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Simple Living: Minimalist Wardrobe

I’ve mentally written at least a dozen posts since the last time I actually sat down to write.   But 2 things stopped me: 1) I needed a break from writing in general.   School took a lot out of me (a lot more than I expected) and I needed to not be in front of my computer for a while.  2) I needed to spend some time reconnecting with people and catching up on things I hadn’t had a chance to do in a while.  But, rejoice!, because I am now fully rested and reconnected and excited to share with you my latest minimal conquest…my wardrobe!

A lot of discussion has been had about building the “perfect capsule wardrobe”.   For those of you who may not know a capsule wardrobe is the basic essentials that you need to have in your closet.  The rest of your clothes would be things that you change out seasonally but your capsule wardrobe is the high-quality, classic stuff you wear all year around.  I did some reading on building a capsule wardrobe (and if you’d like to too I recommend this, this, and this!)  Then I came home last night and attempted to tackle my closet aaaaand…I definitely don’t have a capsule wardrobe.  And at this point, I’m not planning on having one.

“But, Becca!” I imagine you saying in a shocked and slightly aggrieved tone, “Don’t you love having less?  Why would you have so many clothes?”

Well, gentle reader, it’s true I do love having less.  I love it a lot.  In fact, this whole minimal idea took root in my head because I walked into my closet 3 years ago and thought “this is not the closet of a faithful person”.  I felt I had too many items I wasn’t wearing that were in excellent condition and that could help someone else look good, get a job, feel good about themselves, or stay warm.  Since then I have instituted lots of changes to keep my closet in check.  I cannot even count the number of times I’ve cleaned out my closet.  (Seriously, it’s a high number and I’m bad at math).  I have a hanger rule; no new hangers allowed.  If I run out of hangers I have to get rid of something I already own (this rule has been helpful but not often necessary).  In fact, I so regularly clean out my closest that my friends ask “what is left in there?”  A lot.  Let me tell you.  A WHOLE LOT OF STUFF.  In fact, currently there are 75 things hanging in my closet.  Which is more than double the 33-37 rule of most capsule wardrobes.

At first, I was pretty concerned about how many articles of clothing I still have in my closet (especially considering that does not include the stuff I have boxed away in tubs for other seasons) but I’m feeling pretty confident about my clean out now.  Let me explain how I got there.

First I took everything out of my closet and put it in piles in the living room based on the frequency of wear and also how much I love it.  I have a couple of dresses that I love but I don’t wear more than 4 times a year.  Still, I’m keeping them…at least for now.   I also had a lot of stuff that would look super cute, if only I would wear them.  But I don’t  and I’ve had them long enough to know that I won’t so they don’t get to stay.  This meant saying good-bye to all kinds of things- pants, dress tops, skirts- all things that were only good in theory.   I also got rid of anything that was worn beyond repair or faded beyond respectability.  Also anything that doesn’t fit, which can be tricky to gauge sometimes.  I am not a fan of keeping lots of clothes that are too small for you especially if they are several sizes too small and you’ve had them for more than 2 years.  Mostly I try to think about who could wear this if I donate it.  I have lots of work clothes that I have bought over the years thinking it would help me to dress more professionally.  It never works because that just isn’t my style and it isn’t required of my job.  But if I donate those clothes that gives someone else a chance to maybe look good on a job interview or look more professional in their own line of work.  And that makes me way happier than having that outfit in my closet gathering dust.

Weather in Texas makes my wardrobe choices a little tricker in some regards.  It can be 80 degrees in the morning and 30 degrees by mid-afternoon, so Texas winter requires layers.  But it never gets super cold in my part of the state so it’s not like I need heavy jackets or sweaters.  The core of my wardrobe consists of jeans and tank tops and cardigans for layering.  I can throw a tank top under a dress or sweater to make it a little thicker and I can pull a cardigan over a dress or shirt in order to do the same thing to it.

I put away anything that was the wrong length, texture, color, or thickness for winter.  I have one tubby full of stuff for spring/summer and one small one for fall.  In a month it will be too warm for sweaters so those will get packed away and I’ll pull out more t-shirts and dresses.  It’s a pretty straight-forward system and one that is pretty exciting since every few months I get to feel like I’m shopping all over again in my own closet as I bring back out pieces I love and have packed away waiting for the right season.

So how do you tackle your own wardrobe?

