Friday, May 15, 2015

The Art of Discarding - a Journey towards Contentment (Part 2)

One of my goals for the next six or so months is to take steps in making our house a home and building a small but efficient wardrobe that I really love. Both of these are part of my mission to live well and generously with and on less - to find contentment where I am. As I've begun this process, I've also learned that pruning away the things I don't need or that I've hidden behind, is a step towards becoming who I truly am. Throwing away clutter also unclutters your mind. Giving to others reveals your truest self. This is the art of discarding. 

There's a tiny book that has taken the organizational world by storm, viz, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. In it Marie explains her philosophy of tidying: Get rid of everything that doesn't "spark joy". It should be an event, a festival, something done only once and completed forever. Perfection is the aim and anything short of it is an excuse. Now, if you're like me, you're hooked by this concept, not because it really sounds like something you want to do but because you have identified a clearly crazy person and want a good laugh. As much as I knew that I had too many possessions and that I needed to be less dependent on things, the idea of keeping only things that brought joy seemed trite at best.

But here's the thing: I read it. And I loved it. The girl I thought must be crazy morphed into a sort of organizational sensei offering advice over my shoulder as I started going through my things. Her premise is that we spend too much time thinking about what we don't want, rather than thinking about what we love, or, as she says, what "sparks joy". She challenges you to organize by category rather than by location - and she sternly warns that doing it any other way will only lead to tidying repeatedly, constantly trying to reduce clutter. This happens because we store similar items in various locations.The first category she recommends going through (she claims it's the easiest) is clothing - and if you have a lot of clothing, then she recommends breaking that down even further into things like "shirts", "pants", "dresses" so that you don't get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff that you have. Next, she makes you take everything out, put it on the floor or the bed and touch each piece to see whether it sparks joy or not, which decides whether or not you keep it. Now, if you're like I am, the first thing you think is "Oh, I don't have very many clothes - I can definitely put all of them out and go through them all at once! This will be easy!"


Myth 1 - I don't have very many clothes. I am clothes-poor.

Now, while I may not have a lot of clothes and shoes compared to some girls, my drawers were still stuffed and I had long since given up trying to find enough hangers to hang my skirts, dresses and shirts. I quickly realized that I did, in fact, have a lot of clothing - especially when I pulled stuff out of the dirty clothes, and the extra bedroom, and out from under my bed, and out of the living room floor...and well, you get the picture: clothes, like other items, tend to end up in multiple locations. I realized that my complaints about having nothing to wear were founded in poor clothing choices rather than in lack of clothing. I was clothes-rich - not clothes-poor - even after reducing my clothing by about 70%.
This is just my pile of skirts and pants 

Myth 2 - Getting rid of clothes will be easy.

Marie recommends going through your clothes as quickly as possible and keeping things based only on your initial gut reaction. Anything you spend more than a second or two on probably isn't something that you love, but rather is something that you have an attachment to for other reasons - guilt, sense of duty, fear of loss. If those other reasons aren't Joy, Marie says you don't need it in your home. As hokey as it sounds, as I went through category after category of my clothes, piece by piece, I found she was right: there is an emotional element to my possessions - and not all of my emotional responses were fun ones. Getting rid of things that have an emotional association is difficult, even if the emotion is an unpleasant one.

Myth 3 - Once I bag the clothes up and put them in the spare room, I will feel relieved.
Bags of stuff in the spare room

Marie insists that you get rid of your bags of clothes and possessions as quickly as possible - she doesn't even advocate for donating them: they're a burden, they're junk, throw them away. Now, I thought I knew better than to listen to this crazy little Japanese lady, so I decided that I would bag all my clothes up and put them in the spare room, out of my hair, until I could have a yardsale in some semi-distant future. At least I could make some money off of all these items that had sentimental (emotional) value! The clothes then sat in said spare room for 2 months - making me feel miserable, confused, unsure, torn, disgusted, sad - did I mention miserable? - every time I walked into the space. Or even past the space. We took up keeping the door closed, but it was like a dreadful secret. Even though I felt peace whenever I looked in my drawers in our bedroom - the thought of a) actually parting with the stuff in the other room and b) the stuff still being in the other room, was not at all peaceful. While I had externally reduced my stuff to a more reasonable level, keeping only things that I absolutely needed or brought me joy, I was internally clinging to my possessions and the identity they gave me. I couldn't bear the thought of losing them, so I used a vague "yardsale" date to assuage my fears and conscience. The psychology behind Marie's method is simple: to change your habits you must change your way of thinking, and the easiest (albeit quite painful) method is to rip the habit-bandaid off at once and start from scratch. Our habit - to her thinking - is to keep things to keep from dealing with our deeper emotional issues: our wishes, fears, pasts. Once you touch something and decide to let it go, you should let it go. Keeping it in the spare bedroom isn't letting it go. It's continuing to hide it from yourself. You will not feel better by doing this.

