Powering Through During Busy Times

May is always a busy month for our family. There’s all the school craziness that comes from having a teacher in the family as well as an elementary school student, paired with baseball starting up, two birthdays (our almost 7 year old’s and mine), end of the year field trips and choir concerts, work deadlines, and Mother’s Day. While I am trying to simplify my life, there’s no getting around the fact that no matter what we do, spring is always going to be a busy season for us. Here’s how I’m coping:

Deep breathing and time outside. Every day at work, I feel the pressure begin to build and build. Right around lunch time, I’m twitchy and just need to walk. Thankfully, there’s a nice path through a prairie right outside my office. A few minutes of deep breaths, the warmth on my shoulders, and nothing but the sound of crickets and frogs, and I can feel the pressure slowly ease up in my body. I go back to work refreshed and ready to tick more things off my to-do list. Often I think I won’t have time for a break because I’m so busy, but I’m far more productive when I force myself to dash outside for a short time. We’re also spending lots of time outside as a family, whether it’s in the front yard of our condo, playing soccer, riding bikes in the cul de sac, drawing pictures with chalk, or taking a walk down to the playground.

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Lists. I’ve got a lot of lists going on right now. A color-coded one at work, keeping my many projects on task; a check list of items to buy for my son’s birthday party; our online shopping list. We do a lot of things with Cozi, but there’s also not much better than my paper planner.

Grace. I’m a bit of a perfectionist at times, and often take on way too much. This always seems to rear its ugly head around my kid’s birthdays. I get sucked into the pressure of making everything Pinterest-perfection. On my son’s 4th birthday, he wanted an Angry Birds party. Our younger son was only 4 months old, and I had just returned to work from maternity leave only two weeks before the party. On the morning of the party, I’d been delayed by a fussy baby, and I was frantically cutting up fruit in the kitchen, frustrated to near-tears, and arranging the fruit in the shape of Red Bird. At the party, people scooped up strawberries and blueberries, and no one said a word about my bird-shaped fruit salad. I realized then that kids don’t care about that crap, so why was I doing it? I vowed then and there not to get stressed about birthday parties anymore. I still sometimes do the Pinterest-y thing, but I don’t give it a lot of importance, and anything that begins to stress me out I immediately drop for something easier. You have to give yourself grace to have a messy house sometimes, or skip bringing end of the year treats.

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It’s still going to be a challenging month, but I am hoping that by following my own advice, I will get through it, and maybe even enjoy it!

Random Updates

I am really enjoying my new almost daily posting habit! It’s been nice to put on my to-do list “write” and then actually sit down and say a few words.

I’m honestly not sure entirely where I’m going with this blog, but I think that’s OK. I first signed up for the cozycondo name because I wanted to blog more about decorating and living in my condo. But my focus has shifted a bit because I’ve really become interested in simple living lately, and that’s what I really want to blog about. I think it still works: part of what really appeals to me about simple living and minimalism is its focus on the home and improving one’s home by decluttering and being grateful.

So what’s going on at my cozy condo these days? We remodeled our shower last summer, but I never fully finished the project. I wanted to repaint the vanity and walls and just got busy and unmotivated. Last week I finally went out and bought the paint for the vanity, and started painting it last night. I’m painting it navy blue, and I’m still a tiny bit on the fence about my decision. I think it is going to look great, but right now it looks pretty crap. But it’s enjoyable for me just to have a small project to work on, and one that’s not costing me much money.

The other project that is upcoming is Joshua Becker’s Uncluttered course. I preordered his book, and with it came entry into the Uncluttered e-course. Last year around this time I did the Cozy Minimalist course from the Nester, and loved that so much! It really made me make some positive changes to our home. I’m looking forward to having focused tasks to help motivate me to massively declutter. I’ve done several rounds over the last year or so, and have dealt with all the low hanging fruit, but I think this course will really help me make the final, more drastic changes.

I’m also going to start thinking ahead to what I want to post about weekly, and take photos to go along with those posts. I’m starting to feel like my blog looks a bit blah and could use some visuals.

