Seizing the Summer

As Summer keeps running past, I look and realize that it has been a MONTH since I posted last! Oh, my goodness. I am not sure where that time has gone honestly.  We have been working and worrying and playing and just having fun. In other words, making memories.   And in that, my writing has gone to the side for these few weeks.  I am sure that you will not begrudge me that.

A good friend of mine posted recently about things she wanted to do to Seize the Summer. And the items she listed off just rang in my heart. For each was something that would create a memory for her and her husband, as well as any friends and family involved. They would lay the foundation for summer traditions to come.

So, I have my own list of memories I want to make this summer.

  • Have the children spend quality time with their out-of-state grandparents (scheduled for a week in August!)
  • Visit the Aquarium (August)
  • Visit the Museum of Science & Industry (August)
  • Take a bike ride with our new bike trailer
  • Take evening walks
  • Work in the (little) backyard
  • Roast some marshmallows
  • Go to a drive-in movie and bring a picnic dinner
I will probably think of more, but that’s what I want to do before the summer is officially over.
What are some of your must-have summer traditions?
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The Heart of the Matter

The last few weeks have brought a revelation to our family.  And this revelation will not come as a surprise to any of you. It didn’t even really come as a surprise to me, because the crux of it is what I have been striving towards since embarking on this journey.

People are more important than Things.

I know. Shocking, right? 🙂  As this is a very basic philosophy to the minimalistic lifestyle.  So, why did we come to this revelation this week?

The first situation was a minor one (in compared to the second). My parents came at the last minute and stayed overnight with us. I had not been planning for them and even though I have been slowly reducing our possessions (or crap, if the truth must be known), there are still quite a few areas that need improvement. And as any parent of 2 small children knows, those areas that may actually be clean, do not remain so for long.

But in response to my mother’s unexpected call, I took the time I had to change the sheets on the bed and tidy up the bedroom to make it presentable. Why? you ask.  Well, this particular room has become the “sorting” room. As I go through things, if there is a box that requires additional review, so to speak, it has been placed here to go until the next time I have 15-30 minutes.  What did not get done, was the dishes in the sink, or a quick pick-up of our main living area.

Now, why did this situation resonate with me? It was the response my mother had. When they arrived, I apologized for the state of the house. And my mother said, “Don’t worry about it. It shows me that you spend more time with your husband and children, than cleaning your house. And that’s how it should be.”  I had never looked at it that way before, but she is right. My children will only be this small for a short time.

Now, the second situation was a bit more serious. We have a dear friend who has been battling a rare strain of the cancer multiple myeloma for the last two years. He is in his late 30s, married, and has 2 school aged children. In the course of his treatments, he has had multiple stem cell transplants, as well as the chemo, radiation and other cocktails to try and battle this disease. He is even a patient of one of the renowned doctors for this strain in the country.  But this cancer will not stop; it keeps returning.

His faith and outlook very rarely has wavered and he has been inspiring to anyone who comes in contact with him. He has spent months and months away from his family at this treatment facility. Recently he was able to spend 5 weeks at home. But during that time, his blood counts never stabilized. He was weak, tired,  and even had to be hospitalized once. But on the days that he was feeling better, they were able to get in family time – golf outings, trips to the movies, even just getting out and walking the dog as a family.

He just returned to the facility this week and starts a new clinical drug next week. The doctors are running out of treatment options. He is becoming forgetful – not remembering plans that he and his family have made or the fact that they have been cancelled. His wife and children are flying to see him this weekend, but she’s not sure he even remembers that. The children are scared to see him and think that every time they see their mother cry, that he has died. The oldest daughter made the comment that her friends just do not appreciate what they have, in regards to their parents.

