The Life-Changing Magic of Simplicity

One of the things that both fascinated and excited me after reading Marie Kondo’s Books was her assertion that once you “tidied up your life for good” you’d uncover or discover long-lost passions or your life’s purpose.  In short: your life would change, beyond just having less stuff.

And after reading countless tales of Kondo’s clients who found themselves with different lives post-tidying, I stood with heart and arms open to whatever God would bring my way in the process.

Now that I’ve completed all tidying categories (plus re-visiting several and letting go of things continuously), life is indeed different; different in some of the most unexpected ways.  Now that I’ve had time to absorb the process, it’s becoming very clear to me what exactly has changed and why it does indeed feel so magical. Here are my biggest 3:

Writing.  Perhaps the most profound revelation I’ve had since tidying and simplifying is the desire to write again.  I’ve written on and off in various forms for as long as I can remember.  But I’ve realized as I’ve documented my tidying journey that writing is truly “what I want to do.”  Like….in life.  And honestly, that alone is a big enough revelation for me, especially since the entire past year has been about pursuing God and His purpose for my life.

And as I’ve begun to reflect on this, it’s quite remarkable.  I think about imagery often

life hidden under clutter
Photo Taken: Gibbs Gardens; Ball Ground, GA

used by minimalists and those seeking simplification: that your real, big, purposeful, meaningful life is hidden under years of clutter-whether physical or mental or otherwise. This impacts me so because as I look back on my life, the desire to write has ALWAYS been there.  I just meandered away from it, slowly, over time.  I came back to it a few times, but I never realized that perhaps this is what I’m meant to do until now.

I used to journal and write poems as a kid, tween and angsty teen.  I was on the newspaper staff in high school.  When I first declared my major in college, it was journalism/communications.  As a young adult, writing has always been a major outlet for me.  I’ve always had a vague desire to write a book.

Let me be clear that I regret NOTHING about the decisions I made in life… including changing majors to business/marketing, getting an MBA, and all the jobs and skills I’ve learned since graduating.  I am so thankful and grateful for the way this life has unfolded and I can see that the experiences God led me to are proving invaluable to me now.

And today…life is different; it is changed.  I started this blog and write on it frequently.  It keeps me accountable and grounded and challenged.  I have started writing a book.  I recently submitted an article to one of my favorite websites about simplifying life, and it was approved to be published.  The feeling of pursuing and doing what you love is completely magical. In a way, none of this *should* be a surprise.  And yet, to my soul, it is.  It’s a lovely, beautiful, God-given surprise and I am so humbled and grateful for it.

Photography.  Another life-changing bit of magic that has become very clear and taken me off-guard is a desire to learn photography.  After writing about letting go of sentimental items, I was thinking about my love for pictures; how being transported back to an event or place through pictures has always been one of my deepest joys in life.  And while I love capturing moments with friends and loved ones, I have always had a special affinity for the beauty of God’s creation. Among my favorite things to photograph are the ocean, beach, sky, trees and flowers.  As I’ve worked on this blog and chosen background images for quote graphics, I’ve been selecting from nature shots I have been taking for years.  Countless sunsets (and a few sunrises!), ocean and water shots, close ups of the beach, of flowers, of the sky through the trees and mountains and cliffs and pathways have been captured over the years.

Just like writing, I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that I want to take a photography class, but the fact remains that I could not see it until now.  I am pleased to report that I (along with a friend!) have signed up to take an intro to photography class in May and I can’t wait!

Art. I started taking adult art classes well before my tidying journey began.  However, it has also emerged as a possible area of focus for the future.  My favorite thing to paint is (you guessed it) nature.  I love painting photos that I took while on vacation or visiting somewhere new and beautiful.  That makes the idea of learning photography even more exciting!  I’m not sure where art will take me, though I’ve had the notion to open an Etsy shop someday, possibly even as a joint venture with my fabulously talented and artistic mother.  In any case, it’s another wonderful and intriguing idea that God has planted in my mind now that I’m making an effort to live simply enough to hear it.

