Saturday, October 31, 2015

a state of the heart

I can't believe it's over! I'm so glad I decided to be a part of the #write31days challenge. It's been tough and revealing and heart-tilling. 

If you read even one of my Learning to Simplify posts - thank you. Without readers, I have no blog, and this has become such a special place to me. 

I've only begun learning how to simplify and what that truly means. For me, the investment is worth the reward. I know it will be an ongoing lesson and journey. 

Ultimately, through writing over the past month and carrying out these posts into my real life, I've learned that simplifying isn't a method or a technique or even a lifestyle. It's a state of the heart. When I begin there - in my own heart - and work outward, paring down to the essentials, non-negotiables, and life-givers, it can more easily infiltrate every facet of my life. 

And the truth is, only the Lord can completely clear out and clean up my heart. I can't do it because I'm a human and we hoard our junk. We let things pile up. We rarely deep clean. He knows my heart so well because he's the One who made it. I can safely let Him come in, dust, declutter, and organize. I can trust Him with that task. 

That's the kind of Simple I long for. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

revisiting the why

Why is decluttering even important? I first discussed this back at the very beginning of this writing challenge, which you can read here. Aren't we taught to value "more"? How often do we stop to evaluate whether or not constantly seeking more is serving us, the people we care about, and our God?

It's worth taking an appraisal of. 

1. Decluttering reveals. It unearths the state of our home, our hearts, and everything that lies between. You can't continue in ignorance once you've confronted the truth. You're forced to put everything in it's rightful place, or remove it from your life. This is the hard part, the fire.

2. Decluttering leaves behind only valuables, both material and intangible.  I do enjoy having a simple closet and I can appreciate an organized space, but even more so, I treasure newfound freedom, joy, and purpose. The invisible - this is where the beauty is found. 

Those treasures can't be defined until we have first worked through the reveal. They are equally important and necessary. 

I hope you take the time to find what you truly value, and let it take it's proper place in your life.

James 1:2-4, The Message: Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

my simple confession

When I first felt the Lord moving me towards a simpler life, I began small. It started behind my closet door, where I pared my wardrobe down to only my very favorite things. It was the perfect beginning to this new chapter in my book because it affirmed in me the desire for long term and deeper growth beyond my closet.

These past twenty-eight days were not intended for instruction or even motivation, although those would be wonderful byproducts. These posts were my confessional

Not a confession to you, and not even a confession to my Lord - He already knows the maze that's my heart. 

It's been my way of confronting myself and all of my junk. Over my last twenty-eight years I have accumulated all along the way and it was time to step back, evaluate, and clear out. 

Things are feeling lighter. There are less distractions. I can breathe deeper. 

This process of writing and editing and praying and pondering is always a mirror. It helps me see more clearly, reflecting everything back in truthful light. 

Thank you for helping me hold the mirror by simply reading and providing this safe space for me to declutter in pursuit of Him. 

If you've missed my previous posts in this series, you can click here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

relationship recap

Wow. Posting every day for 31 days straight is no joke! It has been tough. It hasn't been perfect, and I've missed a couple of days here and there because, life. So many of these posts I had to publish despite wanting to edit them more or sit with them longer. But what an awesome challenge it has been not only for my writing, but even more for my heart. I've had to wade through some heavy topics (and some not so heavy) in "real time." Each day I have prayerfully considered what God would have me to share, to ponder, to declutter. Although this was a kind of crash course in simplifying, it has been transformative for me. I am so hopeful that the Lord will continue this sanctifying work in me, long after October 31 passes. 

I plan to use these last few days to recap some of my greatest takeaways from this challenge. 

With all of my "relationship" posts, I've noticed a clear thread in how I want to approach them. It really does come down to the themes of love, grace, and truth. When I remind myself to go "back to the basics," those are the words that fill my mind. I am so grateful to the Lord for allowing me to see these precious pieces of my life with new eyes. Relationships need re-evaluating from time to time, and I've discovered how valuable it is to focus on improving myself, not the counterpart in the relationship. I will always have much to refine. Much too much to focus on how others need polishing. 

I should just be the friend, partner, mother, and daughter that I want to have. 

The Lord is sweet in his relentless patience with me as I learn to be more filled with him and less with myself. This is dying daily, and it's not an easy practice. I want to see my friends and family with eyes of grace, a heart of love, and thoughts of truth. Always

If you missed my relationship posts earlier in the series, you can read them by clicking here, here, or here

Monday, October 26, 2015

31 Days of Learning to Simplify: My Mothering

There are about one million ways I could think of to improve my parenting. One million ways I fail and mess up, and one million times when I've said or done the wrong thing. I'm sure the people around me would gladly dispense advice and there are books full of checklists to make sure I'm doing everything just right, all the time. 

It's so much pressure. 

But God doesn't put pressure on me to be a more perfect mom. His approach is much different, gentler. He picks my tired self up off the hot seat, and then he doesn't just leave the seat empty for me to find my way back again. He sits in my place.

He sees me in the monotony of my days, at my best and my worst, and he's pleased. He tells me I'm a good mom (sometimes more than once, when I really need convincing). 

That's because the Lord looks past my mom "failures" and "wins" and peers deep into my mama heart. 

He knows the soaring love I have for this baby of mine, because he sees with the eyes of a Father. A kind Father. A good Father. 

When I feel all caught up in my constant striving to do better and more, I need to remember who he says I am. That is, already enough

Right where I am - I'm enough. You're enough. 

I'm my best mama-self when I see myself how he sees me. When I parent out of that place, I'm not relying on techniques or methods, I'm just relying on the One who made me a mom in the first place. And He's enough. 

