Re-naming The Bucket List

It’s a rather chilly day in Georgia today. I am NOT a fan of cold weather, but I think (and hope!) we’ll be seeing the last of temperatures in the 30’s tonight…until next winter. Still, it’s gorgeous, the sky is brilliant blue and the cheery afternoon sun is making our home office bright, warm and cozy. I couldn’t resist coming in here to write a little something!

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. Happily, there is no shortage of books written by people who found a bigger, more meaningful, more purposeful life after simplifying. One such book is called “You Can Buy Happiness (and it’s cheap). How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and You Can Too” by Tammy Strobel. (She writes on a great blog called Rowdy Kittens.)

At the end of each chapter, she includes what she calls “micro-actions” that you can take to simplify and be more intentional. In a way, they are each challenges to focus on those things in life that truly embody happiness (hint: it’s not possessions!).

I highlighted a couple micro-actions that really interested me and one was to create a bucket list. Let me begin by saying I kind of (really) hate the term “bucket list.” To me, it suggests a list of outlandish things that you’d probably never do, but once you were “getting older” or found out you only had X months to live, maybe you’d think about trying to make them happen because, darn it, you’re almost out of time.

But Tammy Strobel points out that making a list of things you want to do before you die is a great way to clarify your priorities in life. I’d honestly never thought of it that way but it makes sense. If I were to sit down and think about things that I REALLY want to do in life, what would that list look like? AND WHY WOULD I CALL IT A BUCKET LIST? I don’t want to wait until I am staring death in the face (or even until I hit an age that might be considered “old,” whatever that means now) to pursue things I want to do before I die! I’d rather call it a LIVING LIST and start thinking about it now.

So I did.  Here is a sampling of items on my living list (though I’m sure I haven’t completed it yet):

  1. Learn photography
  2. Write a book, get it published
  3. Travel to beautiful places
  4. Sell at least one painting to a stranger
  5. Ride a horse on a beach
  6. Go on a hot air balloon ride
  7. Try Living in a tiny house
  8. Live in a completely different part of the country

Once you make such a list, Tammy suggests asking yourself some questions:  How expensive is it? How can you change your life to achieve these things? How many of them involve buying more stuff? What kind of emotional experience does that stuff embody? Is there a way to get that same emotional reward without buying another object?

I don’t have answers to all of these questions, but pretty much everything on my list is an experience. Not only that, they are experiences that I want to either share with others or that I hope will help/impact others. I have a good start in some areas; I’m signed up for a photography class in May and I’ve been writing my brains out for awhile now. And I suppose not everything on my list has to be expensive, but travel certainly can be!  I have no idea what it costs to go on a hot air balloon ride. 🙂

One thing my little list DOES tell me is that when I sat down to think about it, the things I

things i want are not things
Photo Credit: Flower Fields, Carlsbad CA by Sunil Jagadish

want out of this life are not things. Sometimes I wonder what my list would have looked like a couple of years ago. Maybe it would have more “things” on it. Or maybe it wouldn’t; maybe the list would be the same and the answers to the questions above would just make it even more obvious that my time and efforts hadn’t been focused in the right place.

I’m not sure what additional changes to make to pursue some of the items on the list. I know there are many, many options but I also don’t need to have an answer right now. Sometimes, it’s just fine to sit with a question in your heart until the way becomes clear. Further, I’m focused on submitting to God’s will for my life. I believe that He puts desires in our hearts. I want to grow closer to Him so I might recognize the desires He placed in me vs. desires I may need to let go of.

He will lead us to the next steps if we will let Him. As I’ve taken steps, some huge, some small, I’ve come to realize that I feel more alive and closer to Him when I am taking the RIGHT steps.

Maybe a good first step is to think about your one life and make a list of the things in your heart. If you’re far from those things, ask God to show you how to inch closer. Better yet, ask Him to show you if they are His will for you in the first place. We are all here for a reason and I, for one, want to discover mine!

 

 

Community = Love

There’s nothing quite like finding and joining communities of people. Whether it’s a sports team, a book club, a small group from church, or an online community of like-minded individuals, they foster a sense of belonging and encourage us to think outside of ourselves.

