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Minimalist Gift Ideas: Introduction

Minimalist Gift Ideas: Introduction

Minimalist Gift Ideas: Introduction

Giving gifts used to be an act of providing something a person needs. I don’t believe that’s necessarily the case these days.

Today, when a birthday comes, a baby is born, wedding vows are exchanged, or a holiday comes around, we’re often giving gifts that simply aren’t needed. Have you ever gone shopping for, wrapped, and given an item that you knew deep down wouldn’t mean much among the over-abundance of similar items?

Ten years ago when I was pregnant with our son Blake, I recall having a conversation with my husband where he explained we could afford to spend about $100 during each month of my pregnancy to prepare for our son’s arrival. If you do the quick math, this meant that we saved a few months of the $100 to set aside for a crib then put the remaining money towards a crib mattress, a little paint for the nursery, and his bedding.

When a baby shower was provided for us, nearly everything we were given met a need! It wasn’t easy looking at an empty nursery for months, but by the time Blake arrived we had all we needed. To our great surprise, just a few weeks before Blake was born, someone gifted us a new crib. As a result we had some extra money, which was a big help to us at that point in our lives.

Why was this gifting experience such a success? We didn’t overspend while on the tight budget we had at the time, yet our son had all he needed.

I learned a lot from that experience a decade ago that I’d like to unpack on the blog over the course of the next few posts in an effort to shed light on the differences between our personal preferences and pride, what culture encourages us to do with money, the definition of a true gift, and what the minimalist mindset would encourage if you’re struggling with the idea of buying and receiving gifts. In this Minimalist Gift Ideas series I’ll be sharing stories, suggestions, and challenging some common practices in an effort to help you feel great about your next gift exchange.

Need help with specific gift ideas that bless the recipients and don’t break the bank? Download a free copy of Minimalist Gift Ideas today!

Grocery Plan: Save Time & Money

Grocery Plan: Save Time & Money

My goal the past few months has been to have a grocery plan to save us time and money. We moved to Oklahoma over 5 months ago, and I’m so happy to be here…but I confess that our meal planning and preparation have been rather off track. We’ve eaten out more and had less healthy food. It’s hard to admit it’s taken me a few months to get used to working full time and managing my husband’s travel schedule enough to sort out a grocery plan that actually works for our family. But…drumroll, please!…we’ve done it! (At the very least, it works well for now, and that’s good enough for me.)

We eat out for dinner about twice a week, so I created a 2 week rotating menu of 10 dinners. I prepare enough dinner most nights to have leftovers to take into the office for lunch.  I added to the menu list our breakfast foods and we had half of a grocery plan.

I needed help with the other part of the grocery plan. I don’t know about you, but making the time and having the concentration to do a big shopping trip is difficult for me. When we were settled enough for my kids to return to participating in one sport each, I was sure that the weekly shopping trip would need to go.

I discovered that our local Whole Foods will do the heavy lifting for me. Every other week I send my friendly Whole Foods rep an email of my grocery list (which is copied and pasted from a Google doc I created and edit for any last minute changes. The grocery list was created directly from writing out all the ingredients in my 10 dinners and breakfast items.) I give the Whole Foods staff person about 24 hours notice to complete the order. The next afternoon, my husband Chris makes a heroic drive down Western Avenue to park in a space specially reserved for grocery pick-up customers and loads up our order. He then drives home and puts the groceries away. Bliss!

Why do I love this plan so much?

* The staff are careful to provide us only Gluten Free items.
* Most days I could tell you what I’m making for dinner that night, knowing full well the ingredients are already in my kitchen.
* I don’t spend time roaming the grocery trying to find hidden items and getting lost in my list or waiting in line.
* I don’t purchase items that aren’t part of my grocery plan.
* I know what our bi-weekly grocery bill is, and it’s within our budget.
* In the past month, I’ve only made one unexpected trip to the grocery and that was to get a few items for a family holiday meal (which wasn’t accounted for in my usual bi-weekly order).
* The fee of $7-14 for grocery concierge saves me at least an hour and prevents me from making impulse purchases of unhealthy items to stock our pantry.
* I’m avoiding the shopping (which I find stressful) but still enjoy preparing meals for my family.

