First World Problem

During my quasi-public pursuit for simplicity I have been criticized for focusing too much on first world problems. Indeed, the need to simplify implies starting with abundance: relative wealth, excessive possessions, hours of idleness saturated with mindless entertainment – the list goes on and on. Certainly I have faced my share of first world problems. However, I take a different point of view of their severity.

Jesus’ assertion that it is easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to inherit the kingdom of God belies the light-hearted undertone in the phrase “first world problem” (see Luke 18:18-25). Long before Jesus’ time, a wise man gave us many poetic verses to describe the woes of abundance. He asserts in Ecclesiastes 4:4 that only “envy of our neighbor” can motivate us to labor (and acquire) as much as we do. In other words, as a species, we have been keeping up with the Joneses since ancient times, and no one has ever found that it worked to secure happiness or anything meaningful.

The wise man elaborates on the silliness of spending one’s life consumed by labor and acquiring when he essentially points out “you can’t take it with you” in Ecclesiastes 4:14 and 16. Really, the entire chapter is great. Fellow aspiring minimalists should check it out.

As the wise man and Jesus himself point out, the anecdote to many first world problems is to choose a simpler way of living. People are still drawn to simplicity, now also popularly called minimalism, when they realize to what extent clutter and commitments obstruct their ability to focus on what is truly important.

This life will not last. Furthermore, our precious clutter may not even last an entire lifetime. There has to be something more. Something eternal. As the clutter leaves, one begins to see the bigger picture. As time frees up, one finds more of everything that matters.

Paul says it well at the conclusion of his first letter to Timothy:

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way, they will lay up treasures for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming of age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (I Timothy 6:17-19)

Contemplating the seriousness of first world problems, or the ironically critical issues associated with wealth, has been the catalyst for many journeys toward simple living, including my own. As I write this, I am waiting for the results of a job search that may test my ability to practice what I preach. I would be lying to say I’m not a little scared, but I hear leaps of faith are rarely done without some anxiety. Of course, I’ll keep you “posted”. 🙂

Thanks for reading!

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Tombstone

A friend recently asked me “where do I start?” She was specifically referring to minimizing possessions, but I have a tendency to ponder in a meandering way. Where does one start? Is the answer different for someone who works full-time while raising young children than for an empty-nester homemaker?

I don’t think so.

You start by looking within yourself. If you are like me, there is a chance Western-guided prioritizing has prevented you from taking a good look at yourself in a long time.

What do you want from life? If that question is too broad, ask yourself what you would want written on your tombstone. Will “Driver of Great Automobiles” be engraved on your memorial? Possibly, but highly unlikely.

It sounds cheesy, but I aim for the standard “Beloved Wife and Mother” on my tombstone. Perhaps even “grandmother”. Once I realized this, it became easier and easier to let physical things go in order to attain a simpler life with family at the center.

As you may know from reading my first blog post, I did not come to this conclusion without a few winding roads and speed bumps. It was while shopping for a house that would be big enough for our expanding family that I realized the irony of what was happening. If D and I purchased a “big enough” home, we would never have the family life we envisioned. We would both be tethered to full-time jobs for the next thirty years in order to pay for a huge house rather than travelling or taking time off during the critical years. Furthermore, once the house would be really and truly ours, the family would be long gone.

My next step was a practical one: staying in our ‘50s-era home means we need to fit in it. One room or area at a time, we have been chiseling away at the clutter. Once my head was in the right place, it was easy to spot the stuff in the house that was keeping me from achieving my primary lifelong goal, which is to be a wife and mother who is present.

I started with the obvious stuff: duplicates, expired medicines, clutter that was constantly shoved from one countertop to another. As I built up momentum, I dug in deeper. Furniture, books, even family “heirlooms” were put on the chopping block. If the object in question is neither useful nor beautiful, then why the heck use finite real estate to store it?

I’m not there yet as far as minimizing goes. By now I have methodically gone through a room-by-room rotation to comb out another layer of clutter many times over. My definition of excess continues to evolve and it is easy to purge something now that was an object of sentiment a year ago. On top of the purging I have learned to do a much better job of not bringing the clutter into the house in the first place.

Keep in mind minimizing has many facets and looks differently for each person. D and I disconnected our television four years ago, but that may be unthinkable for some to even consider. I own 12 pairs of shoes, but there are others out there who are happy with one (or none). This is not a competition. This is about doing what makes sense to you so that when you look back on your precious life you know you did not place too much priority on the things you cannot take with you.

Where did you start? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Maximizing Life

I share a lot here about minimizing the stuff – but not a whole lot about  what happens when we maximize life. Truth be told, this is the shinier side of the minimizing coin.

As clutter leaves the house, we are left with less and less that must be cleaned or organized. What is to be done with the extra time?

