Slow down and breathe

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With age 29 coming up for me in a few months, I have a some thoughts. For several years, I made lists on each birthday of the things I wanted to do and experience in the coming year. Often most of them didn’t happen—many times I carried them over to the next year, and the next. It’s not because I didn’t care enough to go after these things, it’s just that priorities tended to shift as life went on, with all of its unexpected twists and turns.

I’ve spent my 20’s primarily having and raising babies, as well as building a business from scratch, and often simply hoping to get all of the bills paid and put food on the table. All of these factors made things like international travel feel like a pipe dream. It is okay though. This doesn’t depress me because I know there will be time and resource for all of that in coming years.

My current everyday existence may appear less glamorous and exciting, but it is its own awesome adventure. This whole life-with-littles thing, it’s a get to. I get to be the one watching my beautiful children grow, day by day. I get to teach and love them, comfort and guide them; I’m witnessing their “firsts” and helping set the foundation their entire lives will be built on. And then I will get to see them spread their own wings and make their own amazing lives, and I’ll look back on these precious, fleeting days and I know I won’t wish that I’d gotten to travel more, or that I’d spent more hours hustling to build my career. I’ll just be glad for all the time I spent fully present with them—holding, listening, teaching, loving. This is something I aim to keep in mind constantly—may I always put this above all else, above “busy” and above work and above the to-do list. May I not allow “getting things done” to ever keep me from taking the time to pour into my kids with patience and grace. 

Europe will still be there in 10 years. So I’m not making a birthday list of things to check off during this final year of my 20’s. There will be no “30 Before 30”.
Instead, there’s this: whatever is happening in the current moment, whatever I am doing at any given time, may I be fully IN that. If I’m drinking a cup of coffee, may I notice and savor the flavor, the aroma, and the smooth feel of the mug in my hands. If I’m feeding Eaden, may I hold her tiny hand and look into her eyes rather than my phone. If I’m reading aloud to my boys, may I cuddle closer and put all other things out of my mind, enjoying the story along with them. If I’m in a conversation with someone (child, or adult) may I look them in the eye and focus solely on what they’re saying. May I notice things, pay attention to the details, and live in gratitude for all of it.

How often are we so busy that we even resort to attempting multiple tasks at once? We’re so pulled in multiple directions that we’re becoming incapable of focusing on just one thing, and in turn we aren’t giving our best to anything at all. In Teaching From Rest, Sarah Mackenzie writes,

“There just isn’t a way to steep yourself in this moment if you multitask your way through it. With the exception of automatic behaviors such as walking and talking, our brains can only attend to one thing at a time. What we usually think of as multitasking is actually task switching, and it is both an inefficient and ineffective way to work.”
and further—
“By definition, to be efficient is to achieve maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense. But relationships don’t flourish or grow that way. Relationships need time, spent lavishly.”

We all too often prioritize efficiency over relationships, even though we know that people are always more important. Doing things differently requires intentionally going against the grain of our overly fast-paced culture, and unlearning the deep-seeded mindset we have learned from it. I recently came across a blog post on A Cup of Jo on “single-tasking” or “mono-tasking”. It was a great post, and yet I find it a little bit crazy that an entire new buzzword has been created for the concept of focusing on one thing at a time. Our cultural tendency to glorify “busy” has reached such an extreme that we now see simply doing one task at once as a novel idea. How often, when you ask (or are asked) how someone is doing, is the answer almost automatically some version of “Oh I’ve been crazy busy!”? I feel like this is almost always the case. It’s basically expected. Most of us live in a constant state of stress and rushing. We have paid steeply for our frenzied pace of life, in the form of chronic stress, anxiety, severe health problems, disconnected relationships, and a shocking inability to focus well or work well on anything.

For me, this is all the more evidence for the need to step off the crazy train and intentionally create slowness in my life and that of my family. Not only despite it being countercultural, but because it is. I want my children to know the art of just doing nothing, and the magical creativity that comes from boredom. I want our home to be a place to breathe—one of peace and unhurried life. I want to be able to honestly say that the pace of my life is not too much, because I’m living it at human speed and am leaving enough margin to actually breathe.

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my constant reminder.

Some further reading on this that I’ve enjoyed:

Discovering the Joy of Single Tasking
Read This Story Without Distraction (Can You?)
Teaching From Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace
Faster Than the Speed of Life

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The Process of Simplicity

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I think I’ve held back from writing here very often because I haven’t known where to begin. There are so many topics I want to write about, and yet none that I have polished and totally figured out. I’m curious about so much, but rarely an expert. But rather than getting overwhelmed and running away (again), I’m going to just pick one thing and talk about it. And then another, and another, without having to map out some kind of organized game plan ahead of time. (That’s probably what most bloggers do anyway. I most likely overthink it.)

So today, simplicity is on my mind. I feel like it’s become a somewhat overused term. It’s thrown around a lot—”live simply” or “I’m simplifying”—but what does it mean? Personally, when I consider the idea of simplicity I picture an all-encompassing lifestyle, steeped in an appreciation for the beauty of everyday moments. I envision a home that is fairly minimal, but more importantly, contains only what is useful or beautiful (and hopefully both). I desire to carefully consider what we bring into our home, and what we keep here. I want quality over quantity. In a culture as materialistic as ours is, possessions are definitely one of the biggest obstacles to a simpler life. But there is so much more to it than only stuff. It applies to the way we spend our time, the way we eat, the way we treat illness and what we clean our homes with. My goal is not only to declutter, but to create an atmosphere in my home that is simple and peaceful and makes space for joy, creativity, movement, and the pursuit of knowledge.

