Life looking in from the outside of social media can be deceiving. In a world driven by consumerism and especially in a country plagued by possession-obsession, we are constantly being told we need more. More stuff, more money to buy said stuff, more space to store it, more time to devote to it, more stress because of it. I don't know about you, but when I step back and think about that it nearly makes my stomach turn. This life on Earth is so, so short in comparison to Eternity. This life is a fleeting moment in the grand scheme of creation & existence. I don't think it's wrong to occasionally desire (or even own) nice things. We have a beautiful house we have made our home, a place my family and others enjoy being in. A place my heart is full and I can be at peace. A place filled with the most meaningful, cherished things. And we are not immune from wanting "nice" things any more than anyone else is. But it's when stuff becomes more important than people that there is a problem. When your desire for stuff is stronger than your desire to seek the Lord, to devote time to relationships, to be present with your children...in my opinion that is when it is wrong.
Perhaps our desire for a more minimal lifestyle sprung from my upbringing. As many of you know, I'm an only child. I grew up being loved and cared for by two very hard-working parents and grandparents. Because of my only-child status, I was pretty much able to get whatever I wanted. I didn't need to share it because I didn't have siblings and if I wanted it, I was given it. Even if I didn't need it. Sure, having nice things was great. But what I really wanted deep down more than anything else? I would have traded all the "stuff" for these two things: a sibling (or a few) and more quality time spent as a family. Making memories. Being together. Always having a sister or brother to play and laugh with. Experiences. Photos of times together that I could look back on fondly. Don't get me wrong, I had a wonderful childhood and upbringing and was blessed with four of the most incredible people playing a role in that: my own parents and my maternal grandma and grandpa. But what I miss most now that I'm grown? The memories I made with them. The times I spent baking with my grandma and licking the spoon of brownie batter in the kitchen. The times my grandpa would take me fishing and we would just be together in quiet, no need to say a word to fill the peaceful silence. The memories of growing up on a farm and taking care of the animals alongside my dad. The fun and laughter my mom and I always shared when we were together. I don't miss the stuff. In fact, I don't ever even think about the stuff, or what I had or what I didn't. What I wanted or what I got. I think back on the memories and the times I shared with the people I loved and that loved me. I want more of that, not more stuff.
As I grew older and moved off to college, my own apartment & eventually my own home when I got married, I realized that all the "stuff" I had was so unnecessary. What was I to do with it now? These nice toys from my childhood, clothing I had accumulated as a teenager that had gone out of style but was barely worn, gadgets of every sort that I never needed to begin with. I didn't want to keep it and lug it into my new (and empty) home, so I was forced to sift through it little by little and part with it. Spoiler alert: it ended up being a heck of a lot of work. And as it goes, our humanity only lasts a certain amount of time. As time went on and my grandparents and other loved ones passed away, I watched as my parents and family members had the task of sorting through their belongings, albeit minimal (probably because they grew up in a generation driven less by consumerism and more by survival) but still a task. A time-taking task. A task that took time away from living.
So you could say these experiences shaped me. They taught me what I do want for my life and what I definitely don't. What I want for my children and what I don't. What habits and behaviors I needed to overcome and what new ones I needed to develop. They have taught me the importance of thinking through each purchase, being sure what I am spending my money on is truly necessary (and not just for the sheer fact of buying), and discerning each and every thing I bring in to my home and in to my family's life. Dustin and I came into our marriage with relatively few things but even so felt it necessary to minimize. A few times each year, we began sorting through our closets and ridding our home of our possessions. We weren't living "simply" by any means when we first got married in 2012, as I still had more clothes than I could wear. But as we've grown and matured more, been given wisdom we sought after, and as my heart has been shaped and changed by the Lord, I have began to part with more and more stuff, not only of my own but of my family's.
Have you ever noticed as you get rid of stuff and clear out your home, you clear out your mind? Funny how that works, isn't it? Consumerism -- as much as it consumes our space and time -- consumes our minds. Our thoughts. And not even to mention our money. There are so many blessings that come with staying home with my girls (a dream I've had for as long as I can remember), but one of them being that for the most part we are a single income family. Yes, that is a blessing. Why? Because we are required to be wise with our money. The money Dustin earns (and works hard to earn) is valuable to us. Once our tithe and offering is given, how are we going to choose to spend and save it? On stuff that is going to grow old, break, rip, and eventually be tossed out or given away? Or stored in a box and quickly forgotten? We have learned enough to know that is not our desire. I want the money we spend (after we have saved) to be on memories. On experiences. On laughter and moments that are truly priceless. On quality over quantity. I want the money to benefit and bless others, to be invested in our children's lives and futures, and to be given to organizations that stand for what we believe in and whose values align with our own. At the end of the day, we choose to live a more minimal lifestyle because of how much more peaceful it is. Less stuff = less stress and a better quality of life. Why?