I think all of these things feel so magical because I am realizing that they’ve always been a part of me.  They are utterly life-changing because I now have the time, space and energy to pursue them.  There is no part of me that feels sad that I haven’t focused on them until now; I know that God’s timing is perfect and I wouldn’t trade His path for me for anything.

I’m excited to continue challenging myself, letting go, simplifying possessions, habits, thoughts and anything else that God shows me.  Ultimately, He will get the glory for anything that I accomplish, and I know that He will use me in whatever ways He sees fit to better His Kingdom.  My prayer is that I remain open and willing.  Cheers to simplicity!

Be Intentional & Live More

One of the things I have constantly struggled to do is to be present in the moment and live each day calmly and intentionally. I have a tendency to over-book, always say yes, figure things out, and control things. Unchecked, these tendencies result in stress, anxiety and worry. While some thought must be directed beyond the here and now, excessive planning and fretting over the future robs us of enjoying the present.

When our to-do lists are too long to appreciate beauty in the present moment, we are missing out on some of the greatest things life has to offer. It’s hard to focus on a conversation with a loved one when your mind is racing to the next thing on your list (and the next thing after that).  You’ll never see that bright red robin with a fat belly skip across the front porch in the morning if your nose is buried in e-mails while you inhale your breakfast so you can rush out the door.

Between our busy, busy lives and countless forms of “entertainment” at our fingertips, we’ve become a rather distracted society. And as I seek simplicity in life, I’m finding that minimizing distractions is perhaps the most efficient road to a more intentional life.

Many, many things cause us to be distracted. Over-stuffed schedules and to-do lists, minimize distractionsclutter and closets and drawers stuffed to capacity, pings and clings coming from our computers, phones and tablets, advertisements screaming at us from the radio, TV, internet and now, even screens in elevators on our way to the doctor’s office.

I’m not sure it matters exactly where you begin to reduce distractions in your life, as long as you start somewhere.  Start looking at your life through a different lense.  What are the things that you value the most?  Would someone looking in on your life from the outside be able to see those things clearly?  Are you spending the majority of your time on those things? If not, what needs to change? If yes, are you still feeling overwhelmed or stressed? What distractions can you eliminate?

I believe that God has a plan for my life (and yours!).  I also believe that we have free will. That means that God is not going to shove His plan or Himself down our throats.  We have to make a choice.  Sometimes, we have to take a step toward His outstretched hand. Sometimes it feels terrifying to take that step, even if it’s small.  Sometimes, taking the first step isn’t that tough but somewhere after that, we start to question and doubt and panic.

In the past year or so, I’ve probably given away close to 50% of our stuff.  Most of it was shoved in storage bins, forgotten, unopened and un-enjoyed for years. Other things we gave away or sold were more difficult to let go of.  I made the difficult decision to leave my job last June.  We cancelled our subscription to cable TV.  I’m staying off of social media sites for the first half of each day.  I have less material things to keep up with, clean and organize.  I have less on my to-do list.  I spend less time watching TV and less time on the internet.  I’ve re-discovered my passion for writing and creativity.  I’m spending more time with the Lord and my family, friends and pets.

This is my journey thus-far and the power of LESS in my life is making room for MORE of what really matters to me.  Your journey begins wherever makes the most sense for you, or wherever you feel God leading you.  But you must find time to slow down and listen and look.  Listen to God, to what He’s placed in your heart.  Look for the blessings and beauty that surround you in the present moment.

Because I eliminated the distraction of social media and mindless internet browsing from my morning routine, I had time to play fetch with my dog yesterday morning before my training session at the gym. Because I decided to eat each meal without distraction, I saw a beautiful, fat, red robin skip across my porch this morning. Because I decided to give things away, I found a desire to own less instead of get more.  Because I took a year off to seek the Lord’s will for my life, I’m writing every day.

Being intentional about life and how you spend your time matters.  It might even matter in ways you’d never imagined!