So, it was this situation that brought me to the most important piece of that revelation – that people are more important than things. It doesn’t matter that you have dishes in the sink, or clothes to fold, or even work to do for your job. If my child asks me to read her a book, or to go outside and play, that is the most important thing. The time we spend with our families and those who are most dear to us is more precious and fleeting than any mundane task or everyday chore. Obviously, I’m not saying to never do those things. But it is the choices we make that shape the legacy we leave. And I would rather fold those clothes after the children are asleep, than to tell my 2-year that I do not have the time for her.

And that is the heart of the matter. So, just know that if you stop by my home, even though we are minimizing, you may find toys on the floor, crayon marks on the wall, dishes in the sink, a load of laundry beside the couch waiting to be folded and the grass may be an inch or two longer than it should be. But you will also find grinning faces, sweet blue eyes, and children who love to have books read to them and have tea parties.

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Habits

Yesterday was Day One of our No-Spending Challenge for the month of June.  And it was amazing how even the smallest things seem to be affected.  But it all comes down to habits; those I have and those I have not developed.

  1. Meal Planning – I am still struggling with learning meal planning. I always think I have a plan and then the plan falls through. So, going into a no-spending month without a meal plan is even more of a challenge. We need to use up what we have in the freezer, fridge and pantry.  And create a Habit of planning what we eat for meals & snacks.
  2. Coffee – I never realized how often I just stop for coffee on the way to the office. But yesterday, I found myself almost turning that direction out of habit. Habit. That $5/day habit that could be better spent somewhere else.
  3. Snacks – I have never planned for snacks before. Just grabbing something in the kitchen or at a store when we run out. I need to create the Habit of making things on the weekend so we have them during the week. Same for Breakfast.
  4. Gifts & Cards – We usually just run to the store the day or two before an event to pick out a gift and/or card. I am already finding events we were invited to that we hadn’t pre-purchased this last weekend. I will need to either make a gift/card or find something in my gift closet (which is why I HAVE the gift closet – so I am not spending money unnecessarily). I need to create a Habit of checking the calendar at the beginning of each month and making sure we have the necessary gift/card for the scheduled events.
  5. “Deal” Shopping – I have stated before that I do use coupons to help cut our grocery costs, often stockpiling items at the rock-bottom prices. But looking at the weekly ads has become such a Habit that it is hard to NOT think of going shopping this week for that must-have item. $.50 body wash at Walgreens this week…… I am having to restrain myself. We have enough in our stockpile, but it is such a DEAL. The rush of getting items for free or nearly-so is overpowering.
The habit of just following our neighbors, family and friends as they meander through purchases is there. We go to the mall or IKEA for fun, just to look around. Of course, that “looking around” will almost always result in a purchase. And that is where this Challenge will be the most telling for us. It is making us aware of the mindless, needless spending that so many talk about when they switch to a cash system (which we have not yet).
What Habit have you discovered lately?

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Memorial Day Plans

Here it is, coming on Memorial Day Weekend, and my vow to get the junk out is not completely finished.  We have cleared out quite a bit from our main living area, but it is currently stacked in our garage.  We have decided to hold a joint garage sale with a friend, and then what is left will be either sold on CraigsList (if we think it may sell there) or donated to the local thrift store.

But even getting it out of our main living area has resulted in some things that are just simply wonderful.