 

Live Your (Financial) Truth

Finances are something on my mind lately. This piece in the Atlantic sparked a conversation at a friend’s gathering, and while I was on the periphery listening in, something became startlingly clear. I am not doing as well financially as a majority of my friends.

There are a whole host of reasons for this. I have two kids, while many of my friends only have one, and theirs are school-aged instead of still in daycare. My husband downshifted his career a few times–some on purpose, some because he was forced to. We just plain earn less than a lot of our peers. There’s also a reason that I’m not proud of or comfortable with, but it’s true all the same. I’ve spent money I didn’t have because I was trying to keep up with my friends.

I don’t begrudge my friends this. It’s not their fault that I am often uncomfortable saying, “I can’t afford to go out tonight,” or “let’s do something besides shopping.” It’s also not their fault that I compare myself to others, and lack the confidence to be different. Back in 2006, instead of saying “let’s rent a couple more years instead of buying,” I wanted a house partially because my friends were buying them.

But it’s time for that to stop. I am ready to start living my financial truth. It can be really hard to face the reality of your finances, but that’s where minimalism is so great. The minimalism philosophy says it’s OK to be different. It’s OK to opt-out of keeping up with the Joneses. It’s OK to fix something instead of buying a new one. It’s OK to live in a small space instead of upgrading to something larger. Being debt free is a goal and a virtue. Having the latest gadgets is not. And community and connection are at the heart of minimalism.

I’m so thankful I found out about minimalism and simple living when I did. I’ve been on a path that’s made me broke and unhappy for too long, and now I can see a different way. It may not be easy for me to get there, but I am glad that I have an idea of what I stand to gain by adopting this lifestyle.

Values on a Sunday Afternoon

A big part of living a simple, minimalist lifestyle is defining what your values are, and then living according to those values. That’s all well and good, but sometimes the people whom you share your life with don’t completely align with all those ideals in your head, and that can lead to discontent. A large part of what people struggle with when starting on a minimalist journey is not having their spouse or children on board. You can declutter your home all you want, but if your spouse still wants to hoard old magazines, and your children won’t part with their stash of Happy Meal toys, you’re probably not going to get very far. When it comes to simplifying, the same thing can happen: you can want to slow down, but if your husband has lots of activities and your kids want a play date every week, and everyone is still plugged into their computers and phones, what can you do?

It’s really hard! I definitely don’t have all the answers–or any of them, to be honest! Here was the scene in my house on Sunday. Saturday had been warm, sunny, and busy. We’d run some errands during the day, gone home to eat dinner, and then piled back into the car to spend the evening at the park. Sunday it was chilly and rainy. The kids stayed in their PJs all day. We intended for it to be a relaxing, at home, no agenda type of day. They were lounging around, playing Minecraft and watching cartoons. I started to get twitchy with them being on their screens too much. So I rallied the kids and played toys with them in the playroom for about 20 minutes, while hair color set on my hair. When the timer beeped, I rushed off to the shower to rinse my hair, turning the kids over to my husband. When I came out of the shower, the kids were back in the living room, watching YouTube videos.

I didn’t act as the calm mom that I aspire to be. Instead, I got frustrated with the kids, snapped at my husband, muttered about the content of the YouTube videos (essentially toy commercials), complained about the toy mess that the kids left (why do we even have so many toys if all they want to do is watch TV? I moaned), and basically, put a pall over our cozy Sunday morning.

Then, I took a deep breath, and explained that the reason I was so upset was because we weren’t acting in accordance to our values. We value time together as a family, and people over stuff, right? So why are we spending our Sunday watching videos that make our kids want stuff, and not doing things together? When I put it that way, my husband understood, and my oldest seemed to as well. The videos went off, and the rest of the afternoon was spent pretending to be kitties and inventing an indoor soccer/dodge ball/hide and seek hybrid.

None of us are ever going to be perfect at this. It’s impossible. But there are two things I learned yesterday that hopefully will guide us to getting to a better place with regards to living in accordance with our values.