Digital Challenge: Limiting Social Media

Up until now, the biggest focus of my journey to simplify life has been paring down our possessions.  I believe we still have some work to be done there and it will require a constant vigilance about what possessions we allow into our home moving forward.  In other words, that journey may never be fully “complete” but that’s OK.

Life itself is a journey, and we may never come to a place where we’ve “arrived” fully. There was a time when I would have been reluctant to accept that, but I’m learning that regular growth and change are good for us.  Challenging ourselves to new things keeps life exciting!  Even if it’s scary or takes a lot of effort sometimes.

One of the things I struggle with is feeling overwhelmed with plans and obligations and places to be and things I want to do.  There never seems to be enough TIME.

Last summer, I made the difficult decision to leave my job and take a year off to let God lead me wherever He chooses.  Yet somehow, I still find myself feeling overwhelmed with everything that I need or want to do.

For whatever reason, one of my biggest struggles is getting myself together in the morning.  In my ideal world, I’d be up and at ’em at 7am, bed made, exercise clothes on by 7:15, breakfast and quiet time and caring for my menagerie of animals finished no later than 8am.  I’d spring out the door, work out, and be ready to charge into the rest of my day well before lunch time.  It never works this way.

spend time on what is important
Photo taken in San Diego, CA

So, I’ve been more carefully examining my morning habits.  I cherish the quiet times I spend before launching into any of the day’s activities, and that is always a priority for me. I do not and will not put a time limit on that. Sometimes a cat throws up, or my dog forgets how to pee in the yard and just stands there looking at me.  Those things will happen from time to time.  But I’ve determined that the biggest time-sucking culprit in my morning routine is social media.

 

You guys, sometimes I don’t even THINK before reaching for my phone and popping Facebook open to mindlessly scroll.  That can mean I lay in bed for who knows how long instead of getting up because it is an evil time-suck.

During or after my quiet times, I can usually be found, iPad in hand, with distractions begging for my attention.  A Pinterest notification, or an interesting sounding article I saw earlier on Facebook and now want to read.

And of course, even though I know better, I am guilty of clicking on idiotic articles with extreme titles like: “The ONE thing you should NEVER eat!!!” or “Guy visits [insert political candidate here] Rally and is Stunned When He Sees THIS!!”  You know what I mean.  Sometimes, your curiosity gets the better of you.  Other times, you know you’re entering into a war zone of horrible comments from internet trolls but you scroll through them anyways.

While there are many edifying and worthwhile websites that Facebook or Twitter might link me to (Becoming Minimalist, No Sidebar and Be More With Less to name a few), most of what clamors for my attention on Social Media is just not worth the time it takes up.

In fact, I believe that we have allowed smart phones and social media to distract us to the point that we live half our lives with screens rather than other human beings.  Our attention spans are suffering.

Let’s be honest with ourselves about our habits.  How much time are you spending each day on things that aren’t even important to you?  What are the top 5 (or 20!) most important things to you?  In life?  Each day?  I’m willing to bet if you wrote such a list, scrolling through social media wouldn’t be on it.

It’s not on mine, either.  So, I am proposing a challenge.  To myself and anyone else who wants to reclaim time lost chasing the unimportant.  Here’s what I’m planning to do for the next 30 days:

  1. Disable social media notifications on my phone and ipad.
  2. No time spent on social media sites until after 12pm.

You may want to tweak or change these goals so they make sense for you personally.  But I want my mornings back, free from social media.  If I want to read an article from Becoming Minimalist, I can visit the website and read it intentionally.  Not just because I stumbled across it while mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed.

Cheers to simplifying the morning routine!

 

 

My Stuff Does Not Define Me.

So, back when we were house shopping and first saw our house, the previous owners had moved out but left their elliptical machine behind.  At the time, it was my favorite cardio machine and I thought it would be amazing to have one at home.  We literally ALMOST did not get this house because we really wanted it and the sellers were refusing to include it (even though they had moved out and not taken it with them).

