Five Unexpected Ways Simplicity Provides Freedom

Good morning, Dear Reader! For all my complaining about the hot weather in the later months assigned to what we call ‘autumn’, I’m getting what I’m owed. Really. Freakin’. Cold. Weather. We went from summer to freezing our asses off in record time. Again – where is that one place that is between 50-70 degrees all year long?

Recently, I’ve been pondering the holidays. I’m faced with the challenge of coming up with something I ‘want’ because people ask. Truthfully, I don’t want anything that I couldn’t buy myself. And I haven’t bought it because I don’t want to clean it. Really. It’s true.

Some wait their entire lives for the feeling of contentment, and – I hope I don’t jinx it – I finally have it. I moved into a tiny home (not a tiny, tiny home…mine is 950 sq. ft) last August, and I could not be happier with the amount of space I have. I currently rent, and I realize the payments are steep, but it’s a good fit for us. At the same time, my kiddo finishes elementary school, where he started five years ago. He flourishes there, and I don’t want to be the person who yanks him out. So I’m doing my best to live in the “now”, which isn’t easy when others keep asking what’s next for us. 

I don’t fucking know, Karen. Mind your own business.

That said, about a week ago, some friends and I talked about getting together soon. One said, “We haven’t seen your new place! We should get together there!” and I don’t know what happened but…

A little bit of panic set in.

What if they think I’m poor because of how little I have? What if they feel they need to buy me stuff because I only have four glasses and two coffee mugs? What if they look in my bedroom, see my sparsely decorated room, and judge me for that? 

Wow. Right? I mean, I choose to live this way. So why am I so terrified of what others think? Because, y’all, despite all the memes about not giving a shit about what others think, not one of us is immune to society’s programming one hundred percent of the time. All of us, from time to time, feel vulnerable.

I asked a friend’s son a few weeks ago why he felt he needed such a fancy truck. Of course, he’s strapped for cash now that he bought a newer vehicle, and his reply was, “Chicks dig trucks. And good chicks dig nicer trucks.” I remember thinking, “Why would you want a snobby ‘chick’ like that?” But…didn’t I do the same thing when my closest friends asked to come over? Insecurity comes in all forms, I suppose.

Anyway, I’ve gotten over it and decided to invite people over. I told them to determine who has the best spine because that is who will be sitting on the floor. I don’t have room to seat more than five people. My dining table seats two. I have no room for overnight guests. And if you plan to shower, come on Mondays. I have four towels. Monday, they will all be clean.

Despite this, I told another friend that I’m maxed out on space I can physically and mentally handle. I work full-time, I’m a single parent, and I volunteer in my community. I have hobbies. I don’t want more rooms to clean and floor space to mop. 

Simplicity grounds me. I feel calm and peaceful when everything is in its place, yet still has a splash of that ‘lived in’ feel.

To me, simplicity offers five benefits I’ve desired for many years. I will always try to convince folks to live a simple lifestyle – and I have since 2011, when this blog first started. Of course, life gets messy sometimes with all it throws our way, so shouldn’t we rely on something ‘constant’ in those cases? Simplicity is my constant. 

So. Grab that drink. Settle in. I’m going to tell you about five ways simplicity benefits me – and you, should you accept this mission.

1. Less stress.

As I mentioned, I’m a busy gal. I don’t want to think about cleaning my house on my days off from work. My brain is often overloaded with my anxiety, so the less I have to look at, the calmer I am. I cannot function when things are messy. When I was a professional grant writer, my colleagues always knew when a deadline was approaching because I’d spend hours cleaning and reorganizing my office. I called it ‘pre-writing planning’. I had to do that before I could write. 

2. I save money.

I never set out to be a cheapskate, and I’m not one. Simplicity and rational minimalism are not really about frugality, although saving money seems to be a by-product of the lifestyle. Often, too, I can find things I need at thrift stores. I don’t buy other people’s junk for the sake of having more trash in my home. But when I can find a perfectly good Caphlone skillet for six bucks, and I need a skillet…I’m going to buy THAT skillet. I rarely go shopping as a pastime. Admittedly, during the COVID lockdown, I got pretty well-acquainted with my Amazon cart – a habit I’m still attempting to break. 