I am nearing the end of my Write 31 Days Challenge! If you want to read through some of the other posts in this series, click here

Sunday, October 25, 2015

31 Days of Learning to Simplify: Finances

Carrying two mortgages will make you rethink your finances, mainly because you have no other choice. That's the position we found ourselves in this past summer when we randomly (divinely?) found the "just right" house for us, before our old home was even listed on the market. It was a good practice for us to pay close attention to the money leaving our accounts every month. 

I am no expert in the realm of finances, but these are some personal goals and practices that I try to keep up as much as possible. 

1. Keep track of the outgoing. Online banking is helpful for me in this way since it's always up to date and tracks all spending and bill pay in one place. 

2. No debt. Of course easier in word than practice, but less debt = less stress. We only have one credit card and use it sparingly + pay it off quickly. 

3. Charitable giving. Be on the lookout for opportunities to give that are meaningful to you/your family. One that is important to me is sponsoring a child in Thailand who I met when I was there in April. 

4. Where you spend is important. Whenever possible, buy from companies that provide safe environments and fair wages. Here's one article that has influenced me on this topic. 

5. Accountability. My husband and I share accounts so everything is always visible to the other. Also - no large purchases without discussing first. 

6. Monthly/weekly allowance. Setting a certain amount of spending money for each week has helped us keep our small purchases like coffee in check. 

7. Make returns. If something doesn't work or fit, or you just change your mind - take it back! Don't just stick it away in a closet and forget about it. 

8. Online bill pay. Everything in one place keeps finances simple. 

9. Prayerful consideration over major changes or purchases. We did not decide rashly to buy a second home without lots of prayer and crunching numbers to make sure it was a smart decision. 

I don't want to just streamline my finances for simplicity's sake. I want to be a good steward of my blessings and resources, and make it a priority in life. 

I would love to hear any tips you guys may have! This is an area where I always have something to learn. Please leave your ideas in the comments. :)

Friday, October 23, 2015

31 Days of Learning to Simplify: Destructive Expectations

After just completely missing yesterday in the #write31days challenge, I'm back. Sorry 'bout that.

All too often, I expect too much from the people in my life. 

Because of my unrealistic expectations, I set them up for failure. This is detrimental to the relationship -- it can cultivate dissatisfaction, resentment, defeat, hurt feelings, and most definitely disappointment.  

By choosing to withhold grace, I am allowing our relationship to be damaged. The responsibility actually falls on me. (Ouch.)

When what I want is perfection, I should anticipate shortcomings. Not because people want to let me down, but because people are people. Just broken people in a broken world. 

Naturally, for myself, I want fair standards. I want grace and compassion extended to me. So, why am I hesitant to offer this same grace to others?

When I find myself in a place of expecting the impossible for my husband, my friend, my daughter -- here's my heart check
1. What do I know to be true? As I evaluate a scenario that's left me feeling hurt, I ask myself what do I know to be true of that person and my relationship with them: Are their intentions bad? Do they love me? Would they ever purposely let me down? When I consider the facts instead of just my feelings, I can see more clearly.

And, 2. Who is my hope really in? Only the Lord. Everyone else will fail me at some point. But there is only one who is always faithful and always trustworthy because He knows no other way. 

Lets learn to let others, and ourselves, off the hook. Grant abundant grace. And let's tuck our hope away in the proper holding place that's safe from all the let downs this world has to offer, in Christ alone. 

::Truths for your heart::
My hope is in You all day long. Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love. Psalm 25:5-6 

The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love. Psalm 147:11 

Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken.  Psalm 62:5 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

31 Days of Learning to Simplify: Social Media

We all know what a time waster social media can be - this is not news to anyone - but I'm on a mission to actually re-evaluate how much of my life I'm willing to give over to my online presence. I think Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and every other social media outlet can create unnecessary clutter in our lives, and distract us from really seeing, living, experiencing, and connecting. 

All of the scrolling, the pinning, the liking, the evaluating based on a single square or 140 characters - it can easily run your day. I'm not saying it should go away entirely, obviously that's not happening, but at the very least, some decluttering needs to take place.

In the writing world, there is a wise notion that we can never let ourselves only write - we have to experience life to be able to tell about it. The output can't outweigh the input or else we will find ourselves with no stories, no lessons, no words. The same holds true for our online sharing. If we never put the phone down, we won't have anything meaningful or significant to share when we do pick it back up. 

I'm creating a call to action for myself and hoping you'll join me. I'm setting boundaries, time limits, and purposely diminishing it's overall presence in my daily life.

Here's how: 
- I believe it starts with telling yourself it's okay to step away. It's okay to disconnect temporarily. After all, this is the internet and whenever we come back for a visit, it will still be there. 

- Be picky. Decide which outlets are your favorites and stick to them. You do not need for people to be able to reach you 37 different ways. (I use Instagram and Facebook the most. I post on Twitter only periodically for blog purposes). 

- No social media during certain blocks of time. This week, I'm not checking anything after 8pm except email. Next week maybe I will block off 5-8pm when we have family time. Or the weekends. Picking a time and sticking to it is crucial to stepping away intentionally.

- In addition to the "do NOT check" times we just talked about, I think it's helpful to set "TO check" times. Although it may not be completely off limits all day, contain your social media time to a short, predetermined window to avoid wasting time. 

- Turn off all notifications. Sounds, pop-ups, alerts - off. This has been a GAME CHANGER for me. I realized that I was actually forgetting to check my phone when I didn't hear it dinging for my attention constantly. I do not plan to ever turn these on again. #freeeeeedommm

- Fill the time void with something you are passionate about. (This is the easy part.) I guarantee you will not miss it if you are busy painting/reading/journaling/playing with your kid, etc. (For more on this topic, read yesterday's post passions versus hobbies).

