Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Green & Simple Living, Part 4

So how does green living fit into all of this?  I started trying to do things more naturally when I discovered blogs, and the first ones I started reading were all about green living.  One of the first things I remember learning about was the dangers of chemicals in household cleaners.  I had actually been given a basket of homemade cleaners when I got married, so it was pretty easy for me to start making my own.  My interest in natural living grew when we had our first baby.  Not only was I concerned with things being more healthy for him, but as I mentioned earlier, I was also trying to find ways to save money.  I chose to cloth diaper, which was primarily a financial decision, but since I had learned about the chemicals and toxins that go into disposables, I was excited about it for that reason as well.  I also started making more of our food from scratch, again, as a way to save money, but also because I was learning more about some of the unhealthy things that are added to foods.  So I started making things like bread, tortillas, granola bars.  As I was doing this, I found that not only were we saving money and eating more healthfully, but we also had a lot less garbage.  I was starting to be aware of how much waste we were producing and I was pleased to be lessening that in any way that I could.  This led me to start looking for reusable things as much as I could.  We were already using cloth diapers and wipes, and I stopped using paper towels and used rags for most of my cleaning.  I do still buy some paper towels that I use for cleaning the toilet, but that’s all I use them for, so one roll lasts me a few months.  I also started making my own personal care products, like deodorant, face cleaner, and toothpaste, which, again, not only helped me avoid chemicals, but they also saved me money and produced less garbage.  As I continued to try living more naturally, and as we also started simplifying life, it became really clear how living green was helping us live more simply.  Since I was making so much from scratch, I was buying less.  I was no longer buying a lot of different cleaners and body products, but was instead making most them from food ingredients that I already had.  So, that was less time and effort that I had to spend shopping, and it eliminated a lot of last minutes trips to the store, which is a big deal with little kids!  Because making things from scratch and using reusable products was saving me money, that meant we had more money for other things, like doing something fun as a family, but ultimately, since those things help keep our budget down, what that really means is that Seth doesn’t have to go out and work more, to pay for all of these things, which in turn helps us to pursue the other things that are important to us.  And, now, keeping our bodies healthy and not doing things that harms the environment have become values of ours, that we want to pursue.  So for us, green living goes back to that intentionality of simple living.  I don’t want to be doing things just because that’s the way I’ve always done them, or because that’s what my neighbor is doing, or whatever.  I want to be doing things that I’ve intentionally decided to do.  And for us, that includes things like avoiding toxins and chemicals, reducing our waste, and cutting down on the time we spend running errands.  Living green helps us accomplish those goals.

So for us, living simply and living green has kind of become this big web, where everything we do effects everything else we do.  Doing things naturally is important to us, so that’s something we pursue, but by doing things naturally and a more “green” way, that helps us save money and time that we can then use to pursue other things that are important to us.  Like I said earlier, there are many things that we are still continuing to change and work on, and everything that we do now has been a long, gradual process.  I try to work on just one or two things at a time, and once I have that down, I work on something else that I want to change.  And by doing that, we’ve been able to make a lot of changes over the last several years.  Any change, even little ones can seem like a big deal and even overwhelming when you first start, but if you keep at it, eventually it gets easier and then just becomes part of life.  At least, that’s how it has been for us!  

To be continued...

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Green & Simple Living, Part 3

(Find Part 1 here and Part 2 here)

So those two things were kind of the big things that spurred us on toward a more simple lifestyle.  We started talking about living simply, what that meant to us and how we would do it, and we started reading blogs that talked about simple living.  We talked about our goals and the steps we needed to take to achieve them.  We talked about the values we wanted to be intentional about instilling into our kids, and how to go about that.  These conversations led to more changes.  Our new desire to have less stuff led us to buy less, and to be very picky about the things that we did buy.  We wanted to make sure that we were buying things that we truly needed, and things that would last a long time, so we weren’t constantly replacing them.  We also decided that Seth should change jobs, from his stressful job that after our move also included a long commute, to one with less stress, much less driving, and that would provide him with more time for his schoolwork and to spend more time with us.  We wanted to spend less time running around doing errands, so we just started eliminating those.  As we simplified, we found that we didn’t want or even need as much, so we didn’t even miss those errands.  I started changing some of the ways I thought about frugality.  I had always considered frugality as buying the cheapest thing possible, which meant that I would run around to several grocery stores every week to get all of the best deals, which was time consuming and stressful with several small children.  I started to do one big grocery shopping run a month, and while that meant I might not be buying every single thing as cheaply as possible, it did mean that I saved time and sanity, which was more important.  We have a small house, which we didn’t really intentionally set out to buy; we just bought what we could afford at the time, but now we’re really thankful that that is what we ended up with.  Even with a big family, we love our small house, because it allows us to live on a smaller budget, and it takes less time to clean and maintain.  It also fosters our family value of closeness and doing things together.  So for us it works great.  Something that I’ve really always done, but even more so as we pursued simple living is to find ways to let the kids do things for themselves.  For example, for a while I felt like I was constantly getting someone a drink of water.  There was always someone asking for water.  So I got one of those lemonade (or picnic) glass drink dispensers, filled it with water and put it on the counter, and then they could get water themselves. That change alone has made a big difference in my day.