3. I’m pretty organized.

As I mentioned, I don’t function well in a messy space. The messiest area of my home is my desk. It always is, for which there is no excuse. But other than that, I pretty much know where everything I own is located. That’s not to say that I don’t have a junk drawer. I do. (And a few junk baskets, if I’m honest.) But ask me where that one little item is…and I most likely know where it resides. My car keys go in one place. My purse is in another. Backpacks, bandaids, extra bottles of Gatorade…all have a home. 

4. Less toys means more creativity.

Some people criticize the amount of time I let my kiddo spend on his tablet. But, it isn’t as though he’s just gaming all day. He’s creating games for other people. That’s different. In fact, that’s a skill set that can – and does – earn him a little bit of dough. I, too, have very few toys. This allows me to have more time to write. I enrolled in a 24 week front-end developer to gain marketable skills. After that, photography lessons. 

5. Simplicity provides space for what I truly value.

The most important person on the planet to me is my son. With less space and clutter to consume me, we can spend evenings together and take mini-roadtrips to see friends on the weekends. I can work on my own hobbies and I’m currently working through a 28-day challenge to keep my cleaning schedule intact. I am a bit stingy with my free time, but I do make time for those who are important.

So, my near-panic attack when my friend suggested coming over reinforced to me that my simple little life is okay. Of course, I’ve been living this lifestyle for a over a decade (with a few bumps in the road here and there). But, it is always good to reflect on the importance of it from time to time.

How about you, Dear Reader? What changes do you want to make to find simplicity in your little corner of the world? What do you already embrace as a practice? 

As always, here’s your song. I had no idea who Casey Abrams was until I found this little gem, but you can bet your bottom I’m going to be looking him up on Spotify this weekend. Enjoy your weekend, and try not to freeze to death.

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.

Show Me The Money

You remember that quote, right? Please, for the love of all things good and holy do not tell me I’m so old that you don’t remember that quote, Dear Reader. I’ve been searching YouTube for ideas to share with you on this snowy day and I have to admit…I’m a bit overwhelmed. There is SO MUCH to tell you that I’m SO HAPPY this is a ‘series’ because this post would be a million words long if I tried to cram it into one piece. It reminds me, though, of my journalism days – researching theories and stories, finding sources to back up my words. All that jazz. The cool thing is though…this isn’t a journalism story so I can be as biased and opinionated as I want. And you know that rings my bell – Amiright?

Anyway, we are kicking 2022 off with the list I mentioned here, starting with Bad Money Habits. I beg your pardon? I remember specifically telling you that we would not cover the list in any particular order, so that’s where we are going to start. My blog. My rules.

I must begin by being super transparent, though. First, even as a rational minimalist, I would never call myself ‘cheap’. I like nice things just like anyone else, but since I embraced this lifestyle about ten years ago, I would describe myself as more of a quality over quantity kind of gal. In fact, embarrassingly, I spend a huge chunk of my “entertainment budget” on massage therapy and expensive facial products. I recently spent more money on a bottle of perfume than I’ve spent on perfume entirely in the last decade. I traded my Buick for a Subaru. I mean, I have upgraded considerably, but I don’t feel like I overspend or waste money. Every expense comes out of a line item on the budget. No money? No buying.

Secondly, just two short years ago my credit score was 480. Yup. I kinda take responsibility for that. I mean, you have to work really hard to NOT pay your bills to sink that low. However, let me also put this out there: I trusted someone else to pay the bills. In other words, I was the paycheck, he was the ‘money manager’ – and well, he sucked at it. It was until the “money manager” walked out on me did I realize just what a mess he’d made. I was broke. I was jobless. I was fucked. But I take full responsibility for my part of this problem.

Lastly, I’m well-educated and I have white privilege going for me. I do not take this for granted and never have at any point in my life. As long as you keep that in mind, we will be better able to understand one another. The best thing that ever happened to me was having the opportunity to take a position with a local nonprofit where my fancy title was “Director of Financial Stability”. In this role, I taught people about managing money and working with a personal budget. Funny thing, though? The salary wasn’t even a living wage. I was, literally, employed and teaching other people about managing money while my child was enrolled in the free lunch program at school and we were getting all his clothes free from the PTA clothing bank. Ironic how the Universe works, huh? With all the grit and gratitude I could muster, I decided that was bullshit. I got up, dusted off, and moved on – making significant changes as I did it.

So, together, we are letting go of many things this year as I wrote about here. We are starting with my financial story and how I got myself out of a big mess. This transparency and advice will hopefully enable you to let go of Bad Money Habits. Don’t worry. This topic is a big animal. And how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Keep that in mind.

