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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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Home Tour: Apartment Baby Nursery

June 2, 2015

Nursery Room Tour | The Orange Slate

Stuffed Elephant | The Orange Slate

I’ve mentioned before that we live in an apartment. It’s not small enough to qualify for some kind of T.I.N.Y. prize (like this one). It is, however, under 900 square feet – small enough to mean that every room serves at least three purposes.

So when I say “nursery”, I’m really referring less to an entire room and more to a dedicated half of a room. When Miles was tiny, he slept in a cradle in our room. At around 6 months, he migrated into his crib and about a month later finally started actually sleeping in his own room (now dubbed “the nursery”, which also doubles as “the guest room”).

When we first moved into our apartment (when Miles was 3 weeks old), I knew the he would be in our room for a while, so I didn’t stress too much about having The World’s Most Gorgeous Baby Nest perfected.

But even before Miles was born, I approached the choices I made for our baby furniture and nursery set-up much the way I approach other choices: I prioritized the major needs/wants and let the rest take its course without agonizing over it too much. Here are the priorities that guided our nursery design (beyond safety, of course):

  • Reasonable investment. Mark and I aren’t trying to reinvent the art of raising a human. Our baby needs to be safe and comfortable in aesthetically pleasant surroundings, but he’s going to spend less time with all of the baby supplies we buy him than I spent in my college dorm room. Dropping thousands of dollars on the finest baby furniture and decor in the universe is just not my thing. (I don’t mean this critically. This is a choice thing. If you like to spend money on baby furniture, that’s completely within your rights.)
  • Space-friendly. Our apartment is very small. Doors are narrow and we move pieces around a lot to accommodate changing needs, guests, my early-morning decorating whims, finals week study sessions, etc. Baby furniture needed to take up as little space as possible and pieces needed to serve various functions.
  • Aesthestically minimalist. The more visual clutter I can eliminate, the better. Small and slender was the name of the game for picking furniture. For colors, I love LIGHT, whites, and light neutrals. Our apartment carpeting and paint colors (not our choice!) are neutrals just on the darker side of cream, so I’m constantly trying to brighten up our space. No heavy dark woods for us, at least not now.

Nursery Tour | The Orange Slate1

That’s it. Those were the three guidelines. Our nursery layout is so very simple and I love it. Our crib is light and small. I obsessively use baskets for storage and have baskets of all sizes in all of our rooms. Storing Miles’ toys in one basket and his bath-time/diaper gear in another underneath the crib was an easy way to hide clutter while efficiently using space and also keeping it within easy reach.

His clothes, towels, and sheets are kept in one small dresser across the room. When he outgrows a size, I remove the pieces and store all of those clothes elsewhere so that he’s actually using all of the pieces in the dresser.

The baby furniture also includes a rocker and a cool mid-century table that we’ve collected. The beautiful hand-lettered canvas and engraved metal piece were gifts. I picked up the wooden letter at Hobby Lobby (although I’ve linked to a similar one below).

Lindsay Letters baby print | The Orange Slate

Sources for pieces are as follows:

If you have questions about our setup or about living with a young baby in a small space, let’s chat in the comments!

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On Everyday Rituals.

April 14, 2015

The Orange Slate | On Everyday Rituals4

The Orange Slate | On Everyday Rituals3

It’s early morning. The sky is beginning to groggily make its way to light and I’m waiting on my French press. Coffee is such an important morning ritual for me. I just need a couple of minutes of silence and my cup of coffee and I can take on the day. Most mornings find me up just a few minutes before Mark and Miles so I can embrace this simple thing.

Rituals are funny, aren’t they? They’re the tiniest pieces but when they’re missing, the whole day feels like it’s been thrown off, like our world is rocking. Rituals are more than routines – routines, to me, are just what we are used to doing, the rote of everyday. Rituals are those gems that we relish in the midst of the ordinary chaotic mundane, those comforting signposts that whisper “Everything will be ok.”

I can think of a few more for myself. When I was working long hours on the Hill, I would start my day with a few minutes of reading every morning – nothing terribly remarkable, just whatever book I was working my way through at the moment.

The Orange Slate | On Everyday Rituals2

In college, I would read something for a few minutes before going to sleep – something purely for fun (no assigned reading allowed).When my family congregates in San Diego for reunions, we always get donuts from the same shop on the corner. I have no idea whether their donuts actually taste better or worse than any others nearby. The donuts from the Vietnamese take-out shop are in a class of their own, rendered sacred by decades of repetition.

Motherhood brings it’s own set of (ironically ever-changing) rituals with it. There was the nursing ritual when Miles was brand-new – the frequent fill-water-glass-latch-baby-rock-gently while listening to the gentle clicking of infant nursing. Now we have bedtime rituals – a bath, books, songs, a prayer, more nursing.

