As we draw near to Easter, I have been thinking about what good news might sound like right now. Would it sound like peace and reconciliation between vengeful populations? Would it be the sound of the “right” presidential candidate winning the election? Would it sound like rain falling on California’s parched land?
I don’t openly tell people (outside this blog community) that I’m a minimalist. I think there’s a certain image that comes to mind: whether aesthetic minimalism, extreme minimalism, or philosophical minimalism– and I don’t want to be immediately associated with those things.
Moreover, being a minimalist is not my primary, personal identity. As I’ve written before, minimalism is a vehicle that takes us somewhere we want to go. It lightens our load on the path forward. It helps us see clearly.
So even as minimalism continues to unfold as the buzzword of our decade, I want to stay true to why I write this blog. This space is designed to be a hub for those who have a goal, purpose, or raison d’être behind their desire to simplify. I want to encourage you– yes you– to pursue what it is that makes you come alive.
The irony is that, in order to be a “good minimalist” (if there is such a thing), you have to ground your identity in something else. And it needs to be something worth grounding yourself in.
I spent this past weekend celebrating a friend’s wedding in Columbus, Ohio. If you’ve ever been involved with a wedding– yours or someone else’s– then you’re aware of all the fanfare and fuss that surround it. Not only are there standard elements in almost every wedding ceremony, but there are also rehearsal dinners, toasts, first looks, dancing, dining, and so much more. It is an event nearly defined by rituals. Marriage itself seems something entirely different.
In the whirlwind of preparation before the wedding, she and I sat in a moment of quiet reflection. We need rituals, she said. Perhaps they don’t change anything in our physical reality– but in our emotional-spiritual space, rituals occupy a lot of significance.
Gratitude: I’m working on it. It seems that outside the month of November where Thanksgiving is nestled, our culture isn’t a particularly grateful one. We’re consumers by economy, and as a result we’re constantly told to want more, acquire more, dream of more. While there is nothing wrong with more— of the right thing, that is– it can often lead us to feel dissatisfied with our now.
Aaron and I recently decided to sponsor a child through Compassion International— a program that connects vulnerable children with people who desire to be a part of those children’s journeys. Compassion’s sponsorship program has been vetted by research after many years in operation, and I am so excited to share more about this partnership once I start learning more. Our little friend’s name is Santiago and he lives in Mexico. He’ll be turning 5 years old in June!
Back to gratitude: it’s hard to cultivate. I find that often the inspiration to be grateful is based on guilt– our lives are so much better than those of others (perhaps my life compared with Santiago’s) and I am supposed to remember to feel grateful for all the conveniences and luxuries I enjoy.
But gratitude really should not require comparing your situation with someone else’s so that yours doesn’t look so bad. Instead, it’s a manner of acknowledging that while nothing is for certain and that we are far less deserving than we seem to think, good things have come our way. Somehow, despite the offenses we’ve committed, the mistakes we’ve made, or the misfortune we’ve experienced, we still live and breathe in a world in which purpose can be found. That’s worth celebrating.
Building practices: why we need habits
If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you know that I’m a proponent of both ideological change and habitual change. Without one, we can’t really have the other. Our actions are shaped by our desires, just as our desires are shaped by our actions.
So when it comes to gratitude, I don’t think we can just wait until we “feel it.” Instead, we can train ourselves into habits that help us see the realities we hope to see– the myriad blessings in our lives, the good work to which we are called, the truth that sets us free.
I have come a long way in this area. I used to be able to enter the first letter of my favorite brands into my search bar, and their full URLs would pop up. That’s how often I “window-shopped” online. Of course, said window-shopping quickly became real shopping.
There are many reasons to limit unnecessary shopping, but they might not be the ones that immediately come to mind. Avoiding unnecessary purchases can certainly save money, but saving money isn’t everyone’s highest priority. Perhaps there are things you desire more deeply than a stash of cash: courage, generosity, community, purpose, joy… and limiting your shopping can help with those things, too.
I had promised in this Instagram post that stories and photographs from the Sahara would come out this morning, but alas– we have a surprise visitor with us tonight and I’m not quite done editing.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about why most of us hate to wait. We dislike waiting in line at the grocery store. We don’t like to wait for our meals at a restaurant. And we certainly do not enjoy waiting to hear the outcome of something in which we’re deeply invested. At the edge of our seats, completely without control over the situation, we experience a tiny bit of humiliation in the limits of our power. We already know what it is we want, but no matter how much we will we cannot make it so….Continue Reading
Have you ever wanted to drastically change something about your life? Perhaps it was a habit you wanted to quit, or a habit you wanted start. Maybe you wanted to finally “grow up” in an area of your life, such as your finances, your health or your relationships. Perhaps you’re seeking to make a transition in your career or interests, but find yourself doing the same thing year after year. Why does that happen?
