Category Archives: Simplicity

Moving Toward Minimal

Just over a month ago, Pete told me he felt God was showing him a path that would take us another step toward Kenya and living more simply. This journey has been ongoing for us. We started by getting organized. Then we got a dumpster to clear out junk. Finally, we had an estate sale to sell everything but what we were using regularly. We sold the house and bought a furnished condo on the lake. Then we went down to one vehicle and had a six-month spending freeze. In the year-and-a-half we’ve been in the condo, we’ve tried to keep from accumulating more things, but let me tell you, it’s hard! We don’t intentionally go out to buy random things that will become clutter. In fact, we always have a “to be donated” box in our laundry room that fills faster than I expect it to. Friends and family have bought us experiences as gifts rather than little items, which we have loved and so greatly appreciate. Additionally, I go through nearly everything every couple months to keep our belongings under control. But even with all that, I was not at all surprised when Pete told me we need to pray about another step toward simplicity.

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So pray we did. And in that praying, we felt that the time had arrived to prepare our condo for renters. This is something we didn’t think we’d be doing until we were also packing our bags for Kenya. However, when we looked at the numbers, we realized this plan could cut our monthly budget tremendously by allowing renters to move in and pay our monthly mortgage. Once we felt that this really was something God was putting in front of us, I began looking for inexpensive rentals around town. After a week or two of searching, I found one sweet little rental that feels as though it’s been waiting for us. It has two bedrooms, one bathroom, a small kitchen, and a cozy living room, all in 1,000 square feet. It’s right along the Lakewalk, where we can ride bikes and go on runs and walk the five short blocks to my favorite local coffee shop. We’ll have a yard and a shared garage and the little house sits right along the route of Grandma’s Marathon, one of our favorite events of the year. It is exactly what we were looking for.

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We are leaving our condo furnished for renters, so nearly everything we put into our new place is temporary. I’ve had great luck finding a dresser and a bookshelf and bunk beds on Craigslist (which means Sammy is moving to a big bed!). All other items have come from IKEA, Target, Amazon, thrift stores or are things we don’t need to leave in the condo. It is our main goal to begin living even more minimally with this move. With very little closet space, we will all reduce our wardrobes. The kids already have a fairly small amount of toys and books, which helps. Our kitchen will be stocked only with what we use on a daily basis. Pete and I feel confident that we want to live minimally as we continue forward, and we are excited about it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean this an easy thing to do.

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I do trust that this is what God has for us. My heart feels joyful with the idea of clearing more clutter from our home and our lives. But I love our condo. I love waking every morning and peering out over Lake Superior to discover her always-changing mood. Enormous ships move through her waters and sea planes fly over her surface. We fall asleep to the sound of the waves, even on these bitterly cold nights of winter. Our condo is new and beautifully furnished. We have space to host friends on a regular basis and to let the kids play freely. As much as I adore the space we call home this week, it does not compare with following every step that God puts in front of us. I have lived enough years and followed (or not followed) him enough times that I find it a bit easier, and certainly far more exciting, to follow his path and plan without as much questioning as I once did. So in one week, when Pete is off for the weekend, we will make our official move out of the condo and into our new house. Pete and I often sing to each other, “Home, let me come home // Home is wherever I’m with you.” And we believe that. Where we’re together, celebrating life and living our days, that is where our home is.

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As we get ready for this move, will you please be praying with us? We’re taking the step to move out and allow renters to come in, but we don’t yet have those renters. We’re working with a management company who is very familiar with our building, and we’re praying for the right renters to come in as soon as February 1. I will be working on preparing it for renters while Pete is away in New Mexico the remainder of this month. Also, please pray we settle well in our new home. I love to decorate and make a space cozy, so I’m really looking forward to that part. We first took Ella to the new house before New Years to help her mentally and emotionally begin the transition, and she’s gone shopping with me for her new bedding and such. She seems to be doing well with the idea of the move, and the promise of having the top bunk makes her want to be there already!

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So we’re off on a new adventure! We will surely keep you posted on our progress in the days ahead. I’ve said it before, and I certainly mean it…we are so happy to share this journey with you!

 


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Simplicity: Six Months & a New Perspective

Today marks the end of our six months of intentional, financial simplicity. We began on January 12, jumping in to a commitment of six months of very little spending, meaning we were basically not going to spend any money outside of what was really necessary for our family. That included selling Pete’s Jeep and becoming a one car family. I was pretty nervous about this journey before we began. I just didn’t know what to expect. We were opening our hands and asking God to show us what changes we needed to make as a family. I knew I had some habits that needed changing, some material stuff that had sort of wrapped itself around my heart. As a family, we wanted to make space for God to speak to us about how we were spending our money and whether or not it was bringing him glory. Reflecting back on these last six months, I am realizing my heart has truly been changed in some really good ways.

