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10 Suggestions for Simplifying.

February 24, 2017

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Simplifying is always on my mind – how can I make this less complicated? More streamlined? I want more time, less “to-do”, ya know? Minimalism is the hottest trend since pancakes, but I’ll never achieve true minimalism. And I don’t particularly want to. But I do want to continually ensure that our possessions are items that we actually need, use, and love, that we aren’t just storing stuff that we will never use. For me, it’s an issue of stewardship and of focus. 

If I have less, I have less to care for, organize, clean, and thus, more time to spend on the things that matter to me. I’m less distracted and I can simply enjoy our home and life more.

I’ve noticed though that sometimes I’m even over-complicating my pursuit of the simple. So I thought I would share a few practices in our home that I rely on consistently to keep things simple, keep us moving forward, keep us connected. Hope you enjoy! What are some practices you would add to this list?

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Regularly shed clutter. 

“One of the magical effects of tidying is confidence in your decision-making capacity.” – Marie Kondo

Scheduling an enormous spring-cleaning purge may be cathartic, but I’ve found that my heart and home benefit more from simple consistently shedding things. Do I keep passing up the same shirt in my closet? I toss it into the donation pile. Do my kids keep ignoring the same toy? I hide it to see if it will be missed and then donate it. The likelihood of deeply regrettingthis process is low; the reptition will improve the practice; slowly your home will become less filled with distracting piles of stuff you don’t use and never will and more filled with things that bring you joy and items you truly use.

Practice a routine. 

“We become what we think about.” – Earl Nightingale

A routine is not the same as a schedule. A routine helps eliminate the overwhelm of choice and gives your day momentum. For instance, almost every day, my morning looks like this:

Wake up. Make coffee. Drink a cup of coffee. Nurse Violet. Feed my kiddos breakfast. Get everyone (including myself) completely dressed and ready for the day. Make beds and clean up the kitchen and bathroom. Performing the same basic activities every morning helps to propel all of us into the day. Hesitation and listlessness seem to breed frustration and grumpy hearts while a sense of direction and purpose put all of us in a better mood. 

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Enjoy daily rituals. 

“What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.” – Gretchen Rubin

A ritual can be part of a routine, but it is not the same thing. A ritual is something done regularly that fuels your heart, body, and or mind. Some of our family’s rituals include:

  • My cup of coffee in the morning
  • Snuggle time with our babies first thing in the morning.
  • Reading a short devotional together. 
  • Reading stories to my little ones before bedtime (this is a great way to introduce kiddos to Bible stories!). 
  • Summer evening walks after dinner.
  • Enjoying cups of tea together after our babies are in bed.

Rituals provide moments throughout the day for decompression, connection, and slowing down. I can be swamped with work and our schedule can be filled to the brim, but if a few of these rituals are scatted through my day, I still feel as if I have margin. Start by writing out a few of your favorite daily moments. These are probably your rituals, or some of them. Begin to prioritize them, to build your day around them, to use them as moments to connect with your loved ones. 

(A quick note on rituals and children: Kim John Payne has some wonderful suggestions for establishing rituals with children in his book, which I HIGHLY recommend!)

Reduce choices on things that don’t matter. 

“Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker

8 different kinds of mascara, five different brands of creamer, 5 breakfast options, 18 different pairs of pants – an abundance of choices isn’t necessarily beneficial. In fact, it can be downright frustrating. I’ve slowly begun the process of elmininating the quantity of choices I need to make every day. I have certain brands of makeup and personal care for me and my children that I know we like so I just stick to buying those when we *actually run out* rather than constantly trying out new products. For instance, we’ve begun offering limited choices for meals, especially breakfast, for both ourself and our kiddos and it has reduced the morning/meal craziness immensely. Menu-planning has helped me make grocery and meal choices once a week rather than having to make 12 different decisions afternoon at 4:00 p.m. (Do I go to the store? Do we go out? What do I cook? How long do I spend cooking? How old are those zucchini?) I’m trying to carry this ove into the wardrobe department, but we’re still working on that. 

Bottom line? If you find yourself standing in the same place every week (or day!) trying to decide between the same options, start there. Commit to one small decision and elminate the back-and-forth. Then do it again. It’s refreshing! 

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Don’t fight your nature.

 “Define yourself as one radically loved by God. This is your true self. Every other identity is an illusion.” – Brennan Manning

I will never be the world’s greatest interior designer. It’s just not in me. I’m impatient and have a pretty short attention span when it comes to perfecting a room – I also get frustrated by the (pernicious?) message of consumerism that seem to subtly hide underneath the perfect “minimalist” rooms of my dreams. Most of our furniture (all?) is used or inherited; neither one of my children had a nursery designed before they were born.