- Have a friend join you. It's easier when you know someone is along for the ride and can keep you accountable. 

Remember: The ultimate purpose of paring down social media intake and output is to be able to actually DO LIFE. Instead of talking about it and posting about it and documenting it, we were meant to LIVE IT. Let's never forget that.  

Let's put everything down for a time so we can really listen. Really see. Let's really live. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

31 Days of Learning to Simplify: Passions Over Hobbies

This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting the writing here at Beloved Nest. 

I am one of those people who has a lot of interests, and when I like something....I really like it. Home design, photography, furniture painting/refinishing, reading, television, bargain hunting, Instagram-ing, writing, and let's not forget Target-shopping, which is definitely a thing. Of course nothing is inherently wrong with having many hobbies, but it can be detrimental if I don't manage how my interests pull from my limited free time. I'm learning how to simplify the things I devote my free time to, so I can get the most out of both my hobbies and my time. 

Once I became a mom, I used to say I never had time for reading. Now I know that I was lying when I said that, even if it was unintentionally, and even if it was just to myself. Oh I had the time, but instead the Real Housewives of Wherever would suck me into their episode about everything and nothing, or I would browse through Instagram for an embarrassing amount of time. The bottom line is that we have time for what we make time for. 

My inspection of my free time started when I read 
The Fringe Hours by Jessica Turner over the summer. I began noticing how much time I was throwing away each day that could instead be spent doing something I really enjoy, rather than something to just fill the time gap.

For me, learning to simplify how I spend my free time was as easy as defining which of my interests are hobbies, versus which are my passions in life. Huge difference. Social media and decorating my home might be fun, but they aren't life-giving for me. However, reading and writing? Those two are my soul-stirrers. They matter. They feel less like an interest, and more like a calling. That is where I drew my line in the sand. 

Now that I've narrowed my scope down to my two non-negotiable passions of reading and writing, I feel more fulfilled because I'm steadily focusing on improving myself in those two areas rather than letting thirteen different things steal away snippets of my time. 

I would challenge you to really investigate your minutes and see where you can intentionally grab 10 or 15 of them to devote to something you actually love, rather than just another time waster. Ahem, social media, I'm looking at you. Then decide which interests you are most passionate about, and which ones can just be an occasional hobby. Do you have two interests that would work well together? Maybe even one that you can make extra money from? Start investing in those by giving them the time and energy they deserve. If you need help with figuring this out, Jessica's new journaling and planning version of The Fringe Hours is available for pre-order here

Please hear me when I say it's about intentionality and balance. So while many times you will find me reading or writing, please know that sometimes I also need to intentionally do nothing and use zero brain cells while I watch some Teen Mom. Plus, I can only take so much of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse before the television scale needs some leveling. Yes?

Monday, October 19, 2015

31 Days of Learning to Simplify: My Marriage

As you may have read in my Friendship post, I am on a mission to declutter my relationships. After my walk with the Lord, my connection with my husband is the most important one in my life.

Yesterday, October 18, was our seventh wedding anniversary. Seven! It's just bizarre to think that we've been married for that long. We celebrated by watching two episodes of Shark Tank while he ate cupcakes and I just pretended since I was sick. (Wahh). We are fancy like that. #truelove

Over time, our marriage has become both simpler and more complicated. Our lives have only become more intertwined, with more shared pathways, the greatest of which is of course our child. It is simpler in that each day we are more one. Not that we always act like it. Obviously.

So, here is what I want to collect more of in my marriage:
Christlike care with each other's feelings and heartsImproved communication. Effort to understand each other better. Grace. Uplifting words to and about each other. More silliness and fun. Letting go of the little things. Quick to apologize and make peace. 

And here is what needs to be purged: Unrealistic expectations. Looking out for our own interests. Bratty tones and attitudes. Being quick to accuse and assume. Remembering each other's failures. Mind-reading expectations. General unkindness. 

Yet again, the Golden Rule works here. I should just be the partner I want to have. Only, I'm a human being and that sounds wonderful until I hear a snarky comment about how high the dishes are piled in the sink. Or until he hears me complain again about the hunting gear littering the floor. This is where my first and most important relationship comes onto the scene: how is my walk with the Lord?  When it suffers, so does my marriage. If I'm letting Christ do the guiding for my responses and actions, then treating my husband as I want to be treated is actually possible.

Seven years is a long time, but not in the grand scheme of a lifetime together. I'm only at the beginning stages of learning how to really love my husband well. It takes daily sacrifice and commitment and compromise. Each day we gather up wisdom as we go, and lay down a little more pride along the way. But then somedays we get it completely backwards. We throw out our godly wisdom and then our arms have room to pick up prideful ways again. We live in a broken world and no one gets it right 100% of the time. My prayer is that we will get it right more than we get it wrong. I sometimes listen to podcasts by Andy Stanley, and he posed this simple question that I cannot forgot, especially when it comes to my relationship with my husband: What does love require of me? 

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.  { 1 Corinthians 13:13 }

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Write 31 Days Update

Hi friends. I am back home from #Allume conference, which was AMAZING and I will be posting more about that later.

The weekend was so full of firsts for me. First time out of town by myself, rooming with a stranger, attending something where I knew no one, and oh very first ER visit as a patient. 

The short story is I got 
really ill, like violently ill, and finally had to take my puny self to the local hospital at 2 am Saturday morning. A couple of hours later I was discharged with a food poisoning diagnosis, body full of fluids to combat the dehydration, and a blessed prescription of Zophran to ease the extreme nausea. 

Basically, food poisoning kicked my tail. And I'm still recovering. 

