Saving My Sanity

Oh, boy, were the holidays busy! Of course, everyday life is busy year-round, but I think most people would agree that November and December are even crazier. And with the addition of New Year’s resolutions or new words for the new year, it’s hard to know how to get everything done that we want to.

In my attempts (because I still wasn’t wholly successful, but, hey, I tried, and that counts for something, right?) to slow down and rest, I implemented some small changes in the name of redirecting my energy towards more important things and hopefully saving my sanity in the process.

These things allow me to spend less time on tedious things that get under my skin and instead pour more into things I want to be focusing on, like loving myself, God, others, and life in general. Even in their small ways, these little changes make life better! They’re especially helpful in recouping from the chaos of the holiday season and getting back into a normal routine.

I write nearly everything down. To avoid panicking about having forgotten something, I’m trying to get in the habit of writing everything down (and doing so in a logical place). I have many lists in the Notes app on my phone for that very purpose– a long-term shopping list, a home improvement list, a blog post idea list…and the list goes on. I add things to my lists as I think of them so I won’t forget. I keep a pad of paper on hand at work, too, to jot down things I need to get done, things I need to pick up from the store, and things I want to do when I get home. It frees me up to then focus on the task at hand because I know I committed it to paper (or virtual paper) to take care of later.

I unsubscribed from email lists that weren’t doing anything for me. Sure, I like to get gmail_iconcoupons for stores that I actually shop at regularly, but for others, I can always look up a coupon if I decide to go at the last minute. Without getting bombarded every week with emails I won’t make use of. That’s a win in my book.

I started working on blog posts farther ahead of time. Having to compose, elaborate upon, revise, revise again, and publish a post at the last minute (read: any time the day it’s “due”) is stressful. I do much better if I’ve at least gotten half the post written before the day I plan to publish it. It usually works best if I have multiple half-written posts in my arsenal so I can choose what to finish based on what I’m feeling most passionate about writing.

I unsubscribed from some blogs in my Feedly account. I love Feedly because it screen-shot-2017-01-05-at-3-15-47-pmallows me to read my favorite blogs in one place, choosing which stories I want to read, which I want to skip, and which I want to save for later. But I had followed too many, and every Monday found myself feeling overwhelmed with the hundreds of stories that had accumulated since Friday. I gave it some thought and decided to remove some of the blogs and news sources from my list to give myself a better-curated list of things that I’m more interested in, thereby saving time and effort deleting things I hardly ever read anyway.

screen-shot-2017-01-05-at-11-08-27-amI started using PepperPlate to plan my meals. I like that I can create a plan to make certain meals on certain days and have the recipes right there in the app or on the website version. I had been using Todoist to plan my meals along with all my other tasks, but I always had to open the website to double-check the shopping list, and PepperPlate allows me to add items to my list directly from the recipe. There are some websites it doesn’t support, so I’ve had to add some recipes manually, but that’s not all that difficult, especially with the PepperPlate bookmarklet for Google Chrome. I’m still trying it out, and I still use Todoist for other tasks, but I’m working to figure out what will make this whole meal-planning process more efficient and less labor-intensive. I have thousands of recipes saved in a Google Sheets document online, but those take longer to look through, don’t include the photo, and require me to input more information. I still like my master list, but PepperPlate has quickly become a good tool to have.

I’ve been trying to make my daily rhythms more purposeful, and that requires making little processes more efficient so I can focus on the bigger things, like living like love.

 

Has your year gotten off to a good start? What sorts of things have you been doing to save your sanity?

 

Gmail icon source: commons.wikimedia.org

Shopping Your House

Have you heard the concept of “shopping your house“? My sister Jackie and I keep using this phrase to explain how we’re beginning to think about how to decorate a new home. It’s so exciting to think of having a blank slate, a chance to start over in some ways.

We want to mix things up, rearrange furniture and decor, and generally just make things look nice. It’s really easy to quickly come up with a lengthy list of items we would want to buy to fill a new space. However, we are far from having an unlimited budget, especially in terms of decor, so we turn to a more creative approach.

I don’t remember when I first came across the idea of “shopping your house” because I’ve seen it so many places. I thought it seemed like common sense at first, looking at what you have before buying new things to fill a space. But in putting the concept into practice, I have been surprised by how many things were in our apartment that I wouldn’t have thought to use differently (or that I didn’t even know/remember we had!).

