The Minimalist Wardrobe

20150301_222253Recently I had the opportunity to buy some clothes, and not from the thrift store either.  (Though I still prefer to do my shopping that way!)

I wanted to utilize my money the smartest way I could, so I searched and asked around to try to determine what, exactly, makes a good minimalist wardrobe.  Here’s what I learned:

1.  Go timeless.  I hate clothes shopping, so the longer I can make these clothes last and be “on trend” the better.  I kept the colors fairly neutral, staying with blues and pinks (which look best on me) and blacks and whites.  Nothing too loud or garish for this gal!

2.  3/4 sleeves.  ‘Nuff said.  At Ronnica’s suggestion, I stuck with 3/4 sleeves for most of my tops, because, as she correctly noted, “It is appropriate for all but the hottest days of the year.”  I bought sweaters to layer with when things get too chilly for just 3/4 sleeves alone.

3.  Research what pieces are “must haves.”  In doing a quick internet search, it became apparent that “every woman” should have a few items in her closet, including but not limited to:  a little black dress, white blouse, and nude heels.  These and other must have pieces provide a good foundation for a wardrobe, and have served me well so far!

4.  I only purchased what I needed.  In my case, I really needed new tops and a couple more pairs of jeans.  I saw some clothing articles that I really liked, but refrained from buying them–they would have blown my budget, and wouldn’t have achieved my “minimalist wardrobe” goal.

5.  For every item brought in… another item went out.  My closet is itty bitty, so I couldn’t keep everything!

What are some essential clothing pieces for you?

Losing Weight on a Budget

Last week I shared why I wanted to lose weight. Initially, I planned on putting today’s post in with it, but as you read, I had a lot to say about motivation.

Now that I’ve covered my motivation, here’s the tools I’m using to lose weight:

IMG_27341. Apps – Fitbit and My Fitness Pal

I’ve had a Fitbit One for over 2 years now, and it’s been one of the best birthday presents I’ve ever received. I’m motivated by competing against others and against myself. I like that it also tracks the number of floors I climb. I sneak in steps wherever I can to make my 10,000 step goal at least 6 days a week.

I only recently started using My Fitness Pal. I like the ease in which I can log food from my computer or app. I’ve logged food in the past, but I’ve forgotten how much it helps in eating within my designated calorie range. Tracking food takes me only a couple of minutes a day, but it’s a huge tool in losing the weight.

2. Accountability

I haven’t needed accountability to remain on track…yet. I know that won’t always be the case. I recently asked 3 friends to hold me accountable to my eating and exercise goals. While it’s not their job to keep me on track, I will be encouraged to stay on track knowing that they that they will be asking me about it.

3. Food

What I eat is the biggest change I made 6 weeks ago. I’m not following a formal plan,  I’m simply eating the way that I know I should.

Half of what I eat now is now veggies (and a little fruit). I eat very little processed food and on most days, eat less than a serving of meat. When I’m eating what I make (which is most of the time), my bread products are almost exclusively whole grain, though I don’t eat a lot of it. I eat a tablespoon or less of added sugar a day, only allowing myself to cheat this on special occasions.

And oh yeah, I’m eating a whole lot less than I used to. By eating so much less, I am spending no more than I used to, though now most of what I am buying is real, unprocessed food.

4. Supplements

I’m not using any weight-loss “supplements” or plans. However, I have found a supplement (called inositol) that aides my PCOS symptoms, including my intense craving for sugar. I had no idea that my craving was medically-driven, but I’m thankful to have now identified it.

I don’t know what medical factors may be contributing to your own health issues, but I strongly encourage you to seek a doctor for guidance as you begin your own health journey.

5. Exercise

I’ve listed this last, because it’s been the smallest factor in my weight loss thus far. I have been walking 10,000 steps most days for a couple of months now, but it wasn’t until I added the diet changes that I started to see major health changes. In addition to the steps, I’ve added strength exercises once a week.

I would like to add in strength exercises an additional day a week and to start swimming laps again at some point, but for now, I’m happy with the amount of activity I am getting in.

Next week in the 3rd part of this 3 part series, I’ll be sharing more about how I have changed my diet.

I received no compensation for mentioning a few specific products in this post. After all, veggies don’t have a big promotional budget.

Relationship Investment

Extended weekends are one way we keep our relationship strong.
Extended weekends are one way we keep our relationship strong.

Every year around this time, I feel like I’m getting ready for a big date.