We are going to start with the basics today. So. Grab a drink. Settle in. Let me share with you my fuck ups and my comebacks in hopes you can use my example to let go of your bad habits.

  1. Mind your money. That image above really says it all. Right now you may feel out of control because of where you are financially. But minding your money involves several steps, and the most important of all of them is Do. Not. Let. Anyone. Else. Have. Complete. Control. Over. Your. Finances. In other words, Your money, your responsibilty. Since the majority of you, Dear Readers, are women, I recommend a book by Suze Orman (love her or hate her, doesn’t matter) called “Women & Money”. Find it used. Buy it new. Get it from the library. Listen to the audiobook. I have no attachment to how you get ahold of it – just get it. Men, same goes for you. You can’t bitch about the fact that your wife spends spends spends if you don’t know where the money is going. I also recommend watching videos or reading books about money every day (I’ll post some of my favorites at the end of this series). As Stephen Covey said “Begin with the end in mind”. By reading or watching videos about managing money and debt, it keeps your thoughts in the end zone.
  2. Set up an emergency fund. After you decide to take control of your finances, this is THE first step. I don’t care what anyone else says to you…this is your first step. According to Forbes, the U.S. poverty rate nationally is 13.4%. This means that 13.4% of the national population lives below the poverty line. Over 70% of Americans would be financially devasted if faced with a $400 or more emergency (Like, um, a refrigerator dropping dead or having to buy two new tires for the only car used to get you to and from work). Ideally, your emergency fund should equal $1,000 for the first person in your home and an additional $500 for any others. So, for me and my son that would be $1,500. I saved $2,000 first and squirrelled it away in our emergency fund (Sorta…more to come on that). Again, emergencies are new tires, new car batteries, a new refrigerator when the other one breaks down, etc. etc. Emergencies are not that trip to Disneyland, kayaks or skis, roller skates, a down payment on a boat, etc. You get that, right? To be brutual…not having an emergency fund makes you prime prey for predatory lenders. Let’s not feed them anymore. (I love this organization. Check it out.)
  3. Choose your storm and attack your debt. List out all of your debts (include those in collections). List them by columns: Creditor name, total owed, monthly payment, and interest rate. Choose a Debt Reduction Storm: Either the Snowball method or the Avalanche method attack the debt. Compare them. (Here’s a new one for you: The Debt Tornado. Hmmm.) I personally used the Snowball method because I needed instant satisfaction and enpowering feelings of crossing the debt off the list, but in hindsight, I personally think the Avalanche method is more effective and smarter. With that method you spend less on interest even though it takes longer to cross the debt off the list as paid. (Those purple words lead you to links to explain those methods in depth.) In terms of those accounts in collections…well…we will touch on those in another post. If that makes you nervous, maybe this will help: Those accounts have already fucked with your credit score. They can’t hurt you anymore now so we will worry about them later. (One elephant. Tiny bites. Got it?) *Side note…I’m using the Avalanche method now with my student loans – which is the only debt I really have.
  4. Pay on time, every time. Remember, we are on a journey that includes reducing debt AND raising your credit score (not one then the other…). With your debts listed and a pay-down storm-of-choice method chosen, I can’t stress paying your bills on time, every time enough. This is the number one way to get that credit score moving in the positive direction and even though it will take some time to move the needle, it’s the ONLY way to move the needle at the moment. Credit cards are the most damaging to your budget and to your credit score, so make sure you pay them first, then your vehicles, then your cell phone (right?? who knew) then your mortgage/rent. This is a game and the game is won by the first person who beats everyone else to the finish line. In this case, credit card companies are used to people like you and so are cell phone companies (Fuck you, Verizon. Really). They are used to people not paying so they have incredibly high