Just last night, my sister and I began moving things around in our apartment, trying to think of how we could rearrange things and move pieces from one room to another for after we move to a new place. It was kind of like a domino effect: if we moved one piece from its current home to another place, we felt the need to replace it with something else, which then also had to be replaced. That seemed to be the pattern for big things like furniture, anyway.

We started by filling the bookcase that had held books with DVDs to free up the storage cubes that Jackie wants to move to her room. A nice bonus was that the DVD tower we cleared off in the process didn’t have a home yet, and we realized its compact size makes it a great fit for some extra bathroom storage! It was really encouraging to see such tangible evidence of the fact that we do have more than we think, if only we will take the time to give our things a second look and consider what hidden potential might be right under our noses.

Once we started, it was hard to stop. We combined our craft and office supplies, as well as our medications, to save space and create a single centralized location for shared items. We ended up freeing up several storage containers and throwing away unwanted items in the process, which was an unexpected perk to our organizing. We were able to organize most of our shared supplies using containers we already had simply by reorganizing them in more efficient ways and getting rid of excess items.

To try to manage the chaos that was ensuing, we created a list of things we currently have, organized by room, and things we might want to get for each room. We added items to the list as we found them, assigning each piece a home, and sometimes changing our minds.

Simply repainting a bookcase, moving a chair, or pairing things together in a different arrangement can completely change the way a room looks and feels, bringing new life into it. There are so many tutorials for updating old fixtures or furniture, and even more ideas for inspiration on websites like Pinterest. Together, they provided us with a great deal of motivation to get our creative minds working to transform our space using what we already had before going on a crazy shopping spree.

You never know what you might find lurking in the back of your closet! Maybe you’ll see something with fresh eyes, repurpose a somewhat forgotten piece into something that is once again useful, or find a better home for something you already love. We certainly did! No matter what your goal is (decluttering, decorating a new home, redecorating your current one), I suggest starting first with what you have. I hope you find some great things that can make your house feel like a home!

Paring Down the Paper

I’ve gotten a bit better over the years about not keeping so much paper around, but it’s still definitely a problem. And with the advent of “going paperless,” I find fewer things coming to me in hardcopy, but they have been replaced with a surplus of emails, PDFs, and other files on my computer that are still wasting valuable space and creating unneeded stress.

Going paperless doesn’t solve our problem if we’re still receiving just as much communication and holding onto all of it far longer than we need to, letting it clutter up our lives, and causing the truly important messages to get lost in the chaos.

I’ve come across multiple sites with tips for eliminating paper and electronic clutter, but one that seems more comprehensive is from Living Well Spending Less, and I thought I would share some of the tips with you and how I have already or am in the process of implementing some of them.

Stopping the clutter before it comes in is key. Having a screening system and organizational system in place can help keep things under control and prevent important messages from slipping through the cracks. This means that you carefully decide what makes it into your home in the first place, and determine where each message should go, according to categories of priority and how you intend to respond.

One thing that has helped me curb my electronic clutter is unsubscribing to emails that I don’t find helpful or interesting anymore. I have subscribed to blogs, store newsletters, and other sites to get updates or get deals before, but I don’t necessarily want to continue receiving emails from all of them. It saves me time and energy if I just unsubscribe from the lists instead of having to deal with an overflowing email inbox.

It’s so easy to keep all of our photos. In order to get the best pictures, I tend to snap several shots in quick succession, but I rarely go back to delete the duplicates. I have spent hours going back through old photos to eliminate the ones that aren’t my favorites, paring down the collection to the photos that truly are the best. I did a big overhaul of my photo library when I bought a new computer in November. I knew I didn’t want to transfer duplicates or poor-quality photos, so I transferred only the ones that I really wanted to keep. It was good motivation for me to purge, knowing unnecessary photos would take up valuable memory on my computer, and starting over from scratch was a good opportunity to do bite the bullet and get rid of extra photos.

When things come in that I do need to keep, I file them in an organizer that’s separated by category. I currently need to go back through my file folder and weed out things that are outdated, as I’ve been using the same file folder system for a while, but it makes finding things like banking summaries, loan information, or receipts easy to find. Having all of my important papers in one place makes it less stressful and less cluttered.