That’s probably because I do have a big date…with my husband.

For a variety of reasons, Memorial Day weekend (in addition to the time around our anniversary) has become an “extended date” weekend with Riley.  The kids and dogs spend some quality time at their grandparents, and Riley and I spend some quality time renewing our relationship.  We have traveled to many places, including Omaha, a staycation here in KC, and places in between.

The location doesn’t matter though.  What does matter is that we take advantage of the time we have together–a relationship investment, if you will.

I have received some curious stares in the past when it becomes known that the kids and pups do not join us on this three day “investment.”  Let it be known that we do spend quite a bit of time with our kiddos (both human and furry), both here and on various trips.

But the time their daddy and I spend together is beneficial for the entire family–after all, were it not for our relationship, the world as they know it would be completely different.  The time apart also gives them a chance to be in the care of others who love them dearly and care for them tremendously, and gives us a chance to be together.

Relationships take work–relationship investments make sense for us.  How do you nurture your relationships?

Motivation for Losing Weight

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I’ve been motivated lately to work daily towards my newly-defined life goals. One of these over-arching goals is “to honor my body as the temple of the Holy Spirit.” The big area where I was not doing that is with my weight, particularly with what I ate.

Next week I’ll be sharing how I’m losing weight on a budget, but I want to spend time this week talking about my motivations first. While this is not and will not be a weight loss blog, I very much believe that being a good steward covers using our bodies properly.

In March of this year, I weighed 252 pounds. At 5’3″, a healthy weight would be under 140 pounds, so I was 112 pounds overweight.

Taken in January, I'll consider this my before pic.
Taken in January, I’ll consider this my before pic.

How did I get here?

Weight is something that I have struggled with–or should have, when I wasn’t resigned to it–my whole adult life. In college thanks to a Dr Pepper habit and “free” access to every form or fast food or junk food I could want, I gained the stereotypical freshman 15…and a sophomore 15, junior 15 and senior 15. When I left college, I continued to gain weight.

I’m very thankful that I’ve always been encouraged to have a positive body image by my family and friends, but I’ve abused that to enable my overeating habits. I felt little motivation to forego the immediate satisfaction of a bowl of chocolate chip ice cream for a smaller waist, let alone long-term health.

Where am I now?

Since March, I have lost 22 pounds, most of that in the last month. I’ve been here before. There have been several periods of time that I have made better choices and worked backwards, losing up to 20 pounds at a time. But something would happen, or I’d get busy, and that weight would sneak back on.

Motivation for the long term

Anyone who has struggled with weight understands that it is truly a struggle. Currently, the burden seems light, but I know that it will not always be so. In order to keep going down the narrow path, I will need to keep reminding myself of my motivations to walk this way:

1. To honor my body as the temple of the Holy Spirit (from 1 Corinthians 6:19). First Corinthians 9:27 has been a huge motivator for me in this as well: “but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” I cannot worship the idol of food (comfort) and God.

2. To have the energy and flexibility to do the things I need and want to do. Ten years ago I suffered a lower back injury (slipped disc) that has plagued me since. While I’ll never have full movement, the less excess weight I carry decreases the likelihood of complications from this back injury.

Bad knees also run in my family. If I do not take care of my weight now, I will have pain and mobility issues.

3. To be a good witness to others. If I truly believe that God is better than anything else, why do I so often reach for that piece of junk food?

These are all things that I have spelled out in the life plan I read regularly. Reading it regularly helps me to remember the why behind what I know that I need to do.

Next week, I’ll talk about what I have been doing to get healthy without spending outside my budget.

Joint Book Review: Affluenza by John De Graaf, David Wann, and Thomas H. Naylor

51kepAY4UfL._SX356_BO1,204,203,200_Affluenza:  The All-Consuming Epidemic by John de Graff, David Wann, and Thomas H.  Naylor gives an in-depth analysis of America’s consumption issue, and provides solutions for how best to address the problems such rampant consumption causes.

Amanda’s Take

I enjoyed reading Affluenza–it was equal parts disturbing and motivating to me.  The tidbits about society’s obsession with over-consumption and how that impacts the environment were particularly striking to me, and made me want to strive to be more cognizant of my environmental impact.  Since I place family in high importance, I was also struck by how much of a (negative) impact our current level of consumption have on American family life.

I read the second edition (as did Ronnica), but despite the dated information, I doubt the overall trend has changed.  The biggest takeaway for me was that we as a society consume far more than is healthy.

