All posts by dandshall

2017: An Illustrated Year in Review, Day 7 – The Conclusion to “Our Year of Living Minimally”

2017, Our Year of Living Minimally, has come and gone and it’s time for some reflection on how the decision to buy (almost) nothing for a year has impacted our family.  We are not the people we were at this time last year as this experiment has affected us in almost every way imaginable.  So here I share our five biggest benefits and takeaways from this project as well an as answer to the question for this year: What now?

  1. Perhaps the most tangible benefit to this undertaking is simply the amount of money we saved, or in our case, the amount of debt we were able to pay off.  We are teachers; we don’t make a lot of money, and for the past year and a half we’ve been living off 1.5 salaries (and just one the year before that).  I used to get really discouraged when thinking about how long it was taking us to pay off our school debt (Wheaton grad school loans are no joke, people); I felt like we would be stuck on Dave Ramsey’s baby step #2 FOREVER.  However, this year has cleared up a lot of that discouragement haze and allowed us to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
  2. Maybe the most surprising benefit is how our decision has affected our health.  David has always been fairly thin and fit, but this year he’s gained more muscle and speed than ever before.  He’s getting closer and closer to achieving his audacious goal of a sub-5 minute mile.  I, on the other hand, will be happy to get back into sub-10 minute mile shape, and I’m not that far off.  🙂  By making the one decision to limit our eating out to approximately once a month, we are both so much healthier.  From January 1 to January 1, I am down 32 pounds, and it honestly wasn’t that hard.  By preparing our food at home, we are able to control both the content and amount we consume.  And if I’ve gone to the trouble of cooking, you can bet that we try to stretch that meal out into leftovers.  Rarely do we go back for seconds but rather eat a piece of fruit or nuts if we’re still hungry … cost efficient and healthy.
  3. By outlining guidelines at the beginning of the year, we avoided decision fatigue and the often resulting poor spending choices.  By eliminating many options ahead of time (clothes shopping, buying gifts for each other, eating out, etc.), we simplified our lives and freed up mental energy for other pursuits.  I have spent my time this year reading, teaching, cooking, working out, playing with my daughter, and relaxing with my husband, all of which I argue are infinitely superior to going shopping!
  4. The biggest takeaway I would say is our change in mindset.  Honestly, that first month of eating out only for book dates hurt a little.  I was in withdrawal, and Friday nights hurt the worst.  However, now it’s the new normal, and I don’t even really think about it.  Or if I do (on the rare occasions we do eat out), I think about how much money we’re spending and how much I could have bought at the grocery store with that amount!  Eating out has become a treat, something to be thoroughly enjoyed, savored even, not taken for granted.  The same goes with any purchase.  If something is a true need and we’re going to depart with our hard earned money to buy it, I want to ensure that it will last, that it’s actually worth the cost.  If it is, then we work to take care of it.  We are learning to be faithful stewards of what’s been entrusted to us whether that’s time, energy, money, or possessions.
  5. The most surprising takeaway would be an increased confidence in our ability to do hard things.  The only thing I’ve ever given up for a year was soda, and it wasn’t that hard.  However, as I was hearing stories of people’s journeys and experiments with shopping bans over the course of a full year, I was incredibly inspired.  All these people were doing this really hard thing!  We could surely do it too, couldn’t we?  Yes, we could and we did.  We didn’t do it perfectly, but when I look back at my life years and years from now, I am certain I will consider 2017 a catalyst for the achievement of many audacious goals.

So, what now?  Are we done?  Do we now get to buy all the things?  Nope.  We’re signing up for another year … or 50.  We’ve discussed our needs for the upcoming year and have settled on some guidelines to see us through 2018.  Our eating out plan is still in place as is our clothes buying ban excepting some athletic wear we’re both in need of.  I don’t think I’ll churn out a post a month (considering I didn’t even meet that goal this year), but I do plan to keep writing about our experiences in frugality and minimalism mostly for selfish purposes in that it keeps me accountable to the guidelines we set.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2018!

 

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Enjoying her once a year Antipodean French toast!
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2017: An Illustrated Year in Review, Day 6 – 2018 and Beyond

David and I aren’t career international teachers.  We didn’t move over here planning to retire in Indonesia; rather we were seeking to be faithful in “next steps.”  It began as a two year commitment and has grown into five.  This is our fifth year living overseas!  It doesn’t seem that long although I imagine our families would beg to differ.