So how is my experience with Marie Kondo's book part of my journey towards contentment and simplicity?

Using the KonMari method opened my eyes to how possessions ruled my life in a very concrete way. As I learned to release them, to say goodbye to them, I learned things about myself. And not just that I really hate the color black on me - but things like: I hold onto items of clothing that I don't even like anymore for fear of losing a memory; or out of duty to particular relationships; or because I don't think I am worth something new or more my style.

My much happier closet - still a work in progress!
As I began exploring what it meant to dress with less, one of the first things I needed to learn was the Art of Discarding. You decide what you love and want to keep, you release what you don't, and you bless yourself and others by expressing who you really are instead of protecting yourself behind a wall of pretty dresses that you don't truly feel like You in. I reduced my wardrobe by about 70% - and only once or twice have I missed something and been sad I had bagged it up. Most of it, I can't even remember. The things I kept bring me joy.

But seeing my closet full of only the things that bring me joy started me on another path towards simplicity: the capsule wardrobe. In my next post I'll begin showing you where I'm starting - and how adventure can be as close as seeing how many combinations you can make from one dress.


Friday, May 8, 2015

Living with Less - the beginning of a journey towards contentment

I think St. Francis is one of the most amazing people that has ever walked this earth and his life of holy poverty inspires me. However, I'm not catholic, and I really like being a secular - you know, married with a job and such - so pondering his views and leading a life of contentment are where I tend to camp. Sometimes, I like to call myself a Third Order Franciscan. Third Order Franciscans were men and women who couldn't meet the requirements of being a monk or nun: they were already married, for instance, or had a job they didn't want to leave, but they were really interested in living a holy life full of charity, like St. Francis.

When I first got out of college, I took the first job that I was offered. Actually, it was the only job I applied for. And it was only part time. There are probably reasons that my mom didn't think my choice to stay in Nashville was wise.

I worked in a paint store, flinging buckets, mixing colors and giving people advice on how to match their living room walls to their couch pillows (the only area that my degree came in handy in that job, despite my title as "Color Consultant"). Since I had a college degree, they generously offered me an hourly wage just over $10, told me not to tell the other employees I was starting at that, and scheduled me for over 20 and under 32 hours a week, depending on the week. Soon after taking that job, I moved into my own apartment with my amazing roommate Krista - and suddenly had substantial rent, grocery bills, electricity and internet to pay.

After taxes, I made between $900 and $1100 a month.

And I felt rich.

And then, my hours got cut. The most our boss was allowed to assign his part time employees was 27 hours - and we were required to take an unpaid lunch break if we worked more than 6 in a day.

I remember panicking. I had just started sponsoring a compassion child. I still had rent and groceries. I needed an emergency fund. I needed to save money for important stuff.

And that's when I got the not-so-subtle spiritual memo that I might need to reconsider my views on possessions. This was not the difference between food and rent. This was the difference between buying Tresemme and buying store brand hair gel; the difference between shopping at Kroger and shopping at Aldi; the difference between Starbucks once a week and Starbucks once a month. This was the difference between giving out of my abundance and real charity.