A couple weeks ago, Husband and I decided to get rid of it.  I hadn’t used it in forever because we belong to a gym that we love.  There is no denying that it didn’t spark joy because it wasn’t fun to use and was huge and ugly. And SO heavy.  Our home office is so much more cheerful now that it’s gone!  And I have more room to do the home workout videos that I actually enjoy.

Isn’t it funny how our wants and desires change over time?  Our tastes change or what’s “in” changes and we try to keep up with it all.  Only problem is, most of the time, in order to keep up, we want MORE, NEWER, BETTER stuff to replace what’s “out”.

I’m not saying there’s never a reason to get rid of something that doesn’t bring joy and replace it with something that does.  But if you’re on a journey to let go of things, I suspect you’ll find many things you don’t need to replace. Even if you hang onto things you don’t love, you may discover that months later, you still haven’t used them. Perhaps it’s time to let them go. This is probably the first time in my life that I’ve been more interested in getting rid of things than acquiring them and it feels fantastic. It’s thrilling (and freeing) to let things go and NOT replace them.  And oh, the gratitude you’ll feel for what’s left!

It can also be a little scary; I won’t deny that.  While I’ve loved going through this process and do not regret anything I let go of, I am still a human struggling with fleshly and worldly desires. There have been several times that I’ve felt a little panic welling up in me. Did I over-do

my stuff does not define me
Photo taken in Highlands, NC

it? Did I get rid of too much?  In those fleeting moments, I have a strange sensation like I’ve lost some part of myself.

I think it’s because we oftentimes view ourselves and our worth or value through the things we own.  In those times, I have to remind myself that I AM NOT DEFINED BY WHAT I OWN.  My things are not who I am inside.  They may reflect things about me, but they do not have any bearing on my soul or who God has made me to be.

And the reality is, I have not gotten rid of too much of anything.  In fact, I’ve already begun to revisit some of the first categories of stuff that I tidied.  Why?  Because I’m starting to notice that there are items I chose to keep in the early going that I haven’t touched since.  Clothes in particular are on my mind; it was so scary to go down to what seemed like such a “small” wardrobe, but there are items that I haven’t considered wearing once since then.

Yesterday, another full carload of items went to Goodwill.  There was a box full of home decor and books to donate that I somehow missed before.  I donated a little glass top table with two chairs that used to live in our guest room, plus a small wicker side table that has long since been cleared off with nothing left to put on it. I donated another bag full of shoes and clothes, and one with towels and pillows.  Most were things that stayed because I hadn’t perfected my ability to detect my own joy; still other things stayed because I am so used to seeing them that I didn’t even think to do a joy check.

But learning to live a simple life doesn’t end after purging possessions.  My guess is that I will continue to find things here and there to donate or sell.  There will of course be things that get worn out and need to be replaced.  Simplification is a process no matter what you are simplifying.  And I need it elsewhere, too…in my mind, in my schedule, and on my laptop.  Who knows what direction I’ll go in next!

Until next time,

S

 

Letting Go of Sentimental Items

You guys.  This is it.  The very LAST category in Marie Kondo’s “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”  It’s probably pretty obvious why this is the last category one should sort through; it’s the hardest.  While going through every other category of item in your home you learn to hone your joy-choosing skills, making it easier once you get here.

I’ve been excited to do this for awhile now. It’s been interesting that the deeper I got into this process, the more eager I was to get to the next category. It’s almost like the “un-tidied” things were just SCREAMING at me to pare them down, too. For me, sentimental items were no different.  I found myself thinking about items in this category frequently, knowing decision time was coming.  I can see now that I needed the time it took to get to this point to feel peace about letting go of some of it.

Ok, so down to business. I started sorting through sentimental items by making a pile. For me, this category consisted almost entirely of picture albums, pictures, letters and cards. And old yearbooks.  Plus a few other random items.

Going in, I had some goals.  At the end of this session I wanted one very pretty box in which to keep letters and cards and notes and such, and one large photo album to condense my lifetime of photos (in addition to our separate wedding/honeymoon albums).

