Thursday, April 28, 2016

Can You Simplify Your Life By Working Harder?

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Do you ever feel like your life is just rushing like a river, sweeping you and everything in it along in its current? I do. Sometimes "life" feels more like a verb than a noun. Like it's something happening to me, rather than something I'm fully participating in.

A Treadmill Life

You know the weeks: the ones where you rush from one evening meeting or activity to another, fielding phone calls from people who "need your help," and feeling guilty if you even consider saying no to making brownies for the fundraiser, helping clean the church, babysitting for your friend whose husband is dealing with a pretty serious health issue and on and on.

Sometimes though, it's not even the out of the ordinary things, but regular old life. Bill paying and grocery shopping, errand running and trying to keep up with dishes and laundry and vacuuming and your kid's school paperwork (I'm convinced that public schools in the U.S. are responsible for deforestation in half of the world at least). There are dentist appointments to schedule and dinners to cook and ... and at the end of the day you feel like you've lost a game of Whac-a-Mole rather than enjoy any part of your day. In fact, you can't really remember what you did today.

That's how life has been feeling for me for a while now. I could blame it on my newish full-time job which I started last fall, but honestly, it's been an issue for much longer.

A Potential Solution

This may sound counter intuitive, but after I was inspired by the Slow Your Home Podcast with Rhonda Hetzel, things have started to change ... for the better. 

What did I do that's helped change things? I've been paring down, to start. I made a list of things that I love doing (upcycling/art, being in nature, writing on this blog, spending time with my family and "home caring") and things that I don't or which I enjoy but feel overwhelmed trying to fit in right now (starting a new side gig, selling more of my mystery novels at different venues, selling vintage items at a local shop, volunteering). 

Just putting those things down on paper was really eye-opening. It helped me to see concretely which were "yeses" and which were "nos." 

Next, I started to consciously slow myself down. How? This is going to sound doubly counter intuitive, but I started making more things from scratch around the house, (bread, dishwasher detergent, more homemade foods), and created a little frugality/savings challenge for myself.  (I can't wait to share the results with you soon!) 

Something Amazing Happened

With all these new/different activities taking up my time, wouldn't I end up more stressed? Strangely, no. The more I did things that mattered to me, that are authentic to my life, the happier I feel. 

Let me give you an example. This past Sunday morning, I had about an hour to myself (a rare occurrence in my household!). What should I do? Lately, I've been using this time for planning my week and looking over my schedule. But the sky was brilliant blue and I was really excited about trying out this homemade dishwasher detergent recipe (yes, I'm dorky like that) in the Little House Living book. 

I've also been on a biking kick (inspired by Mr. Money Moustache) so I decided to ride my bike to the grocery store, about two miles away. Though it was colder out than I thought, the experience was exhilerating. It felt so good to get to the store under my own power. It was amazing to tuck my purchase into my backpack and breeze back out the door. 

While there, I also scored a bunch of recycled plastic grocery bags (I'd looked when I got groceries the week before but the bin was empty) which we use for trash bag liners and kitty litter deposits. Double score! I left the store feeling content. The sun was warm, the breeze was chilly, I was doing something healthy for my body and the planet at the same time. I paused as I walked to my bike and realized that I felt so content and happy and peaceful inside because I was doing something that was authentic and meaningful to me. 

Now, I'm not saying the riding your bike to the store for a certain product or ingredient will be fulfilling (though it might be). For you, the activity might be very different. But whatever you love and feel passionate about, see if  by adding it to your life--even when you feel overwhelmed and even when you can't imagine adding a single other thing in--you also feel better/calmer and more present. 

The trick though, is first taking a look at what your priorities are and deciding what doesn't fall into the list, and letting that thing go. It doesn't mean it's forever, just for now. 

What do you think? Are you willing to try this out for a week or more and see what happens? If so, please share in the comments section. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Why Do You Upcycle?

Is there a difference between green living, frugality, living simply and a DIY lifestyle?
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I am a big time blog and podcast-lover. It's interesting to see what motivates some of my favorite writers and podcasters. For some, like the Frugalwoods and Mr. Money Moustache, the inspiration comes from saving money by living uber-frugally. 