+ We have more time with our daughters. As their Mama, no matter how much time I spend with them (even an eternity), it will never be enough because of my crazy unending love for them. Give me every second of every minute for the rest of my life with them and I will still always want more.
+ We have more time with each other. We spend less time cleaning, taking care of stuff, repairing stuff, buying stuff, etc. and more time on dates, in conversation and investing in our marriage relationship. I am not forced to work outside the home and Dustin isn't forced to work overtime, weekends or evenings. If we are given an opportunity to do so and feel led, we do. But it is out of choice rather than necessity.
+ Decluttering my home and my life has shown me that I don't need stuff to live a good life. I don't need things to give me peace. I need God to do that. And no amount of stuff could ever fill that void I would have without Him.
+ We are able to adopt a mindset of putting others first. As you get rid of your own things and have the resources to bless others, you develop a habit of it that soon becomes second-nature. You would rather give something to someone else, treat a friend to dinner, surprise a loved one with something they have been needing than buy something for yourself.
+ Finally, the influence we have on our children. I don't want my girls to grow up with tons of stuff. With baskets and boxes of toys, closets full of more clothes than they could ever wear, and with a sense of always needing what's new, what's nicer/better/fancier. I don't want them to move from one toy to the next to the next carelessly. I want them to be creative, to imagine, to use what they have in new ways, to wear their favorite shirts and pants until they can no longer be worn because they have been played in, washed and rewashed and so many memories have been made while wearing them. I don't want them to grow to expect or demand gifts at special celebrations throughout the year like birthdays and Christmas. I want them to cherish what they have, use it for all its worth, and to be taught that life is about living, not about consuming. I want to give them an experience of those holiday celebrations rather than give them stuff. For example, baking cupcakes as we prepare for Olivia's birthday, building a gingerbread house and picking out a tree at Christmastime, etc.
Below are a few ways we aim for minimal living in our home:
+ Each of our girls has a single 4- or 6-drawer dresser, which holds a combination of necessities (medicine, toiletries, blankets, etc) and clothing. We don't use their room closets at all for their clothes. If I can't fit it in their drawers, I don't buy it. If it's not a piece of clothing of theirs that I absolutely love (I'm talking, if I wouldn't try to save it in a fire...), I get rid of it by reselling or donating. As time goes on, I am getting better and better at making those decisions before I buy something rather than after.
+ I am very very particular when it comes to their things, since they are too young to discern for themselves. We rarely buy toys for either of them, but when something is given to us (say at a birthday or holiday), I ask Olivia to choose something of hers to give away. ONE IN, ONE OUT. We have tried to adopt that with every single thing in our home. Anything that comes in (with the exception of food and basic necessities), the equal amount goes out. In addition to that, every few months I ask Olivia to select a few of her things to get rid of. I explain to her that there are children all around the world that don't have any toys or stuffed animals to cuddle with and ask her to choose some of her things to give to those children. Whether she is aware of what she's doing or not, this habit is one I plan to continually instill & reinforce in each of my children.
+ You would think with two little girls and almost 3 years since our first daughter was born, I would have boxes and boxes of clothing kept to pass on to each additional child. Truthfully? I've held onto less than a dozen pieces of Olivia's and resold the rest. I learned first hand it doesn't make sense to do this anyway, because my daughters were born in two completely different seasons -- one in Spring and one in Fall. The newborn clothes I had of Olivia's were meant for hot hot weather, and there was no way I would be able to put Poppy in them in October and November here. The money I have made reselling accumulates in my PayPal account and is used for (1) investing back into supporting handmade, which I am very passionate about because I am supporting moms like myself and families just like mine, (2) purchasing gifts for others, and (3) buying something I truly want without having to put it on a credit card. It is more a process of trading than anything else. If I have something I no longer want/need, I am able to sell it to someone who will use it/benefit from it at a low cost, and then use the profit to buy something I do truly want or need. I am also able to save additional money and pay bills that come with owning a home without working outside of it.