I don't know exactly when I realized that I was called to just trust God with my needs and wants and be more generous with what I had, but I know it's become an increasingly strong conviction over the last 3 years. I am convicted that my possessions are not mine, but God's. They are only mine on loan and I will have to give an account for how I used them. I am convicted that by hoarding up "my" stuff, I am doing myself and others a disservice. And I am convinced that if I set the last piece of some delicious food aside for myself, or I hide my favorite snack in the back of the cupboard so I won't have to share, it will go bad before I get to it, or worse, I suddenly won't have the appetite for it. (I think this may be a law of the universe. Or maybe God just likes pointing out how selfish I am in ways that amuse Him.) Sometimes, I call these convictions the mindset of holy poverty - or of being a third order Franciscan - or of aparigraha (non-possession, yoga yama style) - or of minimalism. You can call it whatever you want to, but for me it boils down to these three things:



Living with less

I am learning to do all three of those things, and most recently, I have been exploring living with less by reevaluating my closet. In the next couple of posts, I'll be sharing what I've learned about reducing my wardrobe and how I'm in the process of narrowing my personal style into capsule wardrobe mode.

Adventure is out there - and it's better when you're not dragging lots of baggage.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A Missing Year

A year has gone by since I last posted on this blog.

A year.

In fact, more than 365 days.

In that time I have:

  • Had my first-ever summer vacation (Home Schooler. Check.)
  • Gone to Nicaragua for the first time (Medical mission trip)
  • Been to Estonia again (my birthday!)
  • Switched jobs (but I still miss my old one)
  • Got engaged (November!)
  • Completed NaNoWriMo for the first time. (While planning a wedding.)
  • Got married (January!)
  • Did a Whole30 (C and I didn't kill each other.) 
  • A bunch of little things that aren't important to most people but have significantly changed my life.

And yet somehow, I didn't have the time or the will - or perhaps the creativity - to write on here. I guess, I didn't know what to say. This year (yes, starting in May) will be a chance for me to explore what this blog is for me and what I want it to be. That means you'll probably see a lot of mismatched posts about very random topics and lots and lots of opinionated rambling - maybe even some poetry or short stories. Which  may or may not be what this blog has always been.

For those of you who used to follow this blog, I'm going to hope that the last year of silence has scared you away from checking it for new posts - that way while I'm getting my blogger-feet under me, you won't notice until I'm at least toddling instead of just trying to crawl.

Cheers and Blessings!


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Cold Sabbath

Some things in life force you to slow down: an incredibly beautiful sunset as you're walking into your home, little children begging you to play with them, traffic when you're already late...the world's worst cold.

That one would be the one I'm thinking of most today. I was attacked by this mean little virus last Monday - and a solid 8 days later, I am still holed up in bed, sipping hot tea and homemade lattes and wondering whether it's possible to overdose on vitamin C and echinacea. The first few days of my cold, I refused to be slowed down - I took Advil for my headache, downed a water bottle every couple of hours, and kept right on going to work, church, and social events. I thought I was getting better by Thursday - and maybe I would have been if I had listened to my body and actually slowed down and rested - but I kept right on pushing all the way through Sunday. I stayed out late with friends on Friday night, eating the world's spiciest Thai food (even C agreed it was hot - a nearly impossible admission to draw from his lips); Saturday morning, I went hiking with some girl friends, cleaned the house and had a friend over for coffee, then went to an evening church service; Sunday morning, feeling a lot like death warmed over, I took my zombie self to teach 2-4 year-olds about Naaman and the importance of obedience, sharing my charming determination and indomitable will almost as successfully as the germs precipitating from my person in seemingly all directions.

Finally, on Sunday afternoon, determination failed me and I admitted my defeat: I put myself to bed at noon. And peace reigned. C came over and forced me to stay on the couch with my tea and blankets, graciously ignoring that I went through half a roll of toilet paper by myself in the few hours he was over. He even told me I looked cute - despite my bleary eyes and Rudolph nose.

I had things I wanted to do this weekend - people I wanted to see, cleaning I wanted to accomplish, lessons I wanted to learn in different languages. But I didn't even have the energy to eat, much less do anything more useful.