I’ve been wrestling with some gut-wrenching career and life decisions. Robert Frost’s poem about the road not taken has never resonated so powerfully with me.
Did I miss the the Happy New Year gravy train? Despite being barely a week into 2016, I feel like I did. How quickly we move along these days– and what’s the rush, really? It seems as though it will be January for a while.
So let me indulge in a little reflection. As I type this, the rain is falling heavily for the first time in a long time here in Southern California. The looming gray has kept the day dim and further clouded my sense of adjustment back to our regular routine. It feels as though we were only just wandering through the alleys of Morocco’s medinas moments ago, and yet those visions and sounds seem so far away. Indeed, a blur.
2015 in review: confessions and observations
What a year. We traveled in 5 continents in 2015 (Utah, Japan, Ecuador, Spain, and Morocco), moved house, and settled into Pasadena life. We celebrated our first wedding anniversary. Aaron sank his teeth into year 2 of Ph.D. work, began seeing a handful of clients, and did lots of research (mindfulness, anyone?). I saw my tutoring business take off, my blog grew by a power of 10, and I ended the year feeling a desperate need for change. More on that later.
On the blog, I further explored minimalism and its implications on my daily life. To be honest, I feel as though I’ve exhausted the topic (perhaps the topic has exhausted me), but the movement seems to be roaring in its upward trend. Should I write more about it, I wonder. For simple living advocates, the most important aspect of simple living is actually choosing to live simply. We can discuss it, share it, teach it and preach it, but in the end it must be a vehicle towards something else. And that’s the thing only we ourselves can define (e.g., the life-changing magic of finding your purpose).
Don’t see in this the looming shadow of despair however. Simplicity Relished will go on as my little blog, only I hope to grow in the topics that I explore this year. When I pulled together my ebook on courage (7 Days of Courage: Finding Brave In Your Everyday Life), I realized that what I desperately needed was the strength, focus, fortitude and fearlessness to pursue what I believed mattered. Call it intentionality, call it courage– I needed more than simplicity in order to face my fears, send the lies back to hell and press on.
There is something to be said about perseverance when it comes to blogging. All the blogging tips in all the world can’t give a blog what it needs to survive: a purpose that inspires the blogger and serves an audience. That purpose has to be big enough to stay relevant through different seasons of life. Even if we make little adjustments here and there, a core that is strong enough will remain the same.
So here’s a little bit of real life truth. I’m expecting some changes this year. Despite my love of my students, I might be ending my foray into self-employment. I won’t go into the reasons here, but wrestling with my next professional steps has consumed me the past couple of months. Along with the shift includes a small possibility that Aaron and I will spend some time overseas. As options materialize, I will share them here.
What I do know is that, in the midst of this rocky, exhilarating and unpredictable decade we call our 20s, I need this blog. I need you as my reader, keeping me in this space where I can center myself again on what I truly care about. Thank you for being here.
My word for 2016 and a few little goals
I like the idea of having a word for the year. Despite it seeming more like a word of the moment, we can dedicate ourselves to an ideal or commitment for as long as it’s something we truly need. So my word is fortitude. I want the strength, perseverance, bravery, vision, and focus to move forward this year. Fortitude makes me think of a large ship crashing through the most threatening waves. It may rise and teeter and dip, but it continues forward, wave by wave. I want to be fearless that closing doors is okay. I want to step into something, step into it deeply, and say yes at crucial moments in the journey.
As far as setting goals, perhaps I don’t have any big ones yet. However this year shakes out, though, I want to find myself choosing to thrive. I want to inspire and to be inspired; to discover new corners of God’s word in which I can rest; and to increase my generosity to my community. Aaron and I are going to find ways to take better care of our bodies, hopefully together. We’ll be developing new recipes for home cooking, committing to more exercise and hopefully continuing to get enough sleep.
Coming to SR in 2016
I hope this year will bring nothing less than amazing content that you find helpful, interesting and encouraging. At the very least, I’ll be working on the following:
- All the Spain and Morocco posts! I love writing about travel and have missed it since our summer trips.
- Occasional lifestyle pieces: sometimes all these reflections and instructions can be a bit head-heavy. I’ll occasionally share a recipe, decor tip or fashion photos to lighten things up.
- Posts on courage, social justice, generosity and community: things that keep me going. This is my decision to push the boundaries on simple living and explore its purpose a bit more explicitly.
- A product! I hope… 😉
What are your hopes and dreams for 2016? Let’s tackle this together.