Last year I went back to work part time teaching one section each of 11th and 12th grade English, and I could not love it more.  I always tell people I get the best of both worlds.  I get to spend time with my daughter as her primary caregiver while also taking on something mentally challenging and exercising my gifts.  It’s a sweet spot, for sure.  I’m not ready to go back full time, and for now we’re thankful to be in this somewhat odd situation that allows so much flexibility for our family.

Next year C will begin K-1 (school starts at 3 years old over here), and she’s already so excited about going to school “as a student.”  I’ll be able to teach while she’s in school and be there for drop off and pick up each day with the peace of mind that both David and I are in the same building with her should anything happen.  Our decision to renew contracts for another year was a bit tougher this year with my mom’s health issues, and we’re certainly keeping everything in mind moving forward.  For now we are looking forward to spending quality time with her and the rest of our family over the summer before returning to Jakarta for a sixth year in the fall of 2018.


I’ve fallen a bit behind on these end of year updates due to 1) potty training the first week of Christmas break, 2) an amoeba that destroyed our Christmas Eve/Christmas Morning, and 3) a desire to finish 30 books in 2017 … I finished the 29th today.  I’ll wrap up this blog series with a reflection on our Buy (Almost) Nothing Year sometime early in the new year, but for now Happy New Year to all and to all a good night!

2017: An Illustrated Year in Review, Day 5 – Money, Health, & Time

If 2016 was the year of decluttering and minimalism, 2017 was the year of intentionality and frugality.  The year began with a sharp focus on our finances with the advent of our “Year of Living Minimally.”  As the year progressed, however, I noticed my focus and interests broadening to other areas that could use the same level of scrutiny, namely health and time management.  Outside of book dates and book club, my reading (and listening) this year has been fairly concentrated in these three areas.  Because, like my husband, I love categories and lists, here is a list of some of the more helpful books, blogs, and podcasts I’ve read/listened to this year.


Money:

  • frugalwoods.com – I found this blog last January just as the blogger was launching her first “Uber Frugal Month Challenge” (which I highly recommend, btw) and have gleaned so much from her wisdom and unique perspective.  While David and I don’t share the same goal as The Frugalwoods of retiring in our early thirties (it’s a little late for me anyway …) and moving to a homestead in Vermont, we do share the same desire to be intentional with every dollar (or rupiah) spent, making sure that our financial decisions align with our values.
  • youneedabudget.com – I kept hearing people rave about this app, and after months of tracking our spending on an Excel spreadsheet, I finally caved a few weeks ago and signed up for a free three month trial.  I had listened to the YNAB podcast a few times and appreciated the simple principles espoused, an updated/digital envelope system a la Dave Ramsey, if you will.  I never liked carrying around cash, so this system is perfect for our needs, and I plan to continue past the trial period.
  • Your Money or Your Life – I’m only about halfway through this one, but I highly recommend what I’ve read so far, chapter four especially (“How Much Is Enough? The Nature of Fulfillment”) with gems like: “You may discover that you’ve been measuring your fulfillment, or lack of it, by what those around you have or by what advertising says you should want.  Being fulfilled is having just enough.  Think about it.  Whether it’s food or money or things, if you don’t know, from an internal standard, what is enough, then you will pass directly from ‘not enough’ to ‘too much,’ with ‘enough’ being like a little whistle-stop town.”
  • Honorable Mentions: The Millionaire Next Door and Broke Millennial

Health:

  • Foodist – I think I came across summertomato.com a few years ago in a Fitstar (now Fitbit Coach) newsletter, but only in the past year have I really dove in to the blog and listened to the Foodist podcast.  I read her book back in March and love how un-faddy it is.  The author’s focus is on eating real food mindfully and building healthy habits that are sustainable.  Her post on “home court habits” is especially worth the read.
  • Honorable Mention: livestrong.com

Time Management:

  • Getting Things Done – It was kind of a tedious read at times, but the two-minute rule alone is life changing.  The system works especially well with the concepts behind bullet journaling, and differentiating between simple tasks and multi-step projects has helped me bring so much order to both home and work life.
  • Triggers – Not exactly focused on time management, per se, but I deeply appreciated Goldsmith’s analysis of the environmental factors affecting behavior and his suggestions for creating environments that support the achievement of goals rather than their derailment.
  • Honorable mention: Crazy Busy

2017: An Illustrated Year in Review, Day 4 – #DaSHbookdates & Book Club

2017 marked our fourth full year of #DaSHbookdates!  The one planned exception to our “no eating out rule,” these dates are LIFE to me.  🙂  I am sharpened and challenged by our book discussions and always walk away from them with a much greater understanding of the book.  No wonder I assign so many Socratic Seminars and Lit Circles to my students!