We have come a long way in this area, but still have so far we can go. It is a process, and happens on a continuum. Every time we’re faced with the option to bring another new thing into our lives, we can exercise simplicity. Do I need this? What will it add to my life? Will I still want it in a week? a month? a year? Is there a version of this item that will last longer, work better, or be more aesthetically pleasing? How was it made—where, and by whom? These are all questions I aim to consider when making purchases.

This has meant moving away from plastics and disposable items, and choosing to pay more, once, for something that will last rather than opting for a cheap item that will break or wear out.

Along with seemingly everyone and their mother (am I right?) I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up  by Marie Kondo last year. In case you aren’t familiar, this book takes you step-by-step through the process of editing down the things you own, based on the simple question “Does this spark joy?” So I read this, and then proceeded to “Konmarie” our home, and over the course of a few weeks we carted off about two pickup trucks worth of stuff to the local non-profit we donate to (which gives directly to the families of farm workers in the area—I prefer this option over Goodwill/Salvation Army because I know these things are being used by people in need). We also discarded several large black trash bags of unusable items like broken toys, clothes worn to rags, and so so many bottles of expired or half-used cosmetics and toiletries from under the sink. It was absurd. It was rather shocking to see that we’d been holding on to so much that we didn’t need, want, or use anymore.

That whole process definitely made an impact on me and caused me to consider our habits of consumption. But I’m still training myself, and unfortunately I’ve still purchased/accumulated some things since then that ended up being mistakes. Like I said, it’s a process. Every few months or so I get the “declutter” itch again, and I sweep through the house collecting items to get rid of. As the seasons change, some toys stop getting played with, some books are outgrown or could serve someone else much better, some clothes are just not getting any love and therefore not earning their place in the drawer or closet.

I recently thoroughly enjoyed reading Simple Matters by Erin Boyle. I think every once in a while I need a good infusion of simplicity inspiration in book form. This one is just beautiful, and has me thinking all over again about the beauty and quality of each thing we own, and the social and environmental impact of it’s production and eventual discard. And so the process of creating a more peaceful and minimal home and life continues. I’ll keep you posted.

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simplicity.

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When I wrote this post on TV watching, I knew I wanted t o soon write a post, or even a series of them, devoted to simple living. It’s something that has been on my mind lately. I subscribe to a few blogs about minimalism, such as Rowdy Kittens and Mnmlist, and many others that value simple and eco-conscious living. The wisdom they deliver daily to my google reader has been very valuable and caused  me to really examine how I live and how I relate to stuff. Watching Annie Lennox’s The Story of Stuff was really a huge eye-opener for me about our consumer culture. It is sort a of difficult paradigm shift- I grew up in the nineties, when American culture was really becoming more and more obsessing with stuff. I buy and own so many unnecessary things, telling myself that they are completely necessary because my culture tells me they are, because my culture’s collective mentality is controlled by corporations that thrive on us all believing that we need more and more and more stuff.

I am trying to rethink, reevaluate, and train my mind to stop believing that I have to go to Target and get ______. I am looking at whether or not I really need the things I think I do. Before every purchase I am asking myself if I could be just as happy without it, or of I could find it secondhand or handmade, or at least made sustainably rather than mass-produced. Or if I can make it myself or re-purpose something I already have. I am going through the things I own already- the stuff that clutters the corners of my living space, and evaluating everything based on this William Morris I recently read at Simple Mom: “Have nothing in your homes that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

{source: Simple Mom}

I want my life, and my son’s life, to me rich with experiences rather than things. We all know that stuff doesn’t make us happy, but do we really believe it? Do we live like we believe it?

I still have a long way to go. I still regularly convince myself that I have to have some silly thing I don’t really need. I still make impulse buys sometimes and later look at the thing wondering why I chose to spend our hard-earned money on it. But I am trying. It is a process and a journey- one that leads to a more fulfilling existence and a happier planet- definitely worth it.

Here are some related links that have really made me think lately:

On buying handmade, and quality over quantity/convenience:
(Obviously we need to buy things sometimes, but when we do we can make better choices about what. Handmade, pre-loved, fair trade and sustainable produced are all great options. Sometimes they are more expensive, but they will last longer because of that and will not contribute to unfair labor practices and earth-destroying production methods. I would rather have fewer things of higher quality and ethics than lots of junky things that will soon break and sit in a landfill!)
3 Reasons to Pay More for Your Stuff

The True Cost of Handmade

An interesting article about the cost of constantly buying new cars

On consumerism and happiness:
How to Find Happiness Without Shopping for It
Conspicuous Consumption

12 Steps to Achieving Happiness

Another great article:
Why Fewer Toys Will Benefit Your Kids

Living simply isn’t only about what we buy or don’t buy- it’s just that for most Americans that is an excellent place to start. We would also be much happier in general if we tried living in the moment rather than constantly multi-tasking and being so busy that we forget to just live. Spend more time with people– face-to-face, more time outdoors, more time being creative and learning through experiences and good old-fashioned books. Less time in front of various types of screens, less time shopping or thinking about what we’d like to shop for.

I like this little poem, via Becoming Minimalist:

When sitting, just sit.
When eating, just eat.
When walking, just walk.
When talking, just talk.
When listening, just listen.
When looking, just look.
When touching, just touch.
When thinking, just think.
When playing, just play.
And enjoy the feeling of each moment and each day.

~from Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting

I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts on this sometime soon… for now I’ll leave you with one more thought- I quote I’ve liked for quite some time, and yet am only now truly realizing what it means ( I even have it on a bumper magnet on my car- how cliche it that?!):

“Live simply, that others may simply live.”

(note: I looked up who this quote was by, and there seems to be debate as to whether it was Gandhi or St. Elizabeth Seton. To me they both seem likely candidates, and I doubt either would care who got the credit.)

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