My sister and I have a small mail organizer inside the door of our apartment that allows us to place letters for each other in a defined place. I know that without it, we would end up with mail piling up all over the place. We also sort through the mail as we bring it in, immediately recycling things we don’t want, putting sensitive information in a “to be shred” bin, and opening anything urgent.

Although my email inbox isn’t as full as it used to be since I have begun unsubscribing from email lists, I need to get better about how I sort through my emails. I use Gmail, and I have the Sortd extension, so I can drag and drop emails into various categorical lists. Alternately, I can file them in folders in my regular email settings. I’m still working out the kinks to determine what works best for me, but I’m making progress in creating my own process for handling emails quickly and efficiently.

 

What things help you tame paper and electronic clutter?

 

Saving & Spending

Following Tuesday’s post about Jen Hatmaker’s book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, I said I was going to write a series of posts examining areas in which changes need to be made to realign my habits and choices with my purpose and beliefs. This week I’m rethinking my financial habits.

I know I’ve written about taking Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University course, which transformed my views about money. I began budgeting and have been faithfully using my Excel budgets every month since, keeping up with balancing my checkbook, and trying to control where my money goes.

It’s been a bit of a difficult balancing act, though, to be honest. I tend to get too strict with myself, allowing no wiggle room within budget categories, counting costs down to the last dollar, restricting personal expenses as much as possible, constantly looking for ways to save a dollar here or there to funnel toward debt and savings.

Such intense preoccupation with my budget and money-saving measures allowed me to pay off my debt faster than I had imagined. Doing so afforded me a bit of a more relaxed approach to my budget, since I had fewer bills to pay, but I was still carefully calculating how much money I should set aside for every type of expense so I could save as much money as possible. I wanted to quickly build up my full emergency fund (enough for six months’ expenses, in case anything unexpected should happen), and then save for traveling.

Reading Jen’s book reinforced my opinions about trying to live simply, but with a slightly different aim. I began to see just how selfish my saving habits were. I wanted to see how much I could save, to feel like I was doing everything in my power to provide a secure financial future for myself, saving enough to cover my current monthly expenses, building up a fund for any emergencies I might encounter, providing for my own travel, hoarding away every last dollar for my own use and security. It was just one more way I could provide for my own needs, removing any need to rely on God for provision.

I know it was no coincidence that I came upon Jen’s book, as well as others that talk about consumer Christianity, American culture, greed, and worldwide poverty. I have caught a glimpse of the great need in the world. I have been blessed so greatly with a job that affords me the ability to not only pay off my debt (from college and buying my own car, two huge privileges), but to set aside money for the future, and give a portion of my income to others who aren’t as fortunate and don’t have enough, as I have more than what I need. I have a roof over my head, food for my table (and refrigerator, pantry, and deep freezer), clothes on my back (and in my drawers and closet), shoes on my feet (and more in the closet), and so much more. I have been blessed, but I shouldn’t take that for granted and keep it all for myself. After all, I can’t take any of it with me in the end. I might as well spread the wealth. Literally.

I still see the value in saving and using my money responsibly, not throwing it recklessly at frivolous things, finding small satisfaction in passing up things I would have previously bought but have since realized I really don’t need or even want to invest my money in. I have had my eyes opened to much greater needs that I can have a part (although a small one) in helping with by financial contributions. There are so many great organizations serving the marginalized and needy, making every dollar go so much further than a new pair of jeans or fancy dinner, and I want to invest more of my money supporting those causes, doing my part to help others and share God’s love with the needy people of this world.

I’m still saving for my emergency fund, travel, and retirement, but I’m also prioritizing some giving. I have begun giving more towards causes I’m passionate about instead of saving every penny for myself, but I know I have a long way to go before I can consider myself a generous person. I’ve always struggled in this area, and I need to work out the balance in regard to the amounts going in each of these directions, but as I continue to pray to be a better steward of all the resources I have been given, I feel much more at peace regarding my finances knowing I am growing in my generosity, one little step at a time.

Clothing Cleanout

Following Tuesday’s post about Jen Hatmaker’s book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, I said I was going to write a series of posts examining areas in which changes need to be made to realign my habits and choices with my purpose and beliefs. This week I’m taking a critical look at the contents of my closet.

