Jeff Shinabarger just released a fantastic book called “More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity”. I liked reading this book because it made me think. I had to put it down and process Jeff’s suggestions and observations more than once. Identifying what is more than enough is not an easy task.
Having lived both with very little at times and with plenty at other times in life, I appreciate the real-life examples provided in Jeff’s book to identify what living generously truly looks like.
Perhaps the most profound exercise in the book (besides reading the dozens of inspiring and creative approaches to generosity Jeff shares) was asking myself to complete the simple statement Jeff challenges the reader to face: “I have more than enough ________________ !”
You know me by now. You know that our family has been blessed to give nearly all we’ve had over the years to causes like adoption, Church Online, and more. You know that we value cutting out excess in our lives. But I confess I could fill in this blank identifying excess in my life in a number of areas.
Read this book (affiliate link). I want you to experience the discomfort of being rattled by it while at the same time being inspired to act. It’s time to take the excess in your life and use it for good.
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No matter what you believe, I’m personally inviting you to watch some thought-provoking commercials with us at Church Online. This commercial series is available to watch 51 different times tonight through next Saturday morning, February 9. We’ll be exploring how simple commercials can change the way we see things and how we act. Feel free to hang out in the chat room with the community or double click the video for a full-screen experience.
The way to keep social media simple is to be selective. (You can honestly stop reading here unless you’d like some specific ideas and examples on how do to this, friends.)
By the end of 2012 I was overwhelmed by social media. (Don’t get me wrong: I love social media.) I believe social media exists for three core reasons:
- to connect with people
- to share with others
- to learn from others
These are three of my favorite things to do, so social media is a natural fit for me! But I’d begun noticing that I felt I had to check social media messages in case I missed getting back to someone who had a question or wanted help. The feeling of obligation took some of the wind out of my social media sails, and I decided to take a month to assess what I could change to remain active without feeling overwhelmed.
Note: I didn’t stop engaging in social media during this month, but I did remove all social media apps from my smart phone. Any interaction I had on social media the past month has been on a laptop in between projects and meetings or at home in the evenings or on the weekend. This created an environment where I was able to notice how many time a day I’d go to my phone in between tasks to check in on the latest. This observation period revealed to me that in many cases I’d open an app out of boredom then suddenly lose time doing something I don’t want to invest too much time doing.
I asked myself these questions throughout the month:
- Why do I want to go to this social media site?
- Is this site more conducive to broadcasting or engaging in a network of people?
- What’s the benefit of this social media site to me?
- Now that I’ve identified I’m looking to pass the time using a social media app, how will I use this time instead?
After a month of targeted observation, here are the solutions I came up with:
1. Goodbye, Instagram. I won’t be putting this app back on my phone but will click on a friend’s link to see their Instagram photo if I’m so inclined. I love this app but believe I was getting caught in the net of checking it for updates without really building any type of community.
2. I use Buffer App to schedule the sharing of things I think are important during those times I’m unable to change focus from reading to getting on social media and responding to waiting @’s or DMs. (Most often I schedule buffered tweets and Facebook updates while going through my Read & Review folder. Details here.)
3. We put out a phone bowl at home. This has helped us make eye contact more at home. The true beauty of this new habit is that once I’ve put the phone down, I rarely return to it until I go to charge it at bedtime.
4. I used the free manageflitter service to unfollow some people on Twitter whom I had no idea why I was following. I don’t auto follow back so I was truly surprised by some of the people on the list! A cleaner twitter stream means I’m less likely to miss out on what my friends have to say when I log in to join the conversation.
5. I enjoy being involved in chats, and answering and asking questions online. I respond to nearly everything…just not necessarily the very second you contact me. My goal is to check in on Twitter and Facebook at least twice a day to keep the conversation going. Even after this experiment, Hootsuite remains my favorite way to connect with friends online.
6. I’ve never liked talking on the phone much. My experiment revealed to me that this strong preference of mine means I’ve naturally created a habit of using DM’s, Facebook messages, email, and Twitter @’s to ask questions or get information. Seeing the app-free screen on my iPhone when I needed help this past month meant I learned to lean more into making a call…and more often than not this made for a quicker result and a more enjoyable interaction overall.
I’ve never allowed email or social media notifications on my phone, and now having these social media apps off my iPhone means I’m fully present locally but able to connect without distraction online when I do log in each day.
Tell me…How do you keep social media simple?