Last year I posted that we were reading Anna Karenina as our December book, but we actually shifted to Shusako Endo’s Silence as that month’s “work in translation” (our December theme).  AK is supposed to be this month’s read, although we still have quite a few pages to go …

This year we also began rating our books on a five point scale, which I recorded in my trusty bullet journal and will share now with you fine folks:

  • December 2016: Silence, Shusaku Endo – 3.5
  • January: The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead – 3
  • February: The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough – 4
  • March: Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami – 3
  • April: The Awakening, Kate Chopin – 3.5
  • May: A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens – 4
  • June: A Death in the Family, James Agee – 4
  • July: The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood – 3.5
  • August: Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen – 3
  • September: Franny and Zooey, JD Sallinger – 4
  • October: American Gods, Neil Gaiman – 3.5
  • November: The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne – 3.5
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Bonus Book Date!

2017 also marked the second year of Kemang Book Club.  I absolutely love meeting with such intelligent and well-spoken women to discuss literature.  Two books a month between #DaSHbookdates and book club was sometimes a challenge hence my absence at a few of this year’s meetings.  Sometimes I was able to double dip if the chosen book was interesting to David and would work well for a book date.  A new member introduced the idea of rating on a ten point scale both prior to and after our discussion.  I might be the harshest critic in the group based on my ratings.  My favorite book club book of the year was far and away Half of a Yellow Sun.  I’m eager to read more of Adichie as many people have recommended Purple Hibiscus.

  • Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy (didn’t read)
  • Outlander, Diana Gabaldon (didn’t read)
  • Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami – 6
  • Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – 8
  • Beauty Is a Wound, Eka Kurniawan (didn’t read … gallbladder surgery)
  • The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood – 7
  • The Zookeeper’s Wife (didn’t finish … and didn’t want to)
  • Circling the Sun, Paula McClain – 3
  • American Gods, Neil Gaiman – 7
  • In Order to Live, Yeonmi Park – 5

What were your favorite books of the year?  We’re always looking for great book club suggestions …

2017: An Illustrated Year in Review, Day 3 – Digital Discoveries & Decisions

I am neither a Luddite nor an early adopter when it comes to technology.  I think there’s plenty to be leery of in terms of cost (in both time and money), but I sincerely appreciate devices, sites, and apps that make my life easier or provide quality entertainment.  Neither David nor I are what anyone would consider “tech-y,” so we mostly benefit from the wisdom of friends (looking at you, Randy Lucas and Jeremy Davidson) and even students when it comes to technological trends.

That being said, in this post I want to share three “digital discoveries” I happened upon and two “digital decisions” I’ve made over the course of 2017.

Discovery #1: Spotify’s Discover Weekly I’ve heard it said that most people stop listening to new music at around 30, which has actually been somewhat true for me.  I guess that shift coincided with moving away from Chicago and beginning a career that doesn’t allow for much music listening throughout the day.  I dearly miss XRT, how it exposed me to so much excellent music, both old and new.  We’ve had Spotify since we moved over here about five years ago, but I’ve never really taken full advantage.  It’s just so vast, and who has time to navigate all that content?  Enter Discover Weekly.  I happened upon an article that finally brought my attention to this delightful feature a couple months ago.  Who doesn’t want a new playlist perfectly curated for them each week?  I mean, especially in light of these rave reviews:

Discovery #2: The Potential for Being an Insta-Story Creeper … : /  I have not yet (and likely never will) jumped on the Snapchat train.  I am just not a cat/princess/whatever-other-face-filters-are-out-there kind of person, but hey, that’s just me.  Neither have I yet (and likely never will) created Snapchat-esque “stories” on Instagram.  I do love sharing photos on Instagram and Facebook, but the disappearing stories about how you went to the dentist that day don’t really appeal to me.  I sometimes watch other people’s Insta-stories and am usually (but not always) a little underwhelmed.  Not having created a story myself, I didn’t totally understand how they worked.  There’s no like button, so how am I supposed to show someone I watched their story and actually liked it?  There’s a message function, but that just seems like a lot of work.  Give me a like button any day.  Discovery moment: SNL Scrudge skit in which a Scrooge-like character tells another character he knows a woman’s been watching his Insta-stories.  What?!  People can see when you’ve watched those things??  Lesson learned: do not hit “Watch All” unless you want your former student creeped out by the fact that his 9th grade English teacher is watching videos of his cat …

