio of interviews here  that wasprobably themost informative part. Quick refresher: a fast is a time of intentionally giving something up for the sake of a spiritual/philosophical time of growth. Think Lent. So this family decided that they were going to fast from shopping for anything but true essentials - food, toiletries, etc - for 1 year. I read it and thought it sounded like a great idea! We've been working on minimalizing recently, and part of what it's made me realize is that we really simply purchase too much stuff. So when I read this idea, I thought it sounded great. What I didn't expect was for Kyra to agree to it immediately! Here are our reasons:

1. We need to minimalize more. Our hope is to move into a small house (less than 400ft2) in the country within the next 2 years. In order for us to physically fit in that space, we need to have fewer things than we currently own! This won't be possible if we keep amassing more and more stuff.

2. We buy too much stuff. We both feel that we shop more for pleasure than for actual need. When we're stressed/tired/bored, sometimes getting something new just seems like an easy pick-me-up.

3. We're carrying consumer debt. It's not a horrible ammount, but until about a year ago we'd never carried a credit card balance for more than 1 month. For the past year we've been "trying" to get our balance paid off, but we've made little/no headway, despite me working a small side-job.

4. We don't want our kids to learn our shopping habits: Our kids are old enough to see stuff and want it. We're experiencing the toy aisle meltdowns. Maybe this is the nuclear option, but we want to be able to start teaching them now that joy doesn't come from things.

Next step: defining the terms of our fast. Hopefully that goes as smoothly :)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Desination

So I've called this a journey and every journey needs a destination, right? My first thought was that our goal in our journey to simplicity looks something like this picture - rural, pristine, farmhouse, farm animals, the pond where I'm fly fishing to bluegill and crappy in the summer, woods where I'm hunting with my sons (only one of whom has actually been born so far) in the fall. But then I realized that this place isn't our destination at all - it's essentially a big collection of really cool stuff - the pond, animals, the barn, the treestand. Yes, Kyra and I want to raise our family on a small farm, but it's not because we want a farm - it's because we want to give our children and ourselves a different lifestyle and to raise them with the work, discipline, and social freedom that will accompany that lifestyle. We also care about providing them and ourselves with healthy, grass-raised, local food that we've managed ourselves. So yes, I love this picture and the place looks positively perfect, but this isn't what I want. I want healthy kids turning into strong adults. I want young adults who can recognize when society is trying to manipulate them. I want children who are capable of anything that needs to be accomplished and are confident that they can do it. I want teens who know who they are and aren't going to let others convince them that they need to be someone else. I want a family that is connected to nature and the seasons and all the different but unique aspects of every part of the year. This is our destination, and I definitely hope that we can keep from confusing the destination with the path along the way.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Starting the Journey

If we're being honest, my wife, Kyra, and I started this journey quite a while ago, but it's just now that we're actually starting to put the metal to the road. For the past several years we've been shaping our shared vision of the life we want to live, and even more the life we want to provide for our children. I think where we went down a somewhat different path than a lot our peers is when we realized we didn't want our children just to have the 2.0 or 3.0 version life we had, but that we genuinely want to place their childhood in a setting that will equip them in specific ways. We realized thatwe want something different for our children and for ourselves. With that, we're trying to move forward with intentionality.