Sunday, February 28, 2016

A Few Thoughts on Minimalism

I’m not a minimalist. I’m not a hoarder, either (except possibly when it comes to books, little bits of flora and fauna, and throw’s getting a little embarrassing.)

I don’t necessarily want to be a minimalist. However, like many people, I do look for ways to simplify and organize my life, and lately I’ve been taking lessons from the minimalists. When it comes to putting first things first, I think they’re really on to something. My personal motto of sorts is, “Make room for what matters most,” and I believe that what minimalists inherently know--and what some of us aren’t always as conscious of--is that to be able to give your time and attention to what really matters, sometimes you have to let go of what doesn’t.

Minimalists minimize, of course. To do that, they have to prioritize--they focus first on what enhances their lives and then reduce the rest. I can’t say whether minimalists are happier than the rest of the population, but I do think that by letting go of some things, all of us can make more room for what brings us joy.


Fewer clothes = less laundry, more room in closets, less time spent trying to find what to wear

Fewer dishes = less time spent washing and loading/unloading the dishwasher

Fewer toys = less picking up, more imagination and outside time

Less stuff around the house = less cleaning, less time spent putting things away, fewer items lost, less time and money spent maintaining all those belongings

Fewer hobbies and outside commitments = less money spent and more time saved for one or two favorite pursuits/causes

Fewer books = yeah, right...

I’m coming to understand better than ever now how “less is more.” Less stuff means more time, money, space, and energy for what really matters. Not that I’ve ever had an excessive amount of stuff, but we all know how quickly it can pile up, and in a world with so many wonderful objects and opportunities to choose from, it can be hard to discern what actually enhances our lives and what takes away from them. I think the key to simplifying is deciding what matters most, and then being willing to let go of what doesn’t.

And, with inspiration from minimalists, I’m in the process of doing that right now. Every year I declutter and organize (it helped that we moved every year for 6 years), but this has been the biggest purge yet. Our lives have changed drastically in just the last couple years, and many of the things that served us well when it was just the two of us in an apartment (was that really just 2 years and some months ago? feels like a lifetime) are now simply taking up space in closets and cabinets.

As I’m trying to organize this new life of ours, the question I’m asking myself is, “Does this make my life better?” ...Not, “Do I like it?”...“Is it useful?”...or “How much money did I spend on this?” (Does anyone else ALWAYS remember, even years later? Or am I just a little OC?) I’ve realized this: some things I like or that are useful or valuable--like the stack of adorable but empty baby books that were gifted to me, or one-too-many “special occasion” outfits I’ll likely never get to wear again--don’t really make my life better. And some things that do make my life better--oven mitts, diaper cream, filing cabinets, mismatched towels--are not things I necessarily like.

I’m not sure it’s reasonable to expect everything in our homes to “spark joy,” as Marie Kondo so famously suggests in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but I do think deciding what’s worth holding onto and what isn’t can make more room for joy in our lives. Sometimes the time, space and energy an object is taking up is actually more valuable than the object itself.

And if that’s true, then we can be sure that when we give that thing up, we’ll get something much better in return--maybe more time with those we love, more peace, or more energy. When you think of it that way, it doesn’t seem so hard anymore, does it?

One last thought: I hope this isn’t a stretch, but I can’t help thinking about the rich young ruler in the Bible, who asked Christ what he should do to inherit eternal life. Christ answered, “One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.” Likewise, I wonder, is some of my stuff holding me back from the peace and joy He has to offer? What am I willing to let go of to embrace His plan for me?

Now, I’m not suggesting that having too much stuff is wrong or that we should get rid of everything we don’t need or that we should all be minimalists. My goodness, can you imagine how boring our world would be if everyone were minimalists? Like anyone, I’m just looking for ways to make life even better for my family and me. And minimalism is just one way of making room for what matters most.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Simple DIY Good Manners Banner

We’ve been learning about manners at our house this week, and so today I’m sharing this simple DIY good manners banner. And when I say DIY, I really mean do it yourself.  No printables here, people--I don’t get paid for this. I’m just here to share simple goodness.

A few thoughts on manners: it wasn’t a new concept for Caleb. He’s been learning manners since he started talking, and he’s pretty good about it, but a couple months ago, he started talking back more. We tried a lot of things--timeouts, cutting out TV, modeling good manners--but what worked best was teaching him to answer, “yes ma’am” and “yes sir” to us. 

I think he just needed to be taught the right way to act, versus the wrong way, and it’s really opened the door to teaching him how to use good manners in all situations. As a Southern girl, I was raised to say “ma’am” and “sir,” and while that's certainly not the only way to respond politely, I do believe that teaching children to use good manners is how they first learn to show respect for others.

This was a quick and easy project to do with my son (if you look closely, you can see a few scribbles--his contribution). I got the idea while I was browsing Pinterest for fun ways to teach manners--I saw a set of flashcards for older kids, but they were pretty generic and had no pictures. I decided to make my own, but hang them like a banner and make it into a game. It only took about twenty minutes, and we used what we already had on hand.

