Show Me The Money 2

Good evening, Dear Reader. And it is…a good evening, right? You slept in a bed under a roof. You could have had breakfast, or maybe you actually did. You put on clean clothes – maybe. You picked up your phone or logged into some device to read this. In other words, you had choices, and that’s my point. If you have a job that pays (in the U.S.A.) $17+ an hour, you are making a living wage. If you have a running vehicle, a place to live, and food in your belly, you have more than 80% of the 7+Billion people on the planet. Stop being such a sourpuss.

We are continuing our Things To Let Go Of series, kicking off the new year with Bad Money Habits. If you want to go back to the beginning, click here. We started off with hitting on debt reduction and honestly, to recap, reducing debt (in theory) is simple. Reduce expenses, increase revenue. Don’t accumulate any more debt until you comfortably can pay for it. I say it is simple in theory because it really is nothing more than basic math. But, most of us got into debt or can’t save effectively because of our thoughts, feelings, and experiences surrounding money in the first place. I don’t have time to address that today – the entire first part of my blogging back in 2011-2015 was about getting out of the consumer mindset. You can go back to those, or really…watch this documentary and start reading my favorite blogger, Joshua Becker from start to present. I, literally, can not thank this man enough for getting me on my road to rational minimalism.

Managing money is easy. Managing our emotions about money is…well…a bit more complicated.

But. As promised…I’m moving into my ‘how to’ guide for raising your credit score. Grab a drink and settle in. I’m going to tell you how I raised mine from 480 to 720 in a little over 2 years.

  1. Get your reports. You are entitled to one free credit report from all three agencies one time a year. To monitor for identity theft or weird things on my credit, I don’t get all three of mine at once. I order TransUnion in January, Experian in April, and Equifax in November. That way, if something odd happens to appear, I’m not waiting an entire year to find out. I also subscribe to Credit Karma (and I look at that thing once a day, sometimes two because I’m a bit retentive.) Go on…put it on your calendar with a yearly reminder. Then mosey on over to this site and get your free report. Once you have your report, you’ll be able to list all your debt and decide what debt storm to use as I mentioned here to pay it off. You will also look for things that do not belong to you. I found a collection from Go Daddy on mine and I was able to dispute it (you can easily do this yourself, do not pay someone to do it for you) and start working with your creditors to move payment dates or to lower your interest. I recommend checking out this site for more detailed information.
  2. On-time, every time. I mentioned this in my last post, but I can not stress this enough. Late payments are a detriment to your score. A late payment on your mortgage can put a ding there that leaves quite a scar for a bit. If your payments fall in odd places (like three payments due on the 13th, but you don’t get paid until the 15th), then call your creditors and ask them if they will move your payment to another day (like the 16th, in this example). Some of them will. If they won’t, then sell a bunch of crap you no longer need or get a second job and put a month’s worth of living expenses into your account so, essentially, you are ‘ahead’ in the math game.
  3. Join a credit union with a ‘credit builder’ program. If you are local to SW Missouri (417-Land) I recommend this one or this one. Why a credit union (CU)? CUs are nonprofit organizations and many of them have financial literacy (financial wellness) programs to help people restore their credit. If yours does, then get on a first-name basis with the person in charge of that program. Use every resource and every piece of advice they give you. I mean, I like Dave Ramsey – I’ve seen him live and I agree with a lot of his methods – but I don’t idolize him. And I don’t follow 80% of his advice. So, if you drink his kool-aid…then you’re not gonna like the rest of what I’m going to tell you. 
  4. Get a ‘Secured Credit Card’ (SCC). Remember my ’emergency fund’ I mentioned last time? I took my emergency fund and applied for an SCC with it. An SCC is just that…secured. This means you have to give them YOUR money to ‘secure’ that card. I don’t have space to explain it, but you can read about it here. So. I got my SCC with my $1500 and it DOES function as my emergency fund 99.9% of the time. The other part of the time? I use it wisely to play a game. I use it to buy gas and pay for anything I buy online. NOW…I don’t buy things I don’t already have the money for – I just use the SCC because it is more secure for online purchases than using a debit card. Anything I would normally buy anyway (Netflix, gas, Spotify, toilet paper, dishsoap) is set up to be ‘charged’ on my card. Then I…
  5. Play the game. I pay for some of the expenses that hit every week. So, if my Netflix ($12) and Spotify ($10) hit my SCC on Tuesday, and I buy TP and Dawn at Walmart.com, I pay those charges on Friday so a payment is hitting my card every single week (Newsflash: You can pay your credit card bills more than once a month). Now…here’s where the game comes into play. Find out when your actual payment is due (Let’s say it’s due on the 20th), figure out what 30% of your credit limit is (Let’s say it is $300), and find out when the Credit Union is going to report to the credit agencies (Let’s say they report on the 24th). Armed with this information…make the MINIMUM payment due on or right before the due date (In our scenario – the 20th). Make sure you have JUST UNDER the 30% left on the day they report to the credit agency (I’ll usually pay my Verizon bill on the 21st and get gas so that I’m right under BUT NOT OVER that 30% of credit limit threshold). Then, on the first of the month, I pay the balance in full and start the clock for the next month. That seems complicated now that I type it out, so I recommend the video on this page.
  6. Diversify your debt. You’re about to see why I go off the rails when it comes to Dave Ramsey’s advice. I use debt and credit to my advantage and I use it wisely. I do not subscribe to the ‘have no debt’ and we may not agree here. You do you. But, back to my point on diversified debt. You’ll need an installment loan (i.e. Car loan, student loans, etc.), a revolving credit line (I have my SCC, a store card, and a credit card for a home improvement store – which comes in handy when remodeling), and finally, a mortgage loan THAT YOU CAN AFFORD. I know my credit score will most likely not increase much more than where it is now until I add a mortgage to my list of creditors. I am okay with this. A note if you are renting: See if you can talk your rental agency/landlord into using a service that reports to the credit bureaus. (Word of caution: Now you’ll be on the hook to pay rent on time so DO THAT!). Lastly, Experian will do a ‘boost’ a few times a year and bring in things like your cell phone company and some utility agencies. I share a home with a relative. The mortgage loan is in her name, but my name is on all the other expenses (Cable, utilities, etc.). I use the Experian boost (It’s free!) once a year. This is only effective if you pay those bills on time. You don’t want bad stuff hitting your credit reports.

