Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Brightness of Hope

The other day the world was a sky sandwich. White clouds hung overhead as a slice of clear blue sky hung near the horizon, everything below was illuminated by the fresh foot of snow that covered the valley. I smiled happy that it would be the first white Christmas I have had in many years. We have had wet Christmases and sunny Christmases but the snow has avoided me for a few years. I am very glad to have snow.

I love that snow takes the darkness that overwhelms this time of year and just brightens everything; mother earth's flashlight. This natural flashlight physically AND emotionally lightens hearts. I see it everywhere; adults act like children and frolic just as readily through the crisp landscape, everyone staring out their windows in wonder as the fat flakes fall and land like a magic trick. Tension disperses from my heart as I drive and expand my peripheral view and take in how beautiful it all looks.

It contrasts against the reality that for many, the literal darkness parallels loneliness, loss, and heartache. I still feel great pangs of loss this time of year. The lack of James' physical presence is made more apparent in sending out Christmas cards, hanging stockings, and selecting gifts. I still think about him most at night, when it is darkest. It is difficult to not let those dark feelings overcome the joy this season can bring.

But when I see the snow, I am reminded of light and the power that it possesses to take even the darkest day of the year and illuminate it. Even the smallest bit of light disperses dark.

That is why I have such hope despite all the bad in the world. Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ and He himself said,
"I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (John 8:12)
 Though we know that He was not actually born on December 25th, the actuality that we celebrate His birth close to the darkest day of the year is a powerful symbol. His coming to earth was literally Heavenly Father sending light to illuminate and dispel the darkness. His birth was miraculous as the snowflakes that fall and cover everything, He too blankets the earth with a bright hope.
In an effort to remember James more, I reminded my family that we should be praying for him in our family prayers more regularly. Max has taken this to heart more than anyone and requests to say almost every single family prayer and you know what he says? Each time Max utters a sincere prayer of gratitude, "Thank you that James can be resurrected someday." Each time a little more light flows into my heart. Even though Max is only four years-old, he understands being resurrected means that James will be brought back to life, that we will see him again.

That is the hope and joy His life brings. Those who are lost will be returned. Hearts broken will be healed. Comfort and peace will come through acknowledging the light is there.

We just have to pull back our perspective and see how He illuminates this entire world and covers it in His grace.  
"Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men." (2 Nephi 31:20)
His light is there and it brings joy, a joy even greater than a child discovering the first snow of the season.

I hope and pray you all have a joyous and merry holiday season filled with light. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 11, 2015


Thank you for all of the support for my New Year's Resolution this week. I have spent so much time convincing myself  I could NOT do it, and then so many of you expressed such kind confidence in me any residual fear was blasted away. Kindness is powerful.

I was thinking a little more about this project and kicked myself for being so self-absorbed in my privilege. I am doing this as a personal choice to step away from consumerism, but for a majority of the world, this way of life isn't a choice, it is just reality. People struggle to pay the bills. There are people who struggle to keep a roof over their head and food on their table. There are people in war torn countries who don't have access to basic necessities and live in constant fear. They don't have the luxury of "too much."

So, I don't necessarily think what I am doing is brave. I just feel like with everything going on in the world, I am done coping with it all by buying things. I want to break the cycle of shopping to relieve stress; because, to truly honor my privilege I feel that I should live as authentically as possible. To practice more empathy, to feel all of the feelings and recognize that those feelings are what truly connect us.

Kindness. Fear. Love. Anxiety. Patience. Stress.

We all feel them. I would just rather feel them about people than transfer it on to buying more stuff. Does that make sense?

 Now don't get me wrong. I don't think shopping in general is wrong or bad. Just the over-consumption and the obsession with it.

Anyways, thank you again. Because even though it feels silly and trivial, the need to buy is a strong addiction and I expect some growing pains.


Daniel HATES snow. (15 months)

Maxwell LOVES the snow but strongly dislikes getting his picture taken (4 years).

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

No Shopping for a Year

Last week I mentioned challenging myself more seriously to do away with excess consumerism and focusing even more on what matters most.

Well if you can believe it, starting in January I am doing a major decrease in shopping.

Inspired by the blog Blonde on a Budget, I am banning myself from purchasing anything new for an entire year.

Ok! ok! There is more too it than that so don't freak out quite yet! There are rules in place so that we don't starve as a family, keep clean, and still enjoy life. I will explain more of why I decided to challenge myself this way, but first, here are the rules.

