Tag Archives: priorities

Giving Yourself Grace

With the moving process well underway, I wanted to share some ways that my minimalist/stewardship practices have changed.

unnamed (3)1.  The kids spend quite a bit more time with screens.  I am not thrilled that we have already exceeded Bean’s two hour per week screen time limit for this week, but the need to clean the house before showings, and the fact that we are stuck in the air conditioned car during the showings (due to the two 90 pound dogs that have to get out of the house and the heat outside), means the kids get to indulge a bit in their screen time habits.  It isn’t perfect, but we try to compensate with outside time and reading time.

04f11a8c-94b6-4eec-b3ca-25ba4fca02632.  I spend less time on elaborate meals.  I love to bake and cook, but depending on the time a showing happens, I am not always able to prepare anything elaborate.  There have been times in the past three weeks (the time since the house first went on the market) where our suppers have been YOYO (You’re On Your Own) nights, and other nights when we have gone with something to-go.  The family gets fed though, albeit not with all organic/local/carefully crafted ingredients.

ad30d24f-c63b-466d-baca-b555b048b25b3.  We got a second car.  I wrote about this last week.  It’s still sort of a touchy subject with me, but we had to do what we had to do.  Hopefully it is temporary!

In a nutshell:  we are in survival mode.  My non-moving, minimalist self cringes each time I have to compromise a bit on my ideals (see:  cloth diapers and other things that are too green for me), but that’s where I am at right now.  And I have to remind myself almost hourly that this is temporary.

I want to continue to strive to be the best stewardess I can be. However, I am learning that one of the lessons of this move is the fact that we need to give ourselves grace, especially when it comes to working through major life changes.

What Minimalism Means to Me

If you spend much time in the “simple living” corner of the Internet, you no doubt have encountered many definitions and expressions of minimalism. As it should be: if you’re really going to practice something, it should be personal.

While the name “minimalism” emphasizes what you’re doing without, I think most would agree it’s about clearing out the unwanted so that you have time to focus on what you want.

Writing my life plan has helped me to focus this further. I regularly review what I’ve decided is the most important and am constantly reevaluating my life choices against that. It’s helped me pare down my grocery list, DVR and extracurricular activities. (With a lot of areas, I simply ask myself, “What one thing am I most willing to give up?” and repeat that over and over until I’m comfortable with what is left.)

Pine LakeAnother aspect of minimalism as I see it is to prioritize only what will help you reach your goals (see, the life plan again). For example, if  I want to hike 15 miles at the end of the summer, I have to work up to that, starting now. If I want to own a home as soon as it is financially healthy for me to do so, I must set a limit on how much I’m going to spend on my garden. There’s nothing wrong with a weekly 4-mile hikes or a garden full of new pots, but these don’t help me reach my goals.

I absolutely am (or want to be) a minimalist with my possessions, too. While I do periodic purges (Marie Kondo‘s method has been a practical way to do this), my main focus has been to limit what I bring into my home. By doing so, I have been focusing on long-term change, rather than having a spotless, bare-bones place in the short term.

I find that minimalism is a natural outworking of my Christian faith. After all, I worship the King who once lovingly told a rule-following young man, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21 ESV).

And in another passage I read, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1). While “stuff” (material and not) isn’t all that he’s talking about as “encumbrances,” I can’t help but think that’s part of it.

What does minimalism mean to you?

2016 Goals Update

unnamed (12)Time for an update on how my 2016 goals are going!

Make one extra mortgage payment.  This hasn’t happened yet, but we are making great strides with skimming extra money off where we can (like with groceries).

To be honest, though, this goal is the one I am prioritizing last.  The bigger picture goal, of course, is to just pay off the mortgage and be completely debt-free.  Whether that happens via an extra mortgage payment per year, or in one lump sum, we will be thankful regardless.

Journal and devotions daily.  I have learned making this goal a reality really hinges on whether or not I get up early.  Peanut has been dealing with sickness of late, which makes for some irregular nights and challenging days, so I sleep when I can.  I try to give myself grace–if I can’t journal daily, that’s okay…I get up the next day and try again.

I have also begun to count family devotions as my own devotion time.  I appreciate the opportunity to delve into devotions privately, but also treasure the ability to share that time with my family too.

Screen time to four times daily.  I think I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this one.  We don’t have a landline, and as a stay-at-home-mom, my cell phone is my link to the outside world on many days–texting is how I communicate with many people, I call my father daily, taking pictures to send to the kids’ grandparents with my phone technically involves “screen time,” and things like emailing my daughter’s preschool teacher requires time with a screen.  My volunteer position also requires quite a bit of time in front of a screen lately.