As part of my daily Bible reading, I've been reading through the Pentateuch - those first five books of the Old Testament that tell you exactly, in excruciating detail, how God wanted His people to behave, what their identity was in Him, and how He was going to respond to them when they did or didn't do what He had specified. Some of the laws seem a little extreme ("Someone with one leg shorter than the other cannot come into My presence" - huh?) - others seem down right strange (explain to me again, why can't I wear clothes that have a mixture of cotton and wool?), but one thing I've definitely noticed is that God took care of all the details - straight down to ensuring that people took regular times of rest. They had one day a week that was a "no work allowed day" - and the punishment was a little bit stronger than getting grounded from going to work the next day. They had different feasts on different months that were holy parties - one of them lasted for a week. They had fasts on certain days - and rests on others. And while it may seem like a lot to keep track of, one thing I really noticed this time reading through is not so much that God had a lot of rules - but God had a lot of rules that took care of His people at all levels. Those days of rest and fasting and partying before Him were filling them up spiritually, emotionally and, yes, even physically. And most of the time His people then did the same thing we do now when we read those long lists of "Thou shalt's and Thou shalt not's": ignored them as too many rules that are too hard to follow. But I think I usually miss the big picture: God cares for His people; He is good and kind and wants what's best for us.

And yes, I have to wonder why putting blood on the right big toe and the right thumb and the right earlobe mattered - but when I step back from the details and look at the whole, I see lots of ways that God was caring for His people holistically... that I often try to ignore as important in my daily life. Like taking regular times of Sabbath rest to spend time with Him and not work.

I didn't want to take the day off of work on Monday and spend all day yesterday and today in bed. But that's what I needed to do. And if I had been paying attention, and had prioritized setting apart - ie, making holy - time for rest and recuperation, maybe I wouldn't still be hacking up a lung. Maybe a Cold Sabbath was exactly what I needed to remind me that I serve a loving God who wants me to remember that He's doing just fine at running the world, and that what He really thinks is best for me is to sit back, spend time with Him, and rest. 

Maybe that's even a lesson in obedience.

I should tell the 3 year-olds - but not until I'm over this cough...

Monday, February 17, 2014

Strike While the Mood is Hot*

Honestly, I'm not as tidy as I wish I were. In fact, my initials already spelling M.E.S. is a bit of an omen for how neat I keep things half the time. But every once in a while I actually act upon my desire to have a neater, more organized house, and recently, the creative mood crossed paths with the tidy mood and gave birth to this:

Now, don't get me wrong: it really is just a tube of fabric with ribbons at each end to hold my abundance of plastic bags that my roommate and I seem incapable of throwing away, but this plain little tube is something that we have needed for months. I have been putting off making it, whether from perfectionism, or lack of time, or lack of motivation, or just from the fact that the laundry room door stays closed most of the time, so why should I be concerned that one shelf looks like this:

What you can't see in the above picture is that there was also a pile of bags in the floor and another pile that had fallen on top of the washer. Like I said, we may have a bag problem. 

But I rolled up my sleeves, donned my 1950's housewife kerchief, and went to work, allowing myself to let go of the idea that a tube to hold my trash bags had to somehow be a work of art that I spent hours on. 

And in less than an hour, including the stops I made for music, brownies, hunting for fabric, pulling out my sewing machine and waiting for the iron to heat up, I had successfully turned this: 

Into something useful. 

That's important to me. I followed my creative spirit, rather than letting myself get hampered by the idea of imperfection. 

Which means I'm keeping better track of my New Years Resolutions than I might have thought. 

So, strike while the mood is hot - let your creativity flow into something useful or beautiful or simply fun - and don't let fear hold you back. 

*This statement does not apply to pretty much any emotions of passion, including rage, malice and lust.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Hot, Hot, Hot – Hot Chocolate!

Well, so far, I've already broken a couple of my New Year's Resolutions - one of which was to write at least one blog post per month. Honestly though, I've had this post in mind for at least two months, so that should count for something. Maybe my laziness in writing down my ideas. Still, there's always time to begin again.

Over the Christmas holiday, I went to visit my family in Estonia, a small, quiet country in Northeastern Europe. They've lived there since October, so by the time I got there at the end of December, they were all settled in and ready to show me around.

One of the little places we visited was a Hot Chocolate Restaurant that was down a back alley:

And had this on the back door:

Inside, we all had some of the most decadent hot chocolate we had ever tasted in our lives. Noah got one that was laced with ice-cream.

But this layered beauty of "Vanilla-Sea-Salt-Honey-Cocoa" was my own special treat. I was in awe. Who knew that honey and chocolate could go together? How did it have all of those layers? Was that steamed milk foam and whipped cream I was tasting? If it hadn't been my last day in Estonia, I am positive that I would have paid 3.50€ multiple times just trying to figure out the secrets of this rich, drinkable dream. (This first one was a gift from Mom - or was she just trying to increase my addiction to cocoa?)