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Leading up to January 12, Pete and I spent a good amount of time combing through our budget to see what we could cut out or seriously cut back. We canceled a few subscriptions, evaluated our food budget, and greatly reduced the amount we allowed for clothing, coffee, gifts, and other line items that were not necessities. We spent the first three or four months of this six-month journey very strictly sticking to the guidelines we set. At that time, after we felt we had broken the spending habits we knew weren’t healthy or what God wanted for us, we started to explore the areas we did feel were okay for spending. That doesn’t mean we started freely spending in those areas, but we did allow for some leeway. After watching for six months, I can pretty happily say that these are actually areas that line up with what we’ve listed for years as values for our family: relationship with each other and with friends, education, health and fitness, and adventure.

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1. Relationship with each other. I’ve mentioned a bunch of times that Pete and I have a weekly date night. We adore our dates and look forward to them all week. Before starting our six months of financial simplicity, we decided that we would definitely keep our babysitter budget so we could still go out regularly. We did, however, cut the spending for our nights out. That’s one thing that changed about three months in. We started seeing movies on $5 movie nights and going for inexpensive dinners. We know that our marriage is so much stronger because of the time we devote to each other one-on-one each week, and it’s so, so great to find fun things to do together. Pete has done the same thing with Ella on their weekly dates. They find lots of free things to do together but they’ve also started rock climbing at an indoor wall nearby and having other sweet adventures.

2. Relationship with friends. So many people mean a whole lot to us. We’ve realized even more since January that it’s super important to us to be able to love on our friends and family by giving them our time and by sharing meaningful gifts with them.

3. Education. We love books. Love love love. I am a reading teacher, after all. Way back in December, I felt like God was going to be opening a time for me to enjoy them more then I have in the past, which was actually the same time I discovered audio books. I listen to books while cleaning, folding clothes, driving, doing stuff on the computer. I get most of them online through the library, but I have found my newer reads on Audible. Pete also likes buying books, especially medical texts. And now Ella is diving into reading, though most of her books come from the library. I’ve also begun attending online classes and webinars as a way to keep up my learning after the kids are in bed. Some classes are free, but most cost a little something.

4. Health & fitness. We realized pretty early on that our food budget was so small we weren’t able to buy all the fresh food we feel is best for our family. It won’t be the case in Kenya, but for now, we have to pay more for the healthy stuff. So we ended up expanding our food budget about a month in. As for fitness, we want to be okay with attending a class or buying a workout program if it’s something we’re really going to use. Good health will allow us to keep going for a long time, so it’s worth the room in the budget.

5. Adventure. We would be so bored without adventure! It’s such a part of who we are as a family. This also kind of goes with our relationships with each other, since we usually have our adventures as a family. This is what gets our hearts pumping and minds racing. Definitely an place we feel okay spending money.

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Like I said, I’m pretty happy with those categories that came to the surface as being important for our family’s spending. But what about all the other places I was spending money before starting this journey? Honestly, most of them have almost completely melted away. I was making a list a couple days ago of things I want to buy tomorrow, and I honestly could only think of a few items. I would like a set of wine glasses and a couple new shirts for Sam. We are also in great need of new bar stools as ours are falling a part. (Seriously, if you visit, I will warn you before you sit down. Pieces are for real falling off.) There really isn’t much more than that. I just don’t feel the need to buy little things for my home or extra things for the kids. My heart has changed. I would much rather spend our money on the categories I listed above and not fill space around me. Experiences fill me with such happiness, far beyond what I could feel from a new shirt or a cute little ice cream bowl. (Though I certainly still like looking at these things! Just a few days ago, I oohed over an adorable set of cone-shaped ceramic bowls that would make ice cream treats such fun! But did I feel a need to have my own set? Not at all. Just noticing their cuteness was enough. That’s a good change for me.)

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These six months weren’t all about depriving ourselves of material things or experiences, which is really what I thought it would be. I was sure I was going to miss shopping and that I’d probably really struggle through the months. But I didn’t! Instead, I discovered God was showing us who we are as a family and how our finances and habits fit into that picture. This morning at church I was not at all surprised to learn the message was on finances. How fitting! It allowed me to think through the changes my heart has made and to ask if they really do line up with what the Bible says. I was reminded of a few verses I’ve heard a hundred times. “Do not store up treasures on earth! Moths and rust can destroy them, and thieves can break in and steal them. Instead, store up your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy them, and thieves cannot break in and steal them. Your heart will always be where your treasure is.” (Matthew 6:19-21, italics mine) I love that last verse, and I truly want my heart to be focused right where God wants it. In order to keep it focused right there, I know I need to continue this journey.