Although I may not be able to scale back to four times daily (yet) for an hour a day (yet), it is still my goal.  For now, I keep my phone in one spot rather than carry it with me everywhere, which has actually proven quite helpful in eliminating unnecessary phone checks.

Invite six families to supper.  One down, one scheduled, four to go!  Making great strides with this one.

Posting my goal progress on here keeps me accountable.  How are your personal goals coming along?

Kid Dates

Snuggling as a "Kid Date."
Snuggling as a “Kid Date.”

One of the activities I really enjoy as a mother is what I like to call, “Kid Dates.”  Put simply, this is a time when I take each kid out to do something special–just the two of us (the other kiddo stays with Daddy and has some quality time with him too).  Getting to focus my undivided attention on one child is an amazing opportunity, and a great way to nurture our relationship (one of the many gifts I have been given!).

I don’t do this as often as I would like, but have aimed for twice a year, per child, thus far.  The last time I did this was on Mother’s Day weekend, and I thought December/January would be a good time to arrange more Kid Dates.

The problem I keep running into is…how do I create a fun Kid Date without breaking the bank?

Fortunately, my kids don’t seem to care that we aren’t doing an expensive excursion; they just want to spend time with Mama.  But I do try to make it a memorable experience, even without spending much (if any) money.

I have found an area community calendar that is tailored to families with children to be an invaluable resource.  Local libraries also are a wealth of such information!

For example, it was through this calendar that I found a theater doing a kid-friendly showing of one of Bean’s favorite children’s books, and it was very reasonably priced; for less than $20, we were treated to a fabulous performance and made a great memory.

Not everything requires a calendar though.  Peanut would never have been still long enough to do a play, but I knew he would enjoy some ice cream at the neighborhood park.  It was a perfect kid date!

What are some ways you nurture your relationship with your children?

Things I Don’t Splurge On

When it comes to writing, I have a thing for opposites.  You knew that after this post, a post outlining its opposite would be on the way, right?

We do splurge on various things–living the simple life doesn’t have to involve abject poverty and deprivation.  However, what one chooses to splurge on (and not splurge on) requires a careful evaluation of priorities and finances.

Careful evaluation of our family’s priorities and finances have resulted in the following “non-splurges.”  (For some families, these may well be listed as priorities, but remember that each family is different!)

We choose not to splurge on…

unnamed (2)Cosmetics.  Ronnica writes a bit about this topic here.  Admittedly, this is something that tends to affect only myself, although Riley and I have been known to enjoy some cologne/perfume at times (that falls under “cosmetics”, right?).  I have never been a huge fan of the way make-up feels and what it does to my skin, so this isn’t really a sacrifice for me.  Castile soap and deodorant are pretty much the extent of my cosmetic usage.  That said, Bean has developed a huge interest in nail polish…but hey, Christmas is coming!

Clothing.  The vast majority of my clothing comes from thrift stores, with the rest coming from gift cards and saving up as needed.  Riley and the kids also ask for (and, especially in the case of the latter, usually receive) clothes for holidays and birthdays, so we are typically set in this department.  Name brands and the latest fashions are not a priority for us; as long as we are clean and sufficiently clothed, we tend to be pretty content.

Pets.  I suppose this one could be up for debate, as we do splurge on their food.  That said, our dogs don’t have big expensive beds (they sleep on old blankets and pillows on the floor…or the couch!), and except for the occasional rawhide, they don’t have any legitimate dog toys.  They do play with tennis balls, which we seem to have an abundance of in our garage.  They also don’t get have any dog treats, with the exception of a carrot or broccoli piece here and there.  That actually works in their favor–their weight (and health) stays in check without the treat temptation!

What do you not splurge on?

Frugal Victories

6988272680_97102f42c6_zI’ve been spending quite a bit of time on here lately commenting on reducing our grocery bill, perhaps at the detriment of discussing financial victories we have experienced.

You know me (and Ronnica too)–improving our stewardship of money is a constant quest! I wanted to take a post and share what I’ve been proud of recently, as far as our finances are concerned.

We have been a one-car family for over three years. Darn right I’m proud of this.  We have been a one-car household (remember:  four people and two big dogs comprise our family) for over half of our marriage now.  People said it couldn’t be done, but thanks to careful planning, priorities aligning, and a walkable neighborhood, this has been a noteworthy accomplishment.

I don’t know how long we will be able to swing this, but we have no plans of adding a car any time soon, so as long as we can make one car work for us, we will.  It’s saved us a large amount of money!