I started with pictures. So many pictures. Looking back on a fun adventure or party or

sentimental sorting
Sorting pictures

occasion with friends & family via pictures is one of my greatest joys. A fantastic tip KonMari shares is that in each group of photos from an event, you can probably choose just a few that will accurately reflect and sum up the joy of that event/memory. Challenge accepted.  Still skeptical, I began to sort.

Turns out she’s right. I only needed a handful from each event to spark a memory and the accompanying joy.  Also, it’s amazing what you see when you really start looking through your possessions with a critical eye.  I saw so many blurry, bad pictures! I know that I treasured every one of them at the time I took them, but I was actually surprised to find how MANY pictures I had that just…didn’t spark joy in me anymore.

As I chose pictures that sparked joy, I began to sort them according to life phase. Childhood-High School, College, Post-College.  I counted how many photos I had in each pile and put them in chronological order for my new photo album. In the end, I chose to keep and treasure 285 pictures that represent my life from birth through engagement for the new album. And of course, I kept our wedding guest book, and wedding/honeymoon albums.  (I also have CDs with all of our professional engagement/wedding photos and a ton of pictures stored on my computer.)

After pictures…yearbooks. I have been contemplating what to do about all my big bulky yearbooks almost since I started going through my stuff. Here’s what I decided today: these do not spark joy in me anymore. But I didn’t necessarily want to lose my school pictures forever.  So I decided to take pictures of each yearbook and my (and my brothers!) photo in each one and store them on my computer.  I e-mailed my high school and my college asking if they’d like them for the library.  If they say no, I will be recycling them at a local facility that accepts public drop-offs.

Next, I dug into cards and letters.  I will admit that I did sneak a peek at some of these while sorting through office supplies, but this time I went through everything thoroughly. I kept most of it and got a special box that sparked joy to keep them all in.

sentimental cards and notes
A teal box with golden pineapples on it?!  Be still my heart!

Finally, I had two home-made VHS tapes.  One had my junior prom and a trip to Hilton Head on it, and the other is a video my friends made for me after I left for college.  I wanted to keep them both, but have no way to watch them.  So, I started looking into how to convert them to a DVD.  Turns out, a lot of places do this!!  But the prices are different at different places.  I settled on taking them to Costco ($19.99 there vs $24.96 at Walmart and $34.99 at Walgreens).  You can fill out a form online, then just take your tapes and the form and drop them off at the photo counter*.  Easy as pie! (Except for the whole “going to and finding a parking space at Costco” part.  That’s always a pain in my ass.)

The only other items in this category for me were my childhood blanket, favorite stuffed animal and wedding dress. I decided to keep those during past categories, and did not feel a need to make a different decision about them now!

I went from a huge pile of old, falling apart photo albums and stuff shoved in an ugly shoe box to a beautiful collection of things that truly spark joy.

So that was it!  I completed this project in several little sessions over 2 days.  And may I just say…this was hands down my favorite of all of them. The thankfulness and joy and gratitude and even sometimes love I’ve felt for all the “things” I’ve touched and made decisions about up until this point…pales in comparison.

To be able to sit on the floor and touch, relive and re-enjoy my lifetime of precious memories was such a profound experience. No matter what is in front of me, there’s so much in these albums and this pretty box to be thankful for.  The past may live in the past, but those memories we choose to cherish will live forever.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I’ve always been a picture taker. When I was looking for a quote to put on the front of my new photo album, I came across one that said, “We take photos as a return ticket to a moment otherwise gone.”  How true this is for me, and probably for anyone who loves pictures.

And when you sort through your “return tickets” (be they pictures, cards or letters) you will undoubtedly find moments that you don’t feel a need to return to. Those are the moments I remembered with a grateful heart, and let go.  It was freeing and lovely all at once.