From my perspective, simplifying your email process will save you loads of time. This is time you can spend with family, having a brainstorming session with a co-worker, or replacing the anxiety a full inbox brings with the joy that comes from actually completing tasks.
Before I share my system with you, I want to share some insight I once heard that’s never escaped my memory. It’s been said that when we let things pile up in our homes, offices, or cars, the root issue is indecisiveness. Could the same be said of keeping a crammed email inbox? Just a little food for thought…
Repeat after me: I will look at the email messages that come in my inbox once. I will choose one of the following options for each message in my inbox then dance a happy jig when I discover how much more time I have available in my day!
- Delete it (my favorite solution.)
- Archive it (I put it in a “Reference” folder should I need to search for the information later.)
- Act on it. (9 out of 10 times you know what you need to say or do. Putting it off doesn’t necessarily make the message any easier to communicate.)
Here’s the tricky part. When acting on an email, you must consider how long it will take and if you need information before you can respond.
- If you can reply in a minute or two, do so immediately so you’re not the one known for holding up the productivity pipeline.
- If you need more information, call or email the person who can get answers for you then move the email into a “Next Actions” folder until you can reply.
As a general rule, I review my “Next Actions” folder each day before I leave the office. This allows me to make sure none of the day’s tasks fall through the cracks and to prepare my Big 3 list for the next morning (i.e. the 3 main things I need to do before diving into my email inbox to do this process and keep things tame).
Scenario: Did someone send you a blog post or newsletter you’d like to get to but can’t do so at the moment? Move it to a “Read & Review” folder. Schedule 30 minutes each week to go over the messages in that folder. If you don’t have a lot of content sent to you, this could be done bi-weekly or once a month. When you’ve read them, either delete them or put them in your “Reference” folder if you will truly need it later.
Scenario: Sometimes I get a request from a person to whom I reply but am waiting to hear back from before the task can be considered complete. If the request is in motion but I’m waiting on more information before it can be completed, I move the message into my “Waiting for Reply” email so it’s not clogging up the inbox. I’m not very consistent with it, but I try to clear out my “Waiting for Reply” folder every month or two just to make sure no requests are left unmet.
Scenario: You know some BIG thinkers. (Lucky you!) Use a folder called “Someday/Maybe”. I put all the big-picture, think-outside-the-box ideas that co-workers and friends send to me (if they can’t be immediately implemented) in this folder. If an idea fits into the vision of a project and is worth considering, it goes into this folder. I take a look at the ideas once a month for inspiration and solutions, deleting the ones I’m no longer interested in.
All of these suggestions were first learned when I read Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
What tips do you use to keep your email inbox empty?
For more insight on simple email, read:
Two years ago I had a surgery that took an unexpected turn. After my recovery, I was referred to a naturopath who – through observation, questions, and treatment – helped me recognize food sensitivities to gluten and corn. Since I became gluten free in April 2011, I’ve never looked back.
Shortly after he was born, we discovered our son had some health issues. Blake is very healthy overall, but the combination of asthma, rashes, and digestion issues combined with a life-threatening illness at age 11 months meant he’s spent a lot of time in an out of specialists’ offices and taking medication.
Momma don’t like that.
We’ve tried a lot to relieve his symptoms over the years, but my suspicion that Blake has a gluten sensitivity has only grown since I found great relief living a gluten free lifestyle. He’s hardly gained weight in the past two years and is growing slowly in height. Blake had an inconclusive blood test to test for Celiac disease last year so the jury’s still out, but a sensitivity is still rather likely in my mind. When I read Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis, I decided I’d not wait any longer to help Blake determine whether he has a sensitivity to gluten or not.
How can I help my kids stop eating gluten?
To be fair, Blake is familiar with living a gluten free lifestyle already because most of the dinners I provide at home are gluten free. He’s watched me make careful meal orders at restaurants and turn down an offer of food that has gluten in it since April 2011.
No one likes being told what they can’t do. But I can’t think of anyone who despises being told what they can do. So I sat down with my son and explained I’d like to help him do an experiment to see if some of his annoying health issues don’t improve over the weeks to come. His main concern was that he wouldn’t have any good foods to take to school for lunch each day.
- I wrote out a list of foods (pictured) he likes that he can eat any time without consuming gluten.
- We created a special drawer in our fridge and an area on a pantry shelf from which Blake knows he can choose food to eat.