If you’re like me, you don’t have a chef preparing all your meals at home and have felt the need for a grocery plan. Which parts of this plan could help you cut some of the stress out of so you can enjoy meals with your family while saving time or money?

PS – If you don’t live near a Whole Foods Market, check out the grocery system I used before we moved to Oklahoma.

Update to the Minimalist Closet Post

via Instagram
Here’s an updated photo for last Spring’s “Welcome to My Minimalist Closet” post.

Wishing You A Simple Thanksgiving

Our family having a simple Thanksgiving

Our family having a simple Thanksgiving

It seems nearly every Thanksgiving we have different plans as a family. We’ve lived in countries where Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated so we prepared our own make-shift feasts and called family in the US on Skype to send our love. We’ve celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving (which is a month earlier than in the US) at an English school in Poland…long story but a wonderful meal and good fellowship. We’ve traveled to visit family and even taken time away to be alone on Thanksgiving. Last year my mom, sister, and I did a 5K run/walk on Thanksgiving morning in Indianapolis then our whole family kicked off the festivities with a pancake meal.

All that to say…even with variety over the years, some things do remain the same. Just the other day my daughter asked me if we have any traditions. The question caused me to worry at first, fearing I’d not provided enough consistency for my children. Then I realized that some of the best traditions are the ones rooted in deep family values that we don’t necessarily communicate as being traditions but are a significant part of our holiday just the same.

Several of our traditions have come to mind since the chat with my daughter, but I’d say the biggest for Thanksgiving is taking time away from laptops and phones, spending time in conversation with family, laughter, relaxation, and play. My favorite tradition, perhaps, isn’t what happens on Thanksgiving Day rather the day after: Black Friday. We typically avoid Black Friday like the plague and use the day for time to relax at home and put up our Christmas tree as a family. Sometimes we’ll bake cookies, do some crafts, or go to a movie.

Do you have any simple Thanksgiving traditions?


Is Your Home Too Big?

Our home is too big.

Our home is too big.

Is your home too big? I mentioned recently that our current home is too big. I like the house, and we are only renting at this time, so it’s not what I’d call a heartbreaking situation in the least. I hope you see this post as more of a journal entry than a complaint. It seemed to me that I should try to put into words the experience of being in a home that is too big while being focused on owning less than culture encourages, and I’d like to hear from you how you make the best of your current living situation.

It’s Not About the Money
I know many people don’t want bigger homes because they can cost more. But the money isn’t what gets to me.  I never thought twice about paying a lot of cash up front to rent a 700 sq. ft. apartment in London for six months, and somehow being in a home about 4 times the size in America feels weird (even though it’s 30% less expensive per month).

It’s Not About Appearance
Here’s what I mean when I say the home is too big: At the moment, there are four rooms we don’t use on a regular basis: a guest room, full guest bath, second dining room, and a sitting room. We have a number of empty storage shelves. The minimalist in me cringes at the thought of adding furniture, but the rooms look cold and dark being bare. As a result, we’ve fully moved in but being here is akin to walking around in shoes (or worse, pants!) that are too big – not quite a sustainable match.

It Is About Culture
I really hated typing those four words just now. They say a lot about me and the current state of society. The fact is, Chris and I have looked at a number of other homes that are smaller but we’re not willing to take the time or money to make repairs. Some smaller homes we do like mean making a longer commute each day which is as much a value conflict for me as is living in a home that is too big. We’ve talked about joining the Tiny House Movement but it’s not a solution we feel confirmed is right for our family of four yet…even though living in a home that is too big has motivated us to consider it.

So, all this to say…I’d like to hear about your living situation. How do you make it work? Do you have a home that’s too big? Too small? How have you made your home just right for you? What practical or attitude adjustments have you made to make it work? Your feedback and input would be a great encouragement to me.  Thank you, friends.


What Would You Take With You?

You Can't Take It WIth You

What Would You Take With You?

There’s a fascinating website called The Burning House that poses the question: “If your house were burning, what would you take with you?” This is an exercise that is sobering to experience.