  • Simpler kids’ wardrobes
  • Contained and limited toys
  • Empty kitchen counters
  • Empty living room space – easier for the kids to play!
  • Empty stairway – does anyone else use theirs as a spot for “things that go upstairs”, yet they never quite made it up the stairs?
  • And a Master List of large furniture pieces that will be moved out
We are no where near finished and now I understand when other people have said they thought it would take a few weeks and find themselves now years later still decluttering.  It really is a never-ending process.  But even just this short period of time, I’ve learned a few things:
  • In regards to toys, better quality is better than quantity.
  • I need to buy an e-reader (and we are slowly saving for one), because we have way too many books that I am not willing to part with yet. I have my “these must go with me as hard copy in case I am stuck on a deserted island” few, but I still like having the others (you know, just in case I want to re-read the Twilight series again) around. An e-reader will solve that problem!
  • If I have not used an appliance, tool, whatever that we received as a wedding gift 6 years ago, there is little-to-no chance that I will ever use it.
  • Fewer clothes = Easier to keep up on laundry
  • For scrapbookers, the scanner is your friend!
  • That while we never use our desktop computer (seriously! Both my husband and I almost exclusively use our laptop), my husband is just not quite ready to let it go. And I need to be okay with that.
And so I continue on this path, hauling my family along for the ride. We are planning a multi-state move within the next year or two (or sooner!) and the less we have, the better!
Our next challenge is a No-Spending Challenge we are taking on for the month of June. We have decided that only essential spending will be allowed, which includes: gas (ugh! We’re paying over $4.50/gallon!), regular bills (mortgage, utilities, etc.), minimal groceries (dairy, eggs, fresh fruit, leafy greens + regular meat order from local organic farm – lasts us 3 months!).  Plan is to augment our savings, reduce some debt, and get some ground under us before July brings the dreaded salary cut.  Step One: spend the weekend planting a few vegetables in a container garden.

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Balancing Church & Home

My family has decided to find a new church to attend. There are some issues with our current place of worship. Right now, the feelings of distrust and betrayal towards leadership are clouding what should be a blessed experience during worship. And for us, the better choice is to find a new church home.

While I know that not all of my readers are Christian, you may have this same issue with your place of worship as well, the incessant feeling that you must be a part of every single thing that is going on.

At our current place, we are deeply entrenched in various ministries (from childrens’ to music to technology and more) that it has come to the point where we spend a few nights a week, plus many times the entire weekend, at activities at the church.  When I struggle with getting laundry finished or the house picked up, my mind always responds with “If we were just home a few nights a week that might help.”

So, I venture into a new community with a sense of freedom (Yes! No more teaching Sunday School!) and a sense of trepidation (But don’t we need to be involved to meet people?).  I want to find that delicate balance of participation and family home life.

Don’t get me wrong, I am the first to admit that you do not necessarily need to be in a formal church building to experience God or to worship him.  There are some who would argue that now would be the time to just stop entirely; enjoy our time alone.  But there have been times in our married life where having that church family has helped us through some difficult times. And it is nice to know that you can ask for help in whatever form it is that you need it.

But back to the balance.

My first thoughts were what are we wanting from the church? And what kind of a time commitment are we willing to give to the church? And what about volunteering?

What do we want from a church?

  • A sense of family
  • Good children & family programming/small groups
  • A contemporary worship service

What time commitment do we want to give to the church (outside of activities at home – i.e. self bible study & prayer time, helping children with prayers, etc.)?

  • A weekly *contemporary* worship service – 1 hour/week
  • Sunday School for the kids – 1 hour/week
  • Small Group – 2-3 hour/month
And what activities would we be willing to volunteer for?
  • At this point, I do not want to volunteer for anything. I want to see how cutting back to the basics works for us first. At this stage of our life, that may be all we can manage.
Now the search is on to find a church home that will meet our needs. We are not confined to any one denomination, so that opens quite a few doors.
How do you find a balance with this area of your life? Or maybe a similar area where volunteering/participation seems to just take over?

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Taking a Paycut

It’s almost become a cliché: getting layed off, taking a pay cut, being out of work. Sadly, it is touching every person either directly, or indirectly through someone they know.

This week it touched my family.

My husband went to work on Friday morning and was told that in a few months, his salary will be cut 25%. Thankfully, it’s not 50% or even a complete lay-off. But it will still affect our budget substantially.  We will rely on my income even more, and I carry our health insurance. But after crunching numbers and considering the lower cost of daycare (reduced pay = reduced time, so we can take another day off from paying daycare each week), we think we will break even.