You have to start by taking everything out of your closet.  Yes, this is messy and it sorta sucks.  Sorry.  It is by far the hardest part so just suck it up and do it.  Pull each item out and put it in the appropriate pile: love it, like it, leave it.  Love it is for stuff you love wearing, you feel beautiful and confident in when you wear it, and you wear it at least once every other week.  Seriously.  You should love it that much.  Like it is for stuff that you wear with great frequency but it’s not necessarily a love it item.  For me this includes tank tops and cardigans because I use them with almost every outfit but I’m not obsessed with them or anything.

Leave it is for stuff you love but NEVER WEAR (probably because you love it in theory but it fits sorta weird or it’s super complicated/expensive to clean or it’s not quite the right size anymore….whatever.  Be realistic here.)  Leave it also needs to include things that you shouldn’t or can’t wear anymore.  Items that have holes that you can’t fix or are super faded and worn (you might be able to find other uses for them, like cleaning cloths!), or items that you bought but never wore or that you used to wear but don’t love as much anymore.  Those all go in leave it. Know what else goes in leave it pile?  Anything that you have multiples of needs to come out of your closet.  You do not need 6 jackets (sorry…you don’t).  You do not need 10 all black t-shirts (do your laundry more often and this won’t be an issue).  You do not need 20 pairs of jeans (seriously…that means for almost an entire month you could wear a different pair of pants each day).

The leave it pile can be tricky and I respect that, but if you’re serious about having a minimal closet you gotta be brutal about what you keep and what you donate, give away, and toss.  So for a little inspiration I give you-

Reasons to have a minimal wardrobe:

1) Easier to get ready in the morning.

I have just the items I need and love so I can’t make a bad choice.  Plus I know everything goes together because I was an intentional shopper (post on this soon to follow!).  

2) Less mental energy spent on decisions early in the morning.

I don’t have to expend any mental energy to look good heading out the door in the morning!

3) I’m not spending money on lots of clothes, so I have more money to spend on things I do love, like hanging out with friends or books.

And frankly, I’d rather have books than clothes.  I don’t know what your book equivalent is but you could be enjoying more of it!

4) I’m not having to clean or maintain an extensive wardrobe.
5) I’m not contributing to or being controlled by the consumerist idea of “I’d be happy if…”

Having that perfect dress won’t magically make your day better.  Sorry.  Our days are better because we have attitudes of contentedness and peace, which we do not get from constantly lusting after more things or trying to achieve some kind of crazy physical appearance standard. 

 

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Why I love Advent and hope you do too

I know they’ve been playing Christmas music on the radio for days.  And I know Hobby Lobby has had Christmas decorations out since July.  But believe me when I tell you- it is not Christmas time yet.  No, seriously.  It’s not.

Today starts the season of Advent- one of my favorite liturgical seasons!  It’s the time leading up to Christmas where we prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of the Christ-child.  It’s a season of reflection, prayer, and peace as we wait expectantly to celebrate God With Us.

Don’t get it confused with Christmas!  Advent and Christmas are linked but they are not the same thing. Christmas is the feast and the party!  Advent is the fast and the quiet time.  Christmas is bright lights!  Advent is the patient lighting of just one candle at a time and sitting in the darkness waiting for the full light to come.    Christmas is crazy!  Advent is calm.

In a world constantly in motion and at full blast, Advent is an invitation to a time of intentional stillness and quiet. 

I have this mental image of a pregnant, teenage Mary just sitting on the hillside of Nazareth.  I was fortunate enough to be able to visit that town this past March.  I picture her sitting under the pine trees, looking down at the town with her hand resting on her pregnant belly.  Still and peaceful as she waited for her son to be born.  I imagine life for Mary was not easy and that her pregnancy could easily have been one filled with worry and fear.  She was an unmarried, pregnant girl in a strict religious community.  She had plenty to fear.  But when I read her beautiful response to the news that she is to be the mother of the Messiah I see a young woman who has found peace in obeying and trusting God.

And Mary said,“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
 His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
~Luke 1: 46-55

Each week we light one candle on our Advent wreath.  Each candle represents a different idea- hope, joy, peace, and love.  These are things I want in my life this Advent.  And I know I won’t find them in a mall or a store.  I won’t find them if I’m so busy running around I don’t have time to be still and seek the blessings of the Father.