late payment fees and interest. They also report to credit bureaus faster than any other creditors. They know how to win by taking your money and charging you more for the priviledge of paying late, so beat them at their own game. Pay the minimum payments on all your debt FOR NOW until you build up your emergency fund…but pay that ON TIME. Mortgage and vehicles come next. Rent…well…it takes three months for them to evict you and even though there is a late payment fee most likely…it’s low AND eviction is costly for the rental company. In fact, most of rental agencies do not report to the credit bureaus unless you go into collection. My advice? Communicate and negotiate with all your creditors. Play by their rules – afterall, you agreed to them – but get better at the game. Again, always pay credit cards first. Period. Also…about those cards…do not close them (we will get to that later) but also, do not use them anymore for now. (We will discuss responsible use of credit much later in the series). When it comes to paying your bills on time, I don’t recommend automation (auto bill pay) unless you are just forgetful as hell. I think you need to LOOK at your finances every month (I look at mine Every. Single. Day – sometimes more than once. Yes, OCD. So? That’s how I caught two charges for Wal-Mart around Christmas that I didn’t make, so there). If the payments all fall around the same time each month, and it is difficult for you financially, try asking the creditor if they’ll move the payment. For example, I get paid on the 15th and the 30th of the month. I have half my bills due on the 1st and the other half on the 16th. That way I’m not hit with a huge group of expenses all at once and it helps with my forcasting (see…no words on budgeting just yet…). This video explains the game. Watch it.
  5. Make more, spend less. You notice I STILL haven’t even mentioned a budget yet, right? That’s because budgets don’t work if your expenses are more than your income. My favorite Dave Ramsey quote is “You can’t outearn foolishness.” Your days of spending more than you earn are over. Remember that rather expensive MBA degree I have? It comes in handy sometimes. In business when things are tight, the first things companies do: Decrease overhead (fire people, sell assets, etc) or they increase revenue (get more clients, sell more to people). Successful companies do both at the same time. I worked for a nationally recognized nonprofit when COVID first hit. Sadly, in July of 2020, 23 of my favorite people lost their jobs due to a ‘reduction in force’ AND the organization sold its main headquarter’s building going to a ‘Virtual First Workforce’ plan (which is just a fancy way of saying everyone is working from home now). BUT, they also dumped a ton of money into digital marketing which grossed 48 MILLION that year – the best year ever in fundraising revenue and it was during a global pandemic. Smart. Very smart. You need to do the same thing. Decrease expenses AND increase revenue. So, yeah. You’ll need another job – I recommend a side hustle. I was fortunate that I had been a licensed massage therapist before I got my MBA. So, I relicensed and went to work a few evenings and weekends a month making about $30 (pay+gratuities) an hour. Also…here’s where I piss you off…you can only make it so far with canceling cable and cutting out lattes. Your biggest expenses are: Housing (2800+ square foot homes for three people? Hmmm), Big Person toys (campers, beach front condos or timeshares, boats, four wheelers, etc.) and Vehicles ($50,000 Suburbans? You know there are people in who under bridges, right?). That said, I didn’t go without wine or streaming services during the leanest of times. Yeah, I may have purchased cheaper wine…and only had one streaming service, but come on. If HBOMax is your only source of entertainment (because you aren’t going to the movies right now…) then don’t cut it. I also don’t mess around with people’s cigarette/drinking habits or tithing – because I know it’s not an argument I’m going to win. My point is: No one wants you to be a grouchy asshole because you have nothing pleasureable in your life. But that boat? You aren’t going to have time to use it or maintain it because of your second job – so sell it. Buy one later if you can afford it, but for now…nope. FB Marketplace the shit out of it and any thing else you no longer need. There will always be another day to rent a kayak. My favorite minimalist quote is “You don’t have to organize the things you don’t own.”