Merry Christmas, sweet friends. It’s funny how travel can take you far away– and then closer than ever– to the heart and soul of the season. From the moment we stepped foot in Sevilla to this very moment in Barcelona, I’ve encountered strange new reminders of the glorious moment in history that we celebrate on Christmas Day.
Perhaps the best phrase the captures this, for me at the moment comes from “O Holy Night”:
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
In our postmodern age, we don’t really like the word “sin.” I won’t go into its theological definition here, but I will say this: our world is pining. We are pining for more peace. We are pining for more freedom, more hope, more joy. And as much as we desire these things, we are constantly robbed by the errors– the evil– of others and of ourselves.
So when Christ appears, the soul feels its worth. A thrill of hope and a weary world comes to life again. A new and glorious morn has come and is coming again.
And no matter how we express this longing, no matter where we come from or where we are going, we know to cherish this time of year as a time to renew our trust that something– perhaps someone– is coming for us. That this world is to be made new. We can only hope in this. Merry Christmas. Feliz Navidad. Bon Nadal.
We are now a culture obsessed with authenticity.
We’ve donned a peevish perspective on social media, on networking, on new friendships– basically on anything that might not feel “real” enough to us. We expect everyone to divulge everything.
Authenticity is a good thing (at least, it used to be). The notion that I can be honest about my emotions, my progress, my struggles, and my opinions is a freedom I’ll continue to cherish.
But this trend of being authentic– of chasing some imaginary level of authenticity– is a tiresome game. I’m wary of its pushy nature, because it’s starting to look a lot like any other attention-mongering scheme.
Authenticity has become what we expect; and what we expect is to be shocked. We love confessions. We love peering behind the curtain to see the “real deal.”
In other words, authenticity is no longer pure. It’s fraught with expectations, pressures, and a strangely insecure self-confidence that seems to be throwing wisdom to the winds.
The day after Halloween, I walked into a crafts store. According to their displays, Halloween was so yesterday and Christmas season had officially begun.
There were plastic trees on display, cheap ornaments in boxes, and ribbons of every color. Somehow they even transitioned the scent of the whole store from autumn spice to winter wonderland.
Someone remarked to me recently that Thanksgiving “gets no love”– and that November is just that awkward transitional season after Halloween when we start anticipating the biggest purchasing month of the year.
I’ve been championing simplicity on this blog for about a year now. It started last fall when I came across Courtney Carver’s Project 333— a capsule wardrobe challenge that has now become a near-mainstream trend– and I took it upon myself to find additional ways to simplify my life.
I’ll be honest. I did it in part because I was intrigued by the subject, and there was already a vibrant tribe of writers I could jump right into. It also helped me focus my blog on a specific topic while in the midst of moving across the country, getting married, and becoming (more) in charge of my resources.
Simple living has become a trend in this past year– the more I wrote about it, the more I realized that others were doing the same. And now that Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, is a national bestseller, it seems everyone is on the simple living boat.
I didn’t grow up in a family that watched much American television. In fact, my family didn’t watch any television– we owned a TV for years without actually knowing how to turn it on.
As far as I know, there were no truly strong moral objections to television. There was just always something better to do. My dad was a bookworm and my mom was always busy with something, so I rarely saw anyone watching a show or reading a magazine.
More importantly, my lack of exposure to TV– and all its nightly wonders–became a point of embarrassment. In middle school, I didn’t watch the shows that all my classmates were watching and talking about. I didn’t follow sports. I didn’t know who was in, who was out, who was hot, who was not, and who was the next best thing.
As I gained some independence and some Internet savvy, I decided it was time to learn all these names. Whether or not I had seen their movies or shows, I wanted to recognize these public icons that everyone seemed obsessed with. It was as though our lives would not be complete if we weren’t up-to-date on theirs.
We’ve all heard the adage that hindsight is 20/20, but that’s no consolation for poor decisions made. We can easily become so wrapped up in self-punishment for the past that we experience very little life in the present.
While all of us have regrets– large and small– we also have the agency to choose what to do with them. And specifically, there are lifestyle choices we can make to minimize the likelihood to regret our present decisions in the future.
Minimalism doesn’t solve everything
After I wrote 5 Minimalist Secrets to Saving Money, I quickly realized that I did not intend for it to be a catch-all solution to better financial management. There are just a few philosophical aspects of the minimalism movement that are particularly helpful for those trying to spend responsibly.
It’s the same, in my opinion, with regret. If we consider ourselves minimalists (in one or many areas of our lives), then we are forced to approach our decisions with useful principles.
Ultimately, I don’t think that minimalism– or simple living of any variety– should be about the financial bottom line. It should help our daily lives reflect more what our deepest desires and core values are. And when that happens, it’s very likely that our list of regrets will shorten, if not disappear altogether.