It’s so easy for us to become wrapped up in all the things that we “have” to do for Christmas.  There are presents to find, buy, and wrap.  There are parties and events to go to and host.  Every kid is in at least 3 different Christmas concerts.  Every church has a full calendar of Advent activities.  There’s a house to decorate and lights to put out.  Family pictures to take and Christmas cards to send out!  There are a million things to do and to get done.  And sometimes all the Christmas cheer can feel like it is just too much.  It becomes an endless list of chores instead.

Dear friends, the world has sold us a lie about the meaning and value of Christmas.  Don’t buy into it.  

This Advent I’m inviting you to lay some of that down with me.  Get out your calendar and write down all the things you plan on doing.  What events do you have going on?  What parties have you been invited to?  Sit down and honestly map out your December.  And then…just pick a few things.  Say no to things that don’t help you connect with the spirit of Advent.  If it doesn’t help you to reflect on the gift of Christ, just politely decline.  I don’t know what those things are for you.  For me, it’s mostly the shopping and decorating.  I don’t feel the need to buy huge gifts for everyone I’ve ever meet.  And I spent a grand total of 1 hour decorating my house for Christmas.  Is it simple?  Yep. Is it still charming and cozy?  Absolutely!  I don’t need 3 days and 20 boxes of decorations to put me in the holiday spirit.

Some things I’m saying yes to:  Christmas craft night with girlfriends, Coffeehouse Talent Show put on by our church’s youth choir, and a young adult ministries Christmas party.  I plan to make as many of my gifts as possible so I’m sure I’ll spend some hours working on those.  I’ve already turned down a couple of invitations that sounded like so much fun but would just be too much for me this year.  I’ve also told some people no, I can’t help with certain events.  I have to say that one is harder.  I feel sort of guilty for not helping but I really believe it is important to say no sometimes (although I always offer alternative names of people to ask).  Just because something is good doesn’t mean it has to make it on your calendar.  And just because you think people expect it from you doesn’t mean you have to give it to them.  Advent is not about meeting the world’s expectations.  It is about finding the hope, love, joy, and peace that come from God as we wait for Emmanuel.

The main thing I’m saying yes to this Advent is some white space on my calendar.  I’m going to take time to rest.  I have a special Advent devotion book that I’m going to read each day.  And I’m going to serve others as best I can.  I want to slow down enough to notice the people around me and offer them help in any way I can.  I want to be extravagantly generous in ways that matter- in small acts of kindness and acts of love and service to my brothers and sisters.

I love the quiet calm and watchful peace of this season.  I love the time of dark knowing that the time of light is coming.  I am overwhelmed with gratitude and joy as I think about the fact that God, creator of all things and author of all life, loved us so much that he came as a human being and lived with us and died for us to bring us back into the family.  I love Advent.  I hope you do too.

Some cool things to check out as you start your season of Advent:

Haley Stewart at Carrots for Michaelmas:  I love this blog and adore their book!  You can read my favorite blog post here and order their fantastic book on liturgical living here.

Simply Wait:  Cultivating Stillness in the Season of Advent– this is the devotional that I’m using this year.

101 Days of Christmas:  Don’t be fooled by the title.  This book is full of some great recipes and craft ideas for a fun and easy Advent.

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The Minimalist Move: Complete!

I haven’t written anything in a couple of weeks because between moving, papers, tests, and a small desire to have a social life I have been exhausted.  Finally hit a wall this weekend and got very, very sick.  I’ve started work on this post about 10 times and couldn’t finish because I was just. so. tired.  But I’m hoping for a rally soon.  Note:  you should drink more than caffeine-infused beverages and eat more than a piece of fruit when you are starting to feel poorly…it won’t end well, friend.

But, congratulate me, because I have officially moved!  I am in my new place and loving it.  It still doesn’t feel like home yet but it is a really relaxing and quiet place and for that I am immensely grateful.  The other day I was getting ready and it was so quiet that I realized I could hear each brush stroke as I put on mascara.  I’m just saying…that’s scary quiet.

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Yep…that’s all my jewelry. I kept quite a bit because it dresses up my fairly generic wardrobe for work. But it’s a lot less than I had before!