So I plan to be back at it tomorrow with the Write 31 Days challenge, and hopefully feeling more like myself.  Let's make this upcoming week a great one. :)

Friday, October 16, 2015

31 Days of Learning to Simplify: Blogging

I'm here at Allume Conference (yipee!) and this morning I got to hear from Myquillin Smith of The Nesting Place. (Love. her.) One of the things she spoke about is the purpose behind your writing and the importance of a mission statement to guide everything you publish. 

I could probably list an entire page of "why I write" but ultimately, as a believer, I write to reflect the glory of God that is in me. We are all called to do that in whatever capacity we have been gifted in. Do you know what that does for me? It totally frees me up. I can speak His truth and be fulfilled no matter who reads it, or what they "get" from it, or what they think of it. That's because it doesn't end with me. As Stephanie Smith so aptly stated today, as writers, we are just pointing the way. We are the windows, the go-between, the mouth piece, the messengers. It's not my message. It's always His. 

I can simply let Him take the lead. This relieves so much of the pressure I put on myself.

I can simply rely on His guidance. This is how I determine what to speak about and what to not speak about. 

I can simply let Him do the storytelling. This allows me infinitely more joy in the process because it's always His words. His story. 

It's all His. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

31 Days of Learning to Simplify: Running from my comfort zone

I am busy prepping to attend my very first writing and blogging conference. Ummm, YIKES. Here is the number of people I know attending: ZERO. 

Yep. It feels like the first day of my big girl college class in the overwhelmingly large conference room with theater seating. Just. so. intimidating. 

I am stepping into this alone and for all practical purposes stepping WAY THE HECK outside of my comfort zone. Actually I would say this qualifies as running away from my comfort zone. It's there and I'm here. As in, I have left my comfort zone in the dust. Gone. Imma need my big girl panties for this one. 

I'm an introvert, albeit a social one. I'm reserved with new people. I'm easily nervous about entering a situation I've never been in before. I hesitate to call myself "a blogger" or "a writer." It feels presumptuous to label myself the same as these people who I admire, who are far more experienced and talented than I am. Am I even worthy of a title? All of my natural tendencies tell me to race back to my comfort bubble but instead I find myself running toward the thing that scares me most. 

Even a few years ago, I would have never had the guts to do anything like this. But my world has grown and so have I. I've traveled to Thailand twice to talk to people about Jesus. I've grown and birthed and loved a baby. I'm dang close to the big 3-0 and I'm not getting any younger. 

There are ONE MILLION reasons I could have, should have, said no to this conference. But. When I consider what I believe I was made for, what I have been called to, the answer is quite simple.  


That's what I would tell you if you are hesitant to make a big, scary decision that could alter your path and make you uncomfortable. Why not? It's that simple, so don't bother listing the reasons why you should say no. Instead consider why you should say YES.  

I have heard from others and learned for myself that the scary things are usually the best things. When I want to run - I should, only not backwards - I should sprint forward toward the big and the intimidating because those are the places that will teach me and push me and change me. I'm counting on this: big risk = big reward.

The same goes for you. Run. I'm cheering you on.

31 Days of Learning to Simplify: Friendships

Some of us are one-person people. Some of us are part of a bigger tribe. Neither one is wrong, or better than the other.  Just, different.

I am the type of person who has several "best friends." These are girls I have known at least since middle school and we have managed to sustain our friendships through high school, college, and early adulthood. No one knows me better than these people. Then I have a little bit wider of a circle that I would call "close friends." This is a diverse bunch. It includes friends from my current work, old jobs, church, and friends of friends. I am so grateful for what these people contribute to my life. Then of course, we all have an outer circle who we don't see or talk to often, but still, we consider them a friend.

When I talk about simplifying relationships, I am not talking about cutting people out of your friend circle. Instead, I'm pushing myself and you to think about the quality of these friendships - how can you invest more into them? How can you nurture and strengthen the bond? What do we let get in the way? 

I think we complicate relationships so unnecessarily and it's time to DECLUTTER. 

Let's take friendship back to the basics. LOVE. GRACE. TRUTH. 

Here is what I want for my friendships: honest communication, realistic expectations, and to always, always, always believe the best of each other. I want to be all in

And here is what I'm no longer allowing to divide me from the people I love: hurt feelings, busyness, assumptions, carelessness, idealistic expectations, deception, manipulation, passive aggressive tendencies, score-keeping, bitterness, spoken words, or unspoken words. 

If you're like me, you've picked your friend circle carefully. At nearly 30 years old, I have moved on from any "toxic" or unhealthy relationships. Let's be the friend we want to have. When I'm feeling hurt or left out or forgotten, all I need to remember is the TRUTH: these women love me and would never intentionally hurt me, or I them. 

Something that I've learned over recent years is that friendships flux. They are so dynamic, never standing still or static. At times you couldn't be more in sync, and other times you just keep missing each other. Friendships change based on seasons of life - obviously. There are times when one person can pour into it and maintain it while the other person has very little to give, like in times of significant change or hardship. This can easily strain a relationship, but it doesn't have to. I've been on both sides of this, and honestly I think it takes just as much grace to be either person in that scenario. If we are the one giving, also give abundant grace and without expectation or tallying. One day, the seasons will shift and it will be you who is unable to contribute. Give yourself grace then too, because it's only temporary and you're doing the best you can. 

Let's value these people we share our lives and our hearts with. Let's show them how much we value them. Anything less than that causes us to miss out on all the blessings of true relationship. 

