The casual minimalist

Marcus started listening to The Minimalists Podcast over a year ago and jumped on board the whole minimalism thing way sooner and more enthusiastically than I have. Slowly, though, I’m learning the benefits of living with less stuff. For one thing, it makes it a lot easier to focus on important things (people, relationships, writing – things I love) when I’m not harboring emotional attachments toward a pile of t-shirts.

I started by cleaning out my drawers of shirts. How I thought I could wear forty different casual shirts while working in a business casual environment, I will never know. The strangest thing about cleaning out those first drawers of clothing was that it became rather addicting. It turns out that cleaning out clothing and donating it feels a lot better than leaving those items tucked into a dark drawer where they don’t get used. Plus, it makes it much simpler to choose outfits when you know exactly what you have.

After my closet, I worked my way through my desk, the kitchen, the bathroom, and living room. It seems that as soon as we’re done cleaning out one area, we end up coming up with a whole new donate pile we never knew existed before.

By the time we’re ready to move out of this rented house, I want to have less than I currently have. It’s not at all that cleaning out directly made me happier. Somehow, though, lightening the load made it more possible to focus on what I want to focus on. My journey into casual minimalism has really been about eliminating distractions, not things.

Beginning to live the dream

I’m happy to announce that I am now a full-time employed writer! Since I was eight (according to my parents), I’ve said I wanted to be a writer. Although being an editor is fine, it just wasn’t what I wanted to do. I’ve been searching for something else for about a year and a half now. Technically, my new title is writer and editor, but at least writer is in there. It’s a step in the right direction (pun a little bit intended). My day-to-day tasks change a good deal because I manage the social media for the publication as well, but mainly I’m writing and editing things. Last week, my very first article went out in the newsletter to several thousand people. It was a big moment.

On top of the regular, full-time job, I’m also doing a fair amount of freelance writing. Currently, it’s all for one client consistently, but it’s better than nothing. At the very least, it’s an exercise in discipline as it’s an additional several thousand words per week. I’ve always been good with outside impending deadlines, so it’s got me writing consistently again.

Then, there’s the church writing group that Marcus got me pulled into. Our church is trying to foster a more devotional atmosphere this year, so we have a team of people writing and publishing weekly devotionals for the church. As of tomorrow, mine will be the first one out there. If you’re interested in reading it, I can send the link your way. This might be the most exciting project for me right now. At first, I was unsure whether I would like writing devotionals or not, but I actually found myself really enjoying it.

Anyway, that’s all I have to share for now. Many of you have seen me through my dark ISG days, so I wanted to give you all a quick update and tell you I escaped alive.

Missy Pearl

Last night, we said goodbye to a dear friend. Missy, my childhood family dog, passed away. It wasn’t unexpected. She was a Great Pyrenees/Weimaraner mix, so her expected life span was anywhere from ten to fifteen. Missy was sixteen as of December 5, 2016. She was a fighter.

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Over the last year or so, she began losing her abilities. By the end, my mom and dad were helping her with pretty much everything, except eating. She could usually be persuaded to eat, especially if it was something other than dog food. A couple months ago, my brother said that she would probably never die because she was just too stubborn. That was definitely her style.

I remember when she was a puppy, she could play for hours on end. She would be ready to fall over with exhaustion, but she would keep bringing you a tennis ball or her favorite octopus toy to keep throwing. My mom used to lay on the couch and throw things for her because inevitably Missy would have far more energy than my mom. Another time, she knocked down three dining room chairs while trying to greet someone at the door. Her growth spurt had not really occurred to her yet.

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Missy was there for me, in her doggy way, during every hard, sad, or meaningful moment in my life. I’ve laid on the floor with her and cried; I’ve danced in the kitchen for joy while she looked at my nervously. She was truly the best friend I could have asked for.

Losing pets is always difficult. I wouldn’t trade those years with Missy for anything, though.

Messy

In less than two weeks, Marcus and I are moving to a new apartment. It’s closer to my work, more rural, and it’s on a pond, so it’s sort of the ideal next step for us. Right now, though, we’re deep in the packing stage, which essentially means that our house is piled high with boxes at every turn. This is not my ideal situation. I’ve always been one of those people who can deal with messes on the small scale (for instance, I routinely have a pile of clean clothes on top of my dresser, evidence of unsuccessful outfits throughout the week), but once it hits a breaking point, I have to clean it up. Otherwise, I can’t get anything else done. It distracts me to no end that there are piles of boxes on both sides of our kitchen table, piles in the office, and piles in the basement. The last sanctuaries from the encroaching boxes are the bedroom and the living room, though those will soon be packed as well. I can’t wait for it to be over.