 

Turns out moving when you don’t have a lot of stuff is pretty easy.  I’m hoping no one is super surprised by this information.  I came home from school on the Friday before the move, went and picked up the keys to the new place, then went out to dinner before going home to finish packing.  Movers showed up right on time and everything I own was loaded in their waaaaay too big truck in hour.  It took them a little less than an hour and half to put it in the new place…which has stairs.  Poor guys!  I had forgotten to get water bottles for them and, of course, my cups were still packed.  I ended up finding some glass bottles for them to use.  Note to self:  pack water for movers or you will feel like a jerk.   The movers were awesome!  Just two guys and they moved FAST, for which I was very grateful.  They even gave me a half-hour for free since I offered to go online and write some sweet reviews for them.  So fast, efficient, careful, and online business savvy- a total win.

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My very sweet parents came over and, after helping my sister unpack her new house just a few weeks earlier, they were already in the unpacking groove.  My kitchen is pretty tiny but my mom was a kitchen wizard and somehow I even managed to have empty cabinets!   My dad, bless him, tried valiantly to unpack all my books.  But that didn’t work out so well for me…thanks OCD.  So instead he became the project manager and that dude hung pictures, fixed me a little pantry shelf-situation (oh that’s right, my tiny kitchen doesn’t have a pantry), and broke down all the boxes and lugged them downstairs to the garage.  They even took me to lunch and bought me some new house necessities.  It was absolutely wonderful having them to help and we got everything unpacked!  Seriously.  Everything.  I have one painting that needs to be hung, two vases that I don’t know what to do with, and my winter bedding needs to be space-bagged and put away.  That’s it.

My "pantry" courtesy of my awesome Dad!

My “pantry” courtesy of my awesome Dad!

Ah, the joys of minimal living.  

So now it’s just a matter of settling in to my new space which has been fun and challenging.  I don’t have a linen closet but I do have a trunk that I am using as a coffee table.  Now it also holds all my sheets and blankets…yeah for multi-tasking furniture!  And I didn’t want to buy any more drinking glasses so I’m using some vintage wine glasses as my everyday glasses, which just makes breakfast OJ so much more fancy.  There are a few purchases I do plan on making though.  I need a floor lamp for my living room, something to put my purse and the dog leash on when I come in the door, and furniture for my patio.  But for right now it is just really relaxing to have just what I need.  And everything I already have is something I love.

My favorite spot is definitely my desk.  It’s a deep red which makes me smile and my desk chair is the most comfortable chair of all time.  I have some of my favorite “Jesus-books” on top of the desk along with a framed print of Doctor Who sayings (thanks, Lisa!) to keep me company.   I’ve started eating breakfast at my desk just so I can enjoy the chair, the view, and the quiet before the day starts.

Stay tuned for more Simple Living posts soon!  I’ll be writing about cooking and shopping like a minimalist- two things I’m having to deal with right now.  Have a great Monday!

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How to not pray like a Gentile

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and study about different spiritual disciplines, or different practices that help us grow in relationship to God.  I have found some practices that I really enjoy and that help me to draw closer to God but others are more difficult for me and less rewarding.  But I ran across some advice the other day that has really been troubling me.  It said “Start your prayer with a request for what you need from God today.  Get yourself filled up first so that you can pour out for others.”

Theoretically I get it and partially agree.  You cannot pour into others if you are not full of the peace and presence of God.  Spending time every day (yes every day) to reconnect and find rest in our Creator is the faithful work of a follower of Christ.  But should we really start our prayers with requests about what we need?

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

~Matthew 6: 7-8

Is it really my top priority in my intentional time with God to ask Him for things?  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pray for things we need I’m just questioning whether or not we have to pray for that first.  Should our prayers start with the list of things we need?  What does that say about how we feel about God?  Is He just a supernatural Santa Clause there to give us what we ask for?

And while I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pray for the things we need but I definitely think we have some issues knowing what we need.  A lot of the things we think we need are really just wants (see previous post).  If we pray for things we think we need before we ever ask God what it is He thinks we need we are missing out on an essential part of our relationship with God, namely, trust.  Trusting that God will provide what we actually need is foundational to our faith in and relationship with God.