We take things a little more slowly than we used to do.

We like to walk to our favorite park. We watch the ducks, red-winged blackbirds, and the fishermen. I make flower bracelets for Rie’s tiny wrist. Maile plops down in the grass and soaks up the sunshine. We take time to chat with the other parents at the playground.

There’s no rush – and we have nowhere else to be more important than this time and place.

Rie Walks Maile

When things slow down, you don’t mind letting the resident toddler walk the dog.

As always, thanks for reading!

 

Kitchen Touch-Up

Since before I married I have wanted a double oven. I’m originally from the southern part of the U.S., and we sure do love our baked casseroles with fresh-baked cornbread or biscuits to go with them. Those things cook at two different temperatures, so, culturally speaking, you might even say I need a double oven. 🙂

Ever so gently, the old oven has been retiring over these last few months. Yesterday was the day. D and I drove up to the scratch and dent center and found a double oven with my name on it within our price range. (Ha! Price ‘range’ – aren’t I punny?)

Double Oven

You may be pleased to note the vast reduction in spices on the shelf.

Naturally, this means losing the storage space under the old oven. The area was not crammed-full, but this was an opportunity to re-evaluate what was being stored in the kitchen. I pulled out the pots and skillets and realized just how much clutter was on the second shelf of the northeast cabinet. Sigh. It is always something. North cabinet

Tarnished silver

An untreasured treasure was found lurking behind the pots and skillets.

The westerly cabinet was doing better. Still, there was not a lot of room for the cookie sheets and muffin pan coming in. I committed a blog sin and forgot to take a ‘before picture’. Truly, it was not bad. Forgive me?

A quick evaluation of the items sitting out helped me to identify the excess. The easiest way to do this is by grouping like-items together. Ask yourself how many of each item you use at a time and reduce accordingly.

Technically speaking, all of the kitchen things will fit in my spacious cabinets. I may have a small house, but you gotta admit, those cabinets are huge. What I prefer, however, is to not waste time digging through stacks of crockery to find what I need. My goal is to be able to see everything inside the cabinet upon opening the doors.

I had gone through my kitchen last summer, so there was not much left that I would consider to be excessive of my “needs”. As you can see, most of the purge pile came from the recipe collection.

Kitchen Touch-Up purge pile

Erm, yeah. That would be a box of dog toys. It was behind the stack of cooking magazines…for a long time.

 

And now, for the big reveal!

Northeast Cabinet

Easy access to all cookware and mixing bowls. Oh, and Maile’s food.

West Cabinet After

The recipe books moved to the west cabinet. I like that everything is visible – no digging required!

Not pictured: I polished the teaset and put it on the bookcase in the living room. There was room for it, as Rie’s plastic teaset had recently moved. I know, I know – I wasn’t missing it, so it should be sold or donated, right? Well, I’m not ready yet. So, for now, I’m going to enjoy looking at my pretty silver teaset.

While we are at it, here is a comparison study with Rie’s kitchen. She inherited this collapsable number from a friend this past weekend (pre-colored!). Rie outshines her mother’s efforts in keeping the amount of stuff in her kitchen to a reasonable amount.

Rie's Kitchen

Show off.

Thanks for reading – and have a great weekend!

The Urge to Splurge: Contingency Plan

This post explores motivators to shop (in no particular order). The goal is to identify the root cause of the urge to splurge and then find an alternative method meet the need presented. As for me, I have made a lot of progress in the last year or so to re-train myself to respond to the situations listed below. There is still progress to be made. In other words, this takes time, but it can be done.

When you find yourself shopping or browsing the Internet for deals, ask yourself what need you are truly trying to meet. You probably already have the proper resources available to you without having to make a purchase.

 

1. Boredom

There are seven rooms at home that could use a cleaning, but I’m feeling antsy and need to get out of the house or office. The thing I have come to realize is that when shopping out of boredom I am usually looking for a personal connection. The best thing to do is to make a phone call or visit a friend and connect with someone who actually cares.

It is not necessarily an easy change to make. I am still trying to re-train myself to not look at shopping as a way to feel connected with the community or to feel special. On the bright side, my mom and I have been talking a lot more lately than we used to do.

 

2. A need to escape

When I shop to escape the daily grind, I am daydreaming and want to believe marketers’ promises that their products will make me happy or give my life meaning. When you see this ‘logic’ written out, the problem seems fairly straightforward. Obviously the problem is compounded by the fact that when you shop to escape, you are already not thinking clearly.

Alternatives to shopping when these emotions swell up include praying, counting blessings, going for a bike ride, or concentrating on a project. I love to sew and watch birds. D enjoys his garden. What could you do with the hour or two saved from not going on an unplanned shopping spree?