Discovery #3: Facebook “Add to Collection” Function  I have 4881 articles saved on Facebook.  (Still working on minimalism breaking into my digital world …)  I follow a lot of blogs, news organizations, and groups relating to my interests, so often things come across my feed that I’d love to bookmark for later.  Once my saved list became so massive, however, it was apparent that I would never get to everything, especially with it all lumped together.  The other day I found a new (at least to me) feature that allows you to categorize all your saved items into collections.  I’ve started the arduous process of both weeding out now unwanted saves as well as moving the things I still want to read into helpful collections.  Yay.

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Hassan (RIP) hanging out in our Dominion boxes

Decision #1: Time Wasting Accountability  The summer before we got married, David and I were both job hunting in Texas but a state apart as I was in Oklahoma for a summer internship.  He would drive up to visit me and we would mostly play games together because we were both jobless and had no money.  I don’t know how many hours of Dominion we played that summer, but I would be slightly embarrassed if I did.  Before we moved to Indonesia, we bought every version available and carried the cards over here in baseball card containers to cut down on the bulk of the original boxes.  We don’t actually play a whole lot over here due to the inconvenience of setting up games.  However, over the past year or so I began playing online.  We never paid for access to the expanded card sets, but you could play against people who had.  Sometime this last fall I realized how addicted I had become to this stupid online game.  I would come home in the afternoons, put Clementine down for a nap, and play mindlessly sometimes until David got home.  I would stop playing for a weekend or a week, but I didn’t like the draw the game had over me, and I especially didn’t like how it was wasting my time.  There is definitely a place for down time and relaxing, but this was quickly becoming more than that.  I decided that I wanted to cut it out indefinitely, and the only way to commit to that and stick with it was to tell someone.  I texted a friend to say that I was quitting and that I was only ever allowed to play again if after a face to face conversation with her, we both agreed that it wouldn’t be a detrimental distraction to the life I’m meant to be living.  That was over two months ago, and it has been such a welcomed change.

Decision #2: Taking Facebook off My Phone & Tablet  A few months back I also made the decision to take the Facebook app off my phone and iPad with the intent of only accessing it on the computer.  Why did I not do this sooner??  There are several things I appreciate about Facebook, namely that it allows me to stay somewhat connected with friends twelve timezones away and also that it connects me to news and ideas that I would otherwise have to be much more proactive in gathering.  I actually prefer Facebook to Twitter in that I can see the photo attached to an article and read the first few lines sans character limit.  All that being said, Facebook is also a huge time waster.  When I had the app on my devices, I caught myself mindlessly scrolling, sometimes for embarrassing amounts of time.  Whereas I really needed (and continue to need) a total Dominion detox, limiting Facebook to our jointly shared computer vastly reduces the amount of time I spend on it.  Sure, I may miss some of my friends’ posts, but when it comes to significant milestones and events, they usually let me know in other ways.

Now I’m curious to know your digital discoveries and decisions in 2017!  Is there a life-changing app that you now can’t live without?  Flipboard and Pocket have served me well in place of Facebook in many ways.  How has technology benefited or burdened your life this year?

2017: An Illustrated Year in Review, Day 2 – An Update on My Mom

The past few months have been a bit tough for our family.  Just after Thanksgiving I got a message from my dad that they had admitted my mom to the hospital due to rapid weight gain (over 30 pounds in three days!), and they were wary of her kidney function.  She was there for a few days, and it was ultimately decided that she would need to begin dialysis.

My mom has had a few health issues over the course of my life.  She was in the hospital two Christmases straight my 6th and 7th grade years, once for gallbladder issues and another time when they thought she had pancreatic cancer.  Thank the Lord, it turned out to be a cyst instead.  I remember being scared as a twelve year old girl but at the same time not really understanding just how much I had to lose.  Just after my brother was born, she was diagnosed with diabetes, which she has managed now for over twenty years.  The past couple years, however, she has experienced some problems with vision which require her to get shots in her eye every month or so.  She loves her eye doctor dearly, and thanks to the blood work they do each visit, they were recently alerted to issues involving her kidneys.