We have been without student loan debt for over two years.  I wish we could say “completely debt-free” but the mortgage alone precludes this.  We’ll get there–in the meantime, let me say that not paying a student loan bill has been pretty awesome (as Ronnica can attest to!).

We continue to be on-track for savings–including retirement and college.  Without delving into specific numbers, I will say that I am pleased with our progress in saving for our emergency fund (we’ve needed it more than once!), retirement, and college for the kiddies.  There are times where I wish we had more funds to play with right now, but knowing we won’t have to worry about the future as much (because, as a worrywart, I worry no matter what) is a relief.

What victories have you celebrated lately?

Photo by Phillip Taylor at ptmoney.com

Living the Laundromat Life

You may recall from awhile back a brief mention regarding the sorry shape our washing machine was in.  To fix it at that point would have been more expensive than to just replace it, so we kept working it until we could work it no more.

I regret to inform you that, that night, our washing machine officially died.

And we haven’t gotten another one yet.

There are a few reasons we haven’t gotten a replacement, but the two big reasons center around finances (because even a used one will cost money), and the wiring in our house is ill-equipped to handle a new washer (versus a used one like the one we just used up–we’d have to pay for an electrician AND a new washer).

A third reason has also become our (temporary) solution:  we live in a very walkable neighborhood…that happens to have a laundromat just down the street.

So no, we haven’t been spending the last three-and-a-half months wearing unwashed clothing–the laundromat has become our friend (along with some playdates with friends doubling as “borrowing your washing machine” time!).  I wash the laundry once a week, and bring it home to dry; our dryer still works, and of course we have our outdoor clothesline.

Had someone told me a few months ago I’d be hauling our dirty laundry to a laundromat at the crack of dawn once a week, I’d have laughed.  But you know something?  It’s actually turned out to be something of a blessing, albeit a temporary one.

Sure, it is an inconvenience to either make change there, or track down enough quarters around the house.  Over the long-term, I’d imagine it would be a rather costly choice.  It’s hard for me to get up and drive over there to wash clothes. It’s not an ideal situation, and one we’d like to avoid making permanent, but it’s been fantastic in two regards.

First, getting laundry completely done (as in washing, drying, folding/hanging, and putting away) has been a struggle for me since I started doing my own washing.  Doing our laundry at the laundromat has completely changed how I do this…in that, I actually DO it.  The wash gets done in a little over thirty minutes, and I fold at home as the clothes dry.  Voila!  Our laundry is done in just a couple of hours a week, instead of being in a heap on the spare bed, getting wrinkled, for weeks (yes, weeks) at a time.

Second, clothes washing time has proven to be a surprisingly great mother-daughter activity.  Bean loves getting up early to go with Mama (although this may also be attributed to the fact that one of her favorite books takes place in a laundromat, as well).  She enjoys helping me sort clothes, and chatting with me while we wait, occasionally wandering around looking in random empty dryers:

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Of course, I enjoy the time with her, too. (Maybe someday Peanut can go, but for now, he sleeps when we go “do clothes.”)

While not directly a stewardship “thing”, using the laundromat has turned out to be beneficial to other areas of my stewardship journey:  time management, and time spent with my first baby.

Having Hobbies

I have to admit something:  a little part of me is laughing as I write this post, because as a mom of two young children, my time for hobbies (that is, activities I enjoy doing on my own personal time) is limited in the extreme.  Can any of you relate at all?

However, since (re)learning that time management/time stewardship is all about priorities, I have discovered there are two properties that my hobbies must have to be considered “worthwhile” uses of my time.

My hobbies must be free (or nearly so), and they must serve a purpose in larger goals.

Naturally, these criterion are going to change as I grow and life circumstances evolve, but for right now, my hobbies include the following:

An excerpt of a recent library haul...the movies are for family movie night, although I AM a fan of classic animated films!
An excerpt of a recent library haul…the movies are for family movie night, although I AM a fan of classic animated films!

1.  Reading.  I think this post says it all.  At any given point, I am reading an average of three books, ranging from memoir to how-to to novels.  I find reading to be a worthwhile use of my time in that it is free (thank you, library!) and, especially where minimalist literature is concerned, it aids in my quest toward a simpler lifestyle.

2.  Cooking.  Looking back on this blog, food is something I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time discussing…likely because I spend quite a bit of time working to prepare inexpensive, healthy, tasty meals for my family each day.  While not free, I enjoy the challenge of making a dollar stretch as far as possible.  It’s something I find increasingly enjoyable too–despite the sourdough disaster!