  1. Communication

You just have to keep an open dialog with your family. My getting frustrated at everyone didn’t help the situation at all. It wasn’t until I calmed down and just talked to my family that we got somewhere. They were able to see my side of things, and we were able to come to an understanding of how that afternoon should look. And while I love the idea of putting together a mission statement, and always following our family’s priorities, sometimes, you just have to take it day by day. If you can make good choices today, you’ll likely make better choices tomorrow, and so on.

  1. Keep the Big Picture in Mind

Why was I upset because the kids were back on their screens? Because I wanted to spend the afternoon connecting with the ones I loved! But I definitely didn’t achieve that when I snapped at them in frustration. In some ways, I would have been better off if I’d snuggled up on the couch with them and given into the video-bingefest. Sometimes, we have to loosen up and compromise. And we always should keep the big picture in mind. My relationship with my sons and husband are the most important thing in the world to me, and I need to work not to erode that just so I can achieve my own agenda. By speaking to them using more loving, understanding words, our afternoon calmed down and became more peaceful.

 

Happiness

I must confess. I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately. Earlier this month, we marked the 10 year anniversary of living in our condo, which left me with many conflicting feelings. I think if I knew what came next, I would be better able to live in the moment and be happy. But sitting with the uncertainty of where we’re headed is making me a bit crazy, to be honest. We wanted to put the condo on the market this spring, but for myriad reasons, it isn’t the right time. An opportunity may arise this fall, but it’s not certain. Which leaves me in limbo, and I hate limbo!

I just don’t know if I should be neutralizing the space because we’ll be putting it on the market in the near future, or if spending that money and time would be a waste. I don’t know if I should invest in making things more comfortable here for us, for future buyers, or what. Part of me also wants to change things just because it’s been 10 years and I sort of feel ready for a change. We remodeled our bathroom last fall, and I feel like I never really finished it, because we didn’t repaint the walls and vanity. So, I could do that, just to check it off the list, or I could leave it the color it is, because it’d be fine for future buyers.

Where do I invest my time and money and heart, when I don’t know what the future will bring?

Ceding control is a big detriment to my happiness. There’s no way for me to know exactly when we’ll get to sell the condo and buy a single family home, so I need to just let it go. I know deep down that I should make the changes to our home that will make me happy, while also continuing to save money for our future home. Things will find a way of working themselves out when the time comes.

Meanwhile, I also compare myself to others around us who have what I want: a house. My obsession with selling the condo and buying a house grows and grows, and I feel disappointment and despair when it isn’t happening for us.

I’m engaging in two bad habits that lower happiness:

  • I am fighting for control and hoping that a very specific outcome will make me happy.
  • I am comparing my life to others’.

This great article by Benjamin Hardy lays out 10 behaviors that lead to happiness. I am doing the complete opposite of two of them.

I definitely don’t have the answers, but I am going to start writing here at my blog again. I plan to actively start pursuing a simpler, more minimalist life in order to break out of this negative pattern I’ve found myself in again. There are so many wonderful resources out there that should prove helpful to me, and maybe you as well.

Thankful and Grateful

With Thanksgiving just a couple of days away, I’ve been thinking about family, gratefulness, and thankfulness.

My older son came home yesterday with a craft project he had done. It was a little pumpkin, and on each of the strips of orange construction paper he had written things he is thankful for.

  • I am thankful for Minecraft.
  • I am thankful for my good food.
  • I am thankful for Nintendo Land.
  • I am thankful for my Nerf Guns. (This one made me laugh, since he never even plays with the one Nerf gun he has, but whatever).
  • I am thankful for my friends.
  • I am thankful for my famulie. (Nothing is better than 1st grade spelling).

I hope as he gets older, he will become more grateful and thankful for people and experiences, as opposed to things, like some of the items on his list. But he still included the most important things, good food, friends, and family.

And kids as little as he and his brother are haven’t gotten into the comparison game yet. They are just happy and thankful little beings for simple pleasures in life – playing Legos with mom and dad, going to the park, it being their favorite meal for dinner that night, a drawing passed to them in class from a friend, a warm bed to sleep in. It’s such a good way to be, to be happy with what you have in life instead of wishing for more.