Our furniture is meant for rowdy rough-and-tumble, for messes, for littles. The pieces we’ve purchased either can endure all of the above or I plan to replace them and so am not terribly attached. These things used to stress me out (“We will never have our gallery walls designed!” “My couches look dated!”) but I’m slowly learning that quickly perfecting a house is just not something that really interests me.

I’m slowly learning that the pressure I exert on myself to make a Pinterest-perfect house just isn’t worth it because it doesn’t bring me joy and it distract me from things that do (if it brings you joy, by all means, focus there!) Slowly editing our house to fit our lifestyle and actual needs (rather than a computer image – white is in! So is Danish!) as I have time and inspiration has brought me a great deal more joy and so I try to focus there. 

This is all to say – if Instagram and Pinterest tell you that it’s important, but you don’t wake up wanting to do it, THEN DON’T. You don’t need to grow indoor plants or weave or paint all of your rooms monochrome white to succeed at the things you are meant and called to do. 

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Intentionally step away from screens.

“Silence is a source of great strength.” – Lao Tzu

I think we’ve all lectured ourselves on this a million times and anything I could say has been said better elsewhere. I’ll just leave it at this. The peace and joy in our household is almost perfectly proportionate to the discipline I have demonstrated about my devices that morning. My temperment, the behavior and focus of my little ones, my own ability to focus – it’s all related. We don’t all need to have our devices on and available every single second. Make time to just go outside without your phone. Spend time with your kids and be unavailable to the world. Do this EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. for at least a few minutes and you’ll begin to treasure time without your devices.  

Identify the things that are important to you. 

“You get more of what you notice and affirm.” – Michael Hyatt

On my list? Intentional time with kiddos. Reading. Reading aloud together. Reading by myself. Time together cooking and eating. Time remembering and recording our memories. Time writing. Getting to know my neighbors. Time with Mark. #notmoresocialmediafollowers If your “thing” is growing a virtual audience, go for it. But I recognized a while back that this was just not the area I was ever going to be particularly passionate about or good at. If I have blog readers, great. If some people like a picture I post, fun! But my livelihood and my children’s future is not tied to the time I spend on my screen. So I’ve tried to step away from Social Media more. I’m also never going to be a famous painter. 

“It” stuff – clothes, furniture (see above), shows. Being right on the edge of fill_in_the_blank trend just has never mattered a ton to me. So I don’t spend a lot of time on those things.

Also in this category? Activities with kids that *I don’t care about*. All of the moms in the world may be taking their kids to Wally-Wonder-Goo-Goo-Place on 5th street. If that is not your thing, let it go. My children have never been to the local Children’s Museum equivalent. Or the Trampoline Park. Or anything else remotely that cool. This is because I’m an unashamed germaphobe and we have ton of toys and I’m The Most Boring Mom on The Block. My children are under 3 and will never remember visiting these places. If my kids want to play with something different than our toys, we go outside. Or we go to a different park. This is just us.  Find your “you” and then shed the rest. 

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Spend time outside. “The earth has music for those who listen.” – William Shakespeare

Off you go now. 

Meet your actual neighbors. 

“It will be our love, not our opinions, which whill be our greatest contribution to this world.” – Bob Goff

Chances are, you live in a neighborhood. With actual other houses (not Pinterest ones!) with actual other people (not bloggers!). Make some bread or bake some cookies, and go ring a random doorbell. And then do it again. Amazing gifts start to come your way when you realize that friends are actually everywhere, not just on your phone or your moms’ group or church.  The world begins to seem so much more full and simple and beautiful all at the same time when we stop overcomplicating basic things like “do you have some butter I can borrow?” 

Maintain a basic neatness standard. 

“If you can’t find something, clean up.” – Gretchen Rubin

This is different for everyone. For me, this means that beds are made, bathrooms are presentable (sinks and toilets cleaned, trash removed), and the breakfast dishes cleaned. If you would be mortified if someone walked into your house, maybe it’s time to reassess. If you spend half of the day cleaning your house and can’t ever get anywhere before 11:00 a.m., maybe it’s also time to reassess (or see the first item in this list – maybe you just have too much stuff!). 

Hope these little tips help you on your journey towards simplifiying and creating a home life that you love! 

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Friday Links

Friday Links.

August 23, 2015

Life | The Orange Slate

Morning Baby | The Orange Slate

Mom and Baby | The Orange Slate

Happy weekend! It’s one of the last weekends of summer – how are you spending it? We are so thrilled to be spending some time in Michigan during its most beautiful season.

The next two weeks are a sort of transition time for us as we get ready to wrap up summer and head back to school. I’m taking a couple of weeks off from publishing the newsletter and regular blogging. (So if you haven’t seen the newsletter in two weeks, don’t panic! It’ll be back soon. )

For your weekend reading….