So, where do we go from here? We plan to basically stick to the habits that have been created in the last six months. We’ll keep our overall spending to a minimum, and we’ll always talk to each other about purchases before making them. By doing so, we’ll able to continue our momentum toward paying off Pete’s medical school loans by Christmas!! We are confident that we would not be anywhere close to having them paid without our changes in the last six months. In many ways, we’re incredible thankful that God made it so clear to us last December that we should take this plunge. The freedom we’re feeling is pretty wonderful!

Thank you for being a part of this journey with us!

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Birthday Parties & Presents

It’s been a good while since I’ve written about our simplification journey, and I’ve got a quick 30 minutes before getting Ella and Sam ready for the day, so why not dive in right now? Let’s see if I can get my head through a couple ideas before Ella comes knocking at the door.

Remember in January when we started our six months of simplification? We’re still going strong! We’re a little more than four and a half months in and it has been so, so good for me. Really, I feel I’m the one who needed the most change through this time, which is why I’m sure God had to speak it directly to me and not to Pete first. As much as I would like to say I would have jumped right in if Pete would have brought up the idea, the honest truth is that I would have needed a whole lot more convincing. See? God knows me. The guidelines we set up at the beginning, the ones we felt God was helping us write, have been changing my heart and my mind. Like I’ve said in previous posts during this journey, though…it’s still hard. Here are a couple of the tough places for me right now.

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1. Planning the kids’ birthday party.

I knew going into these six months that Ella and Sam would both have birthdays and that we would need to host a couple of birthday parties. I adore planning parties. Part of my theatrical self comes out when I can create a welcoming, festive party space, and the hostess in me me loves putting together a menu and games that fit the theme. And the mama in me is so happy to watch the kids play with their friends, celebrating another exciting year. Sam just had his birthday and Ella’s is in one month, so party planning is back on the agenda. Only this time, I’m trying to keep the cost down as much as possible. My darling Ella came up with the perfect idea just after Christmas. She decided she wants to have what she calls a ‘twin’ birthday party, meaning she and Sam will have a combined party. Perfect! Only one party to plan and they can celebrate together! Her theme choice? Pirates and mermaids. Again, perfect since we live on the lake. So I’m now planning the snack menu and decorations. Thank goodness Pinterest has so many free options! Ella and I will get to spend some of her free time once school ends next week to make homemade decorations, which I’m pretty sure will include a pinata. She has requested it multiple times and, well, I loved making paper mache globes and what not in elementary school. Time to pull out those flour and water skills again! The hardest part of our party planning so far? Finding a date that works. Is it odd to have a mid-week late-afternoon birthday party? Because I’m pretty sure if we want this party to happen in the next two months, that’s exactly when we’ll have to do it. That’s allowed in summer, right?!

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2. Gifts for friends.

I’ve realized how much I love to buy gifts for friends. Never have I enjoyed buying presents out of obligation, like “Shoot! I have to get something for Becky because she’s having another birthday!” (Though it’s never actually a surprise, since it does seem to happen at the same time every year.) When I’m out and I see something that would perfectly fit a friend’s personality or current place in life, I want to buy it for them. Maybe it’s my love language for my friends. I know the feeling of getting a gift just because, and I want friends to feel that joy, too. Instead of buying things at the store, though, I’ve been trying to use everything in my box of gifts. I’ve been collecting little things for a couple years, keeping them in a plastic container in my closet. Now I actually get to give them to friends. But it’s still really hard to keep myself from buying perfect little presents when I see them at the store!  Confession: I did recently see something I knew my mom would like, and it was her birthday, so I bought it. She is always drinking water and reuses plastic water bottles over and over, so when I saw a cute pink bottle at the grocery store, I put it in my basket. I knew I was going ‘against the rules,’ but she’s my mom, you guys. I have so much – so much – love and respect for my mom, so when I saw that $10 bottle on the shelf, I went with it. Because, seriously, you guys, she’s my mom and she deserves it.

So yeah, those are two tough places at the moment. Trust me, there are more, but there are a whole lot of really good things, too. I’ll share those soon. In the meantime, have a great weekend!

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Simplicity: Day 72

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We’re roughly 2.5 months into our simplicity journey, and I’m really starting to see the ways these changes are impacting me. The more I talk with friends about this simplicity journey, the more I’m able to process what we’re doing and the interal changes taking place.

One of the biggest changes so far is that my desire to buy things has been greatly reduced. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of times I see a beautiful shirt or an artistic mantle display, especially when I’m scrolling through Instagram, and I have a strong urge to shop. It isn’t the same urge that I had three months ago, though. I don’t feel like I’m missing trends or that my simply decorated mantle needs something more. Yesterday I was at Target for groceries and a couple household odds-and-ends, and I realized I didn’t have the desire to buy much else. It’s sinking in that I already have plenty. I don’t need another little bowl, even though it is incredible cute and I would love to eat yogurt out of it in the mornings. Nor do I need another kitchen towel, even one that has sweet little red polka dots, because I have four towels in my drawer and that number is absolutely sufficient. My Target trip was pretty short, fairly inexpensive (we do need to eat, after all), and then I headed home to play with my Sammy baby. This is a change I’m happy to see in myself.