As with all facets of your beautiful and unique life, let's let love and grace and truth reign. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

31 Days of Learning to Simplify: Gift Giving

Prelude. So I started this post for Day 13 last night, but I got sucked into Dancing with Stars despite my efforts to resist it. Then, we rushed to the hospital to see my father-in-law who had complications after surgery. (Pray for him?) Now I am catching up on my #write31days challenge. Today I am discussing gift-giving and how this has changed for me over the years. I have simplified my process, and in doing that it actually creates less stress  and brings me MORE joy. 

Gift giving is something I have always loved, but I've gotten really excited about it over the past couple of years. I love that it's now less of a stressor and more of a blessing, all because of the way I approach it. 

All year long, I keep a list of potential gift ideas for family and friends. If I come across a really great product or idea that I love I'll jot it in my Notebook for later reference. If I'm able, I go ahead and purchase it so I'm prepared when the right occasion rolls around. 

In my extra bedroom I keep two large bins. One is just a regular storage bin for gifts I've collected, and the other is a large 3-drawer bin where I keep all my wrapping supplies:

Bin #1 { Supplies }
I keep recycled bags, of course. Duh. Who doesn't. But every so often I also swing through the party aisle in...where else....Target and look for clearance gift supplies. I try to avoid "themed" bags and go with neutral ones instead so I have a more versatile collection to grab from. Another good idea is to keep an eye out for cheap boxes and baskets that may not necessarily be labeled for "gift giving." I've found some great ones at Kirklands and Hobby Lobby. Just remember to keep this supply stash simple and don't go overboard. You do not need to hoard gift wrapping supplies. 

Bin #2  { Gifts }
Have you ever been really proud of yourself for buying a gift in advance, until you can't find where you stashed it? Super annoying, right? That's why I started keeping everything in one place. I also plan to create an ongoing list for the bin so I'll know what's I have without having to rummage through it. 
I've found that buying as I go is far less stressful than waiting until right before someone's birthday, or spending hours and hours shopping leading up to Christmastime.

Here's how to be a thoughtful and prepared gift giver:
- When you buy something for yourself or your home that would make a great gift, go ahead and pick up extras to save for later. 
- If you see something that immediately brings a certain friend or family member to mind, go ahead and buy it to store away for later.  A good rule of thumb is to shop for the person rather than the occasion, that way you're always keeping an eye out. 
- Shop clearance racks. I always check out the clearance sections in three specific stores: Target, Anthropologie, and Babies R Us. You never know what you might come across that would be a great housewarming or baby shower gift.
- Shop online! When you first receive a party invite, jump online and head to Amazon. They have everything and shipping is quick. 
- Sign up for a subscription box. You'll receive several different items monthly that you can put away for gifting later. A great option for this is Fair Trade Friday or their Earring of the Month Club

I know sometimes we just get stumped on WHAT to give. We all have that one person who is hard to shop for, but I think it's much simpler than we make it: pay attention and get creative. (Also, stalk their Pinterest boards! All kinds of clues on their current favorite things.)

My favorite kind of gifts to give:
- Books! Books! Books! There is a book for everyone on your gift list. Home design, recipes, memoirs, how to's, coloring books, educational books, inspirational books. 
- Coffee + and coffee related items. I don't think you can have too much/too many.
- Fair trade items - jewelry, shirts, bags. Check out Noonday or 31 Bits.
- Cozy blankets.
- A hand written letter of your favorite memories with that person.
- A small daily calendar with notes written in it. I did this years ago for my grandmother and she still has it. I wrote notes on significant days and then just randomly throughout for her to find as the year went on. 
- Tickets to an Experience (i.e., a photography or cooking class, concert tickets, a zoo pass, plays, comedy shows).
- Kitchen items: stackable mugs, a nice serving bowl, Anthropologie latte bowls, or really pretty hand towels. 
- A magazine subscription because they have them for every interest under the sun. 
- A favorite things gift (basket filled with their favorite snack, drink, and restaurant gift card, along with a promise to babysit if applicable)
- A special gift certificate to create a custom item, like to Better Life Bags

Challenge: create your own favorite gift list, as well as a place to store items you buy in advance. I promise you will be amazed at how much simpler and more enjoyable the gift-giving process can be. Also, if you have any go-to gifts, please let me know in the comments!

Monday, October 12, 2015

31 Days of Learning to Simplify: My Notebook

Yesterday I shared about how I use my planner to it's fullest potential as essentially an abbreviated journal. In that same vein, I also keep a notebook where I record miscellaneous lists and information that I might need to refer back to.

My Notebook is the sister to my Planner. In it, I copy all kinds of information: books to read, blogs to check out, favorite scriptures, recipes, gift ideas, home project master checklist, paint colors, and so on. Yes, I'm aware that there are apps for tracking this stuff - Evernote, Pinterest, Good Reads - I use and love all of those! But I prefer to have everything in one place (simplified) and as I mentioned in yesterday's post - I'm old school! I just need a tangible collection of pages where I can scribble down all the zillions of things I want to remember. Out of my head and onto paper. Also, I have really irrational fears (or are they??) that all of my electronic information will just disappear completely. Enter, my Notebook. Here's how it works:

(P.S., I did not come up with this idea for organizing information, but this is my take on it.)

On Page 1, I create an Index so I can quickly find topics as needed. I number as many as I can fit on the page, in a two-column format. Then I go ahead and fill in the first page numbers with things I already know I'll need categories for. 

Mine looks like this:

Some of the categories take up two or more pages, like recipes and quotes/scriptures. I just tried to think ahead about which topics or lists would need extra space to grow.

Next, I go through and number each page after the Index in the corner, just like a book. 