Marriage, like motherhood,  –  has its own set of rituals, those quiet stakes you hold on to as you’re carving one life out of two. Mark and I don’t put a ton of effort into formal fancy dates, but on the weekends or when we travel, we love to sit outside and drink coffee in the morning. Walking has been one of our rituals. – so many walks. Beach walks and walks in the woods and walks in whatever city we’ve found ourselves in.

Certain shows have become rituals  – Friday Night Lights, Downton Abbey. We try to go to bed at the same time as each other  – it doesn’t work every night between homework and work and baby’s schedule, but it’s more the rule than the exception.

Having a baby makes me think a lot more about rituals, since babies basically measure their whole day in routine. But rituals keep serving the same purpose for adults. Without my rituals in place, I’m as cranky and out of sorts Miles without his bath and story. When my rituals are in place, I’m calmer, I’m happier, I have more breathing space to be creative and give my best. (For more on this, I highly recommend Margin, a book that substantially altered the way I handle time and commitments when I read it in college.)

Part of this could be a planner-personality-problem. I’m sure those who tend toward planning hold on to more routine. But I would venture to guess that all of us, even the most spontaneous and unplanned among us, have a ritual or two.

So what are your rituals, those pieces of your everyday that you cling to, that you build around, that you miss? It’s good sometimes to shake out our days and identify those markers of sanity and calm. Find them. Write them down. Treasure them. (And if you’re willing, share in the comments. I’d love to hear about yours.)

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Steps to Simplicity #1: Declutter

July 30, 2011

During a past move, I stored a large stack of miscellaneous papers in a big binder, promising myself that I would go through the papers soon. Soon turned into several weeks. Finally, one weekend, I went piece by piece through the binder finding, to my amazement, that almost every single piece of paper was useless.

By the time I actually looked through the papers, the majority of those “just-in-case” and “maybe-I’ll-need-that later” scraps had become irrelevant.

We all have those piles of clothes we’ll wear someday, events we’d like to go to if we get time, papers we’ll sort through one day.

But there is something very freeing about realizing and acknowledging that someday, for most of our clutter, will never come. Give yourself permission to sort through that stack and aggressively prune all of those scraps from your calendar, your closet, and your desk.

If it doesn’t contribute to your vision, it might be time to toss it.

Steps to Decluttering
 
1. Make a pile. This pile might be clothes, miscellaneous possessions, papers, even events on your calendar. But seeing all of the clutter physically in one place will help you force yourself to sort through it.
2. Sort through the entire pile, piece by piece, separating everything into one of three categories (a “keep” pile, an “action” pile, and a “throw” pile).
3.Put everything in the “keep” pile back in its appropriate, permanent place. This might involve filling papers, entering events into your calendar, or refolding your winter clothes.
4. Throw away everything in the “throw” pile.
5. Take action on every single thing in the “action” pile. Mail the cards, take the clothes to the Goodwill, and repair that broken item. If you decide the action required isn’t worth the effort, throw the item away.

Decluttering is the first step towards simplicity. Hungry for some more help? Marie Kondo’s book on the power of tidying was an encouragement to me.

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The Attack of the Refrigerator

July 13, 2011

Sometimes certain tasks just demand action. Our refrigerator was in desperate need of attention. New arrivals to the house, move-outs, a power outage, and a few barbecues had taken their toll. The refrigerator was too full to clean, but not clean enough to continue filling.

My roommates and I went to work. We followed the steps below and two hours, some water, and a bit of bleach did the trick. Our fridge is sparkling clean. Furthermore, we now have plenty of space for new groceries. When was the last time you cleaned your fridge?

1. Remove everything. Everything. Every bottle, every jar, every bag, every package. It may be easier to do this in sections. We did the freezer, then the door, then the main section. Finally, remove all fridge-components that come out. These will generally include the vegetable and cheese drawers.

2. Throw out food. Be merciless. Check expiration dates. If it's expired, throw it. If it's open and no one has used it in a month, throw it. If no one claims it, throw it. Less food will ultimately be wasted if you de-clutter the fridge now.

3. Scrub. Using a sponge, soap, and water, scrub the fridge clean. Aggressively attack stains, scum, and crumbs. Wash the removable drawers and trays as well.

4. Bleach. Using a spray that includes bleach, spray the inside of the fridge and the removable components. Let the bleach sit for a few minutes and then scrub the surfaces again. Finally, wipe the surfaces dry.. Be sure to clean every surface, including the bottom-side of shelves and the inside of the containers.

5. Replace the pieces, shelves, and food. Logically organize the food so that you can easily find things. Bigger items fit best in the back. Small items should be placed so that they do not disappear into the depths of the back.

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