- My husband emailed Blake’s teacher to let her know we’re removing gluten from Blake’s diet for awhile to monitor for any improvement in symptoms.
- Blake has snacks he can enjoy at school when the other children bring in treats.
After reviewing the list, he was surprisingly willing to go along without gluten and give it a try once and for all! So far, Blake’s doing a stellar job being gluten free.
If you’ve had to go gluten free or help your kids do so, what did you do to help make the adjustment?
I’ve been blogging nearly seven years. The biggest reward of blogging is sharing content I believe will help others. That’s why I’m especially excited about today’s post to introduce you to a few stellar minimalist blogs!
Nearly everything you could read on my blog comes from my life’s experiences. After we moved overseas in 2007, I began using Google to search for people with online platforms who could understand the life change I was experiencing. Over the past 6 years I’ve come to enjoy the minimalist blogs of a number of people.
I encourage you to thoughtfully explore the words of any of these writers. They are among my favorites.
You’ll find that we have a variety of different spiritual beliefs, we live out our simple lives in unique ways, and our personalities are diverse. But the common bond of simplifying our lives by intentionally making room for what matters most to us is strong. These people regularly challenge, inspire, and encourage me.
Because I know many of you are in the early stages of putting your finger on the simplicity you’re seeking in life, I hope you’ll dive into these peoples’ blogs just as you have mine. Read their best-selling books. And may you wind up even more committed to living with less.
Dana Byers and her family are passionate about adoption and online ministry, and they sold nearly 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 LifeChurch.tv Church Online. All opinions shared here are expressly her own.
I’ve said before that the minimalist life isn’t for everyone. It’s true that I don’t force my kids to live on as little as I think they comfortably could. But every once in a while, an amazing opportunity comes along to explain how the minimalist approach could be of help and it’s a big win with my kids.
Last year one of the best things I did was teach my kids to do their own laundry. It’s taken a job off my plate, and they do it well. But a few times recently we’ve had the emergency, “Moooooooommmmm! I don’t have any clean underwear!” cries. I’ve been told by one of my kids that there’s no clean PJ’s available at bedtime, too. My response? Let them wear dirty clothes. I’m not proud of it, but I wanted them to experience the consequence of waiting too long to do laundry so they’d remember to do it without me reminding (ie nagging) them to do it later.
The problem? My solution didn’t work.
My children typically remembered to get their laundry done apart from those few incidents, but I discovered they had gone from doing it once a week to skipping the weekly wash then doing laundry twice or three times the following week – something that’s neither necessary or a good use of time. More than once they scrambled to do laundry on evenings when there’s not enough time to do it and the wash was left in the dryer at the kids’ bedtime. This change in behavior was something that’s had me stumped for a few weeks, until last weekend.
My daughter shared last weekend that she’s frustrated having two to three loads of laundry to fold and put away each week now; it takes a lot of time and too much work. I asked her when the last time she had folded clothes was, and it’d been just 3 days earlier. Then it hit me! Like most kids in America, my kids have TOO many clothes! They were wearing more clothing items because they are available, but the options present a frustration in that they take time, effort, and money (electricity and laundry soap) to maintain. In other words, because they have so many clothes, they’ve not needed to wash them often. But when they came up short a pair of jeans or underwear, the task of washing all the dirty laundry they’d accumulated was too much to bear. I wanted to help them get back to when doing their own laundry wasn’t an overwhelming chore.
So this Minimalist Mom wrote out a little list of clothing items the kids need on a weekly basis. Then I asked them if they’re interested in doing laundry only once a week again and having much less to put away. Of course they agreed!
Here’s the list my kids used as a guide while choosing the clothing items to keep in their dresser drawers and closet:
Underwear and Socks: keep the same amount (about 8 pairs, each)
Chapel appropriate outfit: 1 (My kids attend chapel once a week at school.)
Pajamas: 4 pairs
Sports Uniform: 1
They folded anything that was left (that will fit them in the Spring) and put it in a piece of luggage we store in our garage. I explained to them we aren’t getting rid of their clothes, but we’re seeing if we can make the laundry process simpler for them. We’ll give it at least a month to see how it’s working out. The kids had no qualms with this plan since they got to choose their favorite items to wear week in and week out, and we believe having fewer clothing items will make it easier for them to keep tabs on what’s clean and when laundry needs to be done.