    So yeah. That’s it really. I think I mentioned that I am working on getting my student loan debt down to 50% of what is owed over the next ten years. Why just 50%? Because I’ve worked with my loan company to get on a specific repayment plan that allows for student loan forgiveness after on-time payments over so many years. To be transparent, I wouldn’t be mad if Biden and his administration got their shit together to forgive student loan debt BUT I do understand that I made the decision to go to school and I made the decision to take on debt related to that endeavor. I own all of that responsibility. But, since most of what would be left would be interest anyway so I can sleep at night knowing I paid what I borrowed. In other words…I don’t feel guilty about using the tools at my disposal when it comes to paying down that debt.

    Notice we still haven’t talked about budgets. We’ll do that next time. Want a head start? Okay, then. Stop buying shit you don’t need and start paying for the shit you already bought. That doesn’t seem too hard to understand, but then again, I’m an INTJ so I can be a bit abbrasive. You want someone nicer to hold your hand through all of that? Then go on down to that Credit Union. They’ll even give you a lolipop. Ain’t that sweet?


    That’s all I’ve got today. I don’t even have a really good song that ties into this post at all, so how about I just leave you with this one: Wind & SkyBrandon Moore is a local singer/songwriter in my hometown and just a f*cking good human. You can’t help but smile in his presence. Wind & Sky is one of my absolute favorite songs on the planet. I want it played on loop at my funeral, I like it that much. You’re welcome.

Brave Is The New Beautiful

Good morning, Peeps! Yesterday morning, I took a three-mile walk in Northwest Arkansas with two extraordinary people at Coler trail. Both are in their seventies and dare I say, they kicked my ass. (I. Must. Walk. More.) Temps were close to 80, and I was happy. The outdoors. Good people. Christmas Day. Dogs to pet. A great week behind me. It was truly wonderful.

The two-hour drive home offered some much-needed quiet time, and admittedly, I’ve been thinking about you today, Dear Reader. I’ve been piecing together what I wanted to share and how to share it without making anyone mad. I wanted to write about being brave and vulnerable and owning all of that 100 percent! The new year is upon us, and life is passing each of us by. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to take some risks. I’m not talking about blind stupidity…but I am talking about letting some walls crumble – or, at minimum, cautiously removing a brick or two. Do you want 2022 to be better or not? I certainly do. Then we need to put ourselves out there.

I get it. It’s scary. I had pretty much decided no one would ever see me vulnerable again. I mean, if you are weak, you get hurt, right? That’s true. But who decided that being vulnerable means being weak? As I said last week, a life without risk is an unlived life. Recently I’ve realized – despite my desire to stay calm and mysterious – that I’m the one who loses out on life’s pleasures when I lock myself away and stay behind those proverbial, metaphoric walls.

“So, what started this line of thinking?”

Well, glad you asked. Grab a drink and settle in. This story begins with a gun.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you might remember that two Christmases ago, I was given a gift certificate for a shooting range. That led to an introductory handgun safety class and some time at the range, where I learned I was a decent shot for never having held a weapon. Fast forward about two years to last weekend.

I was invited to another range. I had a good instructor. He was kind. He was patient. He stood close by. He whispered instruction and encouragement in my ear and never made me feel inferior despite the fact that I wasn’t very sure of myself and sliced my thumb open on the first shot. Because of his patience and kindness, I felt empowered, strong, vulnerable, and safe all at the same time.

Read that again.

I felt both vulnerable and safe at the same time.

It’s possible, folks, to let down your guard and experience this. Not all humans are assholes. I know, right? In the past, feeling both vulnerable and safe for me was akin to mixing oil and water – or more accurately…gasoline and a match. In other words, I think I’ll pass. Never let them see you sweat, right? 

But here’s the deal. It’s not brave if you aren’t scared. And I was scared that day – of many things – and I decided to be brave despite all of it. So, grab that drink, Loves. If it’s permission to be brave you need, I’m passing that shit out like it’s cheap candy at a small-town Christmas parade. 

The new year is upon us, and you can live as you’ve always lived if you want to. But take this in: If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. Want to be braver? So do I. So here’s how we are going to embrace bravery in 2022 (and, hopefully, beyond…):

1) Stop Listening To Nay-Sayers. There will always be someone around to tell you it can’t be done. There’s always an asshole ready to remind you of your past mistakes. People who never take risks are the first to say you’re being foolish. Respectfully…fuck ’em. I know this is easier said than done. But if you are going to be the captain of your ship, you need to realize that both the Titanic and the Santa Maria captains were brave. The outcomes were completely different between the two, obviously, and well…you have to prepare that this may be the case for you, as well. Do it anyway. 

2) Don’t be afraid to fail. If you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying. Many people in our history learned numerous times how not to do something – they never considered themselves a failure (think Thomas Edison and the lightbulb.) I have started three businesses in my life. One was a huge success, and the other two paid the bills…barely. I never considered myself a failure with the latter two. I simply learned better ways to do it next time I’m brave enough to jump into another business venture. 

3) Always (always) trust your gut. Many don’t know how to do this. Most of us listen to the voices of others and never learn to take direction from our Higher Self. Many ignore the signs, and many live lesser lives because of it. You must be willing to stop listening to those you love sometimes and start getting quiet enough to hear your own inner voice. This isn’t easy. In fact, in a world where people are full of opinions and ‘best intentions,’ this is really one of the most challenging steps.

4) Be willing to lose (or give up) everything to start over. Back in 2004, my (then) husband prayed for change. He felt strongly that something drastic needed to happen to be happy. Within 24 months, he lost his job, home, and later, the marriage ended. But yet, if you met him today, you’d realize he is the happiest he has ever been in his entire life. (And I’m delighted for him). Sometimes you have to lose significantly to really win. Blogger Leo Babauta calls this ‘burning the farm‘. So, strike that match. Go on. I triple-dog-dare ya.