When I first heard the word dialysis in reference to my mother, my first thought went to Steel Magnolias, which of course terrified me.  Not knowing much about the treatment, I just pictured my mom succumbing to the same fate as Julia Roberts.  However, after some reading and discussions with friends and family in the medical field, I am much more encouraged as patients on dialysis can live for many years.  It’s a dramatic lifestyle change, definitely.  My mom will have to go for treatment three times a week for several hours at a time, and I think she’s mourning the loss of a normal life.  We’re so thankful, however, for the medical care she’s receiving and the huge circle of support and encouragement she has in her Abilene community.

Saturday night she was readmitted to the hospital, again for excessive weight gain in a short period.  She had been scheduled to have a temporary port put in early this week, but they went ahead and gave her her first round of dialysis on Sunday.  She had the port surgery yesterday and a second round of dialysis, which should be followed by a third round tomorrow.  Eventually she will receive her treatments through a fistula in her arm, but that will take awhile to heal once created.

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Thankful to have Kaye with my mom!

While physically this is certainly taking its toll on my mom, I think it impacts her emotionally just as much.  We wish we could be there to encourage and assist.  Clementine is the joy of her Gran’s life, and I know that nothing would cheer my mom more than a hug from her granddaughter.  We’re thankful that technology allows us to feel not so far away, and Clementine enjoys FaceTiming Gran in the “hossable” even if it means she doesn’t get to see the cats.  We are also so grateful that my aunt (who happens to be working through nursing school at the moment) is on break and is able to be there for my mom.  She’s such a rock for us all and a strong advocate for my mom.

Thankfully it looks like my mom will be released from the hospital soon and won’t miss another Christmas at home.  Thank you to those who have called and visited her and especially those who have prayed for her.  You have cared for and comforted my mom in my place, and I am immeasurably grateful.

More pictures from this summer (mostly) of C & Gran:

2017: An Illustrated Year in Review, Day 1 – Summer Synopsis

For several years now I have attempted a digital Christmas card letter/blog, often in the form of a top ten list.  This year I could only come up with seven things to share, so I’ve decided to break them into mini-blogs that I’ll be posting on the seven days leading up to Christmas.  Today’s (not-so) mini-blog is brought to you by our summer trip home.  (Can you tell we’ve been watching a lot of Sesame Street at our house??)

2017 marked our second summer visit back to the States since moving to Indonesia.  We had a full six weeks off this year, which allowed for much needed time with family and friends.  Upon landing we had about 36 hours before loading up for a 16 hour road trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  It had been 18 months since everyone in David’s family (now numbering 22!) had gotten together, and with everyone spread out from Texas to DC and everywhere in between, Tennessee seemed like a great “meet in the middle” vacation destination.  David’s family rented a huge cabin which afforded a whole week’s worth of family togetherness.  We went hiking, white water rafting, cooked together, worshiped together, and played a ton of games.  Clementine got to meet her new cousin, August, and all of the cousins had a blast playing together.

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Cabin deck view
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A first for David and me!  Everyone else appears to be working a lot harder than I …
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The perfect space for our party of 22
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All 22 … and a half 😉

We also spent time in West Texas visiting my side of the family.  Our Abilene time was filled with traditional Abilene outings: visits to the Grace (for an outdoor showing of ET … David had never seen it), the Planetarium (where we were reprimanded for pushing the buttons on the astronaut suit), Perini’s (where C fell in love with sidewalk chalk), and the Abilene Zoo (C still talks about feeding the giraffe).  Clementine loved her time with her Gramps and Gran and Uncle Dan.  We made it up to Amarillo for the new annual tradition: Thanksgiving in July.  These short days were full of football, hiking, and lots of Rook.  In fact, for the first time since the inauguration of the Rook tournament plaque back in 2011, I won the tournament!  My mom and I made a good team and vanquished the other mother-daughter pair, Kaye and Carlee.

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Thanksgiving in July 2017

Thanks to my aunt lending us a car for the summer, we were able to take a few road trips to visit friends and family in Texas and Oklahoma.  David is an expert at planning these visits most efficiently!  We were thankful to spend time with loved ones in Austin, Waco, Georgetown, Norman, Harrah, and Oklahoma City this trip.  Even in Dallas I got to see a (newly engaged) old friend from my Illinois days!  Much fun was had spending time with David’s family in Dallas as well.

We are always thankful to be home over the summer because it means celebrating Clementine’s birthday with family.  And with our parents living only about three hours apart, Clementine gets plenty of celebration.  This year we got to spend her birthday morning with David’s parents and birthday evening with mine.

So that’s Day 1 … stay tuned for six more 2017 highlights!