Once you've finished those simple steps, you're ready to go! You can begin filling in any information you want. Maybe start with the Notes app on your phone and clear out some storage space. :)

This notebook is something I keep close by (not as close as my planner, simply because I refer to it less often). It's usually in my car or with my current stack of bills to pay at home. Every so often I will sit down with my Notebook and scroll through my phone's notes and screenshots, transferring anything that I want to keep. 

My Notebook has become my very own reference book for my life. It wouldn't mean much to anyone else because the information written in it is all personal to me - MY favorite authors and books, MY most loved quotes, MY "places to see" list. Having an organized spot where I can reference so many different topics and keep ongoing lists simplifies the need for fifteen different apps, and quite honestly? It frees up some brain space. Or at least it feels that way.

*Make sure you buy a journal with a lot of pages so you don't run out of room too quickly. I also prefer a hardback because it seems to hold up better.  And as with the Planner, bonus points for a cute journal. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

31 Days of Learning to Simplify: Rethinking My Planner

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Are you a list-maker? Do you have a planner that's worn from all the use it gets? 

I totally am and I totally do. Probably because my brain has left the building since I became a mom. (It is a thing. For sure.) So, lists and planner notes are essential to remembering anything these days.

I know a lot of people rely on apps like Google calendar now, but I am old school. I need a tangible calendar in my hands. Bonus points if it's pretty. 

I almost always have my Planner with me. Unless I forget it or I'm on vacation, it's usually in my bag or at least in my car. My inner nerd comes out over my planner. Sitting down with a fresh new planner, armed with pens, highlighters, and tabs is one of my very favorite things. It's slightly alarming, the joy this brings to me. I told you, #nerdstatus.  But here's why: my planner is my life tracker. It is way more than a place to fill in my work dates or make an errand list. It's a sort of memory book of all the mundane in my life, like a regular old Tuesday at work, paired next to a memorable event like my wedding anniversary. As much as I try to avoid hoarding important mementos, I keep most of my old planners. I just can't part with them. Especially the ones from significant years in my life. Every once in a while I will flip through an old calendar and see important dates from my life: 

Engagement day!, April 2007. 
Adopted our boxer Hudson, September 2010. 
Aven Harper's birth day,  9 lbs 4 oz & 21 inches, February 2014. 
Aven's first steps today!, February 2015.

I love the Gratitude box at the end of each week; it's an intentional way to reflect back on the blessings from the week.

So I would encourage you to grab a new planner or open the one you already have and write in it every day. Use it as an abbreviated journal where you can track your special moments, sweet memories, prayers, and goals. Planners by nature are meant to simplify your life, but you can really capitalize on it's uses:

- Get rid of your Post-It notes and keep track of small reminders on the pages of your planner.
- When you get a party invite, copy the address and all other pertinent info into your calendar and then toss the invite itself.
- Or if you want to keep that invite for sentimental reasons, tape it into your planner. You can even do this with keepsake notes from your spouse or doodles from your child, which prevents them from piling up in a storage container in the attic. 
- Have a master to do list on one specific page of your planner. Add and check off items as you go. 
- Meal planning. 
- Blessing counting.

It's a simplified way to track the every day, the significant, and the significant found WITHIN every day. You don't have to be confined to the typical ways a planner is meant to serve and simplify your life.

On the first empty page of the planner I doodled a brainstorm of personal goals for the upcoming year. This is the page I flip to when I need a reminder of my purpose or if I need to think through a decision I'm having a hard time with. 

My current planner is a thin and simple version of the Day Designer. It has a section for to do's every day and a gratitude box at the end of every week.  I've also heard great things about Erin Condren planners

Friday, October 9, 2015

31 Days of Learning to Simplify: My Morning Routine

Friends, this Write 31 Days Challenge is GETTING REAL. I have been behind a couple of days, but I've managed to catch up so far, and this is technically Day 9's post. I've been talking about simplifying my home, my decisions, and the past few posts have been a bit heavier. So we are going to move back into a lighter topic for tonight. I'm covering something superficial - my morning routine. 

It's actually humorous to think about how much time I used to invest into getting ready each morning, pre-baby. Whether it was work, church, or just errands, I washed my hair, then came the blow dry, straighten or curl, (those first few steps alone are like a lifetime for us thick-haired gals) makeup, try on eight outfits, try on three pairs of shoes, and then get my bag together. At least an hour of my life - gone. 

Fast forward to every day since February 6, 2014, which just so happens to be the day my daughter entered the world, and OH HOW TIMES HAVE CHANGED.

A lot of this is because I just care way less. Yes, I still want to look acceptable and decent, and okay, I admit I want to look cute, but if I'm going to be somewhere with my daughter, you can guess where all of the attention goes. And do not get me wrong, this is possibly my favorite thing. I love when people notice her and not me; I am a spotlight dodger while she basks in the glow and waves at her adoring fans. You could say we balance each other.

But also, I've just gained some perspective on lots of things, and being practical wins out almost every stinking time.

For starters, I would say the #1 contributor to a simplified and efficient morning routine is that I try to only wash my hair every two or three days. I have naturally oily skin and hair, so here is how I get away with it:
1) Start with shampooing using a quality product. Yes, it really does make a difference. I currently use Bumble and Bumble Gentle and then minimal amount of conditioner (B&B Super Rich) only on the ends of my hair. I do not add any additional products the first day. 
2) The afternoon/evening of the first day I pull the top half of my hair into a tall pouf (is that a word? I have no idea. #notabeautyblogger) and secure with a clip. I look 100% ridiculous but no one sees me so whatevs. I try to get as much of my hair away from my scalp as possible.
3) That same night I either sleep with my hair in a loose top knot - literally on top of my head, or just very loosely in a clip - again to keep the hair off my scalp while I sleep.
4) The next morning I do not wash my hair but instead use a GOOD dry shampoo (my friend introduced me to Batiste and I don't think I'm going too far when I call it life-changing. I buy it at Marshall's). I also do not brush my hair very much. Only the ends as needed.
5) For the daytime, I typically wear it half up or in a pony tail. If I have time I may curl it, and then I will be able to wait an extra day before washing again. PONYTAILS, TOP KNOTS, BUNS...THEY ARE YOUR DIRTY HAIR FRIENDS.