As we close for the day, I invite you to make a list of all the things you’ve wanted to try or do but were either too afraid or too worried about what others would think. I did, and I posted it here. Meditate on all the reasons your fear has been holding you back and imagine what life would be like for you if you took steps to break down the walls and be braver. Then release those fears to the Universe and go live your life. 

As usual, here’s a song for you today. I’m also leaving you with some questions:

Are you willing to be weird? Are you ready to step out onto that range and shoot for what you want? What are you doing to make sure you get the life you were destined to have? Drop a line in the comments to tell me how you have been brave…because if you have done it once, you can do it again!

I can’t thank you enough for sharing this on social media. I am delighted when I have a glass of wine with people I just met and they say “I love your blog”. I am so very grateful to you, Dear Reader, for sharing with your friends. May you be blessed all year with prosperity, abundance, and – yes – great love.

Another Matter of the Heart

There’s a story I don’t share much. I allude to its content from time to time, but I don’t really go into detail. I don’t go into detail for several reasons such as:

1) Its content is not something by which I want to be defined.

2) After all this time, I try to tell a new story.

3) If I don’t discuss it, it won’t hurt as much.

However, I realize after eight years the subject does define me, to a point. It allows me to not only tell a new story, but to change my entire value system. And, while time does heal pain, the void is never really filled so it doesn’t really matter if I talk about it or not.

Tomorrow marks the eighth year I have lived without my only sibling. A young man with a seven-month old son left the world at the age of 27, suddenly without much warning. The one person I was to tease throughout my entire life. The one with whom I was to discuss matters regarding our parents’ health. The one I would leave my child to if something terrible happened to me first. In just one day I went from being someone’s sister to being an only child. It crippled me emotionally for nearly half a decade.

The details of the ‘old’ story and how this happened are not really necessary here. What does matter, however, is how life’s events are meant to teach us valuable life-altering lessons.

Lessons like…

1) Relationships and family are more important than work.

2) Saving for a rainy day is important.

3) When someone is in need, time is of the essence.

You see, I didn’t get on a plane from Connecticut to Missouri fast enough. I didn’t do it because I was really busy with work…I didn’t have a dime in my savings account…I thought it was a simple stomach ache and that was not important enough for me to fly clear across the country. Between the time I got the “You need to come home” call and the time I actually arrived, my brother had slipped into a place from where he would never come back. I never got to say goodbye. And that haunted me for many, many years.

It also changed me. It changed me in so many ways that I wish I could go back to those people who angered me with their “There is a gift in this tragedy” statement. I would say to them “You were right”. Because, folks, why else must we endure such pain if not for growth?

So, how did this change me? How did I grow?

Nobody’s work is more important than family. I live by this in my job now and promote this value to those I supervise and with whom I work. I also remind my superiors from time to time that family is a priority for me. I’ve quit ‘dream jobs’ to be with my family. It isn’t hard to make decisions when you live your values.

Buying useless crap takes valuable resources away from you. When I lived in New England, I lived in a house I really could not afford and bought items for this house I really, really, really could not afford. So, when I got the call my first thought was “Where the hell am I going to get $900 to fly to Missouri?“. Eight years later, I can tell you with all truth and honesty: I think of that moment whenever I am about to buy something major that would deplete my savings account. It has stopped me many times from buying something I do not need.

Don’t ignore your intuition. When a friend is in need, today is the day to pick up the phone. Today is the day to stop what you are doing and write that note. Not tomorrow, not next week, and certainly not ‘not ever’. I knew something was wrong on that Friday. I should have called home that day. Instead, I waited nearly 36 hours for my father to call me…and another 12 hours to arrive at the hospital. I think Facebook is a wonderful place to get information. It is not a wonderful place to show someone how much you care.

What does this have to do with simplicity?

I don’t know. Maybe nothing. Except that this event, along with a few others, led me to my decision to stop working so much, quit buying so much, and take the time to sit on a blanket in the yard watching a storm roll in last night with my son instead of washing dishes.

Every one of my ‘simplicity’ heroes has a similar story. An ‘Ah-Ha’ moment, if you will. What’s your old story and how did it help create a new story? Are you a ‘simplicity-minded’ soul and if so, how did you arrive here? Are you in the midst of your own painful life event that has given you pause? I’d love to hear from you.

Happy weekend!

PS…I’m giving my dear friend and editor time off to deal with her own set of priorities and family issues. If the blog is a complete grammatical mess – I take full responsibility.

Wrapping Up March With Weekend Reads

I finish a few blogs for April and I’m ready to get started on the room of the house that is one colossal cave of clutter. (Okay, maybe I exaggerate…but definitely a room that bugs me.) As we launch the weekend and prepare for some new awesome advice from the Sho-Me State Girl herself…here are some fantastic reads:

All the weekend reads are inspired by my boss who announced that she’s quitting and moving to Hawaii.  (Hang on there…let’s not throw a party just yet. I actually like her). But here’s the kicker…it’s kinda my fault she’s moving. Yep. She read my blog and decided to take the plunge. I could not be more proud. (Of her..and of myself!)

So…get that cup of tea/coffee/glass of wine because these are some cool and brave souls:

Read about the Jordan’s who live in Siloam Springs, AR. I am thrilled I ran across this story because Siloam Springs is just a hop, skip and a jump from me. I want to load up the kiddo and go meet them. Maybe I will – I have all this free time since I don’t have to cook anymore. (That, my friends, is called foreshadowing. You will just have to wait!)

Could you live in a house the size of your garage? Well, Jon and Ryah Dietzen are doing it. And it seems to be working out just fine. This is the coolest garage I’ve ever seen. (I actually lived in a 250 square foot cottage when I separated from husband number one and it was really, really cool. I had everything I needed – including some peace.)

So garage living isn’t your style? Okay. How about a bus? Yep. You read that right. A bus. In fact, my grandparents sold their home when I was a little girl and bought a fifth wheel trailer. They lived in Missouri 1/2 the year and Texas the other half. I don’t really even remember their old house. I just remember cool trips to the lake to visit.