One of my best friends works for the same business and was also advised of paycut. However, they are not sure that they will fare as well. Barely making it each month, they are afraid they will need to sell one of their cars (public transit in our area is practically non-existent and both she and her husband work out of the home), and if cutting all other costs doesn’t work, they may have to sell their house.

My husband and I, after a short conversation, invited this family to move into our house with us, should it come to selling their house. Suddenly, every bit of “extra” in our house really doesn’t mean much. We are willing to sell nearly every item in our bedroom and our children’s bedroom, plus our office, to make room for our friends.  We decided the only thing we would put into “storage” in our garage would be the dresser and cribs from kids’ room, because they were an heirloom item.

Our house isn’t large. In fact it is a 3-level townhouse with a garage/laundry room/storage on the ground level, dining/living room & kitchen on the main level, and bedrooms upstairs.  But it is still cluttered with useless items as I gradually attack each living space.  And watching my friend frozen with shock and terrified of having to sell every thing she owns… put it in perspective.

Why do we own all of these unnecessary things?  I watch the news reports of the tornadoes in Alabama where people just lost everything and think – what would I want to save from a storm? I look at the one-too-many tablecloths, extra t-shirts-from-some-event, and even the fleece blanket my sister-in-law has given us for Christmas (for the 3rd year in a row!) and think: If a tornado was coming, would I grab this? If there was a fire, would I be upset if this was lost?  More often than not, the answer is no.

So, as I sit and start collecting items to sell on Craiglist (my first venture in this! Help me!) or put up on Freecycle, it’s getting easier to let the Stuff go. It’s just Stuff. And most Stuff can be replaced.

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The Delete Button

I have to confess that it has been about 4 weeks since I have *actively* read my personal email.  I use Gmail and have it set up with the Priority  Inbox, so everything from my mom, other family, and closest friends was read right away – and all the JUNK just left.  Made me think about it this morning as I sat and saw 6,000+ (yes that is a 6 in that number!) UNREAD emails. Dear God, why do I even have that many?

Blogs

There are many blogs I like to read: minimalist blogs, homemaking blogs, money-saving blogs. Kinda ironic, isn’t it? I had been subscribing to these in Google Reader, but found that the time to read them wasn’t there. So, I changed to subscribing by email, because I see my email more and would be more inclined to read them. Wrong!  Now I have a cluttered inbox, whereas before I had a cluttered reader.  I still like to read these and get updated, so I’m torn on how to proceed. Unsubscribe from everything? Hmm..

Coupons

I do save an average of 50% on my monthly grocery bill using coupons and so subscribe to quite a few coupon & money-saving blogs. Or from companies with printable coupons embedded in the email. Do I really need these? I have my favorites that I check regularly because they don’t have subscriptions. Maybe I should just stick to those.

Emails to Myself

Does anyone else do this? Maybe I’m just strange. LOL! If I see a website, a recipe, an idea that I want to save for later – I email it to myself.  Often, it just sits in my email, because I don’t have the time to look at it again. So a lot of the pending emails are from ME.

There is absolutely no reason to have 6,000+ emails, unread or read, period. None. Why do we do this to ourselves?

Recently, I went through my work email and only have urgent things in my viewed inbox, with archived emails in their respective subject folders. This has helped clear my mind tremendously.

Do I really need to keep the emails with wedding plans from 5 years ago? Or the pictures of my then-new nephew when he was born in 2004? Seriously. These are emails I have in my inbox right now. Why am I keeping these?

I really want to just CTRL+A and select all and then Delete, but there is this FEAR. Fear that I will delete something that I didn’t really mean to delete.

I did it. I just did it. I Selected All and hit Delete. Wow – what a feeling.  I know that if I need something, I can do a search for it and Google will look in the Trash, too.  But my inbox is now empty.

Self, there is a new rule in town: if it’s not important to read and act on right away, it’s not important enough to keep.  And if it’s not important enough to keep, why am I receiving it anyway??

The Next Step: Unsubscribe from all of the noise.

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