I have so much more to tell you and to recommend to you, but it will all come with time. Remember, we’ve got a game plan, and this month’s plan is to help you let go of BAD MONEY HABITS. These first few tips will get you started.

In closing, I want to emphasize this: Money can be scary for some of you. The scarcity mentality is a real thing and shame around money doesn’t lend itself (puns are fun!) to getting you into a mindset of success. Face that fear. Everyone on the planet has made a mistake they are ashamed of (poor financial decisions, marriages, that last donut…) so get up, dust off, move on. Remember our 2022 motto?

Chin up, tits out. You got this.

Oh! I almost forgot your song. But I didn’t. I can almost visualize the pole dancers every time I hear this song. And I’m doing this for you, Dear Reader, because I can’t tell you how much I loathe Pink Floyd. You’re welcome.

New Old Ideas: 12 Reasons To Simplify

I have something to say.  Really.  It’s crucial.  Are you ready???

Since I embraced simplicity, my life has changed.

Yes.  It. Has. Changed. Dramatically.  Radically.  Completely.  Outside of the most unexpected gift of becoming a mother, I declare that saying “NO” to consumerism and vowing to live a simpler life has been the best thing to ever happen to me.

In 2010 I started reading about simplicity.  I kept thinking I needed a change.  As a massage therapist, I had always told my clients that stress is the number one cause of over 90% of diseases in our modern-day.  Yet…I was really stressed.  Rushed.  Tired.  Unfulfilled.  Every New Years past I wrote down my goals:  This year I want PEACE.  PEACE, Dammit!!!  I NEED IT!!!  (Hmmmm….see the irony?)

Then, one night amid my lifestyle-induced insomnia, I came across a blog post by Leo Babauta. From there, I started following other bloggers like Josh Becker and Tammy Strobel. And now I follow several bloggers who, like me, are finding that ‘minimalism’ is more about simplicity…and less about living with nothing at all. Quite frankly, these people became my teachers.  I have so much gratitude for each of them for the introduction to a simpler life.

Last year I was determined to get my finances in order, take a much-needed vacation, and get my mental and emotional health back on track. Looking over the last year (even during a global pandemic) I accomplished my goals. Dare I say that this is the first year I did achieve my goals – so maybe…just maybe…I needed the forced ‘slow down’.

In 2021 I plan to focus on my physical and spiritual health. I haven’t outlined what that will look like eventually or even how I’ll measure that (Cue SMART Goals), but I’m still working through it. I know that simplifying my engagement calendar will be vital for successful goal management. For starters: Every Thursday at 7 pm, I will continue my yoga practice. Boom. Physical & Spiritual with one stone.

Let 2021 be your year.  Whether you decide to consider the concept, are ready to begin cleansing your life of clutter, or even prepared to take it to the next level and help others…Turn 2021 into a year that can change your life forever.  Make it the year to embrace simplicity; to let go; to feel free.  Say yes to relaxation and happiness.  Say yes to getting your life back.

To further convince you, here are 12 Ways (and Reasons!) to Simplify this year:
(Disclaimer:  Some will bring on immediate benefits while some will be worth the wait.  Just be open.)

1. Reduce the physical clutter in your home.  By reducing, you will have less to clean, less to maintain, less to organize, less financial burden, and less emotional distractions.  Owning less eventually gives you ‘more’ in other areas of your life. 

2. Say “No, thank you” to a commitment.  Booked-solid people have no time for rest.  And people who have no time for rest are mean.  Seriously.  They spend that spare 15 minutes folding laundry instead of reading to their children.  They take a 20-minute drive and use the ‘windshield’ time to return phone calls instead of singing silly songs with their kids or merely taking in the sights around them.

3.  Start each morning with these words:  “Thank you.”  Feeling gratitude only expands the reasons to have more of it.  With less to occupy your attention, you’ll be able to see how blessed your life is.  And, if you find it isn’t as ‘blessed’ as you’d like it to be you’ll have the time and energy to find ways to make it more blessed. 

 4.  Simplify your menu.   I mean, REALLY.  In the book, Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne suggests making each day the “Fill In The Blank” day, such as Monday-Pasta; Tuesday-Rice;  Wednesday-Slow Cooker, etc.  We typically eat the same twelve menu items over and over. Don’t believe me? Really? What’s your ‘go-to’ meal on hectic days?

5.  Focus on prevention.  It is so much easier to STAY well than to GET well.  You can apply these ideas to your body, soul, material possessions, and bank account. 

6.  Realize you don’t have to live your life the way you’ve been told.  You don’t have to own 2+ cars, a boat, and a 3500 square foot home with a craft room, workshop, and separate living areas.  You don’t have to work in a job you hate.  You can have, be, and do more with your life.  I’ll introduce you to this concept throughout the year, starting with this movie trailer. (Since 2013, I have watched this movie every New Year’s Day to remind me!)

8.  Reduce the clothes in your closet.  Americans wear 20% of our wardrobe 80% of the time.  You don’t believe me?  Well, I’ll have a challenge for you in March that will prove me right.  You wait and see. 

9.  Find a creative outlet.   Hopefully, it won’t be one that encourages you to turn an entire room into a smaller version of Hobby Lobby, BUT in the event that it does you’ll be amazed how much adding creativity to your life breeds happiness.

10.  Schedule nap time.  Or just some downtime to sit in the sun.  Don’t have the time??  Not to sound judgmental, but that’s an unfortunate commentary on your life, and I want to help!  Refer back to #2, and we’ll discuss this more during the year.

11.  Limit your time on Social Media.  Seriously, the drama factor on FakeBook alone is enough to prove my point on this one.  There is no bigger time suck than Social Media. The comparison factor alone creates opportunities for you to be stressed.