My makeup routine is super quick, and has never been complicated. I stick to the basics, and go for a glowy, fresh look rather than a heavy I'M WEARING MAKEUP look. (I'm just noticing all the CAPS in this post and I apologize for that. They seem necessary at the time.) I've also never timed it, but I would guess my makeup is completely done 4 or 5 minutes, tops. If I'm really rushing, I will just do powder, bronzer/blush, eyelash curler (heat it up for just a couple seconds with the hair dryer first for a better curl), and waterproof mascara (more substantial than regular-wear mascara).

I always have my outfits picked out the night before. Well, almost always. And when I don't, I have much less to choose from and genuinely LIKE everything in my closet since I simplified my wardrobe. This saves me SO MUCH TIME. 

I also prep as much as possible the night before - my bag, Aven's bag, her lunchbox, her toy bag. And I'm enjoying the perks of having a garage for the first time in my life, so I often go ahead and load the car as well. 

When I follow this simplified routine, I can be ready to walk out the door in about 35 minutes. Which leaves me with plenty of time to get Aven ready, and if I'm lucky, a little cuddle time on the couch with her before we rush off to start our day. 

BOTTOM LINE: You can be low maintenance and still look cute! It just takes some preparation and thinking ahead, as well as decluttering the number of tools and unnecessary elements of your morning routine. I repeat: simple and cute is a thing. You should try it. 

31 Days of Learning to Simplify: My Quiet Time & True Worship

For some reason, in my mind "Quiet Time" became this big, important thing that was kind of elusive. The perfectionist inside me needed everything to be just right or I forfeited it altogether. If I couldn't give an hour of uninterrupted study and prayer time, I gave none.

Obviously I made it way too complicated, and basically sabotaged my own relationship with the Lord. He would never impose this on me - a perfect quiet time? What does that even mean? Now, as a recovering perfectionist, I can see how incredibly flawed this way of thinking is.

I knew my quiet time needed to look a lot more accessible. More practical. More fitting for the current season of my life. It needed simplification. Less checklists and more being present. Less contrived and more organic. Ultimately, less of me, more of Him. 

I began reading Jessica Turner's The Fringe Hours and I realized I had the time for Bible study, for sure. But I was continuously spending it doing other things that really have no bearing on my life. Things that need to be put in their rightful place.

So what does my quiet time look like now? 

It's not always the same and I don't want it to be, because contrived and legalistic religion only serves me, not God. 

It's just very normal and very simple. Sometimes I'm reading through half-asleep eyes and sometimes I only make it halfway through before I hear a baby crying for her mommy through the monitor. I often pick up where I've left off the morning before. But you know what? The Lord honors that time anyway.

When I do manage to get up before the rest of my family, I head downstairs and fix a so-not-fancy cereal breakfast and sit in my comfy Ikea chair. I usually like to read from the She Reads Truth app on my iPad, but I also recently bought Savor by Shauna Niequist, and I'm excited to start it. I spend time just being quiet in a still house before the day really begins and my focus inevitably shifts.

Once I implemented a more consistent quiet time, a funny thing happened. I craved more. The Lord began to show me what worship really is. Worship is not confined only to my Ikea chair with a book and a prayer at a designated time. It is not only accessible under a steeple on Sunday morning. It is to be the essence of my every day. My whole life. Who I am.  It's not so much an act as it is a state of being. 

While we know that worship is a way of living, we fight our natural craving for routine and traditions and checklists. A lifestyle of worship takes time. It takes being intentional. It takes guidance from God to be kingdom-minded. 

Slowly, slowly, I'm learning and falling and getting back up and learning the lesson again. The Lord is sweet in His relentless patience with me. We were made to worship. We can't NOT worship; the only question is who (or what) wins our affection? Our time, talents, and devotion? Only One is worthy. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

31 Days of Learning to Simplify: When to Say Yes

Have you ever thought about the fact that every Yes you say to someone is by default a No to your family?

This is something I've heard from many different people over the past year, and it always comes to the forefront of my mind when I'm trying to make a decision on a commitment.

As a recovering people pleaser, "No" has always been a tough one for me. But a funny thing happened after my daughter arrived. The No's came out more freely and boldly, in an effort to devote as much as I could to her and my newly formed family of three.

Settling into a new season of life requires so many adjustments. One major one for me was stepping back from work a bit, just like so many other moms.

I work as a Registered Sonographer at a couple of hospitals in my area. Technically my position is "PRN" meaning "as needed." I know it sounds a little iffy, but in the hospital world, "as needed" is code for "often." I decided that I would only commit to three days a week after maternity leave, and except for a handful of times, I have stuck with my plan. The welfare of my family is worth protecting, and for me, work needed more boundaries.

A big yes that surprised some people? My mission trip to Thailand earlier this year. I had family members tell me with no hesitation that they thought I was making the wrong decision. I can appreciate their concern, but in my mind there is no more worthy a cause to leave my family for. 

Even though I knew it was the right decision, saying yes to God and Thailand was not easy. My daughter was 14 months old at the time, and had only been weaned for a month. A trek to and from Asia is not cheap. And then we have the emotional stress of leaving your baby for the first time for TEN days to go to the other side of the world, and there are more than enough reasons to say no. In the end, I had more peace with my yes than I ever would have had with a noGod has given me a heart for the people there, and I cannot ignore His call. 