Since, however, it was my last day, my pocketbook is happy to announce that I did not squander its contents on European melted chocolate confections, but instead on ample amounts of American possibilities for Stateside reproduction. 

With a little creativity, I began trying to make my own version:

I melted dark chocolate chunks with a little bit of boiling water and some vanilla.

I drizzled a tall glass with honey and sprinkled it with kosher salt.

In went the melted chocolate, followed by a few ounces of steamed milk thanks to my espresso machine.

Finally, I topped it with homemade whipped cream (well, technically, I used half and half...which, yes, you can whip) and sprinkled it with a little cocoa.

Voila! My attempt at Estonian Cocoa.

It wasn't quite as decadent - or quite as hot as it should have been to be a perfect match. Turns out, making a perfect cup of cocoa with milk foam on top takes years of practice. Maybe thousands of times of steaming milk and melting chocolate to really get it perfect.

And that's alright with me - because imperfect cocoa made with a desire to create, experiment and learn is still amazing. 

And learning that imperfect can still be delicious is more amazing still. 

So here's to a new year full of learning and trying and doing and being and failing - and enjoying growing up and making life delicious, even with all its imperfections. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Wonderment Daily

I think I keep waiting for the "perfect" thing to blog about. If my words are going to be out for people to read, well, then I guess they ought to be deep and profound, right?

But here's the thing: being alive is deep and profound. The concept baffles everyone, everywhere - no matter their religion, social status, country of birth or mother tongue: "I am alive - and that means something. Not sure what most of the time, but it does." Isn't that what we all think?

So my pursuit of the perfect blog topic is rather silly - when I've got crazy amounts of real life just slipping through my fingers untyped.

Take today, for instance. I can't say today was one of those life changing God experiences where I am stunningly aware of my place in creation and His power over my life. Actually, today was, well, pretty mundane. I got up and ate breakfast, drank a cup of my dad's good coffee, took a shower and washed dishes. I made curtains and exercised and went shopping. I did normal, everyday, routine stuff.

There's a verse in 1 Thessalonians 4 that says:

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you. 

I'm not going to lie: I don't always like that verse. Sometimes - maybe even a lot of the time - I want a loud life, one that is full of bold days full of adventure.

But today, I made it my ambition to spend the day quietly - to look around for little ways to serve and to seek out ways to connect with my siblings.

I took my 15 year-old sister Eleanne driving in a parking lot. We chatted up turn signals and parking brakes, steering wheels and gas pedals. She even backed into a parking space and drove on a real road with double yellow lines. We made it up to 35 miles an hour - and neither of us died.

If riding in a car with a brand new driver isn't adventure, I'm not sure what is. But it was nails-in-the-seat-bite-lip-don't-focus-on-the-grass-on-the-passenger-side quiet adventure.

For dinner, my family and I sat on the porch and ate leftovers in the early fall weather - and I leaned against the house and looked out over our front lawn and watched my sister and my brother hold hands during the prayer and my dad and my baby sister Grace snuggle and chat on the front steps. 

The world there was quiet and we were minding our own business, leaving the business of others in the hands of God through prayer.

After dinner, I went on a bike ride with two of my brothers through the neighborhood across the street. The rumor is true: you never forget how to ride a bike. I would not however, recommend trying to ride with no hands after not having ridden in nine or so years. Seeing my brothers take turns leading the direction of our paths was something to smile about. They're growing into men and leaving boyhood behind them with grace. And my world was still there - quiet and peaceful - with the wind twirling my hair and the sound of pavement whirring under us.

When we all sat down together to read the bible, I traded foot rubs with my mom and listened to everyone read in their turn and my Dad talk about the text. I didn't read tonight - even though I usually do when I'm home with my family - I was quiet. And it was good.

Daily life isn't easy. Being caught up in the rituals of the mundane gets really, well, boring. You know, mundane?

But maybe there's something profound enough about being alive that's worth sitting quietly and minding our own business and working with our hands and enjoying the day that the Lord has made.

Maybe it's even something worth writing about.

To daily life - in all its boredom and wonderment!