A little background: Our current home isn’t right-sized for our family. That is to say it’s too much house for four people and a dog. The only saving grace lately has been having a young lady use our guest bedroom and bath the past 5 weeks, meaning the house has felt less of a waste of space. We still have empty shelves everywhere and it doesn’t feel like home. The good news is our circumstances are temporary and are simply what worked out in our favor when we made a quick move across the country last July. It won’t be this way forever, and I am grateful to be in a safe home with good neighbors.

When I decided to do the Burning House exercise, though, I found myself even more disheartened about our current living setup. It’s a blessing to have a home we can afford, but it becomes a burden when there’s more to clean or an opportunity to fill up space we simply don’t need. When faced with the Burning Project’s question, I realized there’s next to nothing in our home I’d risk my life to save.

Assuming my family could get out on their own, I’d be sure to take my laptop, smart phone, and wedding rings. I rarely go without my rings, but I’d make sure I had them on. Chris had them custom made for me in 1999 and they’re of sentimental value to me. My photos and important documents are on my smart phone and laptop, so that takes care of a lot. For some reason I doubt our dog Maggie would escape a fire on her own so I’d grab her, too.

That’s it.

It’s a pretty sobering exercise, and my answer to the question grieves me even more. It’s not that I feel there should be more I want to take with me. To the contrary, it proves that most of what I own is of little importance.

So now it’s your turn. If you home were burning, what would you take with you?

Communication Under Control

Like you, I receive a lot of communication coming my way every day face to face and via email, text, and phone. Recently I was asked for advice on keeping communication under control. Here’s how I set boundaries on the necessary (and not so necessary) interactions.

I work in an awesome glass office. Seriously, I love it. People walk past me all day on their way to the staff cafe, a popular place. Naturally, I enjoy seeing my co-workers and catching up. But we regularly elect to close our door and, on the busiest of days, I keep my eyes on my computer screen or my mind focused on phone calls or meetings so as to fight the distraction of catching the eyes of friends walking past. I leave a few lunch hours and coffee breaks open each week to make intentional time with co-workers and friends.

I truly enjoy social media. It’s fun seeing photos of my high school friends’ kids and reading tweets from colleagues across the globe. But I’ve been through seasons where it seems I’m checking on things more than is necessary. To combat this issue, I use Buffer App to schedule tweets as I read other blogs’ content that I want to share. I also use Hootsuite to reply to friends’ tweets and see who’s talking to me. Creating a list or two on Hootsuite makes it easy to check in on a key group of people when you have limited time and want to make sure you don’t wind up losing track of time reading tweets. Some of my work responsibilities involve using Facebook, so I’ve found it best to limit my use and availability there on days off so I may rest. Above all else, it’s important to me not to have any social media platform open for an extended period of time lest a notification interrupt the creative process or a face to face interaction.

Under no circumstances do I allow my laptop or smart phone to notify me of a received message. Should the day come when I’m working on a short term special project or am waiting on correspondence from a specific person, I’d change the notification setting on my smart phone so as not to miss it. I also use the Do Not Disturb setting on my iPhone at least once a day – typically during an extended work session (most often while writing or in a meeting) and sometimes in the evenings when I arrive home.

Our family hasn’t had a land line for about 5 years. And even if you know me personally, I’m not likely to speak to you on the phone. It’s nothing personal, I simply prefer face to face or email contact. While I don’t avoid the phone, I make every effort to ask people to contact me via email unless it’s an emergency. If it’s not an immediate need, I prefer scheduling calls so that focused work time isn’t interrupted and sidetracked by an unexpected call.

How do you keep communication under control in your life?

Dana Byers and her family are passionate about adoption and online ministry, and they sold all they owned in 2007 to live a mobile lifestyle overseas and expand online ministry practices globally.  She’s the author of “The Art of Online Ministry” and recently moved to Oklahoma to become the Community Pastor for Church Online. All opinions shared here are expressly her own.

Minimalist Kids: Simple Birthday Parties

Do you host birthday parties for your kids every year? Would you like to raise minimalist kids? Sometimes it feels like hosting birthday parties means we have to leave behind minimalist principles.  I’m hoping to show you that this isn’t true.

My sweet daughter turned 7 recently. We hosted a simple birthday party for her this past weekend, and I thought I’d share some of the principles that helped make it easy, inexpensive, and FUN!