 

3. A need to celebrate

I also have a tendency to shop while (already) happy. It seems shopping really can creep into any part of your life! Rie was on the way, so I shopped and my excitement was shown in how many products I purchased. My sister engaged to marry, and my happiness for her was displayed in the gifts I gave to her and her fiancĂ©. Sometimes it is merely a beautiful day – what better way to spend it than at an outdoor shopping strip and cafĂ©?

Of all the reasons to shop listed so far, this one is the easiest to turn around. The possibilities are endless. When there is something to celebrate, you can have a party, take pictures, or make plans as needed. If it is a beautiful day you are celebrating, then take your dog for a walk, ride your bike, or enjoy a cool drink on the porch.

 

4. It’s a good deal

Sales are made to create a feeling of urgency. Marketers want you to understand the deal has an expiration date. They are ultimately taking away the time you need to consider a purchase. Do not let them do that to you. You know what you need. If you find a deal on something you are already seeking, great, go for it. When you find a great deal that does not line up with what you already know you need – let it go. Think of it as leaving the item for someone else who does, in fact, seek it. And do not fret over a lost opportunity – there will always be another sale.

 

As always, your suggestions in the comment section are welcomed, as I am nowhere close to having all the answers.

Thanks for reading!

Shoes

Any fashion magazine will tell you there are some basic items a gal needs. A good pair of jeans, a black dress, and black shoes are some of the staples. (By the way, what makes black the go-to color?) As someone who lives with a small wardrobe, I totally understand the desire to keep the separate pieces classic and versatile. Accessories, including shoes, can be easily swapped out to create a more up-to-date look, if that is what you desire.

There are fewer than 40 items of clothing hanging in my closet for spring and summer. Everything except PJs, workout clothes, and unmentionables are hung up. The rest of that stuff takes up two drawers in my dresser. So what the heck was I doing with 17 pairs of shoes? Statistically speaking, as someone who only has 40 pieces of clothing, it would be impossible to say they were all necessary.

OK, boots are actually needed for camping and trekking through snowstorms. Something more lightweight is preferred for the office, and running shoes are perfect for, well, running. I suppose a pair of sandals is great for summer. That would be four pairs.

But then you realize it is not just practicality that rules your shoe collection. Nude pumps are so feminine and pretty with a floral print dress. Navy heels look sharp with that grey skirt…and so on.

On a more evolved level, I suppose I could wear the same comfortable brown Clarks flats with every outfit. They are closed-toe, great for walking, and dressy enough for the office. They may not lessen the severity of a snake bite the way my boots would, but otherwise they would get the job done.

By now you have surely guessed I am not that evolved.

However, I am now down to…drum role please…twelve pairs of shoes. Total. For all seasons. They fit beautifully in the allotted space, and I have enough variety to accommodate all the different hats I wear. Literally and figuratively.

Shoes

Part of this change has been prompted by becoming a mom. For one, I have much less patience with uncomfortable shoes (or anything uncomfortable, for that matter) now than before having Rie. For two, Rie likes to pull my shoes out of the closet and rehome them throughout the house. With fewer pairs of shoes, this is less clutter to herd.

Another part of this change is owed to having fewer pieces of clothing. As pieces wear out, I look for replacements that would go with shoes I already own. Also, when downsizing my wardrobe, I found a pair of shoes that only paired well with one skirt, for example. They both found their way to the door. Things are much more interchangeable now.

So, a small step for the shoes…a big leap for my evolution? Well, that’s a stretch, but I’m working on it.

Thanks for reading!

Baby Gear

My closest friend recently confided in me that she and her husband are expecting their first bundle of joy. She asked me, “So what do we need?” I dedicate this little post to her and her fantastic husband.

When you are having a baby, it feels like you are preparing for a picnic without knowing what the weather will be, how many guests are coming and so on. You want to be a good host, so you prepare for every single thing that could happen: rain, snow, mud, hay fever, broken bones and so on. Next thing you know, planning a pleasant little picnic has prevented you from saving money as you should and crowded your entire home with who-knows-what. This is the same mentality that puts three strollers in your garage and gives you a mountain of clothing that cannot possibly all be worn.

When I was pregnant I made the mistake of doing all sorts of Internet “research” on baby products. Perhaps you wiser folks reading this already know where I am going with this one. Internet research = being exposed to a ton of advertisements. Pregnancy hormones make you weak where shopping is concerned. It is the gathering instinct at its worst. You are quite possibly doomed to succumb to marketing tactics. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes!

As always, keep it simple. Maybe you will have a baby who is difficult to soothe, or loves to be rocked to the point of needing a fancy swing, but then again, maybe not. It is impossible to know until Baby arrives what his specific quirks will be. There are, however, a few things every baby does “need”. (I use that term loosely.)

1. Safe Place to Sleep

This should be self-explanatory. You can do research on what is considered “safe” and do what you think is best.