Starting to think that ‘minimalism’ and ‘downsizing’ is just for those of us who bought into the American-Dream Myth and are up to our eyeballs in debt? Not so much. Here are some people you just might be surprised by:

The creator of Tumblr. Yep. The Billionaire extraordinaire: David Karp

Joe Greenstein, co-founder of Fixster is cashing in his billionaires to help the poor. Okay, maybe not all of his billions, but he certainly isn’t spending it on fancy cars and lavish homes.

Aaron Patzer, the founder of Mint.com, who sold his company in 2009 for $170 million. He lives in a 600-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment, and recently replaced his 1996 Ford Contour (with 150,000 miles) with a $29K Subaru Outback.

And the two founders of Facebook, Dustin Moskovitz and that other guy embrace minimalism, too. Moskovitz could afford any home he wanted but lives in condo. He bikes to work and leaves his Volkswagen hatchback in the garage. The other guy’s Facebook profile says his interests include “minimalism” and “eliminating desire.”

So with all that, I have to admit…one thing that perturbs me about the ‘simplicity culture’ is that it is centered around reducing a carbon footprint, canceling out debt, or counting items so one can brag about the fact that one only owns 99 things versus ‘the other minimalist’ who owns 100. I haven’t decided if it is a ‘fad or a movement’. I own over 1000 items. I do not recycle. I do not grow my food. I do not have anything that is ‘solar panelled’. I am not interested in going off grid (Okay…I’m a tiny bit interested in going off grid but that’s because I have a tab bit of rebellion and anti-socialism in me and certainly not for environmental reasons….). I don’t want a house that is 120 square feet and moveable. (My SECOND home in Monterey Bay – maybe.) I love those people. They inspire me. But, alas, I am not one of them.

Who am I? I am a 41 year old woman who wants to spend my time pushing my son on a swing in the park instead of vacuuming my house and neatly storing my hobby supplies. I want to giggle on the sofa with my husband instead of worrying about the three rooms we never use that still need organization. I want to spend time with my family when they visit instead of worrying about the fact that I only have eight plates that match and the matching coffee mugs were gone A LONG TIME AGO. I want simplicity. I want peace. I want freedom and joy. And…I want that for you, too. If that means you realize you need to quit your job and move to Hawaii…then sweet! Just let me know I was responsible for that decision! (wink, wink). Then I will know I did what I set out to do. And that makes my heart sing.

Looking forward to April. Tell me all about those closets and the March challenge. Get ready to clean that kitchen.

Announcing the April Challenge:

Find two small appliances you think you can live without. like your microwave or (GASP!) a coffee maker. Take them to your storage closet. Don’t use them for ONE MONTH. Use only one favorite knife this month. And lastly…vow to not cook for at least ONE NIGHT each week. Outsource it or eat something simple and easy. Can’t wait to hear!

Wrapping up the March Challenge:

I actually found several items with which I could still part and not feel bad. I’m headed to the consignment store…and then to the thrift store. So thrilled! What about you? How did it go?

Simplicity Is An Inside Job

Hmmm. Simplicity. What does that even mean? One of the most interesting epiphanies I’ve had over the last two years was the realization that each time I chose to add an activity to my calendar or an item to my closet, I was mostly seeking fulfillment. Looking back it seems like ‘crazy talk’ when I say that out loud, but you see, I always felt there was something missing from my life. What never occurred to me was that somethingwas me. I was missing from my life. The more activities I added, the more responsibilities I accepted, the more possessions I bought only created more of a void. Those things separated me from the stillness I needed to really get to know myself . Finally I started to realize what really mattered to me was spending time with my friends and family, reading a book, writing or putting another spin on my already-fantastic banana bread recipe. Listening to a really great songwriter and getting a super-restful night of sleep were also things I realized I needed in my life to be happy.

Those things, the ones that give me the greatest joy, are the simplest. They don’t require a season pass or a new outfit. They don’t ask me to spend hundreds of dollars or even to clean my house. This may seem simple to some, maybe even a bit boring, but to me they are the lifeline to keeping my sanity.

Simplicity means making room for the things that really matter amongst the noise of life. Some of us are so busy and so caught up with impressing other people that we don’t even know what that means. Linda Breen Pierce’s book, Choosing Simplicity, reminds us that many of the challenges we create – and even some of the health issues we have – are consequences of our belief that we have to have everything. Finding value in what you NEED versus having everything you WANT gives you freedom to say “I choose to relax.” I spent a lot of my life seeking the impressive career, amassing material possessions, and purchasing letters to plug in after my name by way of huge student loan debt. In the end, I realized what I really love to do wasn’t enhanced by any of those things. In fact, it took me 28 years to realize what my 8th grade language arts teacher, Mrs. Childers, learned about me the first week of school. I love to read and I love to write. Neither of those require an MBA nor do they require a 4,000 square foot house.

At some point, hopefully, everyone who feels lost can come to the realization they are missing out on the things they truly value and enjoy in order to live a life someone, at some point, told them they should live. There are a lot of reasons why we believe that line of nonsense,and it takes some longer than others to realize it is just that: nonsense. But, of course, the turning point for many is one simple question: Why are you living your life?

You don’t have to live in the country to enjoy a simpler life. You can own more than 100 things. You can paint your walls any color you desire. You can buy your vegetables at the grocery store. The change to living a more free and balanced – more simple – life comes from within you – not outside of you. Living outside of yourself is what got you into this mess in the first place. Pick a handful of things you really value – and that should be enough to start you on your journey.

If you’ve read through past posts, you know my story. I won’t bore you with it again for awhile. But in the coming months you will hear from some of my favorite people who left an old life behind to pursue the life they truly value. Ken, who left a high stress broadcasting position to open a thrift store; Kathryn, an author who left her full-time job to finally finish her novel; and Liz, a world traveler who bought an $8 wedding dress at the Salvation Army Thrift Store and buys the majority of her possessions from Craigslist so she and her husband can have the resources needed travel to far away lands. My plan for this year’s blog schedule has lead me to some very interesting people and I hope you will be as inspired by them a I am.