Coming Clean: How We’ve Cheated on Our Buy (Almost) Nothing Year

We only have two months left in “Our Year of Living Minimally,” aka the Buy (Almost) Nothing Year, and it has been both harder and easier than I expected.  I’m sorry to have dropped the blogging ball as I just realized it’s been seven months since the last update … so much for my goal of monthly posts!  We’ll put that one in the harder than I expected category.

As we are fast approaching the end of this little experiment, I thought it might be a good time to come clean on how we’ve “cheated.”  If anything, this project has exposed and emphasized both the rebel and rule follower in me.  There are ways that we enforced the “letter of the law” but obviously broke the spirit, and there have been times we really felt in keeping with the spirit of our law while blatantly breaking the letter.  We haven’t followed our self-imposed guidelines perfectly, but I’m really proud of how well we’ve done on the whole, and our slip-ups have provided opportunity for reflection and growth.

So here’s where I share some (actually, all that I can remember) of those slip ups.

IMG_1566Clementine: This is very much so a spirit and not letter breaking.  I initially wrote out an exception to our shopping ban for clothes and toys for our daughter, which I would do again.  However, because I left a bit of latitude in that guideline, I honestly bought her more than she needed, especially with regard to clothes.  It’s really the first time that I’ve had to shop for her clothes as much of her wardrobe her first year consisted of hand-me-downs, so I’m still learning what all accouterments a two year old actually needs.  I was able shop economically, though, and found several cute dresses (more than she needed, I am learning) at a second hand shop while visiting friends in Austin.  Honestly, shopping for Clementine has often been guided by want instead of need, and this is an area in which I desire to exercise more discernment.

Pens & Notebooks: I bought some pens this summer.  Some pretty, pretty pens.  And a couple of notebooks.  Blatant rule breaking, but I don’t care.  These things keep my life together, and I’m 10x more likely to keep my life together when I’m using pens and notebooks I love.  Plus, I had some birthday money to spend …

Glass Food Storage Containers: I didn’t write out an exception for replacing broken items, but I should have.  This would count as a spirit keeping if not letter.  I dropped one of our lunch bags last spring and shattered the rectangle container I pack my lunch in every day.  We went ahead and sprung for a complete set with locking lids because eating at home practically every meal increases your food storage needs.

Shorts (for me & David): My only pair of khaki shorts developed a hole in them, and I found another pair for $14 at Sam’s.  I did get some new athletic socks and sports bras, but I knew that was a need and exempted that purchase from our ban ahead of time.  I should have investigated David’s wardrobe a bit more before making our exemptions, however, because he was in need of more athletic shorts.  I found a couple pair at TJ Maxx for around $10 each, and it was a good thing because he lost another pair to the wind while airing them out on our balcony a few weeks ago …

Digital Bible Resources: Each month Logos offers a free ebook and often a few super cheap ($1-$3 range) options as well.  David makes these purchases unabashedly because 1) they don’t take up physical space in our home and 2) they will serve him well in the future.

IMG_1692 copyA Basket: Last spring I found the. cutest. basket at a children’s shop near our school.  I wanted it for our living room to help corral Clementine’s toys, but I didn’t get it because I felt like it was veering too far from our established guidelines.  Over the summer, however, I talked myself into the purchase.  It was for Clementine!  I’ve already hashed out how purchases relating to my daughter are a weakness for me, so there’s that.  When we returned home to Jakarta in July, I was devastated to find the basket no longer for sale.  I really wished I had just made the purchase back in May.  For months I kept my eye out for that basket and finally found one very similar (although not as big, unfortunately) and sprang for the purchase.

A Wallet and Purse: After the basket debacle, I determined I would not become victim to a similar fate again.  Things change on the daily in Jakarta, so when I found the perfect leather purse that I’ve been dreaming of for years at a temporary pop-up shop in the mall, I bought it.  My current purse is developing holes, and while my crafty mother-in-law helped salvage it this summer, the purse is looking pretty pitiful.  No, I don’t actually need a new purse right now, but I will soon, and I knew that the shop wouldn’t be there in January.  So while I did break our rules to make the purchase, I am at least hiding it in the top of my closet where it will wait for me until January 1st.  🙂  I also bought a wallet from the same shop for David because we were in danger of losing debit and insurance cards due to its developing holes.