Recently, I read Shauna Niequist’s new book, Present Over Perfect, and have been trying to internalize what she says in it. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, whether it be with my work, my cleaning, or anything else. During my gymnastics days, I would spend weeks on a skill that I already knew how to do, trying to make it perfect before moving on to something else. While my perfectionism has made me attuned to details and helped me a great deal, I often distract myself with it. When I’m trying to control and organize everything around me, I end up grumpily pushing boxes into a corner and trying not to think about the mess rather than enjoying spending time with Marcus while we’re packing. Over the next two weeks, I am going to try my hardest to allow myself to be present, remembering all the wonderful times we’ve had in this apartment during the first year of our marriage. I’m going to try to let things get a little messy.

Three non-fiction books you should read

A couple months ago I posted a list of five fiction books you should read, so I thought I’d do something similar for my favorite non-fiction books. Sometimes I find non-fiction harder to get sucked into, but these three books have changed the way I think, write, and see the world. Plus, they all manage to be extremely engaging. If you’re looking for a great read that just might challenge the way you see things, give one of these a try. I tried to include something for everyone on the list, but I think you could probably pick up any of these books and learn something regardless of who you are. So, here we go again. I promise this won’t be as long as my previous list of recommendations…

  1. Let Justice Roll Down by John Perkins (1976): In light of all that is happening in this country right now, this book could not be more relevant. John Perkins, founder of Voice of Calvary Ministries in Jackson, MS, (and several other wonderful organizations) tells his story of growing up in Jackson as an African-American man during a time of extreme racial unrest. His own brother was one of the many who lost their lives during that time. Although the book provides a valuable look into the past, it also is extremely applicable to today as there seems to have been a rise in racial violence over the last couple years. The book tells a story filled with a great deal of pain, but Perkins is not without hope. Voice of Calvary has done monumental work in Jackson to ease the pain and tension through the Gospel. I’ve had the privilege of seeing their work first hand and it has brought me to tears. Please go read this book. It could not be any more relevant for today.
  2. When I was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson (2012): I don’t think I can get far in a list of recommendations without mentioning Marilynne. Though I’m still in the midst of this book, I can’t help but feel it becoming one of my favorites. The essays span from faith, to writing, to politics, to everyday life in America. I came to love Robinson’s writing through her novels, but her prose sings just as much in essays. The book has an honest approach to problems in the world, but it is also profoundly hopeful. If you’re looking for a good non-fiction book that you can really dig into and take your time with, this is a great option. Since it’s divided into essays, you can easily read one in a sitting and then take a break without losing the context of the book. I’ve tried to limit myself to one essay per sitting. Otherwise, I would probably read the whole thing at once. It’s an exercise in self-control for sure.
  3. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (1994): I first read this book as a freshman in high school, but I don’t think I really appreciated it until I read it again this past week. The book discusses the process of writing from the perspective of both an author and a teacher of creative writing. I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve read that have praised the glory and ecstasy of writing and totally ignored every struggle I’ve actually faced while writing. Anne Lamott’s book, on the other hand, is frank, irreverent, joyful, helpful, and lovely. Her chapters on rough drafts and publication actually made me laugh out loud. If you’re a writer who needs some encouragement or you’re just feeling a little alone in your struggles, give this book a read.

Thanks, Dad

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When I was little, I used to go out to my dad’s office behind the barn, sit in his giant desk chair with him and watch Disney movies. He’d make a huge bowl of popcorn, let me pick the movie, and allow me to stay up far past my bedtime. Being a computer geek (as my mom affectionately calls him), my dad exposed me to lots of technical things – from spark plugs, to cameras, to circuit boards. Sorry I always pretended the circuit boards were tiny fairy cities. I realize now, as an adult, that that wasn’t their intended purpose. My dad has always been the more cautious of my parents, which is where I get my “pre-worrier” traits. But, even when allowing your thirteen year old daughter to flip through the air above a four-inch balance beam terrified you, you have always been there to support me and cheer me on. Last year, as you walked me down the aisle, you held my arm tightly and kept reminding me to smile, walk slowly, and not to trip.

Today is Father’s Day, so I wanted to take a moment to write and say thank you to my dad. Thanks, Dad, for always supporting me, even when it was scary, and for watching silly animated movies throughout my childhood. And, let’s be honest, continuing to watch children’s movies with me now.