Weekly Challenge:

Is there something on your calendar that you just dread? Can you get rid of it? For me I host a monthly database management group (I know, right. Sounds so exciting…!) but lately it hasn’t done anything to light my fire. So, this week I have decided to send out the notice that the meeting is cancelled. Forever. What can you get rid of this week?

And, March is almost upon us. Let’s prepare mentally for the challenge:

March challenge:

We are invoking my infamous ‘white hanger theory’ this month at our home. We wear 20% of our clothing 80% of the time. This means that, literally, 80% of the clothes in our closets are unnecessary. The white hanger theory works like this: Each time you wear something this month from your closet, rehang it on a white hanger. Do this for three months. In 90 days, you’ll see most of your clothes are not on white hangers. Decide with what you can part. Don’t have white hangers? Then try this instead.

Sharing the Love…

As my editor, Kathryn, looks over several of my newest blog posts, I decided to share some inspirational pieces with you.  I made a promise to my readers that I would stay on track this year and I want to keep the momentum. If you ever wondered how I got started in this new lifestyle and developed this mindset, then I want to introduce you to some of my favorite people!

Grab some hot cocoa, a cup of coffee, or a nice steaming cup of tea.  Settle in.  Relax.  (How can I?  I’m so damn busy?!?!)  Just do it, already.  It’s important to take a deep breath, rest, and restore your soul.  Start now.  And start reading about some of these amazing lives…

Becoming Minimalist by Joshua Becker.  I will sound like a complete cult follower and a possible weirdo by admitting this out loud about a man I have never met but JOSH BECKER changed my life.  If I didn’t love to write so much and share my battle with materialism with the world, I’d simply just redirect to you Josh’s blog every week.  No one says it better than Becker.

Simple Mom by Tsh Oxenreider:  You don’t have to be a mom to enjoy what Tsh has to say about living a simple life.  She’s an easy read and her ideas are a breeze to carry out.  I picked up her book, Organized Simplicity, at the library (I don’t buy books anymore 🙂 because, well, that takes up space).

Get Simplifized by Dan and Vanessa Hayes:  More of any organizational blog than living the life blog, but they have some excellent tips.  My favorite, and definitely on my wish list, is to build a ‘home office shed’ for both myself and my husband since we both work at home.  That would free up two rooms in our house, or help us realize maybe we could even downsize more (Although, my house payment is less than $620 a month…so I’m pleased with the space and payment.  It might be hard to find something better).

The Complete Guide To Imperfect Homemaking by Kelly Oribine.  I started following Kelly on another blog but since the birth of her 6th (5th??  7th?? ) child she’s only able to maintain one blog now (What???  Really, Kelly.  Get on the ball. 🙂 ) so I’m left to catch up with her on Imperfect Homemaking.  That’s okay.  I love her simple style and love that she manages to raise that many children on one income.  She rocks.

365 Less Things by Colleen Madsen.  Like me, Colleen had no intention in starting some big self-improvement project, nor did she set out to change the world.  Well, she’d done both.  Her practical application to reducing clutter is easy to follow and über easy to implement!

Organised Castle by Fairy.  Just starting her journey into the world of blogging, I can totally related to the challenge of finding simplicity but also finding time to share the message.  She links to several awesome like-minded souls (and even mentions me!!) so check her out.

Finding Contentment – Thoughts on the Downsized Life by Donald Miller.  Some people believe that amassing possessions and debt is the key to being more happy but Donald is not one of them.  He’s not totally convinced that downsizing will make anyone happier, but he does believe that it is a huge component.

I believe when the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear.  I was at the end of my rope.  I was completely unhappy, stressed out, and felt like I had no free time at all.  I stumbled across this blog one night, and the rest is history.  I hope to be part of the community of people changing the lives of others with my story.  Enjoy that cup of coffee!

Ten Ways I Found Simplicity

When I first sought a life of simplicity, I knew I wanted three things:  Balance, freedom and joy.  I never really set out to ‘live a simple life’ – but in wanting those three specific things, I needed ways to improve in areas that were wreaking havoc with my dreams.  Looking back, the first step in having balance, freedom and joy was to list all the ways my current lifestyle was distracting me from my true intentions.  I revisited my list last week as I planned the ‘Sho-Me Simplicity’ blogs for 2013.  Let’s start this year off with my list and see if you can start here too…

  1. My ‘Stuff’ – Closets overflowed. The garage was an obstacle course. My car was messy. And even though I don’t like to cook much, I had become a victim of the latest rage in ‘new appliances’.  Not only was I tripping over stuff, buying it was keeping me locked under a burden of  debt.  As the cycle (buy…organize…store) continued I realized every room of my house was draining my energy.  I realized what most people on Pinterest have yet to realize:  No matter how cool the ‘organization’ tip is, the truth is, I was still buying, organizing and storing things I  absolutely did not need.  I started with a closet and sorted my way through each room of my house.  Once I realized I was hanging on to things for emotional reasons, it was easier to start purging. I still have things I could donate or sell, but its been a wonderful work in progress.
  2. My Schedule – None of us can “make time” and even “manage time”.  The entire concept is a fallacy.  I can only manage myself using the time I have.  By owning more than I needed, I didn’t have time to do what I really wanted to do because I was too busy cleaning, organizing or maintaining my possessions.  When I gave myself permission to start cleansing my life of useless possessions and activities, I found I could manage myself better and even started spending more time with my friends and family.
  3. My Lofty Plans – I’m an overachiever.  I take on waaaaayyyy too much.  I would have loved to “Keep Calm and Carry On” but the truth is I couldn’t.  I was too  busy.  Each New Year brought at least 14 ‘goals’ (Two in each category:  Finance, Career, Spiritual, etc. etc. – Which is totally STUPID, STUPID, STUPID!).  I finally realized that setting ONLY ONE GOAL was the best thing I could do.   In fact, I was even able to reach that goal because the pressure was off and I could stay focused. Once I finished it, I just added another one to my list.  I didn’t set any this year.  Yep.  Not one goal.
  4. My Emotions – Negative emotions don’t benefit anyone and most likely are useless. Holding on to negative emotions such as resentment, hate, jealousy and bitterness can manifest in various ways in the human body causing anything  from acid reflux to cancer.  My new mantra is “That’s not my issue”…and that has given me so much peace.  I still get angry…but I don’t hold on to it.  I still get anxious but I have learned that trusting the process helps ease that emotion.  Keeping my emotions in check has given me the freedom to not care.  It’s been nice to not care about things that are not my issue.  So freeing.
  5. My Spending Habits – Debt was holding me captive. Honestly, it wasn’t even that much debt and I seriously could have knocked it out in about 24 months if I hadn’t been buying all this stuff (see point #1).  So now I don’t buy what I don’t really need and I’m finding that I’m not being held hostage anymore.  Do I want luxury  items?  Well, yes, at times I  do.  And I even still buy things.  Just because I want to live a simple life doesn’t mean I don’t buy ANYTHING.  I’m just more choosy.  Before I may have purchased 6 items on sale and spent $100.  Now I may spend $110 on one item of better quality.  My favorite combination is to get the better quality item on sale.  Which is usually a fluke because I don’t just go ‘shopping for sales’.  Seriously.  In fact, I hate sales.  (See the photo below for why!) I only need one anyway. (Someday I’ll tell you about my new Pyrex  dish fetish.)
My sis-in-law texted me this photo of a shoe sale she was at at the end of 2012. Eeesh. A nightmare flu-frenzy if you ask me.