Delivery Pizza: As I have written before, breaking our eating out habit was by far the hardest change initially.  It soon became the new normal, however, and we both found ourselves enjoying eating at home at lot more than we expected.  We did eat out over the summer, but again, that was pre-planned.  Outside of book dates, our birthdays, friend/group gatherings uninitiated by us, and our trip home over the summer, we have eaten out/ordered in exactly twice.  Once was a 3:00 AM McDonald’s run the night we got in from the States (still on Central Standard Time …), and the other was a Domino’s delivery order after the gas ran out on our stove as I was getting ready to make dinner.  We weren’t able to order more gas until the next morning, so we opted for pizza over eating the leftover beans we’d had for lunch that day.

Hmm, I just remembered two more … I did get new tennis shoes this summer after using my (three year) old ones on a family whitewater rafting trip, and we did eat out on our actual anniversary in addition to our pre-planned summer celebration.  I may even remember a few more before I finish typing this post, but the point for me is not how much or little we have strayed from our initial guidelines.  The point is how far we’ve come.  I appreciate things like eating out so much more now that it’s the exception and not the rule.  I’m truly grateful for everything we have and am more and more cognizant of all the things we don’t really need.  I don’t expect next year to look a whole lot different from this one, surprisingly, and that feels amazing.  I thought this year would be this huge sacrifice, but it’s just become our life.  A very joyful one at that.

Minimalism & Love Languages – OYoLM March Update

One day in college during an RA staff meeting, my boss informed us that we would be discovering our “love language” together that afternoon.  Doubtful and apprehensive at first, I didn’t see how this cutesy little system could help me understand myself better or even peg me accurately.  Especially with the phrase “love tank” being bandied about, there was some definite eye rolling.

However, upon exposure to the descriptions of said “languages,” I was surprised at how much they made sense.  I didn’t think I would fit into a love language mold, but I absolutely did (the Quality Time and Words of Affirmation molds, in fact).  I later read the book for myself (and years later walked my own RA staff through the quiz), and if you allow yourself to look past the cheese, there’s a lot of wisdom to be found.

For the uninitiated, Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages explains how people tend to give and receive love in different ways and how by knowing your own love language(s) and those of others, we are in a better place both to demonstrate our love and truly feel loved.  He proposes that most people fall into one of five love language camps (or at least value some camps more than others): Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch.  This was such a revelation to me at 19.  I finally understood why unloading the dishwasher meant so much more to my mom than just “hanging out.”  Or why I could remember in detail both the best and worst things people said about me.

So what does this have to do with “Our Year of Living Minimally”?  Well, March is a big celebratory month for us with my birthday and our anniversary falling two days apart (Beware the Ides of March & Happy St. Paddy’s!), and special occasions like these tend to mean stuff, at least in greater consumer culture.  When we put our shopping ban in place, we decided not to get each other presents for our birthdays, anniversary, or Christmas.  We still very much celebrate these occasions, just without the stuff.  In fact, this year David got up early to make me a delicious black bean tostada birthday breakfast and shared a list of his favorite memories of our relationship, complete with a song for each category of memories.

He also tried his hand at a chocolate cake (from SCRATCH!) and officially redeemed himself from the flour/powdered sugar confusion incident of 2011 … 😉  We celebrated our anniversary with dinner and plan to celebrate more fully this summer with a night away.

Now, in full disclosure, “Receiving Gifts” happens to be the lowest ranked love language for both of us.  That’s not to say that we haven’t given and received thoughtful gifts over the course of our relationship, but certainly our most memorable gifts have been experiences together.  To celebrate our first year of marriage (and our birthdays as justification for the trip), we got to go skiing.  Our first year in Indonesia we celebrated our second anniversary with a hiking/beach vacation in Lombok.  We took a babymoon/anniversary/birthday trip to the Philippines for year #3.

Now that Clementine’s here, our trips consist of walking 50 meters to the local Mexican food joint, but we’re still happy to be spending time together.

Perhaps pursuing minimalism is easier for us in some ways due to our love language bent, but this year has pinched at us a bit namely because of our primary love languages.  While we may not be as tempted to go out and buy a lot of things, going out to eat (sometimes multiple times a week) was a significant way we spent quality time together before this year.  However, in limiting those experiences, two things have happened.  1) We work together more in prepping meals to eat at home, which allows for more quality time and 2) We really cherish those rare occasions (book dates & birthdays) where we do get to spend time together over a meal we didn’t prepare.

So what about you?  Do you know your love language(s)?  How does it impact your experience with minimalism?