Finally, should you be embarking upon a similar journey, I highly recommend listening to Adele’s “When We Were Young” on repeat for the entirety of this session. It makes for EXTRA mushy sentimentality. I almost couldn’t stand it. OK, fine…it was borderline torture.  Don’t do it. 🙂

Until next time,

S

*If you’re in the Atlanta area, note that the only Costco that still converts VHS tapes is the Brookhaven location.

A Note About Sentimental Items..

 

Lest you think me heartless and mean, I must impart some KonMari wisdom before I post about my Sentimental Item tidying sessions.  First, remember (and respect!) that different people have different levels of sentimentality about different things.  Something that you’d keep forever may not be something I keep forever and vice versa.

Equally important is to remember that just because you (or I) decide to part with something doesn’t mean that it didn’t or doesn’t mean a great deal to us.  During this

let go
Photo: Landrum, SC

journey, I’ve realized that I held onto some things for YEARS without a thought-simply because no one had ever given me “permission” to let them go.  I know that sounds strange, but reading about minimalism and simplification and tidying for joy has helped me realize that even everything I discarded gave me joy at some point or another.

Some of these sentimental items were among my most treasured possessions at one time. Now, things are different.  I’m different.  Many things that meant so much at the time just don’t feel the same.  And it is perfectly fine to be thankful for the joy and meaning it brought to your life, but be honest that it no longer has the same effect today. It brought you joy for a moment or many moments in the past-that is enough.

It’s OK to let things go. I personally believe it can be incredibly healthy and refreshing to do so.  And of course, we all have the freedom to decide for ourselves which sentimental items still spark joy in our hearts and keep them proudly.

Once again, this process will look different for different people.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way….stay tuned for the real deal!

S

 

Woof, Wag, Meow, Purrrrrr

It’s time to tidy PET SUPPLIES!  This is not a category in Marie Kondo’s “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” but as any pet owner will tell you, it accumulates just like human stuff does!

pets
Don’t throw away our stuff, Mom. Or feed us.  Whatever.

I’m including everything that we use to care for our pets in this category, and yes, there is some overlap to other categories.  Because of that, I’ve already thought through and discarded some items.  Everyone was a little concerned that I was about to go through their stuff.   Here’s what’s on the list:

  • Pet Beds and Blankets
  • Toys
  • Scratching Posts
  • Pet Stain Cleaners
  • Grooming Supplies
  • Litter Box/Related Supplies
  • Clothing
  • Harnesses/Leashes
  • Food/Treats
  • Pet Carriers/Travel Items
  • Miscellaneous Items (For us, this includes an Exercise Pen and a set of Doggy Stairs)

That’s a lot of stuff.  But like I said, some items overlapped with other categories and I already assessed those.  Examples: Food/Treats (threw away old stuff on pantry day), Pet Stain Cleaners, and Litter Box Stuff (live in the Laundry room and are all being kept/used).

As for everything else, there was a good size pile of items to get rid of.  There were also several sub-categories where I kept everything (like scratching posts since we only have two).  I am going to try and take this stuff to a local animal shelter instead of Goodwill. Thankfully, everyone now seems happy with my decisions.  Gosh, I love these little ladies!

While this post is dedicated to pet supplies, I wanted to briefly discuss two additional miscellaneous categories on my list that aren’t getting their own blogs.

One of them is listed in Marie Kondo’s books and she calls it “Things I kept just because”. It would include items like key chains or figurines.  You’ll come across these things as you begin to go through your stuff, and most likely they’ll either get kept or discarded as you find them.  When I came across stuff like this whilst tidying, I usually made a decision about it right then and there rather than putting it aside as part of this random category.  I only kept three figurines that I found while tidying. Ironically, one is a dog, one is a cat and the other one was chewed up by our cats. “Pet Supplies” indeed.

Lastly, I added a category of Musical Instruments and Accessories since Husband has a lot of that stuff.  He is considering selling some things and will go through those items at his own pace, so I will not be blogging about them here.  But at least they are all currently stored in the same place!  And organized!  🙂

And that brings me to the topic for next time: Sentimental Items.  The final category.

Until then,

S