I love backpacking. There’s something about spending time in the majesty of the mountains, living with nothing but what you can carry, that I find put things in perspective. Although it’s been several years since I’ve been able to go backpacking (it’s a little hard to hike all day with a backpack full of gear, a toddler, and a baby!), those epic, soul-stirring hiking trips I have taken come readily to mind when I think of simplicity. I always would come home with a renewed awareness of how gloriously simple life can be, but how often my own everyday life is anything but simple.
For the month of October here at Thrive with Robyn, I wanted to focus on two words that are loaded with meaning: Simple and Thankful. Especially in the rush of events and activities resuming for the fall, I find it’s easy to forget these things. So for October, I want to consciously step back, slow down, and take some time to ponder.
Simplicity of Habit
I so often fall into doing things out of a sort of default, rather than intentionally pursuing a course of action. Suddenly I find myself over-scheduled, over-tired, over-budget, and overwhelmed, and I am not even really sure how I got to that point. I need to make myself slow down and remember what my purpose is, what my goals are, and what is really necessary and worthwhile. I am no expert in this area, merely a work-in-progress, but the following are a few things I’ve found generally helpful to keep my life from becoming chaotic and frantic.
Commit to a day without plans
If you have the luxury of doing so, I highly recommend setting aside one day of the week where you make no outside commitments – no running extra errands, no playdates, no evening commitments outside your home. I try to do this with Mondays. After a busy weekend, and missed naps due to Sunday mornings at church, my kids are both in need of some quiet home time, and I’ve realized I crave it just as much. As much as possible, I try not to plan anything so I can just spend the whole day at home catching up on some housework, doing some baking, and playing and relaxing with my kids. I realize this is a blessing that not everyone has, but as much as you are able to, I encourage you to plan a buffer day somewhere into your week!
Embrace the word “No”
This has been probably the single hardest skill for me to develop, but one that I finally see the value of. I used to hate to say no to anyone or anything, but then my husband pointed out, very wisely, that often in saying “yes” to something (especially something I didn’t really want to or need to do), I was by necessity saying “no” to other things because I would no longer have the time or the energy for them. This became abundantly clear to me during pregnancy, when I was so physically exhausted sometimes that I literally had no choice but to say no to things. I have learned that there is great value in considering carefully what to agree to, and that a “no” to something today does not necessarily mean a “no” in the future.
Exchange your cards for cash
This was another epiphany for me, due again to the wise influence of my husband. I often joke that he is the saver in our home and I am the spender, but it really is quite true! Right from the beginning of our marriage, my husband has had us sit down and do a monthly budget together. I can’t say enough good things about having regular, scheduled conversations with your spouse about money, and making a plan together. In fact, I will be writing more about that later this month. But, I found that, even though I was in complete agreement with how much we would budget in different categories, I would be out somewhere and see something I wanted (or even better – see something on sale!) and then suddenly we were over our budget yet again! I felt stressed and guilty, and my husband felt frustrated that I could never stick to what we had agreed on. So, at last, reluctantly, I agreed to my husband’s repeated suggestions to use a cash envelope system. I don’t know what it is about using cash instead of credit (or even instead of debit! I really fought over that one!!), but it really works! When I can clearly see by the cash in my wallet that I am in danger of running out of money before we run out of month, somehow that random item that’s on sale that I never considered buying but that all-of-a-sudden looked so irresistible, loses its appeal. Budget goals achieved, and no more stress!
Simplicity of Home
In the same vein, I often find myself falling into a materialistic mindset about my home. Then, surrounded by chaos and clutter, I google tiny homes and minimalism and contemplate how many children we could stack vertically in bunk beds if we sold everything and relocated to a 400-square-foot cabin in the woods. In between those extreme moments, however, I’ve found a few things that help me in my quest for simplicity around the house.
Borrow, don’t just buy
Learning to be content, that I don’t need everything to be my very own, is an ongoing process for me. Exhibit A: My nightstand. I have at least 6 books that I haven’t read sitting in a stack waiting for me. And yet, what do I do? Log in to Amazon and hover my cursor over that other book, that new book, that one that I don’t have that I really really want to read! Could I get it from the library? Probably. Does one of my friends have a copy I could borrow? Probably. And yet, there I am, about to buy another book. And it’s not just books… ask me how I feel about kitchen gadgets…or “educational” toys for my kids! It’s a good thing my house isn’t any bigger than it is, or I would just fill it with even more things that I could probably just borrow and then give back!
A Place for everything…
I have found that when things around my house don’t have a designated “home”, they end up piling up anywhere and everywhere, making my house messy and me stressed. When items have a place, however, it’s much easier and quicker to tidy up, and to keep things at a much cleaner baseline. I’m a big fan of hooks and baskets at the door for jackets and mitts and hats. I have desk dividers in my bathroom drawers to keep all my cosmetics and personal care products from piling up into chaos. My kids have bins that are low enough for them to reach to stow their toys in (as long as I’m on top of teaching and reminding them to tidy up when we’re done playing!). When I notice a particular room getting to be a disaster zone, I try to devote 15-30 minutes in the evening after my kids are in bed to picking up, and creating homes for things that just lay around looking messy. I’ve found tackling a little bit, one room at a time is way less overwhelming than trying to organize my whole house in one massive blitz. I’ve also started a “give away” box down in our basement. Each week, I try to put at least one item into it that I think we don’t really need any more. Then, if I haven’t missed anything after several months, I give it all away or donate it. Little things like that help me battle the clutter and chaos that otherwise seems to invade my home.
Use a rotation system
I used to dread going through my pantry – inevitably I would find things long gone past their best-before dates that had been lost in the dark recesses. I would ponder what to do with the 1/2 cup or so I had left of 37 different grains and seeds and types of rice. Food would be wasted, money would be wasted, and I would not be happy. Or on the flip side, I would be half-way through preparing dinner and go to grab that ingredient I needed next, only to realize the jar was empty and be forced to scramble for a substitute. Neither option was conducive to harmony and simplicity in my kitchen. Then, when I finally figured out a meal planning system that worked for me (are you sensing a theme yet on my blog? I really love meal planning!!), I figured out that I don’t need to buy everything all the time! Sounds silly, but it was groundbreaking for me! I’ve started to work out (with continual ongoing tweaking and refining) in my meal planner rotation how to use up one set of those staple ingredients up before rotating on to another. There’s more space in my pantry, and way less food getting lost in the vortex. I’m also refining my grocery list into a basic standing shopping rotation to save on shopping time, pantry space, and money each month. Stay tuned for more on that!
As much as I admire those who can commit wholly to a life of simplicity, keeping their schedules and their homes totally clutter-free, I’m just not quite there yet. I love the freedom and minimalism of backpacking, but I’m also very thankful to come back to a mattress and pillow, indoor plumbing, and the comforts of home. I like the idea of tiny home living, but I also have a piano and a cat and small children who like books and toys. I have significantly streamlined my kitchen routine, and the way I purchase our groceries, but I can’t bring myself to be truly minimalist and eat the same thing day after day when there are so many different and amazing food options out there. I value and esteem a simple life, but with moderation and balanced with all the other things I also value.
Do you long for a bit more simplicity? Are you more of a minimalist, or a materialist? Do you see yourself in any of my struggles or solutions above? Share your thoughts and comments below!