A fantastic list of book recommendations. (via Cup of Jo)

Things that could happen if you turn your phone off this weekend. (Still cry-laughing from this.) (via The New Yorker)

Some encouragement for your marriage. (via A Holy Experience)

We are a one-car family right now but plan to be back in the car market around the time Mark graduates and we have a million “Do we buy a minivan? Do we not buy a minivan? Are we minivan people?” discussions. So this. (via Coffee + Crumbs)

This recipe. (via Oh My Dear)

And this one. (Quick! Eat all of the veggies before summer leaves us!) (via Food52)

Some thoughts on intentional living. (via Zen Habits)

An ode to the reading of newspapers. (via Cardus)

The coffee Coffee and Espresso Maker that will literally transport you to Italy. (via BonaVita)

One of my new faves on Instagram – because MICHIGAN of course. (via Kellie&Jean Photography)

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Career

My #Unfollow Experiment.

April 9, 2015

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I love social media. Everyone who has been reading this blog for fourteen seconds knows that. I am in love with all things Instagram-Pinterest-Twitter-take-another-picture-with-your-iPhone. Social media and the Internet have given us so many wonderful, enjoyable ways to share and be inspired by beautiful photos and words.

But one day recently, I realized that it was time to have a DTR with my social media. I felt like I was drowning. Feeds that I once enjoyed and where I once found inspiration felt like a black hole. I found myself scanning my blog feed frantically, waiting for something useful to leap off the page in the midst of tons of word clutter.

Instagram, my best bud, had become this sticky mixing pot of inspiration and family and friends and acquaintances and friends of friends that I met briefly years ago and spouses of people who used to be friends but whom I hadn’t talked to in forever and friends of friends that I met at parties that I can’t now place who I really clicked with but then we never actually ended up meeting up for coffee and so I don’t understand why I now see every meal that they eat.

My social media feed had turned into that bad party where you pretend to like someone you are standing next to while you frantically scan the room for your actual friend who never turns up.

And then I read about one woman’s adventure in unfollowing. And one creative’s radical approach to Instagram. And this plea for an Internet Holy Year of Mercy. I knew I wasn’t alone. There was a way for me to take back my social media consumption and my sanity. The answer was within my reach. I just needed to act.

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Here were the biggest, most glaring problems with my social media streams.

1. I was following people in the wrong channels for the wrong reasons. I would follow people because I felt obliged to follow them back if they followed me, even if their feed provided me with no inspiration or encouragement or anything good whatsoever. I would follow people for the same reason people stay in bad relationships. Some vague sense that maybe we were friends or could be friends or should be friends kept them in my streams, even though actual relationship ground was, like, nada.

(I’m not saying you have to be actual friends with people to follow them. But one shouldn’t follow Instagram accounts under false pretenses. Like in any good relationship, you should know where you stand and why you stand there.)

2. I was following the same people in multiple places, so a great deal of my content was duplicative. (Thanks, Jeffrey Kalmikoff, for pointing this out.) I would see the same pictures on Facebook and Instagram and like them both places (often, the second time, again simply out of some cloudy feeling of obligation.)

3. I was following friends, inspiration, and acquaintances on channels where they had accounts but weren’t active. So if I had a friend who was on Instagram and Twitter, even if she only used Instagram, I would still follow her both places. This is a totally futile endeavor. Multiple this by 200 and the futility factor is sky-high.

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Why do we do this to ourselves? Part of it, for me, was FOMO. I was terrified to miss out (what exactly I might be missing out on is unclear). I was afraid to miss a great article, an important update, a cool shot.

But isn’t that part of the whole grand scheme that keeps us hooked to our screens? We are utterly terrified that somewhere, something really great is going to happen and WE ARE GOING TO MISS IT. OR BE LEFT OUT. OR SOMETHING.

This is irrational fear. This is ridiculous. And this is making us all a little crazy. First of all, I cannot follow every single thing that every other person in the world does. Even if it’s all awesome. There aren’t enough seconds. So even attempting such a thing is totally ridiculous. And let’s admit it: most of what is on Instagram and Twitter is not awesome at all. A good chunk of it is entirely meaningless to the majority of the population.

The other part of the equation of for me was a fuzzy sense of polite obligation to follow and “like”. The Internet’s moral codes of politeness are still being honed, but following is not an obligation. It is a choice to consume or not consume.

I found myself following bloggers that I love and then routinely becoming irritated during the day as they Instagrammed their perfect (through the lens of Instagram) life: “Beautiful breakfast!” “Followed by cute baby napping!” “Followed by new haircut!” and then “Date night in new gorgeous outfit with perfect makeup!”