In an unusual twist, this book came out after two documentaries of similar names and content.  Since I enjoyed the book so much, I hope to check out the films in the near future.

Ronnica’s Take

Reading the 2005 edition of Affluenza makes me realize that this disease of over-consumption has been with us much too long.

I love the issues this book raised, but to be honest, I struggled through the book. I found the framing concept of the “affluenza” disease clever, but a bit cumbersome. I kept wanting the book to go deeper, but that’s just not what it was.

Still, Affluenza does a good job of linking together the disparate symptoms of our over-consumption and how it is harming us.

We can all benefit from examining our consumption, taking a step back and simply being thankful for what we already have.

Stewarding Politics

US flag over sunsetThe American presidential race is ramping up as we head towards November. As it seems to happen every four years, everyone seems to get caught up in the cause or candidate that they think will save America.

Before you skip this post, know that I’m not advocating voting for any given candidate or platform (or against one, as easy as that would be to do). Instead, I explore what it means to apply the topic of stewardship to our political choices.

If you are an American citizen over 18, you have one vote per race per election cycle. Given the scarcity of this resource, it is important to use it wisely. As tempting as it might be to vote according to your gut or what your smart-sounding neighbor says, it’s just not enough if you really want to be a good steward.

So how can you be a good steward of the vote that you have?

1. Research each candidates and what they stand for. For larger elections, this can take some time, as there are a lot of offices to consider. Resources I use to investigate include the candidates’ websites, local newspaper surveys and their voting record (if they are an incumbent).

While their website is of course biased, it helps me to see what is important to them. If an issue that I’m passionate about doesn’t earn a mention, that says something in itself, even if they publicly espouse the same values I do.

For me, this also means not making up my mind until the last minute. I want as much data as possible before making the decision, and want to be as open as possible as my understanding of the candidates or issues is always incomplete.

2. Engage in reasonable conversations about the issues. If you are passionate about something, I think you should absolutely speak up about it. Whenever possible, focus on the issue, not on the candidates, as candidates are imperfect and you won’t agree with them 100% (unless it’s you!).

In these conversations, be willing to truly listen to opposing views with the goal of understanding, not of refuting. Chances are, the person you aren’t seeing eye to eye with has the same root desires, but sees a different path to achieve those desires.

If the exchange becomes uncivil, kindly excuse yourself (online or in person).

3. Vote. This should be obvious, but I’m afraid it’s not. There are times that I choose not to vote in a particular race, but those are rare. For bigger elections, there are usually more than 2 options, no matter what the TV pundits say.

How do you steward politics?

Photo by Rebecca Garcia

Summer Plans

11825992_10103053178946879_3783081261414923032_nIt seems like just yesterday, I was writing a post about Christmas preparation, and now summer is upon us! (It looks like our dog is ready for the dog days of summer already!)

How exactly does a frugal simplicity-adhering wife and mother of two young children handle summer?  Permit me to share our summer plans!

First up is summer preschool.  I am a huge proponent of letting kids be kids and avoiding over-programming.  However, I also believe that, because each kid is different, each child has their own unique needs.

After a lot of thought and reflection, we decided to enroll Bean in summer preschool one morning a week.  It is offered at the same school she attends during the regular school year, and is similar to regular preschool, but with more emphasis on summer and “extras” (like science experiments–which she is looking forward to!).  The added expense is nominal, and the benefits for her are significant (socialization with peers and mental enrichment, to name a few).  Plus, at only one day a week, it still affords her plenty of time to just be a kid.

Next up:  the pool.  An additional expense, but one that pays for itself in six visits.  We visit the pool daily in the summer, so this is well-worth it.  My deep dark secret is that I can’t swim (yet…more on that in another post), so I am adamant that our kids will learn how to swim and be comfortable with water.  To that end, Bean will be starting swimming lessons this year; buying a season pool pass also gave us a discount on her swimming classes.

We will also be doing a brief vacation, sandwiched between a lot of staycation activities.  The vacation will be both multi-generational and affordable, as we will be joining my father on his continuing education endeavors and splitting the costs involved.

As for the staycation activities, we are fortunate to live in a metropolitan area that offers a huge amount of free or very affordable events and activities.  The library with its summer reading program is a very big deal on its own!

What are your summer plans?

Writing a Life Plan

If I asked you to sit down and write out a 7-page plan for your life, could you do it?

livingforwardBefore I read Living Forward by Michael S. Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy, I can definitely tell you that I could not. Yet that is exactly what I did after reading it.