The Biggest Win
According to Mackenzie (7), the biggest win will be having few clothing items to fold when they do laundry on Saturdays. I agree with her, but I’d also add that their tidier dresser drawers, the time saved in the mornings with fewer options to choose from for the day’s clothing, and watching my kids give the minimalist mindset for clothing a try are pretty cool side effects, too.
Have you ever heard of a phone bowl? While I’m pretty good at leaving my laptop at work and not working once I’m home in the evenings or on the weekends, I sure could stand to spend less time on my mobile phone in the evening. I rarely talk on the phone, but I have plenty of social media apps I pay attention to. A few weeks ago I removed the apps from my phone and have experienced both the withdrawal and new-found freedom that this decision brings.
But even if you don’t want to remove the social media apps from your smart phone, here’s an idea to try to keep your phone in its place (literally) during the key hours of the evening you can spend with family.
Enter: The Phone Bowl!
I once heard someone say they planned to ask their friends to put their mobile phones in a basket by the front door when they come over for a gathering. During this season of intentionally observing how intrusive my mobile phone can be, I decided that trying the phone bowl in our home as a means of protecting family time would be wise. It’s located in our kitchen, just past the entrance where I come into the house with the kids every evening.
Having my smartphone tucked away in the phone bowl makes for a more peaceful evening, and it contributes to making my home a retreat.
Have you tried using a phone bowl or something like it to guard the time you have with loved ones? What works for you?
Recently I was asked by a friend how to help kids deal with getting rid of toys when they have too many. While preparing to write a blog post about it, the thought came to mind to ask my 9 year old son Blake for his answers since he’s experienced it a few times. I wanted to hear his thoughts on the process. I began asking him questions and suddenly I had a wonderful interview on my hands that is better than any blog post I could’ve written on my own. Here are his exact words …
Q: What’s minimalism?
Blake: I don’t know. Do you even know what minimalism is?
(He already has me laughing out loud…)
Q: Blake, what would you tell a child you want to encourage to own fewer toys?
Blake: You’ll feel like there’s more space and might feel more safe without stuff all over the floor. If you have too much toys, sometimes it feels like a trap and you can’t move around. It’s like pressure. I would tell him to choose his favorite ones he will use and will help him pass the time; don’t keep toys that sit around and don’t get used. Here’s an example: if you were one of the toys in a crowded room, how would you feel? They don’t get played with.
Q: What do you do when you have too many toys? How do you make sense of all the mess?
Blake: We donate and we throw away bad quality toys that keep breaking. Toys from the dollar store don’t last and you can’t play with them very long. You can’t enjoy them when they’re all over the room and you’ll miss seeing all the hidden ones to play with anyway.
(Tip from Dana: Have two buckets of toys to rotate. Keep one bucket in the bedroom or play room, the other in the garage. Switch them out bi-weekly so the toys are “new” to the kids but not all filling up your home at once.)
Q: When you started wanting to keep all your toys instead of giving some away, what helped you agree with Daddy and me that you needed less?
Blake: It might feel bad to give toys away or throw them out, but sometimes you have to take charge. When I felt my room was crowded and I couldn’t walk around in it or fit any more toys in my toy box, it wasn’t fun. I didn’t like being in my room then. Now I have more space and I feel better. It’s easier to clean my room now.
Q: How did you decide which toys to donate?
Blake: The ones that weren’t containable. I dumped out my toy box and put my favorite toys back in. When I ran out of room, the rest of them were donated or recycled and we threw some away. Now you will feel better and it will be easier to make decisions when you’re older. Also, you could be a great speaker or something from how you experienced this stuff you are going to go through when you do this getting rid of some toys.
(Tip from Dana: Observe which activities you child gravitates toward most – arts & crafts, building sets, sports, etc. Have the objects or toys related to their favorite activities be the majority of the toys they keep.)
Q: Now that you have fewer toys, how do you keep things tidy?
Blake: Well, I have space now to put it all away and I set them in the place it’s easy to remember where it belongs when I want to find it. Every night when I’m done playing outside, I put all my toys back in the sports bucket in the garage.
Q: Anything else you want to say?
Blake: When you do this you’ll have space to play other fun games that might involve toys or maybe they don’t, like playing tag or a board game or making origami. But the point of this is that you’ll feel better and life will be easier.
My heart melts that Blake defined minimalism beautifully with his last statement even though we don’t really use the word much at home. Proof that much more is caught than taught.