When you’re part of a community, you have the privilege of learning from people withcommunity love whom you share commonalities, but who may be very different from you. I love this because it challenges me to consider views and opinions that perhaps I’ve never thought of before. It is an invitation to connect with people who might be outside of your typical sphere.

For years, Husband and I did not really know anyone in our neighborhood. But we’ve met several couples that hang out pretty regularly and with whom we have quite a bit in common. At the same time, we are the only couple in the group without kids. But I love watching their sweet families grow and change, and learning from these fantastic mothers that I have met. I know that I can’t relate to the struggles of parenting, but it sure is nice to know there are a few doors I can knock on (and have knocked on!) when I lock myself out of the house.  Not to mention I will have no shortage of places to run for advice should I take the plunge into motherhood myself.

We have an amazing community group from church that we meet with and learn from regularly. While we share our faith, we differ broadly in occupations, gifts and life stages. We help each other move and throw each other baby showers. We have girls nights and we encourage each other through tough times.  Each one of these women and men are special and I am grateful.

The farther I get from my old self and the pursuit of “stuff”, the more clearly I see that these types of communities and my “communities” of other friends and family are to be cherished. It’s not that I didn’t know that before. It’s just that now I have more space for it, and I also have a clearer, less cluttered mind to fully appreciate it.

Just recently, I’ve discovered how large the community of folks searching for a simpler life is. It is a wonderful group of writers, experimenters and encouragers. People who come up with new ideas, new challenges, new ways to simplify and share the revelations they’ve had in their own lives.  While I’ve only just begun to “join” this community, I highly value these strangers. Their blogs, articles and books have inspired me in my own journey.

Several months ago, when I first had the idea to start this blog, I stumbled across a site called No Sidebar, which is a collection of articles meant to help people “Design a Simple

screen-time
Photo Credit: NoSidebar.com

Life”.  I noticed a link at the top of the page that said “Write for us.” I clicked it, read about being a contributor and bookmarked the page. “I’m gonna beef up my blog and someday, I am going to submit something to this site,” I thought to myself. Today, an article that I submitted to No Sidebar was published. (The photo on the right is what they created to go with my article!) In just a few weeks time, I realized that writing is what I want to do in life and a stranger liked something I wrote enough to publish it on his website. It’s humbling and incredible and amazing. Perhaps, just as I’ve suspected, writing for a living could be what God is calling me to do.

Ultimately, I believe each one of the communities I belong to is helping me become the person I’m meant to be. I am so thankful for each of them. My dream is that someday, God will use my words to inspire and encourage people in a big way. As I continue to let go and let Him flow through me, who knows what the coming weeks, months and years will hold. Through it all, my eyes are on Him.

Project 333

One of my goals in learning simplicity is to continue to look for ways to challenge myself. Being intentional about change is a good thing; it helps us to deal with the many changes we cannot control that will occur in our lives.

Giving away so many of our possessions (and continuing to pare down here & there) has been a wonderful first step for me personally.  Sometimes that change was easy and delightful; other times it was harder.  It seems to me that it only gets more challenging the more you do it.  And I say: bring it on!

That’s why I am trying Project 333-the minimalist clothing challenge created by Courtney Carver over at Be More With Less.

Honestly, when I first read about it, I didn’t even consider doing it.  But one of the glorious things about simplifying and getting out of your comfort zone is that you become more willing to try something new; to expand your horizons and experiment.

So what is Project 333?  Courtney originally designed it this way:

  • Select 33 items to wear for the next 3 months
  • Includes: clothes, shoes, jewelry and accessories
  • Does not include: pajamas/lounge wear, workout clothes, undergarments/socks (but don’t wear pajamas/lounge wear or workout clothes as daily outfits!)
  • Box everything else up and/or put it out of sight

While these are the basic “rules” of the challenge, Courtney reminds everyone willing to take the plunge that this is “not a project in suffering.”  That means that you can tweak some of the rules if you need to, and that you should be picking clothes that you can “comfortably live, work and play in for the next 3 months.”