All you need is:
  • Index cards
  • Markers
  • Ribbon or yarn
  • Clothespins
  • Stickers (for rewarding good manners)

It’s been fun adding stickers to his banner through the week each time he remembers to use good manners. I wouldn’t say that it’s helped him remember more as much as it’s just made it more exciting for him (instead of feeling like I’m nagging him about it). Everyone loves a game, especially a toddler!

If you make one, let me know how your little ones liked it. I mean, please let me know they liked it!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

5 Simple Ways to Be Kind

Kindness is a universal source of joy. But how often do we forget to think of others, or justify actions that tear others down? We have so much power to bring joy to others and strengthen the people in our lives, especially those who mean the most to us. I believe kindness is the key to that power, so here are 5 simple ways I’m learning to be more kind:

1. Learn people’s names and use them.

Obviously, you don’t need to learn the name of someone you’ve known for years, but you might be surprised how much power there is in using it. Ask, “Mike, how are you doing?” instead of just, “How are you?”, and suddenly that question feels much more personal and serious, instead of aloof and meaningless. You can even do this with someone you’ve just met a few seconds ago: “Karen, I’m so glad we met,” instead of, “Nice to meet you.”

My mom suggested I try this back when I was in middle school (worst awkward phase ever), and since then, I’ve been amazed over and over at the effect a simple hello, paired with a name, can have on a person. Remembering names isn’t always easy, but consciously using someone’s name is a simple and powerful form of kindness.

2. Ask questions and listen.

The truth about the aforementioned awkward phase is that, sometimes, I feel like I never really outgrew it. But I can’t be the only person in the world who feels rude when I can’t think of anything to say in a social setting. I’m learning that one of the best ways to show kindness, especially when your mind goes blank, is to ask questions. 

It takes some practice to learn how to ask good questions, but it’s also a great way to avoid talking about yourself, and it's helpful when you find yourself in a debate. Rather than trying to prove your point or getting defensive, start asking questions, and you'll likely get a different perspective.

Asking questions works wonderfully in families and all kinds of relationships, too. Ask your boss about her (or his) biggest challenges, your coworkers about their previous jobs, your siblings about their summer plans, your parents about their latest volunteer efforts, your kids about their friends, and, if you’re married, find out what’s on your spouse’s mind. Then listen with an open heart.

3. Smile.
There's not much to say here: a little smile goes a long way. I mean, don’t stare at people with a goofy grin on your face (I might be guilty of this at times), but do acknowledge them with a simple smile. What if every time you greeted your spouse, your coworker, your neighbor--or even complete strangers--you smiled? The simple habit of smiling could quite possibly change someone’s whole world--and your world, too.

4. Point out the positive.

So you don’t like how someone dresses, or talks, or votes, or eats, or worships, or doesn’t, or whatever... Maybe you just flat-out don’t like someone. Maybe someone--even someone close to you--has been unkind to you. There are a million reasons not to be kind, and it’s easy, but it takes real courage and strength to look for the best in others, and even more to point it out. To be willing to look beyond a person’s outward appearance and faults is the essence of kindness.

5. Remember details.

Have you ever felt like you’re having the same conversation with the same person over and over? Try this: the next time you talk to someone, take note of just one or two details and tuck those away in your brain. Then, the next time you see that person, go to that “mental file folder” and ask a question about something you remember from your last conversation. Again, this isn’t just for acquaintances--friends, siblings, parents, your spouse--everyone likes to be remembered. This is probably the hardest one for me on the list, since I can be a little scatter-brained sometimes, but the point is to think of others instead of myself, which is to put kindness into action.

Last Thoughts: Christ on Kindness

Most of the time, people will return kindness for kindness. However, there have been many times in my life (like yours, I’m sure) that, sadly, that's not been the case. I’ve even been taken advantage of before (again, like you I’m sure), and as Christ taught, that can happen when you’re trying to be kind. I’ve been comforted many times by His words here:

“But I say unto, That ye resist not evil (or, being treated badly); but whosoever shall smite thee on on they right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn thou not away...Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” And as He taught earlier in His Sermon, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice (!) and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven.” (KJV Matt 5:39-44, Matt 5:11-12).

In other words, true kindness is put to the test in the worst circumstances. “For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans (tax-collectors for Herod or Rome, considered the lowest of the low in that day) the same?” (Matt 5:46) We can certainly stand up for ourselves, but at the same time, we can never err too far on the side of kindness, even if it means being bullied or taken advantage of from time to time, because the reward for kindness is greater than any harm others can bring to us.

Showing kindness can be simple, but it takes courage. There are many times in my life when I wish I'd been kinder and more considerate. But when it seems impossible, I go back to this list, and I always find some way to be kind. I’ve seen simple kindness work miracles (like that college roommate who tried to beat me up once...), and even when it doesn’t change my circumstances, it always changes me for the better. I hope, in the same way, this list helps you find ways to make your own world a little better and kinder.