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The Rejection Collection

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When I was in high school, I had a great creative writing class. Our teacher (shout out to Mr. Westrate) encouraged us to start a “rejection collection.” The idea behind the collection was to just start submitting stories, articles, and poems to various sites and magazines and start collecting rejection letters. While it seems like the opposite of what you want as an aspiring author, rejections are an important step to improving your writing. No author (okay, I’m sure there are a few out there somewhere) gets published without getting a few rejections. So, since we all have to go through it, here are three tips for starting your collection.

  1. Only read the rejection in its entirety once. If you keep reading it, you will go insane and probably never write again. Seriously, re-reading too many times only leads to sad movies and ice cream late at night.
  2. Copy down the helpful comments and pointers into a separate document. Even though a lot of rejections are form letters, sometimes an editor will take the time to provide some constructive feedback. Don’t dismiss that. Just because they didn’t publish your work doesn’t mean they don’t have valuable comments.
  3. File your rejections in their own folder. If you’re confronted with a rejection letter every time you open your email, it’s going to be extremely easy to get discouraged.

Even though it is sort of the worst, this week I hope to grow my rejection collection. Fear of failure has prevented me from submitting work for too long now. I’ve got my designated folder ready. Now it’s time to start writing. Anyone with me?

Control

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Today, Marcus expressed the concern that I’m stressing myself out too much about the little things – meal prep for the week, running out of time on the weekend, organizing and cleaning everything, etc. It got me thinking about why I feel more comfortable when things are organized and planned. First of all, I just like being organized. It’s part of my personality. I was the one throughout school with all my homework assignments written down in a planner and color coordinated. I was always the one with ten million (give or take) post-it notes on my desk reminding me of various tasks and appointments. Checklists are seriously one of my favorite things in the world. While it is in my nature to a certain extent, I think the issue right now is that so much of my life feels a bit out of my control. I work at a job that I don’t love but have to keep for the money and everything important in my life – family, friends, church – is all about forty-five minutes to an hour away. While neither situation is permanent, they are getting very discouraging.

So far, my way of dealing with the uncontrollable nature of life at the present moment is to organize and structure everything else to my own specifications. Unfortunately, that means that I frequently get stressed out when I run out of time to get everything on my agenda accomplished. I guess sometimes you need someone else to point out your crazy in order to recognize it yourself.

While I can’t promise that I’ll never get stressed out when my checklists are left incomplete, I am going to try to let go of the inconsequential to-dos and focus my organizational skills on correcting the two things that are actually making me feel out of control. I mean, really, will it kill anyone if I don’t dust off my books or get my meals planned out this week?

Concerts and Mexican food

Over the last few years (I want to say seven or eight…), Marcus, Stephen, and I have had many adventures. One of our most constant and favorite activities has been Mewithoutyou concerts. Marcus and Stephen have been to at least two together, Stephen and I have been to one together, Marcus and I have been to one together, and last night, we all three went to one together. In less than two weeks, Stephen will be moving away to Alabama, so this was sort of a last hurrah kind of concert. Except that, it won’t really be our last hurrah. It’s just one adventure in a long, on-going list of hurrahs yet to come.

This particular adventure included most of our usual favorite elements – aimless wandering in shops, coffee, a lot of terrible food, a great band, and late night chats over Mexican food spanning from stupid TV shows, literature, and everything in between. It’s going to be hard when Stephen moves away, but I know that we’ll have many more stories, probably including Mewithoutyou concerts and food. So, here’s to our next upcoming adventure. Knowing the three of us, it won’t be far in the future and it will be wonderfully memorable.

Thoughts on reaching the age of twenty-three

Today is my twenty-third birthday. It’s not a very exciting age – I can’t yet rent a car, I’ve been able to vote and drink for several years, etc. – but if this year is anything like last year, boy am I lucky. Twenty-two treated me very well. For anyone else, twenty-two and twenty-three are equally unexciting birthdays, but for me, this last year has been extraordinary. Over the last year, I graduated college, married my best friend, did some writing I’m more or less proud of, and got a hedgehog. And those are just the everyday life highlights. Thank you so much to everyone who made this past year spectacular – dear friends, professors, loving family, and especially my dearest husband. You’re all the reason this was such a magnificent year.

As far as twenty-three, so far, I’m hoping it includes lots of traveling, adventure having, writing important things, reading important things, and probably lots Netflix watching (seriously, though, how did it take me this long to get on the West Wing train?). I’d also really like to get a dog, if at all possible. That’s falling pretty high on my to-do list. Overall, it’s been an excellent year and I’m excited for what twenty-three holds for me. For now, though, I’m going to eat some chocolate, drink a glass of wine, and go to bed at a reasonable hour because it’s my birthday.