This had a couple of implications for me:

  1. I am not including jewelry in my 33 items.  I am pleased with the simplified state of my jewelry and selecting what to wear each day does not take up time as I’m getting ready for the day.
  2. Since we are still having chilly mornings/evenings here in GA, my tentative wardrobe picks include a couple of light jackets, long jeans and a pair of close-toed heels.  Once we’re fully in summer I will never wear a jacket or close-toed shoes and it’s highly unlikely that I’ll wear jeans.  When that happens, I will allow myself to swap some of my items for more weather-appropriate ones.

It’s intriguing to me just how much a “capsule wardrobe” and dressing with less has impacted those who’ve tried it.  People rave about it and all the benefits associated with it. I think I’ve had a glimpse of why after giving away so many clothes: most of us need far less than we actually have!  Here are some of the benefits others have shared:

  • Less time getting ready in the morning (no time spent trying on multiple outfits before deciding what to wear; something I still desperately need!)
  • Less money spent on clothing
  • More comfort/confidence in appearance
  • Less desire to buy more clothing
  • More compliments from others

I love the sound of all of that!  And honestly, now that I’ve decided to do it, I am wondering why it sounded so scary to begin with.  I’ve compared getting dressed at home to getting dressed on vacation many times: it’s infinitely easier when you’re on a trip!  You bring an outfit for each day or a few mix & match options, and getting dressed is easy.  It’s only when you become overwhelmed with choice that it becomes a time-consuming and often frustrating challenge.

I’ve picked my wardrobe for the next 3 months, and I “officially” began the challenge onProject 333 Friday, April 1.

The space on my side of closet with just my 33 items (clothing + shoes) is fantastic!! Here’s what I have to wear for the months of April, May and June:

  • 2 pairs of jeans
  • 3 pairs of shorts
  • 1 skirt
  • 4 dresses
  • 2 light jackets
  • 2 cardigans
  • 15 tops
  • 4 pairs of shoes

Stay tuned for more observations and thoughts….so far, it’s been fairly easy.  I broke the rules once already for a warmer pair of shoes.  But it was worth it. 🙂

 

 

The Power of Noticing Things

People are busy these days.  Busy and distracted.  If you pause and look around at any given point in your day, I bet you’ll see a lot of people staring down at their phones, oblivious to the life that’s parading right in front of them.

Sometimes, I am that person.  But I don’t want to be that person. Because life is too short to miss out on the beauty and wonder that’s around us every day.  There is nothing quite like taking a breath, looking up, looking around and simply noticing things.  No matter where you are, there are beautiful things to notice.  The powerful act of noticing can lead to a thankful heart, which can lead to love, surprise, joy, selflessness and ultimately, contentment. Remember that we can’t appreciate or be thankful for something that we are too distracted to see!

Challenge yourself to slow down in small ways.  Eat meals with your loved ones without

the power of noticing
Photo taken: Gibbs Gardens; Ball Ground, GA

any distractions from phones, computers or the TV.  Go outside for a walk, long or short, each day. Take 10 seconds to write a little note for someone you love.  Notice other people in your path and smile.

Perhaps there is a place or space that particularly speaks to your soul.  Go there sometimes. I have a particular affinity for the ocean and fields of flowers. Alas, I cannot be by the ocean or in a field of flowers at all times.  But that doesn’t mean I’m not surrounded by beauty; that I can’t seek it and find it.

If I slow down and look for it, I always find it.  It incites a childlike whimsy in me that I quite love.  If am intent on noticing things, looking for beauty, I find it in a perfect spring breeze blowing through my hair as I take my dog for a walk in the morning.  I see it in the little buds that have suddenly popped into bright pink spring flowers outside my dining room window.  I see it in the faces of my loved ones, in kindness from strangers, in kitty purrs.

What types of things are you most likely to notice?  What speaks to your soul?  The stars, the way a bridge is constructed, the changing of the leaves in the fall or smiles from a stranger on the street? I bet if you take even a few minutes each day to look up from whatever is distracting you, you can find a little piece of refreshment for your soul. Better yet, perhaps you will pause long enough to notice that you could offer a bit of refreshment to someone else’s soul.

Want to simplify your life?  Look up from your phone, look away from yourself and start looking for the beauty all around you-I promise you will find it.

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!