So how do I decide what gets my Yes and what has to be passed on?  I've simplified my qualifications to these three things: 

A) Do I want to do it? Do I feel called to it? Make it a matter of prayer. Even small decisions deserve a consult with God - let Him decide for you.

B) How does it fit into my schedule? My family's schedule?

C) Is it worth being away from my family for that time? 

You'll notice there are no clauses for things I feel obligated to do, pressured to do, or things imposed on me. I just don't have the bandwidth to accommodate everyone else's expectations of me right now.  

Do you ever feel overwhelmed because you've handed out too many yeses? Maybe now is a good time to pull back on the reigns a little and re-evaluate which commitments are worth your time.

31 Days of Learning to Simplify: Hospitality

Technically I wrote this yesterday, but I had a super busy day and didn't want to publish it without the final edit. That would be against my religion. Or something. So anyway, here is my catch up post and I'll be back later today with another Simplify topic. Thanks for following along in this series!

I have several friends and family members who are total pros at this hospitality thing. Party planning, get togethers,'s all right up their alley.  I, on the other hand, have to be very intentional in this area. It does not come naturally to me. But for those of you who would fall in the same category as me, we have to remember not to let this be an excuse to shy away from community. 

I'm learning what it really means to be hospitable, and I think we sometimes miss the mark. It's much less about a spotless house and flawless meal, but providing the space for people to come as they are and just be together. It's really about being people-focused. Now THAT is something I can do. I can facilitate togetherness.

It does not have to be fancy. I repeat: It does not have to be fancy. 

I'm currently co-hosting a book club for Jen Hatmaker's For the Love, and one of the topics we talk a good deal about is how we complicate this hospitality thing. Can you throw together some pasta? A burger? Anything? Okay, then you can gather people around your table. A dining table is sacred ground, and is the place where people tend feel safe enough to tell their stories.  As far as the food, no one really cares, because hey, it's a break from planning a meal themselves! A low-key, simple vibe is probably more welcoming for vulnerability and genuine conversation anyway. 

I've also been reading and listening to Shauna Niequest lately, and one thing she says is that people should feel better about themselves after leaving your house, not better about you. That's something I think I can do. I may serve you a burger on a paper plate and tell you where the ice is instead of getting it for you, but I think you'll feel welcome and loved here, even if you are unimpressed with my (lack of) hostessing skills. Again I say, it does not have to be fancy. 

Here's what hospitality requires: an open heart and an open space. That's it. That space can be your home, for sure. It can also just be your front porch. It can be a shared park bench with another mom. It can be your car as you carpool to work or an event. Let's not forget the purpose of hospitality which is cultivating community. And friend, that can be done anywhere. 

I'm challenging myself to be more intentional with a hospitable mindset. If you're like me and it doesn't come naturally to you, that's okay. Just start simple - plan a hot chocolate and s'more roasting party at your home for one or two other couples. Snacks and conversation - easy! 

Monday, October 5, 2015

31 Days of Learning to Simplify: A Cohesive Home

My home decor style has come a long way since I was clicking away with the scanner in Bed, Bath, and Beyond when Brandon and I set up our wedding registry. I'm sure I'm not the only one. 

I was going from my parent's home directly to my newlywed apartment, and I knew nothing about decorating a home. Like, zero. Each room was decorated individually with no thought about the rest of the house. 

Several years ago when I began reading blogs, I really gravitated towards home design blogs. My mom introduced me to Young House Love and I finally started to understand how to build a space from a design perspective. John and Sherry of YHL are not trained interior design professionals, so it helped me realize anyone can create a beautiful, unique space that tells the story of their family. I don't claim to have a perfectly styled home (nowhere near), but it IS cohesive and (in the process of being) simplified. Each room "talks" to the other. I can easily move pillows, lamps, tables, blankets, mirrors, and other accent pieces from room to room and they would work well in another space. 

The element I use the most to create cohesion is color. I learned that I am drawn to happy colors balanced by neutrals. Specifically, I love a cooler palette, reminiscent of the sea: aqua, teal, mint green, sage green, and blue-grey. My favorite neutrals are light and dark grey, and the combo of black and white used sparingly. I also add in small pops of coral, peach, and yellow. Most of these colors show up in my accent pieces while my furniture basics are neutral. 

In a nutshell, here's how having a cohesive home helps me simplify:
1) Shopping. I don't ever have to wonder if something will work in my home - either it fits in the template or it doesn't. I also buy less "filler" stuff - only things that really contribute to the overall feeling and style of my home. 
2) Rearranging. Like I mentioned earlier, I can move accent pieces throughout my home and they work well in all spaces. Myquillyn of the Nesting Place blog calls this "shopping your home" which helps me do less "shopping in Target" :)
3) Less stuff / Greater impact. I really want the common thread of my entire home to be simple and well thought-out. When you have less going on, each piece becomes very intentional. The Nester also talks about "quieting a space" before beginning to decorate a room. This is just taking a room down to the essentials so you can see what you already have and what you need to finish the space. By approaching the process this way, you tend to decorate with less items that make a bigger impact. (P.S., I really love her Cozy Minimalist e-course where she walks you through designing a space from beginning to end.)

Think about some ways you can begin to create common threads throughout your home. Can you "shop your home" in it's current state? Or would the pieces from one room clash with another? Start with just one room and think about each element in the space. Decide which pieces are just fillers and which ones contribute to the room. 

I would love to hear how you are simplifying your home in the comments! I may even steal an idea or two because I am still learning in this area. :)