6. My Voice – Because I like to teach, so I talk – a lot (okay. too much).  But honestly, the less I speak, the better I hear.  In keeping with The Four Agreements, I do my best to be impeccable with my speech which means I try to avoid gossip.  My husband comes from a large family and they are all very close so they share each other’s news all the time.  It’s all a bit mind-blowing to me and I’m sure I seem a little ‘standoffish’ to some but I don’t really talk on the phone much or share information.  But, the good news is if people tell me something, I don’t use it as the leading point of conversation with the next person.  I figure if this cousin wants that cousin to know…that cousin can tell this cousin.  It’s not my job to broadcast the family news.

7. My Diet – I’m not as naughty as you think, so relax.  But, I realized that the fewer ingredients my food has the better it is for me.  I recently started making baby food for my little guy and his foods are so simple: Apples, pears, carrots, peas, and green beans.  My food…well, um…even “Mac & Cheese” has  more ingredients than just macaroni and cheese.  Minimizing unhealthy, unpronounceable foods improves my energy level in the short-term and just might improve my      triglycerides and glucose levels in the long run.  If I don’t have time to eat my veggies, I juice them.  Despite the ‘don’t drink juice’ advocates, I still believe drinking my health food is better than nothing at all.

8. My Screen time –I will publicly admit to a slight addiction to social media.  However, I realized a year ago that the more engaged I was on social media, the less of a social life I had.  (As my step daughter would say…”Imagine the irony”.  I just love her!!) As far as for television, I just had to stop watching the news altogether and limit my entertainment time.  I majored in marketing so I know the tricks and truly, I don’t need to know how terribly uncool I am because I don’t own an iPad, or that the unemployment rate is through the roof.  I have enough on my plate to worry about  – no need to invent problems or get constant 30-second reminders that I should buy something I don’t need.

9. My Connections – People often gripe that they can’t reach me by phone.  Well, that’s because after 8 pm, I power down.  Once a month I take a weekend off Facebook and I don’t read email more than twice a week.  There’s a reason the Amish are so relaxed…and since I don’t plan to buy a horse and buggy, I’m just going to take time for quiet.  This time last year I challenged myself and posted “If you want to see me, I’ll buy you a cup of coffee and we can      chat.”  What happened?  Not a lot, but I began spending more time with fewer people and I feel a deeper connection to them.

10. My Multi-Tasking – Finally research is catching up to prove what men all over the world have known all along: Multi-tasking does not work! God created the entire Universe, but it was a focused effort each day.  When He was      creating the sun and moon and stars, He wasn’t thinking about how many land-dwelling beings He was going to make the next day. Be SINGLE  FOCUSED.  It’s a lost art, but so worth it.

So that’s my list.  That’s where it all started for me and it is the list I want to use as a jumping off point for this year’s blog posts on Sho-Me Simplicity.  At first I got caught up in the Pinterest frenzy of organizing and storage tips – thinking I could use this as a way to help you ORGANIZE your life…but truthfully, that’s not me.  I want you to SIMPLIFY your life and I still believe that the less we own, the better off we will be.  So, I’m sticking with the strategy that less is more.  If you want organization tips, unsubscribe from my blog and, well, go waste your time on Pinterest.

Love,

DJ

*I haven’t hired an editor.  I write because I love it.  I post it quickly because I’m excited.  Being rich or famous is not really my intention.  Besides, if I was famous or rich, there would be no typos because there would be an editor.  Until then…deal with it.

Life on Purpose…

When we live fully in the moment there is an aliveness that comes easily.- Madisyn Taylor

 Have you ever fed a hungry baby while watching television, only to look down to see them looking up at you with this intense gleam in their eyes?  I have, many times.  I’ve looked down at Lil’ E when I’m feeding him his bottle, usually during a commercial break, and seen “a look” in his eyes as he stares up at me.  It’s a look that reeks of distain…as if he’s thinking “Hey, I’m paying attention to what I’m doing.  How about returning the favor?”

Such went the morning activities.  Today I was engrossed in a television interview with Amazon CEO.  I looked down for a brief moment to make sure my baby was still awake and all of a sudden a wave of conviction passed through me like a rocket.  What I was doing was wrong and I knew it.  I was not living in the moment. I was multi-tasking.  I was feeding the baby with my hands, watching television with my eyes and ears, and thinking about the day ahead with my mind.  While that may seem pretty productive to some, to me it was pretty clear:  I was missing out.

I turned off the television, took a deep breath, and looked down.  A smile came across his face.  His breath slowed slightly and he looked into my eyes with such love and admiration I wondered how a little human could be so smart.  He totally understands what is truly important and I, the adult, was missing it.