OYoLM February Edition – The Why

While I (Sarah) do most of the writing for this blog, my husband (David) is chiming in this month to share the “why” of not only our decision to buy (almost) nothing for a year, but also the general motivations for our pursuing minimalism.

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The formation of new habits is largely a matter of forming new loves, new orientations of the heart that recalibrate the course of our lives towards our deepest longings. Put more simply: new habits begin when we answer the question “why?” in a new way and then act on that new answer. When we provide a new, clear, definite, desirable answer to the question “why,” we often find the motivation that had been lacking to undertake new ventures, explore new places, or make lasting changes to our lives. Why run? Why diet? Why read? Why travel? Why own less? Answer these questions in a new way and you will be forced to explore new ways of living, and these new ways of living are the beginning of new habits.

Joshua Becker assigns some simple homework to participants in the first week of his Uncluttered course: know your why. Beginning a journey of minimalism demands establishing true north, identifying Polaris so that travellers can stay on course. During the first week of the course, Sarah and I dutifully sat down to finish our homework. We agreed to work individually first, and then come back together to share what came to mind in answering the “why” of our pursuing minimalism. After our conversation we then condensed and consolidated our reasons and posted them on our bathroom mirror where they still hang, an ever-present reminder at the start and close of each day for why we are choosing to live in a new way.

I want to share our why on this blog, or at least a part of it. For some of you our why may be so predictable and well worn that that it hardly seems worth repeating, but I hope that for others our why provides new questions or new motivations for your own lives.

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Everyone should read this book!

The reality is our minimalism journey was a long time coming. Sarah and I would both list Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline as one of our favorite and most impactful books. What Foster sets out to do in Celebration of Discipline is to reintroduce time honored spiritual disciplines, one of which being simplicity. Foster calls our materialism “the modern psychosis that defines people by how much they can produce or what they earn” (Foster, 101). He goes on to state:

This psychosis permeates even our mythology. The modern hero is the poor boy who purposefully becomes rich rather than the rich boy who voluntarily becomes poor. (We still find it hard to imagine that a girl could do either!) Covetousness we call ambition. Hoarding we call prudence. Greed we call industry (Foster, 101).

While minimalism may be a new movement garnering a lot of attention over the past few years, its criticisms of a materialistic culture are nothing new; Celebration of Discipline was originally published in 1978.

For Sarah and I, minimalism is deeply connected to our faith in Jesus Christ, because we believe that God cares about how we relate to possessions. For us seeking to live minimally is part and parcel of learning to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matt 6:33). Foster states, “The central point for the Discipline of simplicity is to seek the kingdom of God and the righteousness of his kingdom first and then everything necessary will come in its proper order” (Foster, 106). For the Christian “the inward reality of simplicity involves a life of joyful unconcern for possessions” (Foster, 106).

There are two dangers to minimalism and minimalism-type lifestyles. One can be found in Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (another motivating force in moving us towards minimalism). While there are some great practical tips in her book, the Konmari method does not involve shifting the location of our joy or meaning; it merely attempts to refine it. For Kondo joy is still found in possessions; indeed her whole approach is essentially stripping away the non-joyful possessions so that those material things that are joy inducing can shine all the brighter. One danger in minimalism is that we still seek joy materialistically. We just seek to do so qualitatively instead of quantitatively.

The other slightly more insidious danger is for minimalism to become a badge of honor marking the one who lives most minimally as the winner in a lifestyle of game of limbo. The bar is continually lowered, and participants own less and less proving just “how low they can go.” But this can easily become an exhausting, legalistic, joy-sucking game of judgment (and indeed five minutes poking around Amazon or the blogosphere will take you to some of these stories).

But for Foster and for the Christian, the point isn’t in what you own, rather a lot or a little. The point is the pursuit of the kingdom of God, for “simplicity itself becomes idolatry when it takes precedence over seeking the kingdom” (Foster 107). This in no way invalidates the very good reasons for living minimally because “when the kingdom of God is genuinely placed first, ecological concerns, the poor, the equitable distribution of wealth, and many other things will be given their proper attention” (Foster 107).

So why do we week to live minimally? We seek to live minimally because “life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). We seek to live minimally because we have been given the kingdom (Luke 12:32). We seek to live minimally so that we can “learn the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Phil 4:12). Most of all we seek to live minimally as a way of seeking God’s kingdom, being transformed, asking that God “turn our taking into giving…giving as he gave himself up for us all” (from Walter Brueggemann’s prayer, “We are takers,” in Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth).