Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Fewer decisions, fuller joy {5 Favorite books for simple & intentional living}

So, as we're moving merrily along with our selections in flooring for the new house (we've successfully narrowed it down to a very manageable number of decisions, mostly minor, like which of the 50 shades of gray tan we'd like out of the brand of carpet we selected).

Sorry, Julia, that's about as much of that one as we could afford...
But, even with those (major) decisions under our belts, I've still found with a discernible undercurrent of feeling overwhelmed.  Overall, (thanks be to God) life is very good.  I really have no reason to complain but yet I have this nagging sense of stress.  As I sat and reflected last night, I came to realize that I just feel so cluttered - both homes, all of our possessions, and even mentally.  So many things to think, to do, to see, to deal with, to clean, to move, and to keep out of the baby's increasingly accurate roll & reach pattern.

Clutter.  Ultimately, so much stuff (physical and otherwise) is clamoring for our attention that we find ourselves spinning as the roads diverge in the yellow wood - but here, not two roads, but a seemingly infinite number of choices of what to do, where to put things, what to eat, what to wear, and what to read.  I'm using the royal "we" because I know I'm not the only one feeling lost in the sea of daily choices.

My situation is amplified right now because of the renovations and the juggling of the two houses, but I know even in "normal" times, modern life has an exceptional number of choices.  And so many choices - embodied by the 10 housekeeping chores (only one of which can be reasonably completed in a nap time), by the carpet strewn with toys (most of which you're not exactly sure where to keep), and the exploding Pinterest boards (many of which you'll never complete, even though you just keep pinning) - make the day seem almost claustrophobic.  And the necessity of too many decisions short-circuits our brain and we end up doing nothing.  We turn to the Internet as a distraction from the disorder, feeding our mental clutter and inhibiting our ability to control the physical mess that's encroaching from all sides.

I know I've been harping on this simplicity thing, but I'm becoming increasingly convinced that our culture is building a world that is quickly becoming suffocating, and if we don't stop the madness, well, no one will.  The craziness of the world is intruding in our homes, stealing peace and joy from the place that should be our family haven.

I think that if we can find a way to put some of ordinary life on autopilot, we can be fully present in the extraordinary.

The extraordinary here, of course, isn't a trip to Paris, but the belly laugh from the toddler and the chunky rolls on the baby's leg and the fuzzy caterpillar crawling across the porch while you sit and read for a quiet minute.

Fewer decisions about when and how to do things, where to store things, and less to think about in general: less physical clutter, less schedule clutter, less mental clutter means that our days can be more intentional, more productive, and more joyful.  A simpler lifestyle means that we have room to breathe - room to enjoy the extraordinary, even the beauty of the mundane.

If you, like me, want to make a change and need some wisdom on where to start, I highly recommend the following books:

(1) Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids  (Kim John Payne & Lisa M. Ross)

I am only one chapter in to this book, but am so incredibly impressed by the observations and suggestions (just in the introduction!) that I am confident that I should recommend it for all parents.  I list it first because I think it's the most important reminder - this simple living thing isn't just for pretty pictures of all-white kitchens.  It's the foundation for our children's understanding of the world, and if they grow up in cluttered chaos, that can't bode well for their emotional health as they grow.

(2) The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up  (Marie Kondo)

This Japanese cleaning consultant has some very poignant observations and an extremely useful process for purging - I had to wade through some ideology with which I didn't quite agree, but overall her ideas and tips are well worth the read.  (And you will be SHOCKED by how many items you find yourself dropping off at the Goodwill).

(3) A Mother's Rule of Life: How to Bring Order to Your Home and Peace to Your Soul (Holly Pierlot) 

This has more to do with the simplicity and intentionality of schedule and time, but I think that reducing that type of clutter is just as important as physical clutter.

(4) Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living (Tsh Oxenrider)

This is equal parts "why" and "how" in terms of intentional, simple living.  More in my post HERE.

(5) Anything written before (or written about times before) the Internet.

I think our modern age is such an anomaly in terms of information overload that it can be really inspiring and didactic to read something written about/during times that were - by default - less cluttered (at least in terms of mental clutter, and often in terms of physical clutter, as well).

As a bonus, I'll give a nod again to my friend Rachel's book Minimize the Mess: A Mother's Guide to Simplifying Your Home  and I'm linking up with her today for 5 Favorites!

What are your favorite resources for simplifying?  I'd love to hear what you think about these books...and others that you have to recommend!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Decisions, decisions

You're probably expecting more in the way of progress pictures by now, but the reality is that there has not been a whole lot of photograph-able progress at the house since the great wallpaper success.

For one thing, I'm seeing just how much slower things are going to take now that we have "helpers" - and not necessarily because they are underfoot while we're trying to do things (although that can also be tricky) but because they need a lot better in terms of sleep schedules and nutrition than what we were able to survive on during our first renovations.  I also haven't fit in the 30-minute round trip drives over to the house as much as I expected when I'm barely hanging on in upkeep with our current house sitting house (4,000 square feet, 5 bathrooms, and a large shedding dog, argh!) 

BUT the other thing that has been taking the time (and is largely invisible) is the enormous number of decisions we need to make.

We're currently in the midst of flooring research, which - alone - has hundreds of options.  We're probably going with hardwood downstairs, but there's also that wood-look tile that someone mentioned.  And then there's engineered wood and solid hardwood.  And a bazillion (I counted ;) ) color options.  And board widths.  And whether we're installing it or having professionals handle it.  And where we're buying it.  etc, etc, ETC!

And, of course, how it fits in to the timeline, budget, and aesthetic of all of the other details of the house.

Phew.  I don't mean to complain, because really this is a dream come true to get to decorate our little dream house.  I guess I'm just surprised at how different this feels from the last house, where I made design choices almost impulsively, or at least without the belaboring of options I find to be overwhelming this time around.

People often commented on our lack of fear in diving in to renovations in Ithaca with lots of enthusiasm and little (or no) knowledge or experience.  I always laugh and say that we weren't afraid because literally anything we did was going to be better than it was.

I wasn't afraid of messing things up, so I could jump right in.  Now that we have a house with a much nicer starting place (and a potential residence time that far exceeds that of house #1) a fear of failure (or just the wrong decision) has put a damper on my renovation enthusiasm.  BUT, I'm trying to remember to "never let the perfect be the enemy of the good" (longer post percolating on that topic) and remember that I never regretted any of my gut-reaction decisions about colors or finishes in Ithaca.

Maybe soon we'll have something to show for all of the thinking ;)


Congratulations to Ruth Anne who won the giveaway of Minimize the Mess by Rachel Kratz.  Ruth Anne, watch for an email from Rachel!  And to everyone else, remember that Rachel's book is available for purchase here and on Amazon.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Simple Home: Have Your Cake and Eat it Too {with giveaway!}

Maybe you've heard the catchy little phrase:

"Good moms have sticky floors, dirty ovens, and happy kids"

Maybe you're remembering hearing when I quoted it in a post two years ago.

At first glance, it's a pat on the back and an encouragement for those incredibly hard days when you somehow find yourself with 5 minutes before dinner and choose to damn the mess and sit down to eat the plastic food so lovingly prepared by the 2 year old "restaurant lady."  At the heart, it is a reminder about our priorities as mothers.  And, just to be clear, I'd rather have happy kids in a mess than screams and sobs amidst a page from a decor magazine.

But here's the thing (I always have a thing in these posts, you know?): all of the kids in Better Homes and Gardens are smiling.  What about having the cake and eating it, too?

I know, I know, that's so trite.  They probably took hundreds of photos for the magazine, and there's a chance that the one that made the page is the only one where little Johnny isn't pulling little Susie's hair.  I don't actually think that those picture-perfect rooms make for angelic smiling children (but then again, it might make me smile for a few minutes to walk into a space like that, huh?)

However, there is something about that sticky floors quote that just doesn't sit right with me.  It just seems so flippant to dismiss all of home management for the happiness of kids.  I start to get visions of a spoiled Veruca Salt (ala Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) riding a magical carousel over a garbage dump that was once the living room.

Ultimately, I think the quote is true for small moments but not for the big picture.  In the instant when you're in the middle of scrubbing the bathroom floor but the baby starts screaming in her crib, having woken early from her nap, yes, chose the baby over the spotless floor.  And abandon the laundry folding for the toddler who has stubbed her toe.  Or the vacuuming for a sick child who just wants to be held.

You're probably thinking (because I am also thinking) that, therefore, in the course of a day, nothing will get done but loving and comforting and, well, making happy.  There are days (and seasons of survival mode) when that is true.  But we cannot lose sight of the forest for the trees (how many cliche's can she fit in one post?!) and focus exclusively on the short-term, emergency type needs of our families.

I really do think that our environment affects our moods and our outlook.  Think about a spa - a cluttered reception area would turn away a lot of clients who came in for their relaxing and peaceful afternoon.

I literally breathe easier looking at the second picture than the first (and this is just a tiny example of a 5 minute tidy in the kitchen!):

It affects us as adults to be living in a constant state of clutter and mess.  We are more overwhelmed - by the mountain of obvious undone tasks, by the panic of not knowing where the water bill is that is probably due this week, and by the unpleasantness of not having a clear space to rest our eyes.  I think it is foolish to assume that this same stress doesn't affect our children.  If nothing else - if, say, they're personally unaffected by the clutter and not being able to find their favorite toys - it affects them in that the adults in their lives are constantly responding to them from a place of stress.

So we've established that you can't do it all, and yet you need to do it all.  Where does that leave us besides despair?

The key is - we can't do it all the way things are now.  We can't keep up with everything with over-packed closets and overflowing cabinets.  We can't win against the clutter monster, the verifiable beast threatening to permanently overtake any surface the second after we turn our backs.

But it IS possible to reach a state where things are more manageable, and where the whole family is happier - both in the moment when you're able to abandon the tidying to give a cuddle - and in the long term from having an environment that exudes peace instead of stress.  Yes, it will never be perfect.  And there will be stages when it is impossible to do anything but sit on the couch with a nursing baby and watch the dishes pile up.  Maybe the oven will always be dirty.  But the point is that the baseline of your home can be better than it is now.

And that is why today I'd like to introduce you to my friend Rachel from Efficient Momma.  She has two young children (very close in age to each of mine), so she is no stranger to the frustrations of young motherhood or the speed at which toddlers can make a mess.  However, she has discovered some key successes in simplifying her home and possessions, and has written an ebook to share all of her secrets with us!

Minimize the Mess: A Mother's Guide to Simplifying Your Home

I have to admit that when Rachel first asked me to review her book, I was skeptical that it would have that much to offer for me, given that I'm in the midst of a big organization/simplification kick.  Was there anything new about purging unnecessary belongings that wasn't covered in the New York Times Best-seller that I just read?  

It turns out that Rachel had me hooked in the introduction.  It was refreshing to hear the voice of a mother in my shoes, rather than a fancy organizational guru.  Rachel is honest and real (see again, no promises that everything will be perfect, just that they'll be refreshingly better than they are now), and her ideas and tips are practical and do-able.  She offers poignant questions to ask yourself as you consider keeping or donating items, as well as ideas for ways to make improvements on a small budget.  And, perhaps best of all, she has prepared a master checklist that you can download to help guide you through the process.

Rachel's book is a great resource for anyone who wants to declutter and reclaim a manageable home, but I especially recommend it if you're feeling overwhelmed and just don't know where to start.

You can buy the ebook on Amazon or on Rachel's blog HERE.  It's only $2.99 and you can get 25% off on sales through her blog until May 22 with the code launch .  And, *drumroll*, she's offering a free copy to one of my readers!  Use the Rafflecopter below for your chance to win a PDF copy of Minimize the Mess by Rachel Kratz.  Good luck!

I received a free copy of Minimize the Mess in return for my review, but all opinions are my own.

Monday, May 11, 2015

What took me so long?! (Procrastination Analysis, Part 3)

I have this little problem where I tend to put things off.  Take, for instance, that I started writing this "Procrastination Analysis" series last February.  As in, the one in 2014.

As I discussed in Part 1, sometimes the procrastination is not so much me putting things off as my inability to set reasonable expectations (i.e., there are only 24 hours in a day, and there are certain things that just can't be accomplished while serving as the primary caregiver to two small children).

And then there was Part 2, the lamentation/confession of the ridiculous amount of productivity the Internet sucks from our lives.

But there are other reasons that projects sit on the back burner for *ahem* months - and I thought that identifying why I put things off might help me tackle the lingering to-dos in a more reasonable timeline.  Some of these are probably somewhat universal, while others might be weird Emily-quirks.  Regardless, I hope that reading this you get some inspiration to tackle some of the things you've been meaning to do :)  Photo documentation provided by my hall-of-fame of projects that I spent exponentially more time wanting to do than actually just getting 'em done.

Barrier #1: I have to make a decision

Big picture, I am a very decisive person (some, ahem, may call that "opinionated"). 
College, job searches, which house to buy...I knew what I wanted.

But which 18 spices were going to get a permanent location on my rack, that held me up for months.

Free printable labels!
Barrier #2: I am afraid I'll ruin it
(or that it won't turn out how I envision)

An extraneous nail hole isn't exactly "ruining" the wall, but analysis paralysis on exactly where to hang a something resulted in me having pictures leaning against the walls (under where they were meant to hang) for weeks on end.

(Let's not talk about how long it took me to decide WHICH waterfall pictures to print.  And which size.  Before we got to the where-to-hang dilemma).
Barrier #3: I'm afraid to waste materials

e.g., I want to make a dress for Anna, but the fabric I have in mind is one of my favorites from my stash.  That's gonna add a few months to the process, because what if I make a mistake and the fabric is wasted?!

Bought that fabric for the bathroom before we closed on the house.  Became the shower curtain 18 months later.
Barrier #4: I have to make trips up/downstairs

File this under perhaps the most ridiculous of the reasons, but I have noticed that if materials I need for something are on different floors of the house, that's going to hold up progress significantly.  And if a 2nd floor project needs something from the basement?  Yeah, just forget it.

And, that is why this empty electric box was without a cover for 6+ months after Justin moved the switch to the other side of the door)
Barrier #5: I'm not sure exactly how to do it
(or it's something I haven't done before)

I suppose this is really a permutation of #1 (decisions).  It comes into play most often when I'm sewing something that doesn't have a pattern, or if I'm planning to modify an idea I've seen.  If I have to put pencil to paper and figure something out, I'll stay away for far longer than if the steps are all spelled out for me.

I've decided it's a family tradition to have a stocking for your SECOND Christmas (even though I had the fabric for the entire family before Anna's first.  Julia's still needs done).
What's the real issue?  Aside from a little bit of laziness in #4 (although in my defense, if the girls are both awake, going up and downstairs for things is a legitimate procrastination reason, as there's no such thing as "just running down to grab something quick)" I think mostly I'm afraid - afraid of failure, afraid of the unknown, afraid of unsatisfactory results.

The kicker, though, is that in all of these examples (and many, many more that I was finding in my photo archives) I was over-the-moon with the results and kicking myself for not just doing it sooner. In some cases, things turned out better than I even imagined.  Sometimes, they turned out worse than I imagined.  But you know what?  Even if it wasn't perfect, I was happier with it done than on my to-do list.

What is holding you back?

I was inspired to finally polish off this post today after I {is it superfluous to say, FINALLY!} spent, oh, less than an hour making a little zippered bag to store one of Anna's little puzzle toys.  I bought the fabric in August.  I have been constantly annoyed by the migration of the pieces since then.  But, see numbers 1, 2, 3, and 5.

That little success (coupled with the amazing AMAZING fact that Julia now goes to bed at the same time as Anna) has lit a fire under me for completing some more projects!  And, therefore I'm just going to go ahead and *ahem* procrastinate on the painting post I promised...but it's coming, Kathy!  ;)

Friday, May 8, 2015

On Purpose and Passion: Ye ol' Blog

For most of its existence, I have felt that this blog has had an identity crisis.  I don't think I was ever sure of my goals - I was straddling the line of just being a convenient place to simultaneously update my dad, Justin's grandma, and 15 different friends with pictures of the house and the girls while also trying to be more than a wall-flower in the online community of Catholic moms which provided me so much during the isolating period of young motherhood.

It's felt weird at times to issue a one-size-fits-all announcement about, well, whatever I'm saying at the moment.  But what I've been so pleasantly surprised by is how my random ramblings have resonated with friends from different stages of my life.  The "me too" feeling is so powerful and affirming, and I've been excited when I've had the chance to share that with a high school classmate or a work colleague who has found herself in a similar place of frustration at wondering if toddler and tornado have some etymological connection.

I've managed to collect a few (very few) readers over the years, including some new friends who, oddly enough, I've never actually met.  And while I welcome the random stranger (of the non-creepy variety) who happens upon this blog, this happily will never be the best, brightest, or biggest blog you'll come across as you click your way through an evening.  

Primarily, dear friends and family, this is for you.  

First and foremost, I hope to be the update, a collection of memories and pictures that, well, are as much for me as for you (and many that would not have otherwise been captured were it not for the nagging "hey, you should blog about this" voice in the back of my head).  As you've grown to be accustomed, it will come it fits and starts, long periods of drought followed by excited and potentially very random updates.  I'm growing more and more content to let it be what it will be, here when I want it and still waiting when I don't.  

I've also found that - purely by having been the first to experience home-ownership and motherhood (and not by any actual verifiable expertise) - I have managed to establish myself in certain circles of my friends as the one who knows about renovation and about diapering a newborn.  So I hope to also be the encouragement, the "me too," and "you've gotta try this" from a friend that you trust over the 4.5-star Amazon review, a few friendly tips and recommendations against the cacophony of the Internet-at-large.  


So although a Pinterest search could bring you 100s of painting tutorials from (actual) experts, I'll (hopefully) be sharing my Beginner's Guide to Painting next week at the request of one of my dearest and longest friends.  

And if you've ever wondered why you traded your heels and important meetings for a life with, read this beautiful and encouraging article I came across tonight: When Satan Tells You You're Too Good for Motherhood.


Thanks for reading, thanks for commenting, thanks for being you!  xoxo

Friday, May 1, 2015

The sweet smell of progress

If you follow the blog on Facebook, you may have noticed that when I include links to new posts, it will show the blog title and automatically chooses the first picture from the post.  From this, I have learned that I have a penchant for including totally unrelated ideas and images as introductions (case in point, last weeks' "Everything I've Ever Wanted" with the current eye-sore that is my kitchen wall, which caused one friend to ask if I might need a renovation intervention.)

Fair warning, today is one of those random intro days.

Anyway, back in high school, one of my best friends and I (hi, Kari!), probably fresh out of a psychology lecture about the strength of memories associated with smells, decided to train ourselves to remember certain quintessential high school moments.  We trekked to the mall, picked out our (new) favorite Bath & Body Works lotions, and (this sounds all sounds so ridiculous now to type it out) methodically would use the lotion whenever we were thinking about getting ready for prom.  And the thing is, it worked REALLY well.  One waft of "Moonlit Path" and I am instantly transported back to the excitement of prom (and ohmygoshcanyoubelieveRyanaskedmetogowithhim?!)

It is unfortunate that I don't have easy access to a prom photo to enhance this post.  (Shockingly, those are not on the short list of things that didn't go to storage this year).

But, scent recognition.

Fabric softener will henceforth take me immediately to the kitchen at the new house, to the girls giggling together in the pack and play (we'll choose to remember that super sweet moment rather than the less picturesque peeling-wallpaper-with-toddler-underfoot afternoons).  It turns out that good ol' Downy (or actually, the store brand) works far better than the stuff they sell at Lowes that is designed to remove wallpaper.  File that little bit of information away, and hope you'll never have to use it.  Because even the "ease" of removing it with the softener is not exactly "easy."

Which is, you can imagine, why I was jumping up and down (yes, literally) last week when this happened:


and the painstakingly slow process of removing the wallpaper (and sometimes the paint underneath) in the kitchen had me awfully overwhelmed thinking about this:

But.  BUT!  (Happy dance here).  The wallpaper is 99% off the stairwell & upstairs hallway.  (Wish we could say the same about the kitchen!)

Two friends offered to come over to help out, and we had reached the point where all that remained in the kitchen required a ladder, and we only have one.  I said, "well, I guess you can try on the stairwell if you really want to," which was met with the (glorious) sound of a full sheet of wallpaper coming off - cleanly, without fabric softener, without water, without a scraper, and without damaging the wall.

We got really excited and told the kids that they were allowed to start ripping, too.

I mostly jumped up and down and repeated "I am so excited!" and took blurry cell-phone pictures for this post. but did pull a sheet or two down for the pure satisfaction.

So easy a two-year old can do it:

So, so exciting.

This accomplishment was a major morale booster in thinking that we can accomplish a reasonable amount of my elaborate to-do list before we move in July.  

You know what else is a major morale booster?  JUSTIN BEING DONE WITH CLASSES!  A few more days of finals/grading, and he is mine, all mine for the summer.  After a semester of 80+ hour work-weeks and little girls asking "is Daddy going to come visit today?" this summer is going to be so, so good.  And wall-paper free.