2016 Theme and Goals

I love the start of a new year!  I’ve written about my love of fresh starts many times on this blog.  I look for lots of reasons for a personal “new year” (birthdays, new seasons, the start of school, etc.), but I especially love the traditional new year because I’m setting goals and dreaming about the future along with many other people.  I enjoy blog posts and YouTube videos about resolutions and goal-setting.  Last year, I posted a detailed list for myself, and I also did a mid-year update.  Writing about my annual expectations here helped keep me accountable, and I’m eager to get started again.

This year, I decided to choose a theme.  My theme for 2016 is SIMPLIFY.  This is a continuation of last year’s goal to “get organized” and my later posts concerning simple living.  I will apply this theme to a few specific area of life.

  1.  In the practice of my faith, I wish to embrace the simplicity of the gospel and avoid the perfectionism that often keeps me from digging deeper.  I want to begin each day with time in prayer and reading, but too often, I decide not to do it because I don’t have enough time to do it “right.”  What a ridiculous excuse!  No more of that. A couple of minutes in focused prayer is certainly better than none, and every minute has as much potential for blessing as an extended period would have.  God shows up everyday, so I should, too!
  2. I’ve been simplifying my belongings since the summer, but we have a terribly long way to go!  Instead of getting discouraged, I’m creating a monthly plan to address the different areas of my home.  I’ll save that for a different post, but I will say that January is devoted to Clothing & Laundry!  I am working on building capsule wardrobes for my kids (I’ve been using one myself since the fall), and I want to finally find a laundry routine that works for me.
  3. I’m simplifying my exercise expectations.  I always make tons of plans that never pan out.  I need to recognize that I am in a season of life where my time isn’t really my own.  My children are small, and they won’t always be!  So instead of bemoaning the gym membership that I do not have or the 5Ks I have not run, I am going to take joy in daily walks with my dog.  When I do walk faithfully, I can quickly tell that it is good for my body and my spirit.  It is also very good for my dog!  Please remind of of this when it’s below freezing!
  4. Finally, I want to establish morning and evening routines that help us to transition into and out of our days.  This isn’t a new concept.  I was quite the devoted “FlyBaby” (www.flylady.net) at one time, but we’ve fallen out of our routines.  I know that my whole family benefits from this loose but meaningful structure.  When I’ve been disciplined in my routines, everything feels simple, and I desperately need that feeling.

Beyond my themed goals, I have one other resolution.  In 2016, I will grow in my “culinary self.”  I’ve been in a cooking rut lately, so this year, I resolve to experiment with food.  I want to try more meatless meals and rely less heavily on grains to simply fill up.  Due to some medical needs for one of our children, we’ve already made great strides to limit grains and sugars, but instead of seeing this as a limitation, I want to use the opportunity to explore alternative ingredients, new flavors and textures, and even cuisines from different cultures.  It’s exciting!

Well, that’s it, gang!  Wishing you and yours a wonderful 2016.

~*~Erica G.~*~

Getting to Back to the WHY

We hit a rough patch early in the fall.  We had been working hard on the house–painting, cleaning, organizing, and decluttering.  That’s exciting!  All good things.

But then there was the flat tire, the dented car door, the leaking sink,the dentist appointments, the strange little stomach bug with a slight fever, the lost library books, and those pesky multiplication facts.  Sigh.  Real life.

Suddenly, in the midst of all that LIFE, I kind of crumbled under a whole lot of self-doubt.  Have you ever been there?  You’re working hard to do all the right things–to check off all those boxes–but you always feel behind and inadequate.  That’s where I wallowed for awhile.  Homeschooling, in particular, was feeling like a bunch of “get dones” instead of the joyful privilege that it can be.

I’m not one to linger in a bad mood for long, and I knew I needed to do something to shake the funk.  I reached out to a group of homeschool moms who might understand.  Their responses were incredible.  They were practical, offering actual help for spelling and reading.  They were whimsical and inspirational, reminding me that I’m not alone.  One friend told me to get back to the WHY of our decision to homeschool–to return to all the things I love about educating my children at home.  That advice was a true answer to prayer, and I followed it immediately.