Living in the moment is difficult at first.  It may seem unproductive, or even, a waste of time.  But there is so much for us to gain when we actually stay present and remain in the moment with ourselves, and with those we love.

Living in the moment opens up our hearts and souls to new experiences.  It’s easy to become engrossed in work or play that we love…but living in the moment is available to us at any step and at any time.  I’ve driven down my street thousands of times with my brain on autopilot, but yesterday I decided to live in the moment and be totally aware of my surroundings.  With the radio off and my brain engaged, I noticed the most beautiful maple tree – aglow with the incredible colors of autumn.  I don’t think I’ve ever noticed that tree before.  In fact, if it hadn’t been so incredibly large I would have sworn it was just planted because I, for the life of me, could not remember ever seeing it.  And it was beautiful.  It was one of God’s most amazing piece of work…and I had been missing it.

Living in the moment helps us to know what is really going on.  Ever had an argument with your spouse and danced around an issue to the point of total exhaustion?  In my house those kinds of ‘discussions’ are usually centered on him talking – and me thinking of how I’m going to respond even before the words get out of his mouth.  Taking a breath and truly living in the moment allows us to truly ‘hear’ what is really being said in the midst of those uncomfortable times.  It allows us to hear beyond the words and to see into the heart of a person.  If we do this and stay present, we can usually hear what isn’t being said at all:  I’m hurt; I don’t feel respected; I need time alone; I need you to hug me.  Those are all difficult statements to say, especially when anger and sarcasm come more easily.  But being fully present and vowing to stay in the moment during those difficult conversations can (and will!) keep both parties calm and collected for the most part.

Living in the moment is a gift.  We’ve all heard the old cliché: “Today is a gift, that’s why it is called the present”.  I always thought that statement to be a bit cheesy, yet, this morning while feeding my little guy, I realized just how true this statement is.  The more we allow ourselves to remain in the present moment, the more we honor those we love.  When we give them our full attention we receive so much clarity and they receive so much love, that new realities come to life.  What better gift than to give honor and respect to those in our presence?

Living in the moment takes practice.  I don’t expect you to get it right away.  But today I ask that you do one task and fully give it 100% of your attention.  For me it was making Lil’ E’s bottles.  I’ve been making his bottles now for over a month and did you know that unless I mix it for a longer period of time, there are little clumps of formula that don’t dissolve?  Yeah, me neither.  Living in the moment and giving my full attention to the task allowed me to realize that the formula needs to be mixed longer to dissolve better.  For you, it could be driving down your street (no radio, no cell phone and for God’s sake…no texting.)  Just you and the road.  I bet you notice something that before would have gone unnoticed.  Or, how about having a conversation with your child today and stopping everything you are doing to face her and truly listen to what she is saying?  You might be surprised by how much she opens up – and you might even see a look of appreciation for the attention you have chosen to give.

None of us are perfect, and we live in a busy world.  But if the purpose of my writings are to encourage you to simplify your life and take each day as it comes, then I would be wrong to not tell you how cool the present moment can truly be.  So, try it and report back…I’m eager to hear about your experiences.

A Year In Review

Today is New Year’s Eve, and with every New Year’s Eve, I consider ways I can make myself a better person during the 365 days to come.  Usually I write about it, only to revisit the musings a year later and feel bad because I didn’t do any of that stuff I said I would do.  Yet, this year, I revisited my post from last New Year’s Day and I realized I really have done most of the things I set out to do.  And I was proud of myself.  I am proud of myself.

This post is a reflection of what I wrote on January 1, 2011 and my notes on what I said I would do.

1)      I said I was going to clear my schedule a bit.  I did and I didn’t.  I really reduced the amount of activities I had become involved in, and I reduced a lot of ‘clutter’  therefore reducing my responsibilities to my ‘things’.  However, I started a new job in the summer which reeked havoc with my free time.  Alas, I did do my best to protect my weekends from anyone and anything work-related.  The result is that I embraced a new hobby (knitting) and found time once a month to meet with some of my girl friends to just hang out.  Also, my relationship with my husband grew stronger and as I look back on 2011, can really only remember one argument.  That’s really cool since stress & money are the top killers in relationships.  We didn’t have much stress…and we didn’t have much money.  So I guess I was committed to trusting the process.

2)      I took a look at my credit report.  I don’t know about you, but pulling a credit report to me is like going to the principal’s office.  I really get sick at my stomach regarding the entire thing.  However, I didn’t do this until the end of the year, so consequently, I have declared 2012 to be the year I start paying down debt  beginning with changing things in my life that contributed to using or increasing my expenses.   Ironically, getting out of debt started with my decision to quit my job.  I know, right??  But manicures, business suits, airport lattes, data plans on my cell phone, and dry cleaning expenses were a nuisance.  I wanted peace and prosperity.  And I wasn’t getting either.

3)      I re-evaluated my ‘social’-ness on my social networking sites.  I decreased the amount of info on LinkedIn, deleted anyone who reminded me how much I hated high school from my Facebook ‘friends’ list (and even axed a few family members whose drama gave me heartburn).  And decided to make this blog more about helping people embrace the conceptual ideas and less about venting my rage on what had started as a creepy online diary.  To erase my entire cyber footprint  is a fantasy of mine, but I don’t think that is really possible anymore.
4)      I made a list of the 5 people who made 2010 fantastic and I decided to spend more time with them.  Some I didn’t get to see in 2011 as much as I hoped, but they still made the cut for 2012 of which I will make more of an effort to hang out.  At times I kill two birds with one stone, inviting a friend to come to another friends house with me, but still…I now know when things get tough on whom I can really count.

5)      I don’t know if I made something better than anyone else this year, but I did commit myself 110% to all the things I did attempt.  I think my Banana Bread is still the best ever, my second knitted hat was much better than my first knitted hat (and my knitting instructor told her husband “I taught her to knit and I think she’s going to be better than me”.  That was a proud day, since really; I didn’t embrace knitting until sometime in September 2011).