Simplifying my clothes stash is a difficult task for me, as I imagine is the case for a lot of us. I’ve never been one to have a wild amount of clothes, but I’ve certainly always had more than I actually wear. One tricky point right now is that I am working hard to get back into my pre-Sammy shape. I’m not there right now, though, which means I’m sort of between sizes. I have five or six outfits that I wear on a regular basis that make me feel cute and comfortable. I’ve decided for now that I don’t need more than that. Do my friends mind if they see me in the same few outfits every time we hang out? I’m fairly positive they don’t. I like wearing everything I have and knowing exactly what’s in my closet. I did recently need to buy a new pair of jeans as my size changed a bit (yay!) but I stuck with my previous set ‘rules’ and bought them second-hand. I do plan to keep my clothes stash fairly small until we leave for Kenya next year.

 

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My last post mentioned a little break from social media. I realized I was spending so much time, especially in the morning, hovering over my phone. I was excited to see what some of my favorite people posted and what friends would say about my ‘this is Sammy in the morning’ pictures. But then I realized, multiple days in a row, that as the clock hit noon, I felt I hadn’t really accomplished anything all morning. That’s when I felt God leading me toward a break. I didn’t blog or look at Facebook and I deleted Instagram from my phone. A week came and went, and in the end, I found it quite refreshing. I wasn’t thinking during that time about taking just the right photos or writing a great caption, and I didn’t spend any time at all reading random, odd articles posted by friends. It was nice. It was so nice, in fact, that I’ve decided to continue with regular breaks. I’ll be on social media Friday afternoon through Sunday night but not at all during the week. Such boundaries tend to work well for me, since I find it difficult to simply limit my media time each day. And I don’t want to cut it out altogether, especially Instagram. I love my little Instagram family! I’m simplifying my technology use and praying about what I can do to simplify further. I know there are all kinds of ways to do it, but I want to make sure each thing I do is meaningful and what God has for me. Otherwise, I might grow to really dislike simplifying, and right now, I thoroughly enjoy it.

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Even though I’ve mostly been enjoying this simplicity journey so far, I don’t want to give the impression that every decision is super easy and that I don’t sometimes struggle with it. Two weeks ago, I was really, really missing having my nails done. This might seem silly, but having my nails done is one of the ways I treat myself away from the kids. After Pete finished residency and we started getting real paychecks, I celebrated by getting my nails done. I had never had beautiful, strong, artificial nails before that. For our wedding, I did the inexpensive Target press-ons, which looked pretty fantastic, but they didn’t last long at all. Anyway, I made it a regular treat, going to the nail salon about twice a month. It was a dream, especially since I’ve always been pretty self-conscience of my itty-bitty, super soft nails. Of course, I stopped having my nails done back in January when we tightened our budget. A pretty easy place to cut costs. I was missing having finished nails so much that, one afternoon, I drove to Ulta and bought a bottle of red, sparkly OPI polish and gave myself a manicure. I have a history of giving myself terrible manis, but I actually did a very lovely paint job! This little bottle of polish has been the only item I’ve purchased outside of necessity since January 12. At first I felt bad about it, but then, after talking to Pete and, yes, praying about my wee purchase of nail polish, I remembered that the whole point of this six-month journey is to learn. And I am surely learning.

I am learning that God does care about my little daily choices. (He cares about all our details!) I’m learning to listen for his guidance on those choices. And I’m seeing the emotional and spiritual outcomes of obeying his leading and being open to more of what he has. He continues to slowly reveal areas where we can simplify and how we can do it. I know He is the one who put the social media break in front of me, and I feel more freedom because of it. I have been reading far more (while walking laps in my hallway to keep on top of my fitness goals), and I’ve begun journaling again, both activities that I feel build me up rather than leave me feeling a bit blah after too much Facebook time. One step at a time, I hope to continue to grow in this journey and to take what I’m learning far beyond the end of our six-month timeline.

Is God urging you to make any small changes in your daily life? Go after it! Obeying in even the smallest of things can open the door to tremendous freedom. If you’re not sure if he’s trying to point anything out to you, take just a couple minutes and ask him. It doesn’t have to be anything formal and proper. Simply say something like, “Jesus, is there anything I can change in my daily life that would bring more freedom?” And then wait quietly for a few moments. If anything comes to mind, ask if that’s him showing you. If you’re not sure, try it out! Maybe it has something to do with the time you’re watching TV or the amount of money you spend at Target each week. God really does care about little details and he wants to to show us how to live more joy-filled lives. I don’t know about you, but I’m always up for more joy in my life!

 

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