In our homeschool, getting back to the WHY means experiencing the outdoors.  It means learning through all of our sense.  It means learning by doing.  It means reading lots of things from a variety of sources and subjects.  It means learning together as a family.  And it looks a little something like this:

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In Progress…

Oh goodness.  I’m being pulled in many directions these days, and I’m sure that many of my readers can relate.

I’m working hard at my simplifying project, and I keep having to remind myself that it gets worse before it gets better.  Am I the only one who finds this to be so?  Our new bedroom is basically finished, but there are still odds and ends to be done.  We’re decluttering like mad, but that means there are piles of things in every corner.

My doula business has been launched, and I’m pleased to have a client waiting for her precious new baby.  I’m making sure that my childcare plans are settled and my bag is ready.

We joined a homeschool co-op this fall, and we’re still finding our way in that new routine.  Additionally, we’ve found ourselves making new friends in a different community of home learners that fell into our laps rather unexpectedly.  It’s exciting to connect with families that share similar values.

I wish this post could be a bit more colorful, but in the process of digging through our belongings, I seem to have misplaced my camera charger.  I’m hoping it shows up soon because I love all the sights of autumn!

Simple Living// Three: Fall Matters

Spring cleaning is great, but fall decluttering is truly valuable.  Fall matters, and here’s why.

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A long time ago–no idea where or when really–I read something that compared autumn to the “letting go” process that we need to go through in order to grow.  I grabbed on to that idea, and I’ve thought about it often over the years.

The tree naturally drops the leaves that once served it well.  Those leaves sprouted from buds last spring, and since their beginning, they have been a source of nourishment for the whole tree.  They spread their green selves toward the sun and got to work creating chlorophyll to feed the tree.  It’s an amazing system.  But as cold weather approaches, the leaves end their food-making role.  They stop creating chlorophyll, stop nourishing the tree.  The tree drops them to the ground, leaving empty space where each leaf had been.  The braches are bare, ready for the new buds that spring will bring.  If the tree held on to all the old leaves, there would not be room for new leaves–the tree’s only source of food.  There would not be room for growth.

Okay…the analogy isn’t too hard.  I’m sure you are getting the picture.  We have to drop stuff if we want to have room for the things that really matter.  Want to grow in knowledge?  Drop the “noise” that clutters up your mind and wastes your time.  Want to grow in your faith?  Drop the voices that aren’t feeding your soul.  Want to grow in the way you organize or manage your time?  (Imagine me raising my hand enthusiastically and shouting “Me, me!”) DROP THE CLUTTER.

But here is the best part.  Trees do not mourn the loss of their leaves.  They aren’t out there in our backyards thinking, “I can’t lose these leaves.  I worked so hard to create them last spring.  I can’t get rid of that one.  It’s such a beautiful shade of red.  Oh no!  Not that one!  It’s the biggest leaf I’ve ever seen.  No, I’m keeping that one.  I don’t want to waste it!”  That doesn’t happen.  The leaves simply do not serve the tree any longer.  They must go.  Why do we analyze each item and place value on it that is far higher than its practical worth?

I have a closet full of things that served me once-upon-a-time.  They don’t serve me any longer, so I’m passing them to someone who will enjoy them, value them, and be blessed by them.

This is why fall matters to me.  It is an opportunity to drop the old and settle in for a beautiful season, free from the STUFF that holds me back.  I have many wonderful memories of fall, and the emotions of those happy times come flooding back and motivate me to make new autumn memories with my husband and children.  I can’t do those things freely if I’m held back by old thoughts, old regrets, and physical clutter.

What will you drop this fall?

Simple Living // Two: Inspiration

I received a great response from my first Simple Living post.  Thank you, dear readers!  It seems that the desire to simplify is strong among my friends and family.  I feel encouraged by your messages here and on Facebook.

As I said in “My Story”  (linked in case you missed it), my love of simple things and a simple lifestyle has been present my whole life.  I have many inspirations all around me, and I’m pleased to be able to share them with you.  Some of these sources are new to me while others are not new at all!