For others like Rhonda at Down to Earth and Brooke at Slow Your Home, the motivation is living more simple, quieter and more mindful lives. 

Minimalists like Courtney at Be More with Less and Joshua at Becoming Minimalist, are driven by reducing clutter in whatever form it takes.

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Thinking about motivation made me wonder why others upcycle. Is it to be more green, to save money, to be creative, or to simply reduce waste?

For me it's all of those plus something else entirely. When I look at things I see what could be rather than what is. While this got me into trouble in my younger years with boys, it's an ability that brings me joy now. 

What about you? What do you love most about upcycling? Please share in the comments. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Thorn Bushes, Raised Beds & Spring Cleaning

Ah, spring is in the air (finally!) and we couldn't wait to get outside today and tackle some projects in the yard (aka "the homestead").

Though I didn't get a picture of it, my first mission was tearing up a terrible thorny bush that started growing under the back deck and in the pine trees at the edge of the property. It winds itself into the pine tree branches and starts to pull them down. The clump under the deck was shooting up through the boards and the lattice that surrounds the outside.What a pain ~ literally ~ of a job it was!

After wrestling with these for quite a long time, I raked some leaves and turned over dirt in the garden beds. Meanwhile the Mister worked on this:

Any guesses as to what he's building?

If you guessed, "raised bed," you're right. :) This is one that we will plant strawberries in. He also built a longer, narrower bed for the raspberry bushes we'll be getting. Before that though, I have to get soil for both beds. Yesterday I picked up all the lumber at a recycle building supply store. I got five longish boards as seen above for under $25!

Why Raised Beds?

I've gardened as long as I've been a homeowner ... so about 15 years now. If you haven't switched to raised beds yet, I highly recommend them. They are so much easier than fighting weeds in a traditional garden. Because you aren't disturbing the soil by walking on it, the weeds get much less oxygen and because of that, don't grow (much). The soil in raised beds also warms more quickly, allowing you to plant your seeds earlier than in a traditional garden.

We have three already and with these shiny, new beauties are up to five. I'd like one or two more next year--one for cut flowers and another for more veggies. Maybe one could be turned into a cold frame?

We have other exciting news about an increase in our family's numbers (by six!) but I'll save that for when I have some good pictures to show you.

What spring cleaning/outdoor projects/frugal things are you doing this weekend? 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

"Holy Savings, Batman!"

Remember recently when I talked about Rhonda Hetzel and the hard job of simplifying your life? Well, her message continues to inspire me. Actually, it feels like when you return to something you once loved very much--like long walks or reading thick historical novels or eating chocolate cookies--and wonder to yourself again and again, "Why did I ever stop this?" (To be honest, I never stopped eating chocolate cookies.) 

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I've been feeling lately that I need a challenge of some sort. I debated a zero-waste challenge. I thought about giving up buying any clothes for a year. Then I thought of something more fun and in line with my goals right now: saving money.

My husband and I have a list of short and long-term financial goals: mostly things we want/need to save for (housing repairs/kid's college fund). Because we don't have any consumer debt anymore (a post for another time), we plan out what might need replacing/updating around the house, vacations we want to take, etc., and then sock away money for them in advance.

We've been in a bit of a saving slump since our Big Trip of 2016 (southern California for a week was our celebration for finally saving up our Emergency Fund).

For me, saving without a goal is completely un-motivating. I mean, I do it, out of habit and because there really isn't a lot I feel I need right now, but it's not much fun.

So, I've embarked on a secret challenge: saving as much money as I can to surprise the Mister with at our next budget meeting.

High-tech money-saving system
It's been eye-opening how much money one can just fritter away on dumb stuff (like cake--who knew that a frosted birthday cake was so freaking expensive?!).

While I haven't made any huge goals for this month, other than to save a little everywhere I can, I'm thinking of making a big goal for next month: save XX somewhere in our budget for short-term savings and to put extra toward our mortgage.