It has been a long time since I have been as motivated by a book as I have been by Living Forward. It is practical, straight-forward and helps you to make a plan for your life that meets your desires for your life, not theirs.

But enough about the book, because that’s not what this post is about. Really, the post is about writing my life plan.

I’ve frequently considered older women in my life who I want to be like and consider what I need to do now to be like them when I am their age. Writing my life plan allowed me to imagine who I could be in 50 years, and then making a practical plan to become that person.

By writing my life plan, it helped me put on paper (or should I say on a screen?) my priorities, making clear the reasoning behind some decisions I have made, even though I was unable to voice them at the time.

Writing the plan was relatively easy. Putting into action will require continual dedication. Yet I hope to use my life plan (reevaluated occasionally) to help steer myself in the right direction.

I thought about sharing a part of my life plan, but to be honest, it’s way too personal than I feel about placing in a public forum. However, I will likely be posting about some progress I’ve made by implementing my life plan. It’s only been a month, but I have seen progress already. Now for the hard work…

Pantry Staples

unnamed (6)After a recent post about groceries, I was talking with a friend about how we manage to go grocery shopping so “rarely”–anywhere from one week to three weeks.

That got me to thinking about how we pull it off, and what it boils down to is this:  we keep certain things (foods, spices, etc.) in our kitchen that can be utilized by many different dishes.  Here are a few examples:

1.  A broad assortment of spices.  In addition to the standard spices, like cinnamon, salt and pepper, make sure to have a few other options available too.  Ones I find I use a lot include ginger, cumin, parsley, and (surprisingly) crushed red pepper flakes.

The benefit to having a variety of seemingly random spices is that if you don’t have a spice on hand that a recipe calls for, a quick internet search often yields an appropriate substitute, thus eliminating the need to go out to the store and spend money.  For example, I did not have poultry seasoning on hand for a recipe, but I did have rosemary, oregano, sage, ginger, marjoram, and thyme that Google told me would make a decent DIY poultry seasoning.  It worked!

2.  Protein source.  Be it lentils, peanut butter, chicken, beef, fish, or lamb, keeping a protein source at the ready can help you create the skeleton of a recipe.  Plus, if you stock up when meats are on sale, you can also save money!

3.  Veggies.   It is a well-known fact that I incorporate almost-rotten foods in my cooking because I hate the idea of wasting food (and thus wasting money), but don’t discount frozen and canned vegetables either.  Toss them in with your spices and protein source, and you are well on your way to a tasty casserole of your own making.

4.  Cream of something soup.  Ronnica makes her own cream of chicken soup; I prefer to buy mine.  No matter your soup origin preference, if you have cream of chicken/mushroom/celery soup on hand, then you have a critical component of hundreds of recipes.

What food staples do you keep handy?

Joint Book Review: How to Be Alive by Colin Beavan

how to be aliveIn How to Be Alive, Colin Beavan helps his readers to live their lives in accordance with their professed beliefs, with a goal of having a better life and a better world.

Amanda’s Take

I first became interested in this book because of my familiarity with Colin Beavan’s No Impact Man project.  Because I really enjoyed both the No Impact book and movie, I was excited to delve into a more recent project of his.

Much of what Beavan notes within the text is common sense, but certainly bears repeating, such as how small steps can and do make a difference in improving one’s quality of life.  I appreciated that the book went beyond the typical self-help realm, and actually tackled some bigger picture/beneficial-to-humanity topics, including social justice and service.

Although a bit on the lengthy side, How to Be Alive is a great book for those readers wanting more than the usual self-help fare.

Ronnica’s Take

I found a lot to like in this book, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I didn’t read it right on the heels of Living Forward, a book on the same subject that I found much more straightforward and inspiring (review to come).

Back to the book at hand. How to Be Alive almost felt like two books: one talking about living your values and another about how to live his values.

I really like the idea of practically working through what it would mean to live in accordance with your beliefs. This is something that I’m always circling back to. To that end, I think that this book is helpful. I also didn’t mind the values that Beavan was encouraging, and he has good suggestions. I just found the two combined to be a bit muddy. (But to be fair, I read the first third of this book while staying up all night traveling).

I did find this book inspiring in my journey to live true to the purpose I have been given.

“The question is not whether you can make a difference to the world and build a wonderful life for yourself while doing so. The question is, do you want to be the type of person who tries?” – p. 78