To spice up this post, I’m going to use an old American wedding custom to share what we did.  :D

SOMETHING OLD: our boring old house.  Ok, so our home isn’t boring, but we chose not to hire an exciting new venue to send everyone to on a new adventure.  Kids came to the house for the party.


SOMETHING NEW: Gifts! As little as I like adding more items to our home, I don’t forbid my kids from receiving birthday gifts.  I don’t want to impose minimalism on them but only strive to encourage them to develop the minimalist mindset over time as they mature. (Note: One way to keep from having birthday gift overkill or experiencing party drama, limit the guest list so you child can truly spend time with the children who attend.)

SOMETHING BORROWED: We have dear friends who own a bounce house.  This was the hit of the party!  There were no games or activities planned except to let the kids jump until they were exhausted, feed them cake, then let them jump off their sugar highs.  Pretty simple schedule! (BONUS: After the party, we kept the bounce house going for 2 more hours and neighbor kids came to play. It was a great relationship builder, 100% free.)

SOMETHING BLUE: Party favors. Mackenzie likes the color blue…here she is sporting a pair of her party favor glasses. We also gave Ring Pops, notepads, and pens to the guests.

Invitations + Cake + party favors = approximately $60

How do you keep your kids’ parties simple?

Dana Byers and her family are passionate about adoption and online ministry, and they sold all they owned in 2007 to live a mobile lifestyle overseas and expand online ministry practices globally.  She’s the author of “The Art of Online Ministry” and recently moved to Oklahoma to become the Community Pastor for Church Online. All opinions shared here are expressly her own.

You Need Truth-Tellers in Your Life

You Need Truth-Tellers in Your Life

You Need Truth-Tellers in Your Life

We minimalists don’t generally look for things to add to our lives, but some things are a necessity.

Latest gadget? No thanks.  Shiny new appliance? Not so much.  Storage bins? Next to never.

But there something I think we all need, and I regularly come across people who lack this necessity.


We lose objectivity on everything from our hairstyles to our business practices over time. Everyone needs truth-tellers to explain where we might be missing the boat.

I know you have friends, but do you have people who love you so much they’ll tell you the truth? (And all of it?)

My husband (my chief truth-teller, handsomely pictured here) often talks about the need to share the last ten percent. The last ten percent includes the details that are embarrassing to say, words we want to protect others from hearing, or things we hate to admit. But the last 10 percent is what makes all the difference in moving ahead on the right path.

What’s that, you say? You have truth-tellers in your life? Excellent. Carry on.

For those of you who don’t have truth tellers, find some. Having only one is a fabulous starting point and can change your life. Make the awkward ask. Offer to return the favor. Bravely ask your co-workers the questions that make you squirm but whose answers could bring clarity that provides direction.

Dana Byers and her family are passionate about adoption and online ministry, and they sold all they owned in 2007 to live a mobile lifestyle overseas and expand online ministry practices globally.  She’s the author of “The Art of Online Ministry” and recently moved to Oklahoma to become the Community Pastor for Church Online. All opinions shared here are expressly her own.


The Minimalist Life: Beyond the To Do List Podcast Interview

Beyond the To Do List

Click to go to podcast interview on the Minimalist Life.

Who wouldn’t enjoy a minimalist podcast? Erik Fisher has a great productivity podcast I listen to regularly, and it was an honor to be interviewed for it recently on the topic of the minimalist life. Some key points Erik and I discuss are:

  • What is minimalism?
  • Finding the things that matter most in your life, and investing in them.
  • Self awareness of over stepping bounds, or not doing enough.
  • Opportunity cost
  • Margin
  • Obligations vs. Commitments
  • More is done in community

LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW HERE…and let me know your thoughts.  Did you learn anything? Is there something you’d like to discuss? What would you ask on a follow-up minimalist podcast episode? Post your responses in the comments below.

Want more help? I encourage you to subscribe to Erik’s productivity podcast and check out the links on Erik’s notes page for additional posts and photos on the minimalist life.

Dana Byers and her family are passionate about adoption and online ministry, and they sold all they owned in 2007 to live a mobile lifestyle overseas and expand online ministry practices globally.  She’s the author of “The Art of Online Ministry” and recently moved to Oklahoma to become the Community Pastor for Church Online. All opinions shared here are expressly her own.


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