Last weekend I got to spend an evening with sister and her family, including my one year old nephew, J.  Little J loves to talk but he doesn’t actually speak English yet so when he needs stuff he just sort of shouts and mimes things.  I have no idea what he needs although I try to guess.  But his mom and dad always know what he needs and they make sure he gets it.  Not only that sometimes when he asks for things in his baby language they know what he is asking for but they also know it’s not good for him…and they don’t let him have it.  Because they love and know him so intimately they know what he needs without him having to form any fancy phrases (or even simple ones) to ask for it.  And no matter how loud he gets, if something is bad for him they love him too much to give it to him.  Because providing for needs and discerning needs from destructive wants is what good parents do.  And our God is a great Father/Mother.

“Pray then in this way:  Our Father in heaven,  hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.”

~Matthew 6: 9-13

I think it’s critically important for us to start our prayers recognizing that God is holy and that as His children it is our desire for His will, not ours, to be done.  We start with silence and let God tell us what we need and trust that He will give us what we need to survive and serve that day.  Not necessarily a feast because sometimes what we need is a fast.  Sometimes we need plenty and sometimes we need to abstain.

So today don’t assume you know what you need because you don’t know what you will face today.  Don’t worry about fancy phrases or getting it just right.  Be humble.  Be sincere.  Be open.  Start your prayers the way Jesus taught us by asking for God’s will first and trusting Him to provide your daily bread.

 

 

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Simple Living Series: My Move Toward Minimalism

I’ve been writing a lot lately about the theory and ideas behind a minimalist mindset and it only seems fair to share how I’m putting that theory into practice in my own life.  I hope you have enjoyed the Simple Living Series because I have really enjoyed writing it!  I’m going to be brutally honest about my own move toward minimalism on this post so if you aren’t interested in what some crazy chick is doing in Katy, Tx (and honestly…why would you be??)  then move along.  We will resume regular programming tomorrow.  But I want to be open about my own situation for the sake of social media transparency.  I, by no means, have stuff figured out and I don’t want you to be fooled by blog posts into thinking that you are the only one you doesn’t have their stuff together…because I know that’s how I can feel sometimes when I’m online.  So anyway without any further ado:  the brutal truth about becoming a minimalist.

Truth #1:  It is messing with my head.

I am moving into a new home AND moving my office at the same time.  We are doing some office swapping at the church and literally everyone is waiting for me to move out of my office before they can move out of theirs.  So I’m THAT co-worker.  Awesome.  But my office has been the dumping ground for years and years of stuff which I am now responsible for no matter how it found its way here.  Which theoretically isn’t a huge deal.  Get a trash bag and let’s get it done.  But of course now I can’t do that because becoming a minimalist is messing with my head.  Every time I think about just throwing all these old books, VHS tapes, and other random assorted bits away I can see them piled up in landfills and I just can’t do it.  Isn’t there a way to recycle used books???  I’ve set up a cart in our Welcome Center with a sign “Free Books!!!!” and keep filling it with books hoping that they find a new home.  A lot of books have gone but there are plenty left.  And I am at a loss.  So office move 2014 is slow going.

Also, everything at home is now on the chopping block.  Example:  this morning I reached into my already severely culled jewelry box to get a pair of earrings and thought that at least 10 more things needed to go.  And they probably do.  And they probably will.  Because I just cannot abide keeping things that I don’t wear on a regular basis. So I guess what I’m saying is that if you want some free stuff you should probably come help me unpack this weekend because I will undoubtedly decide some of this stuff isn’t going to get to stay in the new place.

Truth #2:  Selling your stuff online takes work.

Don’t get me wrong it’s not that hard but it does take some effort and continual checking.  My kitchen table is covered with stuff I’m selling and a lot of it has found a new home.  Like…a lot.  Enough to cover some moving expenses which is awesome.  But I have to rather frequently check and make sure I haven’t missed any messages (had a dream the other night where all I did was continually check my messages…it’s getting intense).  And I have to go to the online sites and bump up any items that may have gotten overlooked.  Do not even get me started on the ridiculous admin people that run some of these sites.  Calm down lady, it’s not like you are curing cancer or anything.  And then I have to arrange meet-ups with people to actually sell the stuff.  I have 3 such meet-ups so far today.  First one at 10am last one at 8pm.  I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining because hello…money.  But it is some effort.

Truth #3:  I’m pretty sure I’m upsetting some people.