12.  Have a place for everything.  Even those pesky clipped coupons and scrapbook paper need a place to rest – and your kitchen counter, isn’t it.  Many of us are working from home now, and our ‘office’ is the kitchen island. Except it isn’t. (Listen again: The kitchen counter/table/island is not your office.) So, get yourself a file box or briefcase and put all that stuff away each night as if you were working from your favorite coffee shop.

I’ll post challenges centered on reducing clutter and improving your life quality over the next year. No worries, they will be simple. (Simple…not necessarily easy.)

So, what would you like help with this coming year? Where can you simplify? Which of the twelve ideas resonates most with you?

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.

Spice Up Your Kitchen by Simplifying

Last week I wrote about waste and my decisions to make my life a bit simpler here in our Sho-Me state home. So far things have been a tad bit interesting, and even a bit emotional, to say the least.

As promised, I met with Grace to come up with a few little lists which I will share with you today and throughout the month. But first, let’s get to the heart of it.

My decision to stop cooking has resulted in the following:

1) I gained five hours of my life back each week. I feel less stress and find I have time to keep up with other things. This is good.

2) I feel an enormous amount of guilt. Each night I watch the Hubster forage through the kitchen at 6 pm only to watch him pop a frozen Country Fried Steak in the microwave. Said Country Fried Steak is then smothered under a blanket of mustard. Is this emotional and social programming? I mean, what kind of wife am I to let my best friend starve to death? Or…do I really believe he will die from the overconsumption of processed foods? Probably a little of both.

3) I’ve lost weight. Salads and whole foods will do that to a person. In fact, rumor has it that if you eat ‘real food’ you don’t really need to count calories anymore. The body is an amazing vehicle that seems to understand exactly what you need, if only it is provided with the proper fuel in the first place.

So far my decision to stop cooking has been both good and bad. I mean, I still cook. I made brown rice and I baked a sweet potato. I’m not a full-on hippie, for Pete’s sake. Even made myself a bowl of cookie dough…of course…I tried to consume the entire bowl before I baked the cookies, but frankly, that’s beside the point.

Anyway. On to Grace’s list to help me clear the clutter from my kitchen!  I asked The Nude Foodie herself if she could only have TEN SPICES in her cupboard, which would she choose? Here are her answers:

(There are other opinions, like this one, but ultimately it’s your kitchen.)

We argued about nutmeg. I love nutmeg. She says “Eh, it’s not really necessary.”  Meh. Silly, Grace. Whateverrr. As you can see, I have lots of work to do in the clutter-clearing arena this week, but I think you will be pleasantly surprised by my results. Stay tuned.

Some are a bit dusty on top. Proof I don't cook.

Some are a bit dusty on top. Proof I don’t cook.

Food for Thought

Tuesday is trash night at our house and consequently the day I shred papers, empty the garbage cans in each room and clean out the refrigerator. This week I was shoulders-deep in my fridge, reaching into the depths of moldy leftovers when something dawned on me that made me mad as hell.

There I was…cleaning out my refrigerator…throwing away leftovers we didn’t eat…to make room for more leftovers we won’t eat. I felt my jaw tighten and I shook my head as I thought, “So, essentially, I might as well just chuck $5 bills into the garbage can and stop cooking. Isn’t that the same thing as throwing away all this food?”  And…I may have used a not-so-nice adjective before ‘food’ that I’d be embarrassed to say in front of my mom, my son and my pastor.)

Later that day I read this in a NY Times article about Graham Hill:  “The Natural Resources Defense Council reports, for example, that 40 percent of the food Americans buy finds its way into the trash.”

A little bit of research led me to this: While about 1 billion people globally do not have enough to eat, Americans toss out about 40 percent of all U.S.-produced food”. Grrrr.

In that moment, I made a major decision: I’m going to make things simple.

Are you surprised? I mean, this is a blog about how to make life SIMPLE, right?!? Consequently, I’m going to write about this decision over the course of the month because that’s the other point of this creepy online diary.

How am I going to make things simpler?

1)      I’m going to stop cooking. I never liked to cook. I like to bake, but that’s because I like to eat baked goods. But, I don’t like to cook. So, I’m going to stop (or ‘stop-ish’).

2)      Fend for Yourself is on the dinner menu from here on out. My husband is a grown man and wrinkles his nose when I suggest quinoa. “Keen-What?”  I also want to eat a more plant-based diet which also tends to make him exit the kitchen as quickly as possible. So, he will eat what he wants to eat and I will eat what I want to eat. So, I definitely won’t get honorable mention here.