So those are some of the things that we have changed.  We continue to have conversations and find more things to work on all the time.  Simple living is one of our favorite topics of conversation.  For us, living simply means being really intentional in how we live our life.  Like everyone, we have limited resources, limited time, money, and energy, and we want to make sure that we are actually purposefully choosing how we use those resources.  To live our life in a way that reflects our values, instead of just going through the motions.  There is an idea that I came across years ago, that talks about urgent things versus important things.  Some things in life are important, some are urgent, and some are both, but we spend most of our time on urgent, unimportant things, doing the little things that come up in our day that need to be taken care of right now, like a phone call, or fighting kids, or a mess that needs to be cleaned up, and those things can take up so much of our time, that we never get to the really important stuff.  And for us, simple living means fighting against that.  We try to eliminate as much of the non-essential stuff as possible, so we’re spending less time on that non-important urgent stuff, and then intentionally choosing to pursue the important stuff.  Sometimes, that means purposefully letting go of certain things for a while.  Let’s face it, as moms, we are never going to reach that magical moment of having “nothing to do”.  So that means, if I want to pursue something that is important to me, like playing a game with my kids, or having a little quiet time to myself, I have to intentionally choose to ignore the laundry for a little bit, or be okay with having eggs for dinner, so that I can have some time to do one of those things.  There is a quote by Annie Dillard that says “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”  And this, for us, is at the heart of simple living.  We don’t just want to say “someday I’ll do this or that”.  Someday might never come.  Instead, how can we live those values and dreams today?  Simple living has encouraged us to go for those things that we want to do but don’t always seem practical, like my husband going to grad school for creative writing.  Or having a big family.  Or getting backyard chickens.  Sometimes we ask ourselves if we will be disappointed if we never get to do whatever it is that we’re thinking about doing, and the answer to that can be an indication of whether or not that is something we want to pursue.  And this is going to look different for everyone.  Everyone has different things that are important to them, and only you can decide what that is for you and your family.  

To Be Continued....

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Green & Simple Living, Part 2

(Part 1 can be found here)

Another thing that happened around then, was that we moved.  And some realizations came out of that move.  We were living in a small apartment, had a couple of kids, and quite a bit of stuff.  I had started feeling like I was spending all of my time taking care of all of our stuff.  We had spent all of our married life so far buying the things that we wanted and needed, or thought we needed, and I was started to get overwhelmed with it all.  When I got pregnant with our third child, we started feeling like it was time to move, so we started looking around at apartments.  We looked for several months and never found anything that we liked and could afford.  This was just after the housing crisis, and in a weird turn of events, we discovered that we could buy a house for less than we could rent an apartment.  So about a week after our baby was born, we were out looking at houses.  We ended up buying a house, but it was a short sale, which was really common a few years ago, and that meant that it could take a few months to get the bank to approve the sale.  So, now that we were anticipating a move soon, with three small children, I wanted to get a head start, and I started boxing up everything that we didn’t really need out.  Wall decorations, knick knacks, extra dishes, things that we weren’t using every day got boxed up.  And I discovered that I really liked having less stuff.  There was less stuff to become messy, so there was less to clean.  I hate dusting, so having decorations put away and not needing to be dusted was awesome.  And not only that, but our house seemed calmer.  Bare walls and surfaces made our house seem less overwhelming.  I hadn’t really realized the effect that all that stuff was having on me.  Having several little kids was providing enough noise and chaos, and all the stuff was just adding to that and making everything feel even more overwhelming.  Having less stimulation around was making all the noise and action much more manageable.  Then, when the move actually came, we boxed everything up, and since we lived in an upstairs apartment, we ended up moving all of our stuff into a pile in the lobby downstairs while we waited for the moving truck to arrive.  Seeing all of our stuff in one place was pretty eye-opening.  I already knew we had a lot of stuff, but seeing that monsterously huge pile confirmed it.   I suppose that, compared to the average household, it wasn’t like tons and tons of stuff; after all we had been living in a small apartment, and it only fit so much, but we knew that it was way more than we needed, and we knew that it was burdening us.  It was a rare opportunity for us to see that, because when is your stuff ever all in one big pile?  Try to imagine, if you can, all of the stuff from your house, all in one place.  I think it would be hard to imagine that accurately; I know I never  could have imagined it, if I hadn’t actually seen it.  It was a much bigger amount than I had thought, and I was really grateful I was able get that acurate look at everything we had.  We had kind of a unique situation in that we actually had to live in a temporary apartment for a couple of months while we waited for our house sale to finish going through, so we used that time as an experiment to see what we needed to live and what we didn’t.  We kept a lot of things boxed up, and pretty much just got out what we needed.  We didn’t put any decorations out, we kept available toys to a minimum, we put away extra furniture, and we kind of tried out a more minimalistic lifestyle for a couple of months.  And we loved it.  Just like I had experienced when I originally started boxing things up, our home seemed calmer and my work seemed less overwhelming.  