I have amazing friends and family who have gifted me with many, many things over the years.  And I appreciate and love every one of those people.  But in my quest to live more simply, I cannot keep every gift I’ve ever been given and I do worry that I’m hurting some feelings.  I am doing my absolute best to make sure that that doesn’t happen and that when I do decide not to keep something that was gifted to me that I show it the proper respect.  Some things are incredibly special and those things need to go to someone else who can use and love them.  So I’m trying really hard to be thoughtful, honest, and considerate to everyone  but I know that I’ve still upset a few people unintentionally.  Also, some people feel like I’m judging their desire to hang on to things.  I don’t care what you hang on to!  But I’m not going to hang on to it for you so we gotta just be ok with disagreeing on this point.

Truth #4:  I am still absolutely loving it.

It is tricky and not a small amount of work but I cannot wait till I get in my new place with less stuff.  I am just so excited!  My room has been clutter free for the past week or so since stuff has been packed for the move and I have just loved seeing it that way every time I come home.  And knowing that my home will be like that every time I walk into it fills me with delight.  Having space and being surrounded by just the things that I find useful and beautiful is a real joy.  It is absolutely worth all the effort to me.  And I cannot wait to tell you all about my new place when I move in this weekend!

Happy Monday!  
I hope you have a wonderful day filled with people you love and space to do the things that give you life!
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Simple Living Series: Buy only what you need

con·sum·er·ism

noun

1. the protection or promotion of the interests of consumers.

2. the preoccupation of society with the acquisition of consumer goods.

It’s that second definition that hits me in the gut every time…because it is absolutely true.  Our society absolutely has a preoccupation with getting more stuff.  And there are lots of reasons for this preoccupation.  We think we need it.  We think we deserve it.  We think everyone else has it.  We think it will make us happy.  And despite the fact that 99% of the time none of these things are true we still persist in clinging to these flimsy reasons as an excuse to acquire more and more stuff.  Don’t believe me?  Check out these scary numbers.

Over $250– How much each individual plans to spend on Halloween this year

$350 Million– How much Americans spend on pet Halloween costumes.

$2 Billion– How much Americans spend on Halloween candy.

Frankly we are just lucky today is Halloween and not Christmas because you don’t want to see the scary numbers that come down for that holiday.  Do we really think we need to spend $2,000,000,000 on…candy?  Does this not seem crazy to you?

If you’ve been keeping up with the the Simple Living Series you know what happens to the majority of the stuff we buy (if not check it out here).  We trash it and it populates landfills for years and years.  We are always going to have trash and until some genius invents a way to reuse every single piece of our trash, we are going to have landfills.  On the previous post of this series we talked about some alternative approaches to dealing with the things that we accumulate.  But the truth is that we need to be concerned about the fact that we are constantly and actively accumulating all these things that will have to be dealt with later.  Instead of having to declutter every so often, we need to look at why we are accumulating useless possessions in the first place.

We need to unplug from the consumerism machine.

Make no mistake, it is a machine and we are totally plugged in.  Like…Neo plugged into the matrix plugged in.  Because the consumerism machine is creating a false life for us that really only exists in our heads and all the while it is draining the life from us. (I’m sorry if you haven’t seen The Matrix because you won’t understand how truly brilliant that analogy is.  Go watch it now…I’ll wait here.)  The consumerism machine has us convinced that it is feeding us, making our lives better, happier, and fuller, when in reality it is slowly killing us and stealing our joy.

Here’s how it works.  You are at home after a long day at work just watching some TV and a commercial break comes on.  3 minutes later you are back to watching your show and chances are good you can’t even remember the commercials you just watched.  But later in the week you recognize a song on the radio and can’t remember where you have heard it before until you realize it was an advertisement for a particular thing.  Now you’ve got the jingle stuck in your head.  That weekend you get bored, so you decide to go to the mall.  You don’t need anything specifically but you’ve been wanting a new pair of shoes and you’ll just walk around the mall.  You end up spending 4 hours at the mall trying on clothes and shoes and looking at other stuff.  You buy a thing here or there and walk out with 3 shopping bags of stuff.  Stuff you now have to find a place for in your home. 

Confession:  The absolute most dangerous place for me in my battle with consumerism is Target.  I go in for a legitimate reason- like toilet paper or dog food- and leave with a new shirt (it was on sale!), new shoes or pjs, and that new Threshold household thingy (their new line of Threshold stuff is the cutest, most adorable bane of my existence). 