3)     I’ll ‘outsource’ if necessary. Just because I practice rational minimalism doesn’t mean I don’t believe in outsourcing activities that can simplify your life. I know those things cost money – but this isn’t a blog about a cheapskate lifestyle. Practicing mindful-consumerism and living a more simplified lifestyle can save you money – but that’s only a byproduct of living this life. I will outsource something that will “give me” more time.

4)      I’m going raw. Yep…maybe not 100% but I’m making some changes. And I’m getting help in the process from two of the most beautiful women in the world: Grace – The Nude Foodie and Meg – Feed Me, Darling. (Both are on Pinterest, by the way. What?  You thought I’d get through an entire blog post without mentioning ‘Pinterest’. Silly, Reader.)

5)      Finally…just when you thought it couldn’t get any more Spartan…Grace is going to help declutter my kitchen and give you some tips as well. I’ve done this several times before, but I still feel like my kitchen is a cesspool of collective clutter. It’s the one room of the house that continues to bug the crapola out of me.

So…stay tuned, lovelies, and keep reading. I’ll let you know if anyone dies.

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!

March Challenge Review:

How did you with the March challenge?  I realized I had a tote of ‘winter clothes’ in the shed I didn’t even unpack this year. I was just ‘post baby’ and still wearing maternity pants when the season started (Hey, don’t hate on me. Those things are COMFY!). I didn’t even open it. Just took the entire tote to Goodwill. I hope there wasn’t something uber cute in there. How about YOU??  How did you do?

My March Challenge Results

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?

Do You Need More Storage or Less Stuff?

Denise’s Notes: This week’s post is reblogged from Unclutterer. Deb Lee originally posted this on Tuesday and I know it will certainly resonate with some of you in light of what I’ve been writing about for the last few weeks. It definitely goes along with my tongue-in-cheek comments about all the organization tips on Pinterest. You don’t have to organize what you don’t own. 

Raise your hand if you think you need more storage space in your home. Anyone think that if they just had more storage areas, their home would be easier to maintain? Sometimes I wish my home had more closets, especially a dedicated linen closet. But, I’ve found a way around that and, honestly, I don’t need a separate space to keep towels and sheets, which means it’s probably more of a want and not a need.

Of course, if you live in a small home, your storage options may be limited. You’ll likely have to use tried-and-true techniques (maximize vertical space, use under bed storage, hooks, armoires, etc.) and take advantage of creative solutions, like using multi-purpose furniture or hiding things in plain sight. You might even come up with some unconventional ways to keep your stuff, like using a car or minivan (that isn’t needed for transportation) as storage space.

In a recent blog post over at Extraordinary Observations, Storing Private Stuff in Public Space, the author started giving this some thought. He reasoned that it would be very convenient (the vehicle would be parked close to his home) and when he crunched the numbers, he found that it would be a cost effective option, too.

… street parking (public space) is used to store automobiles (privately owned things) for little to no cost (it would cost me $35 per year for a residential permit in my neighborhood). Using a van for storage would cost significantly less money than renting a space at one of those self storage warehouses, and it would be a lot more convenient.

It’s an interesting notion and it seems to make sense from a monetary standpoint. For anyone seriously considering this as a solution, another question comes to mind. Why not reduce your stash so that the car isn’t needed for storage? You wouldn’t have to worry about the types of things you could store in your vehicle (since it’s not temperature controlled) nor would you have to be concerned about someone stealing it. With one less spot to maintain, you’d also have less work to do, fewer decisions to make, and more time to focus on other things. And, you’d have the option of selling or donating your car, both of which come with financial benefits.

Though the benefits of living with less are clear, going through the process is not always straightforward or easy, especially when you have to let go of things that you’re emotionally attached to. When faced with the task of uncluttering and downsizing, it’s important to remain focused on the positive outcomes of reducing the number of things you own (particularly if you don’t use or want them). Keep in mind that you can also handpick who receives certain items which can help put your mind at ease. Of course, simplifying doesn’t mean that you have to get rid of everything. You’re simply prioritizing and carefully selecting which items you will bring the most value to your life.

Ultimately, anyone going through this process will need to answer this question: Will a storage unit (of any type) be a regular and permanent part of your life, or would you prefer to find a way to live well with less?

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.