+ When we do spend money (say on gas, groceries, a date night out, cable & internet bill, etc), we put it on our one credit card that earns us rewards where we actually shop. The rewards we earn then in turn buy the clothing we do need for ourselves and our daughters as the seasons change. Every few months, I purchase a handful of high-quality new clothing for them that will last and be season-appropriate. I am often able to use rewards, stack discounts and get everything at little to no cost. At the end of the season or as we are transitioning into a new one, I go through everything and resell what no longer fits or what I don't plan to hold on to for future babies. I am learning to be very, very discerning at what I do buy, which makes it easier to get rid of stuff. The less stuff I buy and the more I love it, the less stuff I have to get rid of and the more likely I have a handful of pieces I truly treasure and will hold on to for the future. I mentioned it in the first point above, but we have what I call a "fire rule." If I own anything that I wouldn't genuinely try to save in a fire, I know I can part with it. If I am faced with a decision as to whether I want to buy something or not, I ask myself, "Would I try to save this if my house was on fire?" It sounds absolutely hilarious, and in some ways it is. But it's a good test of whether I truly will cherish what I am deciding upon or whether I just want to buy something to buy something.
+ I am always keeping my eyes open for a need I can fulfill in others' lives when I discover I want a change in my own. For example, toward the end of my pregnancy with Penelope, I knew I wanted to update our living & dining room furniture to more reflect our style. When we got married and moved in to our home, the furniture we had were basic pieces Dustin had purchased and while they were functional, I wanted to invest more in making our house a home and part of that began with only owning what truly showcased our style. I never want to own stuff just for the sheer purpose of owning it. So, we began with searching for new end tables and set of lamps, a new coffee table and rug and new dining room table and chairs. We resold our end tables, lamps, and coffee table as well as the rug. That right there provided for a portion of the money necessary to upgrade. When it came to our dining room table, I found the one I wanted the day before I was due at an incredible price. We're talking a $500+ table for less than $150. My best friend, who had just bought a new home with her husband and two boys, had been telling me the day before that she had found a table and chairs she liked and was hoping to buy the following day. After finding my own table, I came home to tell Dustin about it and get his opinion. I knew if we wanted to buy ours, we needed to do something with our old set (which in reality, was brand new because of how little it was used). Then it hit me. I called my friend to ask her if she had bought her new dining room set yet and she said she was headed out to get it within the hour. I proposed the idea of giving her ours; not only did it better fit her style than our own, but it would save them hundreds of dollars since they wouldn't have to buy a new one. I was able to bless her with something she actually needed and in turn, was so blessed because of it. If you seek him and ask, God will give you the opportunities to bless others in the neatest ways (like giving someone a dining rom table!) and will position you to have those "everything worked out perfectly" moments. Those are the best!
Below are a few ways we do invest the money we have:
+ In our tithe and offering
+ In partnering with various ministries around the country
+ In savings accounts for ourselves and each of our children
+ In high quality organic food
+ In our health via essential oils, regular chiropractic care, supplements, gym memberships, etc.
+ In professional photography
+ In others around us
+ In short weekend trips as a family or a couple (we took a babymoon in June 2015 and I had the best time with Dustin just being together, playing games, making memories and laughing.)
+ In worthwhile books for ourselves and our girls
So all this to say, that is our goal for this new year. To continue to live with a minimal mindset and simplify in every area. It is a constant, ever-changing process. If I don't consciously strive for it, I can easily fall in to the trap of buying more and more and more stuff. Because I am human and imperfect and as humans we often get our priorities a bit mixed up, especially as we are inundated with ads, sales, constant consumerism and live in a culture where we compare ourselves to others and what we have to what everyone else has. I want to stop comparing, to make memories with my family and to teach my children the importance of what truly matters in this life. I want the things I own to serve an important purpose or be very, very, very special. Lovely. Cherished. Treasured. Something that I look at every single day and smile. A piece of art or furniture that tells a story and reflects our style. A book that benefits my marriage, parenting or relationships. A home that is filled with laughter, music and dancing, the aroma of good food cooking, peace and joy. A closet with only my favorite clothing, a dresser with only the most special pieces of my daughters', a bedroom with empty space for a clear mind instead of clutter, and toys that are well-loved, require imagination and inspire a playful childhood. That is what we are striving for this year and every year. And I hope if you made it this far in my post today (this may be my longest blog post yet!), you are able to walk away with something you can apply to your own life. I know the desire to live more simply is not just in our own home, but in the homes of many of my friends and family. These are just a few ways that it has been successful for us and the benefits have been 100-fold, as we choose to live for what matters and not be consumed by what doesn't.
Hope everyone is having a wonderful week so far!! XO