There’s so much sadness going on in the world right now. And in my own little world, I recently witnessed someone expressing a great deal of entitlement and disapproval for a gift being “wrong” and not up to the expectations of this person. There are so many things to be angry about in this world, and being given a lovely gift that maybe wasn’t exactly how you planned it certainly shouldn’t be one of them. This person has everything they could want, but by the same token, perhaps that’s part of the problem. They are caught up in that rat race of always wanting something bigger, better, and more, that they haven’t looked around and really given thanks for all the things they do have.

I’m guilty of this sometimes too. For me, it always crops up with regards to my home. I look around my small condo and compare it to homes that are bigger, less shabby, and nicer. And then I get in a funk, feeling down about our living situation, feeling entitled that I “deserve” a better home, feeling frustrated by the circumstances that have made us “stuck” here.

But it’s gratefulness that always brings me back from that negative thought spiral. When things are quiet, and the kids are tucked into bed, I usually light a candle and tidy up the house. And I usually think about all the things I have to be thankful for. Those sweet little boys, snuggled up in a dry, warm room under their blankets, their arms wrapped around whatever is the stuffed animal du jor. The big, red kitchen, where my husband and I can pour a glass of wine or share a stout, and catch up on the work day. All the toys, the big cozy couch, our funny little cats, a little time to snuggle under a blanket and watch something on Netflix. Yeah, my carpet might be stained and the dishes might be dirty, but hey, it means I have busy, healthy boys that are making messes and we had good food to eat that night. I have a wonderful little home that I can afford. My children are safe and happy.

It is my hope for Thanksgiving that the person in my life I was writing about, and anyone else who might feel similarly, takes a hard look at all those material things they want and desire, and realize that there is so much more to life than all of that.

A couple of years ago around this time of year, I printed out this quote and hung it in my cubicle: “It is not happy people who are thankful; it is thankful people who are happy.” I love it so much, and being thankful is such a simple thing that anyone can do to increase their happiness.

 

Surprisingly Sentimental

Whenever I read other blog posts about decluttering, I always seem to skim over the section about letting go of sentimental items. In my mind, I think of myself as not that sentimental when it comes to things. And yet, as I have been working through this challenge: http://www.theminimalists.com/minsgame/ I’ve come to notice that I am way more sentimental than I thought.

On November 18, I had to get rid of 18 things as part of the challenge. There’s a box on the top shelf in my closet that I knew was filled with memorabilia from high school, so I set out to tackle that. I opened the box – I probably haven’t opened it since college, and it all immediately made me smile. Buttons from our school’s annual charity event, dried corsages from proms, photos of me and friends at football games, a gold pom pom. None of this stuff I need at all, but I didn’t part with any of it.

I also didn’t part with two cassette tapes.

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(Or the picture of me and my cousin in matching floppy sunflower hats, but that’s obvious.)

Why did I put the tapes back into the box? I no longer own a tape player, and even if I did, I’m not sure I’d use it to listen to Color Me Badd or TLC. The tapes were only slightly sentimental – the TLC one was my first tape that I chose on my very own, and since it was slightly racy, it kind of represents a minor pre-teen rebellion. But I don’t even know why I have (and have saved for 20 years) the other one.

But yet, when faced with the decision to declutter these tapes or not, I placed them back in my neat little memorabilia box and tucked them back on the shelf. Something about them made me laugh and smile. They’re just SO early 90s, and there’s something about outdated technology that inexplicably makes me happy. If I decluttered these and took them to a thrift store, what would happen to them? No one wants cassettes anymore. They’d end up in a landfill somewhere most likely, instead of in my closet where every 20 years they can make me laugh and post a funny picture to Facebook, showing off my 90s treasures. So for now, that’s where they are.

Instead of trashing any of the tapes or corsages, I threw out 18 items from the box that didn’t invoke any kind of nostalgia (magazine clippings of generic ocean scenes and sunflowers and a few blank Winnie the Pooh valentines). Maybe as this challenge gets harder, I will go back over the high school box. But for now, I balance my desire for a simpler life, with the items that invoke memories of a simpler time.