I love clothes. I like to look and feel good in what I’m wearing. And unfortunately that has driven me to buy more and more pieces when I get bored with what I already have, a frequent problem when buying things only because they’re on sale.

I’ve always been a frugal spender, shopping clearance racks and thrift stores, looking for good deals on clothing and accessories. But in the past I’ve let that fact justify excessive shopping habits. I would think, ‘Oh, what’s the big deal? This only costs $5; I can afford that.’ But I failed to account for how quickly those purchases added up, and how quickly the pieces became overlooked. Because I found such affordable items, I bought more of them than I needed, which left me with an abundance of pieces that I only sort of liked. My closet and dresser were quickly filling up, and yet I still felt like I didn’t have much that I really liked to wear.

IMG_0805

My closet before I began this clothing cleanout

Looking into a closet full of things I felt indifferent about made my stomach churn. Why did I spend so much money on things I wasn’t going to get enough use out of? Why did I convince myself that it was worth it to buy something just because it was on sale? I wasn’t going on $500 shopping sprees every weekend, but when I was still trying to pay off debt, spending even $40 on unneeded or unused items seems wasteful.

My chopping shopping challenge has prevented me from buying new things since March, but I know that I still have a challenge ahead of me: clearing out the unnecessary items that are already in my possession. It’s great to not add any more unneeded things, but the process really needs to begin with what I already have.

So begins my challenge to clean out my unwanted and unused items. This will likely be quite the undertaking as I have to think honestly about pieces I’ve been holding onto for a while, but it’s a good task to tackle as I prepare to pack up for our upcoming move. I In the middle of my cleanout, this was my "do I really want to keep this?" pile.expect the rest of this project will entail the following:

  1. Making sure all of the items are in good condition (no stains, holes, etc.).
  2. Trying most of my clothes on, with the exception of thepieces I have worn recently, to ensure everything still fits properly.
  3. Getting rid of clothes that no longer fit anymore (and can’t reasonably be tailored to fit, or aren’t liked enough to make the effort worth it).
  4. Identifying the pieces I haven’t worn in the last six months.
  5. Asking why I haven’t worn unused pieces, as the reasoning is important. Some things are for special occasions that I haven’t encountered, some other pieces may need a little work done to repair them, while others get passed over repeatedly because I just don’t like them all that much.
  6. Inviting my friends over for a girls’ night in, including an invitation for them to bring their unwanted clothes, accessories, and books over to trade. I came across this idea recently as a solution to shopping out of boredom with what we already have– borrowing or trading ensures fewer purchases and better use of everyone’s items.

    IMG_0820

    My pile of clothes to be tailored.

  7. Bringing leftover items from our swap to a nonprofit that provides for the needs of people in our community.
  8. Researching nonprofit companies that sell clothing and accessories that are responsibly made and sold so my future purchases can support a good cause instead of just funding large corporations.
  9. Making sure that I only buy things I really like and will get a good use out of, instead of falling prey to advertising and sales.
  10. Revisiting my closet regularly to keep checking whether I’m living up to my goals, as maintaining my clothing situation is a continuous process.

Project Purge

willliam-morris-quote-via-pinterestAs I have been reading more and more about simplifying, I have felt compelled to begin getting rid of the clutter in my life. I began with one of the more obvious ways: sorting through my personal belongings.

Like many people, I have far more than I need or even want. I have clothes in my closet that I don’t wear often enough to keep, books I know I won’t reread, and tons of papers I will never look at again.

One of the tips that I found to be the most positive and encouraging was to not look at decluttering from the perspective of choosing what to get rid of, but choosing what to keep. When you focus on the reasons you want to keep the things you really like and cherish, other things seem far less important and necessary.

I didn’t begin with a defined five-step program, but I did look at others’ guidelines to give me some general direction as I went.

As I looked at my room as a whole, I took inspiration from Simple Life Together:

  1. Determine your needs. What is your end goal? How do you want the space to look? Keeping that in mind will make you keep going when it gets difficult.
  2. Assess your space. What’s working? What’s not working?
  3. Purge/pare down. Pull everything out of a given area, sorting items into piles for trash, recycling, relocating to another room in the house, donating, keeping, and a don’t know pile (to return to later). Move around the room as you finish each area, systematically tackling one room at a time.
  4. Organize. Put like things together, label things, and make sure everything has a home.