So that experience kind of started another aspect of simple living for us, which is minimalism.  We got rid of a lot of stuff that we realized we didn’t need, and that has continued for us.  Now, I wouldn’t call us true minimalists, in that we don’t have a bare house or anything close to that, but we do try to not have a lot of stuff.  There’s a quote by a man named Wiliam Morris that says, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”  And that is really what we try to do.  We have things that we do not truly need, like books, and such, but they are things that we love, and we try not to keep things that we no longer need or love.  I always keep an eye out in our home for things that are not being used, and I always have a donation bag in our laundry room that I put things in that we no longer need.

Just to be clear, you don’t have to be a stringent minimalist to live a simple life.  But for us, minimalism has been one way of getting rid of the things that are not essential, in order for us to have more time and energy to focus on the things that are important to us.  Because really, everything, whether it’s physical things, activities, thoughts, or relationships; all of those things take time and mental and physical energy, and the more resources you spend on any area of your life, the less you will have for the other areas.  So for us, having less stuff is one way to clear some space and have more time and energy to spend on other aspects of life that mean more to us than our stuff.

To Be Continued....

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Green & Simple Living, Part 1

I've been trying to step out of my comfort zone a bit lately and try some new things.  =)  A couple of weeks ago I gave a talk at my MOPS group about Green & Simple Living.  I actually had a lot of fun with it, and I was happy with how it turned out.  So, just for fun, I thought I'd share it here, in parts because it's so long!

Green & Simple Living, Part 1

So I’ll be talking about green living and living simply today.  Those can kind of be two different topics, and there can be a lot that goes into each of those things, but those are two things that I’m really passionate about, and for me, they kind of go hand in hand, which is why I’m talking about both of them.  So I’m going to start out by sharing a little of bit of our journey towards living more simply, talk about what that means for us, how living green plays a role in that, and then sharing some easy ways to start incorporating some of those things into your own life, as well.  And I’ll try to leave some time for questions at the end.  There is also a craft project you can try when we’re finished.  

I think I’d start by saying I’ve always craved a simple life.  And definitely the kind that comes to mind when you think of those words.  When I was a little girl, I love the Little House on the Prairie books, and that was what I played, all the time.  I wished I had lived back then.  I loved their small houses, their farming, how they did everything themselves, and I really wanted that.  So it’s kind of always been there for me, on some level.  

My husband and I got married nine years ago, and we just kind of started life the way most people do.  Seth was finishing up his bachelor’s degree, so we lived in the married dorms for a while. We were both working, so we were busy, but we were having fun.  We liked to go out on dates, I was having fun decorating our apartment.  As Seth finished his degree, he realized that he didn’t want to pursue the career path that he had originally planned on, and we were kind of in a crossroads of trying to decide what to do.  Around that time, we got pregnant, and Seth found a new job that earned enough money for me to stay home once the baby came.  Once we were down to one income, we had less money, so even though I’ve always been a frugal person, this led us to be more so, and to find more ways to save money, and that’s actually one of the things that led me to more natural and green solutions, that I’ll talk more about a little later.  We lived a fairly typical life for a while, I was home with the kids, Seth would work all day, and he would come home tired, so we would eat dinner, play with the kids, watch TV, and go to bed.  And it’s not that we had a bad life, but it wasn’t always very fulfilling. 

Seth had always wanted to go back to school.  He was not happy in his current job, it was really stressful, and involved sales, which is really not something he likes.  So he really wanted to pursue some different things.  We started really thinking and talking about how we wanted to live our life.  Seth knew he didn’t want to fight his way up the corporate ladder, he wanted to do something that he enjoyed.  He has always loved writing; that’s always been his passion, and if he could have a dream job, that would be it.  Of course, that didn’t seem very practical, especially with a family, but we decided that we really wanted to live our life to the fullest, and do what we loved.  So he started looking around at creative writing graduate programs.  He applied to several, and then got accepted to SPU’s program.  So that was one thing that led us to our more simple life.

To be continued....