3.  Singing.  Little-known fact:  Amanda fancies herself a diva!  In all seriousness though, I do enjoy singing in a venue different from our kitchen, with tunes more variable than, “Itsy Bitsy Spider” (although that one IS pretty catchy, if our son has anything to say about it!).  As such, each fall and each spring, I spend just under $100 for a “continuing education” course at a local community college, singing in a community choir.  It’s worth every cent, and while not free, all things considered it’s pretty inexpensive, and allows me to use my talent…and get out of the house a few hours a week.

What hobbies do you take part in…and why?

There’s Sugar in WHAT?

Awhile back, I mentioned how our family tries to eat as healthy as possible.

Okay, so maybe it’s more of a “mention”–it’s something I’m pretty passionate about as a wife and mother. Striving to be a good steward of one’s body is a whole lot easier than it looks, though.

One of the sneakier culprits that regularly unrails our healthy eating efforts: sugar.

This increasingly common ingredient tastes delicious, is addicting, goes by many different names (witness: dextrose, maltodextrin, glucose, etc.), and is rampant. It is in so many different things that you would never think of sugar to be in. (I am referring here to added sugar, not to natural sugars found in nutrient-rich foods such as fruit.)

1. Peanut Butter
I kid you not. Ingredient #2 on the ingredient list is sugar.

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How we solved that: Buying all natural peanut butter, with no sugar included. Just peanuts and salt. I will warn you that such peanut butter has a different consistency than the sugar-laden variety, but we have found storing it in the refrigerator helps alleviate any issues.  It is just as delicious as the typical variety.

2. Bread
Did you know some brands actually have several different kinds of sugar included in their breads? Crazy!

How we solved that:  We buy sprouted grain breads, or make our own to control the sugar involved. The former is a bit on the costly side, but it’s worth it to me. The latter requires time, but the kids enjoy helping out. (Side note:  Next month, I will talk about my foray into making sourdough bread…stay tuned!)

3. “Healthy” frozen dinners
Awhile back, I bought into the theory that if a frozen food product is marketed as both simple to prepare and healthy, that automatically makes it a legitimate claim. Not so. While there are some brands that truly are both easy to make and healthy, you have to look out for the “cane syrup” and “dextrose” that is oh-so common.

How we solved that:  Bulk-cook meals ahead of time. This requires more time up-front, but in the long run is both cheaper AND sugar-free.

If you think I am a food purist, think again!  Next week, I will talk about my food splurges.  Going sugar-free is definitely a work in progress!

How it Works: Time Management

It’s no secret that time management is a work in progress for me.  I know that through prioritization and better use of the gift of time, I should theoretically be able to accomplish everything I need to on a daily basis.

And yet…I still find myself struggling to stay “on task”–something that is, arguably, a bit difficult when you don’t work in a traditional work setting (with a manager, task lists, etc.); taking the initiative to get things done on your own can be a bit of struggle for some (*raises hand*).  Odious tasks may sit on your list, playing a distant second to activities like social media or TV (hello folding laundry)  Since welcoming our two children, I have become much better at managing my time, but still have  ways to go.

If you struggle with time management as well, here are three  things I have found helpful to keep in mind.  I hope they help you, too!

1.  Take advantage of your “peak time.”  For some, mornings may be the best time to tick things off a to-do list.  For others, late at night may be the optimal time.  Be you an early bird or a night owl, or something in between, chances are good you know when you function best–your “peak time.”

I’ve found I accomplish more to-do list items early in the morning, before the kids are awake.  I am also able to do things after the kiddos are in bed, but I am usually tired myself at that point, so try to ensure I get things that require optimal brain function done early in the day.

2.  Make a list.  This isn’t something that only Type A personalities do–it’s something most of us can benefit from.  I prefer the old-fashioned way of list-making:  I use a planner and a pen.  My to-do list for the day is usually a visual disaster; the shorthand alone makes my husband cringe, and at some point I may utilize an electronic list method, but for now, if it ain’t broke…

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Do all of the items get crossed off each day?  No.  It’s more of a list of goals, but when I have them written down, I’m more likely to accomplish them all.  Lists also make #3 easier…

3.  Prioritize reasonably…and practice grace.  That dental appointment you have on Tuesday will probably take (SHOULD take) priority over, say, finishing up a library book due next week.  Figure out what absolutely must get done, and make it happen.  At the same time though, give yourself a bit of grace if you don’t finish everything.  It’s okay.  Dust yourself off when those days come (and they will…a lot) and start fresh tomorrow.

…with a new list!

And on our list next week is a little break.  We’ll be back again with fresh posts the week after next.  Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss out!