We buy things we don’t need and didn’t know we wanted 10 minutes before we saw it because we are programmed to do it.  We are programmed to believe that buying things will make us happier and fix the problems that we have in our lives.  If only we had that kind of mascara, our eyes would look bigger and more beautiful and we would finally meet a great guy!  If only we had that new fishing gear then we would be catching all the fish!  For every need we have there is a device, outfit, piece of equipment, or general thingy that will fill that need!  One problem:  most of these needs are manufactured.  We don’t need 100 pairs of shoes.  We don’t need a bunch of different kinds of glasses for different kinds of drinks.  Our kids don’t need every educational toy in a toy store.  Need isn’t the correct word for any of this stuff.  The word is want.  We want it.  And living a simple lifestyle means realizing the difference between need and want.

Need:  things we must have for survival.  Food, water, shelter. I would say we also need love and loved ones that we can trust.  We need some sense of security and safety.  We need some kind of purpose for our lives and we need work that fulfills us.  We need to be in relationship to God.  In fact there are lots of Bible verses that deal with what we need because this struggle of want vs. need is not a new problem.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
 he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff—
    they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    my whole life long.
~Psalms 23

If God is our shepherd we won’t want for anything. This is not to say that everything will be easy and wonderful in the way that we would like it to be.  But we will be provided for in the way that we truly need.  Jesus taught us to pray “give us this day our daily bread”.  Not give me a big Costco so that I can go buy stuff in bulk.  Instead, give me what I need to survive, and serve, just today.  We don’t need as much as the consumerism machine wants us to believe we do.  And recognizing that fact is the first step to freeing yourself from it.

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” 

~William Morris

I love this quote because I think it speaks so directly to helping us determine whether or not we really need the things we accumulate in our homes.  And we have to be ruthless when deciding if our possible purchases fit these qualifications.  A thing may be useful but not useful enough for us to give it a place in our home.  A personal example of this is a stationary KitchenAid mixer.  These are beautiful pieces of kitchen equipment and many baking recipes do require a mixer.  But, even though I like to bake, I have learned from experience that I really only use a mixer about 4 or 5 times a month (with a few exceptions for holidays).  So a better tool for me is my small hand-held mixer that I can store easily in a cabinet or drawer.  Maybe you bake all the time and you would use this mixer every day or several times a week.  By all means buy yourself a beautiful mixer!  But just because something has the potential to be useful doesn’t mean it deserves a place in your home.  In the same way, you can think something is pretty or cute but if it is not so uniquely beautiful that it greatly inspires or motivates you then it doesn’t deserve any of the coveted space on your counters or walls.

Before you put another thing in your cart or click Submit Order on Amazon or Etsy (obviously talking to myself there) ask yourself 4 questions.

Is this thing useful?
Do I already have something that will fulfill the same function?
Is this thing uniquely beautiful? 
Will I use/enjoy this thing for many years?

It’s that easy.  4 questions with real, honest answers.  Don’t be controlled by the consumerism machine.  You have the power to unplug and determine what your true needs are for yourself.  Be discerning and ruthless as you determine what you will let in to your home! Instead buy only what you need.

tetherball

What to do when you are all wound up

Do you remember playing tetherball when we were kids?  You know the one where the ball is attached to a string on pole?  You hit the ball back and forth with another kid trying to get the string all wound up on one side or the other.  You hit the ball and it goes round and round winding up the rope in one direction.  Your opponent hits the ball and it unwinds and starts to wind up the other way.  Round and round the ball goes getting wound up and down and up again in a new way.  Eventually the winner is whoever can hit the ball so hard that ball goes around the pole so fast that the other player can’t act fast enough to stop it and all the rope is wound up tight.  Remember this game?  (I found these awesome tetherball videos for your viewing pleasure.)

I don’t know about you but sometimes I feel a lot like that tetherball.  I’m just being whacked back and forth getting wound up about one thing and then the next.  Budgets due at work *whack*!  The house is a mess *whack*!  Accidentally replying all to that unfortunate email *whack*!  Parent/teacher conference *whack*!  Whatever the things are in your own life that cause you to get all wound up.  Confession time:  Nothing in this world makes me crazier than messy, dirty, and cluttered spaces.  And currently both my office and my home are in transition for a move.  So my office is a disaster.  My house is a disaster.  And I am a disaster.  I am all wound up and feeling pushed around by stuff outside of my control.  I want the stress ping-pong to stop but I can’t make it stop.