  1. YouTube Minimalists:  I love YouTube!  For a long time, I thought it was about silly cat videos and wild teenagers, but I was wrong.  Sure, you can look up singing kittens, but you also can learn many new things.  I’ve been learning plenty from some inspiring and interesting content creators such as Melissa Alexandria, Samantha Lindsey, and Coco.  Their videos make me excited and hopeful!  Melissa promotes a positive, can-do attitude.  She discusses a wide range of topics including minimalism, food, and sustainability, and I simply love her channel.  Samantha is a fairly new YouTuber, but I won’t be surprised to see her audience grow and grow!  She is a favorite of mine because we share the Christian faith, and that isn’t a common trait in the minimalist movement.  She speaks in a gentle, pleasant way that makes you feel like you are chatting with a friend.  Coco’s channel is called “Light by Coco,” and I love the whole atmosphere of her beautifully edited videos.  Everything about “Light by Coco” is simple, graceful, and elegant.  YouTube is loaded with videos on living simply, and I enjoy many of them.  One final favorite is Sprout and Blossom by a woman named Mary.  It’s a great channel, and you can also visit the accompanying blog;  www.sproutandblossomwellnes.com.
  2. A Visit to My Sister:  I’m sure that Kristy would not call herself a minimalist, but she has some of the habits and characteristics of one.  When I visited with my sister and her little family this summer, I was struck (again) by the simplicity of how they live and the simplicity of what they enjoy.  We are alike in many ways, and pleasure in the small things of life is something we’ve always shared.  We do have a big difference though.  Kristy is inherently, naturally NEAT.  I am…not.  When we were kids, I envied her perfectly tidy room.  Now, I feel inspired rather than jealous.  I have trouble with paper clutter and little bits and pieces of things being kept for no real reason.  My sister doesn’t seem to struggle with those things, and it shows in her home.  I may be the Big Sister, but I know when I can learn something from my little sister!
  3. My Children:  While my children are definitely a big reason for our clutter, they also play a big part in inspiring me to minimize our belongings.  They don’t need stuff.  They need me–not Mommy cleaning all the time or trying to distract them so that I can take care of messes.  I know that a simple life will allow them to thrive and truly enjoy this magical time called childhood.
  4. Jesus Christ:  This is my last and most important inspiration.  Among other things, Jesus teaches simplicity.  He teaches that the only “things” that matter are the things of the heart.  Modern Christianity might seem like a culture filled with stuff, but Jesus actually  lived a life of few possessions, and He showed others that the physical elements of their lives pale in the light of eternity.  He called His disciples to leave behind their homes and belongings in order to follow Him.  They couldn’t be weighed down by the stuff of life if they were going to accept Christ’s mission to travel around the known world healing people and teaching the message of new life.  Sure, it’s probably pretty easy to not worry about your sandals when you are the Son of God.  I get that. Even so, Jesus is the perfect model of simplicity.  Something to think about…

Learning New Things

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I love many aspects of educating our children at home.  I could go on and on.  I love the freedom to learn what, when, and where we choose.  I love that my children can learn together, developing their relationships with each other in special ways.  I love library visits in the middle of the day and dropping everything to go on a picnic at lunchtime.  But if I could pick the number one reason that I keep on homeschooling even through the squabbles and messes and meltdowns over the times tables, my favorite part of home education is being a witness to my children’s educational milestones–seeing the BIG THINGS as they happen, watching their faces as the light bulbs go on.

 This week Charlotte wrote her name without any help.  She’s been getting close for awhile, but she needed to copy the letters or be reminded of what came next.  On Monday, she wrote it alone–no model, no reminder.  I wasn’t surprised by her ability.  I was taken off guard by her reaction (joy and pride) and her brothers’ jubilation!  The process of learning new things is a joyful one–whether you are 6 weeks old or 106 years old.  I feel such privilege to be able to see new things being learned by the people I love best.  Sometimes–as Mom and Teacher–I play an important role in that learning.  Sometimes it’s only between my child and God.  Those are the most amazing to behold.

Simple Living // One : My Story

Hello, friends,

Today I am starting a series that I’m calling Simple Living.  Simplicity has been a core value in my life and on this blog for many years, but I’ve been distracted from that theme for awhile.  Here is the story of how the journey began and where I am now:

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I grew up in a family that values simple things.  We were never into “keeping up with the Joneses.”  We’ve always been a DIY kind of family, and my kids love to talk about how “old fashioned” Papa is because he heats his home with a pot belly stove and uses wonderful spring water from the hill out back.