So far this month though, I've saved $88.52. Not enough to shout about but not pocket change either. The best part is how fun it is! It's a game to see how I can save more to add to the envelope. Curious how I've been saving? Here are a few ways:  

  • $5 per day in gas when I either work at home or ride the bus to work (I have a wonderful employer who allows me to work at home sometimes, and also pays for a free bus pass for me!)
  • I saved $8 when I made two loaves of homemade, organic bread earlier this month, and $15 when I baked my son's birthday cake instead of buying one already made
  • I saved $2 and change when I returned a tube of frosting to the store (I didn't realize it needed a tip that I hadn't bought, plus I felt guilty throwing all that plastic out after using it so we just did without) 
There are still a couple of weeks left in the month ~ I wonder how much I'll be able to add to my little yellow envelope before it's over? 

I use a free app on my phone that has sticky notes. It's easy to track in there how much I save. Going to the bank to get cash out is more of a pain but I want to do it this month because it's encouraging to see the money grow. Plus, I can't wait to see my husband's face when I empty out the envelope! 

Want to play along? Feel free to get in touch if you want more details, or simply create your own rules for the challenge. I'm planning to do this again next month (with a goal, maybe!) so you can join me on May 1st, too. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Altered, Upcycled, Bead Emboidered Wrist Cuff

Hope you're having a great day ~ I got up early this morning (Sunday) for my quiet time and a walk outside before my son woke up. It was beautiful and nice to see the sun, but very chilly. 

Just a few quick minutes before I leave for church, but I wanted to share this wrist cuff I've been working on. I'm done with the top but still have to add the attachment (hook and eye) and back it because it's very messy on the other side. 

I like how the beading turned out: 

All the materials used were leftover scraps, vintage items and/or headed for the trash. 

I think that's my favorite thing about upcycling: making something beautiful and/or useful from something that would otherwise be considered trash. 

What creative projects are you upcycling this week? 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Simplifying: the Easiest, Hardest Thing to Do

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Hello dear readers ~ I hope that this post finds you well and enjoying your day. The sun is shining brightly here in northwestern Vermont and the bare branches of the trees are just beginning to bud. Though the temps are very cold (in the 30s) I'm grateful for the sun shining through the windows. One can only take so many gray skies ...

A podcast wake up call

Last Friday on my way to work, I listened to a great podcast by Brooke over at Slow Your Home. In it, she interviewed author and simple living guru, Rhonda Hetzel. Throughout the interview Rhonda shared tips and thoughts that really resonated with me. I found myself nodding along murmuring, "yes," and "oh, I know!" and wishing that the podcast would go on even longer.

Though Rhonda is a simple living advocate, I sometimes balk at the term as it pertains to simplifying one's life. Simplifying, to me, is making easier, clearing away the unnecessary and in some ways, taking out what you can in order to achieve some semblance of balance. To Rhonda and many others, simple living means making from scratch, doing things yourself, slowing down and living more frugally.

When I went back to full-time work in a city that's 45-minutes away, I had to let some things go: baking bread, cleaning/tidying as much as I usually did, making homemade gifts and other similar tasks. For me, living like Rhonda--making my own bread daily, hand washing clothing, sewing/knitting gifts, etc., wouldn't work right now.

Logistics aside, one of the things that she said that really struck me was this (I'm paraphrasing): when you do things for yourself--like making your own food from scratch--it's a way of putting your own stamp on your life. You're not simply doing what's easiest and buying convenience food (generic) but contributing to your own life.

Baking and playing on a Saturday = bliss

I was so inspired by Rhonda's messsage that early Saturday morning you would have found me standing at the kitchen counter, bread dough in my hands, kneading away. It was wonderful. It was relaxing and offered me time to reflect and be silent and really present. I was standing facing a window over the sink, so part of the time I watched all the activity in the yard: birds flying here and there, a squirrel stuffing itself with black sunflower seeds, the clouds moving across the sun.

Later that day, I practiced presence again when my son took out his sidewalk chalk. We started drawing designs and were soon joined by my husband who got in on the fun. The sun was warm and a breeze that smelled like spring blew through the yard. It was luscious.

It was also a good reminder: am I missing these moments every day? Have I become so immune to simple pleasures that they haven't even showed up on my radar?

Finding time

I'm looking hard at my schedule recently, even doing a sort of informal time log to see where I'm spending--and wasting--time. I want more of these simple moments in my life. I crave them and am so grateful for the reminder last week to seek them out.

What about you? Are there simple pleasures or moments that you look forward to each week or day? if so, what are they?