If Baby is sleeping in a crib, I highly recommend double-making the bed. This means putting a sheet on the crib mattress, putting a waterproof mat on the sheet, and placing a second sheet on top of the mat. Following this method means you need a minimum of two crib sheets and one waterproof mat.

2. Car Seat

You may not leave the hospital without one. I suppose if you have a home birth, you could get around it for a while. In the United States, all of the car seats must meet the same safety standards, so just pick one in your budget.

3. A Method to Eat

Breasts, bottles/formula, or a combination of both are basically your options.

For those who choose to breastfeed: you do not need much. Maybe a nursing cover, but that is a personal preference. A receiving blanket works OK as a cover. You will need a pump and a couple bottles should you choose to feed expressed milk. I also liked having an ice tray with a cover for freezing milk (to avoid buying freezer bags).

It also helped me to put a lap-sized waterproof mat in my bed during the first couple weeks. Those breasts mean business and they are always open! Lanolin for sore nipples is also a fantastic thing to have on hand. Citing the picnic example above, I recommend assuming breastfeeding will go well. There are 24-hour stores with formula for sale if you become desperate, but you do not need it in your home as a back-up.

For those who are using bottles: a bottle brush is highly recommended. D and I sterilized our bottles in boiling water, but there are also bottle sanitizers on the market.

In lieu of burp cloths, I recommend using receiving blankets to burp Baby or to clean up his messes.

4. Clothing

Decide how often you want to do laundry. If you are like me, that would be about every three days, but I like doing laundry. Whatever you decide, add one day and multiply that number by two or three. That is how many newborn “outfits” you should start with. In my example above, I should have eight to twelve changes of clothing. If babies in your family are big, skip the newborn size and go straight to 0-3 months. Baby will survive if the clothes are a little big for a couple weeks.

By the way, coats are a no-no for little ones in car seats. Use a blanket over the car seat harness straps to keep Baby warm in transit.

5. Diapering Supplies

I love cloth diapers. My baby pooped every two hours around the clock for several weeks, which is about the most mess anyone might have to deal with. Noting how much mess we did have to clean up, you will understand why I chose to have a diaper sprayer.

In my house diaper laundry is done every other day, so we needed 24-30 changes, about 30 cloth wipes, a spray bottle for water (to make the wipes wet), and we used receiving blankets to cover the changing pad. Dirty diapers go into a dry pail (a.k.a. 13 gallon trash can). We use washable pail liners, of which we have two, but you can get away without them. For the diaper bag, it might be nice to have two wet bags to store your dirty diapers when out and about (one to use, one to wash).

We also bought “cloth-safe soap” and a hanging clothes-drying rack, but, like the diaper sprayer, those are not necessarily needs. Once you get into cloth diapering, your laundering needs will become apparent within a couple washes. Another idea is to connect with local cloth diapering parents to find out how the water in your area may have affected their washing routines.

For folks using disposables, I have no experience to reference to advise you. My hunch is that you just need a stash of diapers, wipes, and zinc oxide (which you usually do not need with cloth diapers).

6. Bathing Supplies

We bathed our newborn in a dish tub that fit inside our kitchen sink beautifully. It was something we already had, so no need to buy a baby bathtub. We put one of those contoured sponges in the tub and that made a perfectly safe place to put the baby while bathing her. Those sponges are about $6.

Technically Baby can use the towels and wash cloths you already own. I happen to like the size of baby wash cloths and would recommend them. Towels marketed for babies are usually too thin in my opinion.

If you use soap for sensitive skin for yourself, it is probably safe to use on Baby as well – ask your doctor if you are unsure. If you want to use baby-specific soap, shampoo, and lotion, there is nothing wrong with that. Baby will need a comb and maybe a brush as well.

7. Safety Kit

Baby may not have any over-the-counter medicines until he is 3 months old or as directed by your doctor, so do not worry about stocking up on medicine at first. You will probably want to have a nasal aspirator, baby nail clippers, and a thermometer that is specific to Baby’s use (I’m never sticking that thing in my mouth again!). We kept alcohol around too, but only used it a couple times to clean Baby’s umbilical stump.

8. Entertainment

When Rie was two months old, she fell in love with her mobile. She also loved toys we hung from the car seat handle, and her activity mat with hanging toys. Some kids love pacifiers, though that was not our experience. All of that stuff is great and all, but the absolute best thing you can do is talk to your baby and hold him as much as possible. It is the touch and sound that stimulates him and creates a bond between the two of you. For that matter, I highly recommend having a method by which you can wear your baby. In addition to keeping Baby close, this also eliminates the need for a stroller and discourages strangers from touching your child (super annoying during the cold season).

Hope this helps! Folks who have been there and done that – feel free to add your advice in the comments for my friend and anyone else shopping for a new baby.