 Ever felt like that poor little tetherball being whacked back and forth between one stressful situation and another?

It is incredibly difficult to stop or even slow down this kind of stressful winding up.  There are a lot of things we have to deal with that we simply cannot control.  We cannot make our co-workers more agreeable or easier to work with and we cannot make our jobs any easier either (unless you get a new job).  Sometimes you are going to come up against deadlines and it is going to be challenging and exhausting.  We cannot control things like accidents or disease.  A phone call from a doctor or a police officer has the ability to send us reeling and change our lives forever.  We cannot control other people in our lives.  Our friends and family have the ability to make our lives very stressful.  Certain situations are always stressful- moving for instance.  Any kind of change can wind us up and make us feel like that out of control tetherball.

If this is where you are right now, please know I am sorry and I want to pray for you.  It is an awful, awful feeling to be trapped and tossed about by circumstances we can’t control.  It is not okay and I am so sorry.

So what’s the answer?  Well it’s not avoidance.  You can do all the right things to stay healthy and still get sick.  You can be the most productive worker in your office and still struggle with a particular assignment.  You can have an amazing relationship and still have to work through difficult issues.  You cannot out run it.  You cannot out plan it.  You cannot stop it.  S@#* happens.  And you can’t avoid it.

So now don’t you feel super encouraged?  Ok that’s it!  Have a great day!  Ok no, I’m totally kidding.  But seriously, I get it.  You can’t avoid it. You can’t stop it.  And all you want is to stop being whacked around by the stress and trouble in your life.  So what do you do?

I’ve only found one thing that works, at least for me.

I have to stop being the tetherball.  I have to step away.  

Get out of the game.  Take a break.  It does not make my problems go away.  I’m still going to have to face all that.  But for one day I don’t have to fight those battles.  For one day I can just breathe deeply and rest fully.  This sounds easy but can be very difficult to actually do.  If someone you love is battling cancer it can seem incredibly selfish to just step away for a day.  If you up against a deadline at work taking a day off can seem incredibly stupid.  But I’m not kidding when I say sometimes you have to just unwind.  It doesn’t have to be any big soul-searching retreat.  It can be as simple as spending one day at home in your pjs not doing laundry, chores, or answering emails.  It can be a movie-marathon.  It can be an epic bubble bath + good book combo.  It can be a day spent working on a project that does feed you- maybe a home DIY project, gardening, or a special craft project.  I’m not the boss of you.  YOU have to know yourself well enough to know what will feed your soul and let you rest (if you don’t  know what feeds you, you have a much, much bigger issue on your hands).

So my guess is now you are coming up with a list of reasons (excuses…let’s be real) why you can’t possibly take a day off.  You’ve got responsibilities!  You’ve got kids!  You are the primary caregiver!  You are the point person on the project!  No one else will take care of that!  Listen…some of that might be true.  Maybe even all of it is true.  But you still aren’t the most important thing in the world and the world will keep on spinning if you take a day off.  You can find someone to take your kids for an afternoon.  Or have time to yourself while they are at school or once they go to bed.  You can ask another family member to come take care of your ill loved one for a day (and choose a day when that is possible with schedules of doctors appointments and treatments).  You can delegate responsibility to another team member- and you know that once you take a break you will come back much more productive.  Letting yourself get so wound up that you snap helps NO ONE.  Stop pretending that it does.  You don’t have to be foolish and you do not have to be a martyr.

It may be difficult.  You may even feel some guilt (try to let that go) but when you are being whacked around by trial and tribulation and you are feeling all wound up you have to take a break.  You have to stop being the tetherball for just a little while and find your balance again.

 As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord.  They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”  But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again.
 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”
~Exodus 14: 10-14

When you feel slapped around by life remember that these aren’t your battles to fight alone.  And, I know this is going to make you uncomfortable but, you can’t win these on your own.  Life is hard.  We get stuck between an army and a wilderness.  Don’t just stand there and think it is better that you were dead (whiny Israelites can’t even see the redemption right in front of them…oops…I do that too).  Stand there and trust that the Lord will fight for you.  God will fight for you.

You are not a tetherball.  You are a loved child of God.  You can take a rest.  God will fight for you.  So for today…you only have to keep still.