6)      I let go of my quest to earn more and made a promise to spend less.  In fact, at the end of 2011 I looked at the job I mentioned previously and I decided it wasn’t for me.  For one, when you travel for a living you have expenses that other people don’t have.  Even if the company reimburses for meals, you don’t have the comforts of home each night and go out on your own dime to simply fight off the boredom.  It was a difficult decision for me because the firm was great and my co-workers even greater.  But, I didn’t like some of the things I thought I needed to do in order to fit into the role and I didn’t particularly like the fact that I was gone all the time.  I decided to cut spending and find a job that was more in line with my own core values – which at the forefront is ‘simplicity’.  Traveling for a living does nothing to encourage a simplistic lifestyle – starting with dumping all your belongings out twice a week so TSA can rummage through them.  I began to loathe the entire experience.  I started out as a new recruit and quickly began road-weary.  I never wanted to become a veteran business traveler.

7)      I made a list of 10 things I could do without and seriously did an okay job at steering clear of them.  The hardest?  Half & Half in my coffee, wine every night, a data plan on my phone, and pedicures.  After 2011, I will still admit this to you, faithful reader:  I do not miss that data plan AT ALL but I admit…I would truly LOVE getting a pedicure and sipping wine on a Tuesday night. Yes…Every. Tuesday. Night.  And any other night of the week, for that matter.

8)      I finished something.  Oh God.  2011 become the year I battled the infamous knitted hat.  To my close friends and family and the ladies at A New Yarn, it simply became known as ‘THE hat.’  I started this darn thing a month before my husband’s birthday in 2010.  When his birthday came and went, I said “I’ll give it to him on Christmas (2010).”  Then it began…the anniversary gift that never transpired, the Valentine’s Day gift that never transpired, and finally the 2011 birthday gift that never transpired…you get the point.  Everyone said “Maybe you should just get some new yarn or even just admit that this hat isn’t going to happen” to which I would reply “Oh.  This hat will happen.” (For emphasis, reread that statement imagining a slight shake in my voice and gritted teeth.)   In October 2011 I ripped the entire thing out, rolled it all back into a ball and started all over again.  That hat had become the epitome of two things in my life:  Failure and the inability to finish a project.  I took one look at that grey ball of yarn, cast on 100 stitches, and decided once and for all that this hat and I were going to finish what we started.  On Christmas morning, 2011, I threaded the 3 inches of yarn through the top of the hat and pulled it tightly, weaved in the ends, and sighed a bit of relief.  I then wrapped the thing up for a Christmas gift for my husband.  Since then, after 14 months fighting with one hat, I’ve managed to make another one – for myself – in about 14 hours.  I don’t know.  Don’t ask me.

9)      I set one goal in 2011.  That goal was to go to work for a major consulting group.  I reached my goal and realized (although the company is excellent and full of excellent people) that it wasn’t a good fit for me.  I was crushed to realize that all I had worked for up until that point was not all that I had hoped it would be.  Alas, I am sticking to the plan and only going to set two goals for myself in 2012, although I’m toying with not setting any at all – a Virgo’s nightmare.

So the overall arching theme for 2011 was to practice rational minimalism, decrease my desire to buy things I didn’t need, simply my schedule and my life, and spend more time with the people of whom I care about deeply and to decrease the amount of time I spend with energy-sucking, drama-filled individuals.  Overall, I can say “I think 2011 was a very good year”.

A Life in Focus

Husband and I got our family photos taken this weekend.  It was so fun, since we have not had any photos since our 2010 wedding.  We dressed simply, we acted like ourselves, and we enjoyed each others company in the midst of the Missouri fields.  This relates substantially to what I’m about to tell you, because Life is a lot like photography.  In order to be a great photographer, one must realize that every focal point is an opportunity to capture something memorable; to see beauty in all things.  Each photo, whether of a field of purple flowers, a flock of colorful birds, or a snapshot of a homeless man under a bridge, can contribute to a point.

So, I’ve been thinking. (I know, you are probably extremely shocked by this fact.  Some days I wish I could be one of those people who could shut off my brain and watch a football game…) I recently read a great book which helped me evaluate my core values.  Studying management and leadership for the past seven years has given me a lot of opportunity to consider ‘core values’ as they relate to my work, but I never really considered mine in an organic sense.  Maybe ‘ambition’, ‘power’, ‘wealth’, ‘control’, and ‘progress’ would have been the words I would have used if you asked me to define my core values.  I mean, if I examined my life – I certainly could not disagree that those core values drove me to where I am today.  Except, this time, I was more gentle with myself…I prayed and sought the Truth in finding who I really am.  What I found surprised me.

I learned I am happiest when my activities and my actions center around the following:

  • Abundance
  • Fairness/Justice
  • Relationships
  • Learning

But the most surprising and the most predominant of all:  Contribution

Contribution.  Wow. I never really considered that I have always desired to make a contribution until I went through this study.  But, while others sought wealth, fame, or prestige…I simply wanted my actions to contribute to the betterment of the greater good.  In other words, I want to make sure when I die the headstone reads more than just my name, date of birth, and date of death.  I want to make a difference.

This means I and my lifestyle need to change (or improve…whichever….)  and that includes this blog.  I am seeking a more focused initiative – in life and in all that I do – so I can get to the root of my true happiess – the values I hold dear to my core.  My main areas of focus for the upcoming year include:

  • A simple lifestyle:  Not just the ‘En Vogue minimalism’, but a true commitment to simplicity.  This, I think, will help me to find my Source of peace and contentment.
  • Paying close attention to income/expenses.  The goal is to narrow the gap between the two (as it currently stands, expenses are winning)
  • Health and Abundance.  This means reducing my dependence on anything that does not contribute to being healthy and having true abundance (not always financial, by the way).

In relation, I’m hoping these focused areas will also make a contribution to YOU, my reader.  Each post has got to come back to one or all of those three points, or it’s just a creepy online diary.  I want this blog to contribute to making my life, my relationships, my community, and my world a better place but I also want it to contribute to YOUR life, YOUR relationships, YOUR community, and making YOUR world a better place.

So, welcome to “My Still Life”.  Grab some coffee or a nice cup of tea.  Snuggle up…and join me.

Best,

DJ