I was suddenly less content with my breakfast eaten with one hand while playing with Miles who was not napping because he believes that a nap strike every other day is perfectly normal, in a ponytail and yoga pants because I didn’t have time to shower or answer my work emails, much less get a haircut. This times 15 blogs times every day was a lot of irritation.

This is not a criticism of aforementioned bloggers or their Instagram accounts. I still follow the same bloggers and I still love their content. But if I am routinely becoming discouraged instead of encouraged and annoyed instead of inspired, I need to disconnect from the pieces that are dragging me down and focus on things that fill me with joy. In this case, it was blogger overload. They may take pictures for a living, but I don’t have to consume every single image they produce.

This is part of intentional living, of choosing what comes in and what gets my time and what holds my attention and where I spend my energy. I realized that I just needed to practice what I know about being intentional in a (heretofore) very unintentional space.

Here’s what really scared me into action: I began to realize that every needless word, every pointless article, every headline I scanned and skipped, every picture that held nothing for me was actually taking (in tiny microscopic bits) my time, my day, my year, and my life. Literally. From myself, from my family, from the creating that I am actually supposed to be doing.

Are those milliseconds? Yes, of course. But those milliseconds add up. I needed to do so serious purging for the same reason that I leave the television set turned off during the day and the same reason that I choose my reading material with care. Those little margins that we reclaim are what make the difference. Were any of those useless pieces of social media, added together, worth one less conversation with Mark, one less game with Miles, one less real book that I actually want to read? Absolutely not.

And so my unfollow campaign began. I determined to squeeze every drop of futility, pretense, and time-wasting out of my feeds. I was going to take back control of my social media accounts.

First, I turned to Instagram. I scanned through my list and unfollowed almost half of my list. To decide if an account stayed or went, I asked myself:

  • Am I personally attached to this person? (I.e., do I talk to this person regularly, do we share life offline, am I interested in hearing about their coffee-cups and family reunions and children?)
  • (If yes to the above, then) Does this person post regularly in this channel? (Or should I be following them somewhere else to more effectively stay in touch?)
  • Am I inspired, encouraged, or motivated by this feed?
  • Do I frequently interact with this person, either in person or through comments, blogs, etc.? (And, if yes, does this person post in this channel regularly?)

If I couldn’t answer yes to one of the above, I unfollowed. (Tip: If you do this, move FAST. Don’t think too long or hard about this. Go with your gut.)

Side-note: Was it weird to unfollow actual friends? Yes. But if we are friends on Facebook (for instance) and we actually interact there, then it doesn’t make sense to also follow them on Instagram. Or vice versa. I used this not as a time to *unfriend* people but to decide whether Instagram was the best possible way to keep up with this friend. If the purpose was already being served via Facebook or Twitter or some other channel, then Instagram was simply duplicative.

The second hard truth about this is that a lot of people that I follow because of “friendship” are not actually my friends. The world of Facebook has made friendship such a funny thing. We think we are connected to people who we will probably never see or talk to again. We think we have long-lasting relationships with people that, were more effort required of the relationship, we wouldn’t consider a part of our circle.

This is harsh, but it’s true. Brothers’ old girlfriends? Not actually my friends. Bridesmaids in weddings that I attended years ago? Not actually my friends. Girlfriends that I text and talk to on a regular or semi-regular basis? There are about 8. There are not 50. If we tell ourselves that we actually have 500 close friends, most of us are lying to ourselves.

Next came Twitter. I used the same questions and unfollowed almost 2/3 of my feed. I follow a lot of news accounts, journalists, etc.  on Twitter for work purposes, but I was still able to do a lot of purging.

Sometimes I would run across an account that was connected to a blog that I loved. But if I followed the blog in Feedly and/or on Pinterest, then it was likely that I was already seeing updates and inspiration from the blog. Again, the principle of duplicative content: DELETE.

At the end of the process, I was annoyed at myself for having followed so many accounts that were so easy to delete for so long. And a little exhilarated, because purging, all purging, is good for the soul.

This morning, when I checked Instagram, there was far less content. And it was refreshing. I actually looked at my Twitter feed this morning because I knew that the channels on there were resources I had intentionally chosen to allow onto my screen.

And then, this afternoon, I spent more time writing, because I had more energy that was not being drained away through the Internet Black Hole of Passive Consumption. Day 1 of my #UnfollowProject was a success.

We need to be creating more and consuming less. Purging your closets, cupboards, and feeds is an easy beginning.

And what about me? What about this blog? My Instagram account? My Twitter feed? If I don’t inspire you, encourage you, motivate you toward better living, please unfollow. Make it the first step in your own #unfollowproject.

The first step of living intentionally is to stop wasting our time on that which is not for us.

(If you’re interested in reading more about this kind of intentional living, check out Richard Swenson’s Margin, one of the most life-changing books I have ever read.)

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