In 2001, I married my college sweetheart.  As brand new college graduates, we didn’t own much, made very little money as graduate student teaching associates, and had an absolute blast!  We were very careful at budgeting and even saved enough money to take a two week vacation to Florida (including Disney World) when we had been married about a year and a half.  We got our first credit card that year, and we did so only because it was required for the hotel reservation.  We used only cash for every aspect of the trip.  We needed few things, and we were so busy with school and enjoying married life that we did not accumulate much.  Except books.  I can make no good excuse for our book collection!  Anyway, we moved out of our tiny (but adorable) attic apartment in 2004 after finishing our masters degrees and bought our first house.  We continued our graduate work at a new university and added two children to the mix by 2008.  Our house was small, and we were rapidly filling it with THINGS.  We continued to keep our schedule fairly simple (if you consider school, work, church, and family simple), and in general, my preferred aesthetic then and now is simple, clear, and fresh.  I don’t have extravagant taste, and I would choose a single daisy over a dozen roses any day.  YET the sense that we had too much was creeping in.

In the summer of 2011, we welcomed our third child and moved to Florida.  It was a huge move.  A thousand miles.  My husband had received a new job at a small university, and the kind people there helped us find a rental house until we could buy a home.  Our time ran out at the first house, and we moved into a second rental.  All of that moving around taught me an important lesson.  We had moved to Florida with only a small fraction of our belongings.  We packed only a small collection of clothes for ourselves and our children.  Our two boys packed one small box of toys and books.  The houses were furnished and had kitchen supplies, so we only took sheets and a few bath towels.  You know what?  It was wonderful.  I only missed  a few things–my vegetable peeler and some of my books.  When we successfully purchased our new house, I truly did not want the bulk of our stuff to come into it.  But the stuff came.  We were moving from 1100 square feet into more than 2000 square feet.  It was easy to stash away a lot of things that we really did not need, and the clear lesson was RIGHT THERE.  We only needed a fraction of what we owned, and after four month with only a small amount of our things, I only desperately wished for my lovely vegetable peeler.  (And after this blog post, my mom sent me a great peeler in the mail.  Thanks, Mom!)  This was a golden opportunity!  We should have been very, very discerning about what to keep, but instead, we loaded everything into our new house.  Many of those boxes hadn’t even been opened when we moved again (those same 1000 miles) less than two years later.  A lot of those boxes are still in our basement!

That brings me to this spring.  I started making some important changes in my life that I wrote about here.  I needed to clear my head and my heart.  Around the same time, I read a blog post by my friend, Elizabeth.  Elizabeth is many things, but two of her most important roles are homeschooling mom and entrepreneur.  She blogs at www.homeschoolmanager.com, and I think you’ll enjoy her thoughts.  Anyway, she wrote about going from hoarder to minimalist.  Somewhere along the line, Elizabeth recommended the website Becoming Minimalist and specifically, the post called “How to Stage Your Home for Living.”  Big things were happening inside me.  I needed to return to simplicity, and I finally felt ready to make it happen.  I realized that I was one of many people who are looking for ways to reduce STUFF and enjoy a life of simplicity.

On my birthday in June, I wrote this in my journal:  “I’m on a minimalist journey.”  I realize that it sounds totally melodramatic!  (I even cringed a little while typing it.)  But here is how I see it.  A journey can take you anywhere. I set off on this journey with both feet, and I have to keep moving forward to see where the road takes me.  I’m pretty sure this journey isn’t going to bring me to the place of only owning what I can fit in a backpack.  That might be great for some people, but I’m aiming for something far less extreme.  I just want to feel content, spend more time with my kids, and less time cleaning.  I want to see clear, open spaces around me.  I want to own things that I love.  I don’t want my things to own me.

I have had success with birthday resolutions in the past, and I’m particularly excited about this one.  I dove into decluttering immediately after my birthday.  THIS is what sat in front of my house on July 4th weekend:

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And that was just the beginning.  In addition, we’ve donated three enormous bags of clothing to charity.  I have a big box of books that is headed to our local library.  I’ve thrown away about 20 bags of junk since June.  (Note: I deeply regret that I did not recycle more things.  I’m making a commitment to do better at recycling now that my belongings are more manageable.)

So that’s my story so far.  In my next installment, I’ll write about some of the people and resources that inspire my desire to live simply.

Thanks for reading!