When evaluating individual items, I turned to this list from The Art of Simple:

  1. Do I have something else that could serve the same purpose?
  2. Would I ever use all of my multiples at once?
  3. Do I expect to have an immediate need for this?
  4. Do I love this item more than the clutter it might create?
  5. Can I use this keepsake or preserve the memory in another way?

Knowing that this project would take a substantial amount of time and effort, I started with a single defined subtask. I scanned papers I wanted to have record of to my email, recycling the original copies. In all honesty, I probably won’t reference them again, but at least they’re not taking up physical space in my room anymore. It’s a step in the right direction.

I am continually paring down my clothing, proving to myself that this is a journey of progress. Nearly every day, I find myself asking how I can get it down to a more manageable size. I don’t mean just looking at a specific article of clothing and wondering, “Should I get rid of this?” I stare at my closet as a whole, set on finding something to remove. I don’t want to get rid of my favorite pieces or be left wearing the same outfit every day, but I want to be sure that I only keep the things that I really like. I still have more than enough clothes, and think this area might very well be one that I have to often revisit in order to keep it in check.

In examining my bookshelves, I feel an emotional connection to many of the books I own. When trying to get rid of things I don’t need, I continually came back to a few big questions:

  1. Am I going to reread it?
  2. Would I recommend it to a good friend?
  3. Is it worth keeping for potential future children/nieces/nephews?

Getting rid of some of my stuff has allowed me to be better organize the things I have left, leaving me with a cleaner space, which I love. And the feeling of freedom I get when I let go of things I don’t need is addictive. It’s a continual challenge to confront the endlessly accumulating collection of stuff in my life, but it’s truly liberating to realize I can choose what to keep and get rid of the rest, allowing my excess to benefit others instead of sitting unused. And that is what keeps me going in this ongoing project.

May Favorites

I thought it would be fun if I took a moment each month to let you know what things are currently striking my fancy, so here goes the May installment!

Current favorites:

Song: Girl Named Tennessee by Needtobreathe. My friends and I had our own little dance party when this song was played at the concert we went to a few weeks ago. We went crazy rocking out to the upbeat tempo, singing the lyrics at the top of our lungs. It’s just one of those feel-good kind of songs that makes you crank up the volume and dance like nobody’s watching.

Book: Restless: Because You Were Made for More by Jennie Allen. This book prompted me to slow down and take some time reflecting upon my past, my passions, and how God might be using the different parts of my life and personality to point me to a way to spend my life serving Him in a way that gives my life new purpose. I loved how the book coupled encouragement and teaching from Jennie with introspective questions designed to get the reader to really examine his or her own life.

Blog: Minimalist Baker. I have grown to be such a foodie over the last year or two, and I really appreciate recipes that use a short list of ingredients, especially when they’re healthy, too. These recipes always look so delicious, and they motivate me to make good food.

Food: I made the most delicious homemade pizza over the weekend. It was so good that I made it again the next day. I started by cooking red and white onion slices in oil in a skillet, then I added broccoli, tomato, spinach, and avocado to the mix. Once it was all sufficiently cooked, I removed it and set it aside. Then I cooked a tortilla in the same pan, topped it with pizza sauce, a little bit of mozzarella, my sautéed veggies, and some basil, oregano, red pepper flakes, garlic, and parmesan cheese. It was heavenly.

App: Grocery IQ. I like that I can add things to my list of favorite items, which makes generating my weekly grocery list much simpler. I also can customize the aisles of the store to allow my list to appear in the order in which I will find the items in the store, instead of having a haphazard list (which is what happens when I write it on my own). And I can add prices for the items so I can stay within my budget every week without trying to do mental math as I pick things up in the store. The app also syncs with the web version, so you can update your list on your computer or phone.

Store: Aldi. The small building may not look impressive, but that’s one of the things I actually like. With very little besides food, I am not tempted to buy things I don’t need (like I do when I go to larger stores that have more to offer besides groceries). Because the store is so small, I also spend far less time wandering the aisles. I go in with a list, which is also helpful, but I am able to find exactly what I’m looking for much faster than I can in larger stores. Their prices are also very affordable, which works really well for me. Since switching to Aldi, I have cut my grocery budget to about a third of what it used to be. I have come to really like some of their store brands, and their website has some great recipe ideas.

Now it’s your turn. What are some of your favorite things?