Things I am allowed to buy:
  • Groceries and kitchen supplies (tin foil, etc)
  • Toiletries (toilet paper, toothpaste, shampoo, etc.)
  • Makeup (I only wear mascara and blush and so I am only allowed to replace these when I run out)
  • Cleaning products (pretty much detergent and dish soap since I make everything else using this)
  • Kid Necessities (wipes, diapers (we use cloth during the day and disposables at night), etc.)
  • Kid Clothes if necessary (Generous hand-me-downs cover mostly everything. If there is a true need, my goal is to shop second-hand/thrift stores first (i.e. Max will need a new coat next winter))
  • Haircuts (I only cut my hair twice this past year, so I think I will stick with that number again)
  • Gifts for others
  • Christmas/Holidays (Limited to $50 per person)
  • Experiences! (more on this below)
Things I am NOT allowed to buy:
  • Clothes and shoes (I have given myself some flexibility if I have gift card money to use or if something desperately needs replaced (my nude flats currently have a hole in them), but that is IT!)
  • Extra makeup (nail polish, eye shadows, etc.)
  • Toys (the boys have plenty)
  • Books (the library is free!)
  • House stuff (furniture, appliances, decorations, etc)  
Experiences include going out to eat (limited to twice a month), going to zoos or museums, movies, concerts, water parks, and travel. To me experiences embody the spirit of focusing on what lasts; memories stay with you forever and time spent with loved ones or even on personal goals builds healthy relationships and greater love. That is EXACTLY what I am trying to get at here!

Guys, this is going to be hard and just thinking about it makes me nervous. But at the same time, I am really excited because I know it is possible! I have everything I need, everything else is just excess really. I just have to chant that when it gets hard.

So why am I doing this?

Because I believe that shopping takes up too much of my time.

Because I know that I spend money unnecessarily on things that end up as clutter.

Because I want to more aggressively attack our student loans.

Because I want to practice self-control.

Because I want to be satisfied with what I have.

I want to slow down, I want to simplify, I want to connect.

I want to focus on being instead of having. (@zerowastehome)

I am ready. I know it will be challenging and frustrating, but I know that it will be worth it. I know this will stretch me in the best possible ways and teach me lessons that I wouldn't learn otherwise.

There have been a lot of resources I have utilized to get me to this point, but I want to share some of them with you in case you want to know more.

Becoming Minimalist
SUCH a good resource! Great posts and awesome links to other like-minded blogs. This is an internet wormhole worth going down. I especially love his weekly round up of articles!

Blonde on a Budget
She has successfully completed a no shopping ban for a year and is on her second year (in a row!). Most of my personal challenge comes from her inspiring success.

Hands Free Mama 
She has another book and a blog, but so far I have just read this book. I love it. It is meant to be read over the course of a year but borrowing from the library doesn't afford me that luxury. It is still just as inspiring and helpful, especially as a stay-at-home mother.

"Of Things That Matter Most" 
This has been an influential talk since I first heard it and more recently he has spoken about simplifying and finding joy despite circumstances (find those here and here respectively).

Slow Your Home Podcasts
These are basically interviews with all of my favorite simplifying blogs. Good stuff.
The Small Seed
A spiritual and thoughtful-living blog. I love its posts and resources.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
A best-selling book on finally getting rid of the clutter once and for all. I really enjoyed reading it an implementing it as best I could.

Zero Waste Home
This lady's four person family produces enough garbage a year to fit into a glass jar. No joke. Her book is ripe with steps and tips for eliminating waste and focusing on reuse.

Harmless Home 
This blog is written by the same friend who introduced me to Becoming Minimalist. She no longer writes on it but I still utilize her advice for creating a toxic-free home. Plus I still get to text her for personal queries! She is so well-researched and thoughtful, I love everything she sends my way.

Budget Bytes
This is one of my favorite food blogs. I started using it when I was first learning how to cook and her recipes were perfect for our small budget and growing tastes. Her recipes remind me that food doesn't have to be complicated or expensive to be good and healthy. I still use many of her recipes weekly. Her copycat Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana is especially amazing!

Thanks for reading about my crazy life and thoughts. I plan on updating my progress as often as feels necessary here on the blog and I love knowing that there are people supporting me my crazy ideas. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Practicing Gratitude

I have so much to be grateful for.  At the end of the night my basic needs are always met; a roof over my head, warm clothes, a full belly and a whole lot of love from my family.

Sometimes though when I am expressing thanks during my personal prayers I create little footnotes in the back of my mind.

I am thankful for a roof over my head....but I wish it had hardwood floors and a bigger kitchen and a more accessible backyard.

I am thankful for warm clothes....but I wish I could buy those new shoes, sweater, etc.

I am thankful for a full belly....but I wish I didn't have to cook it myself.

I am thankful for the love of my family...but why do I feel so worn down by the end of the day?

I kick myself for all of those little footnotes. I don't want to just acknowledge my blessings but I truly want to be grateful for them, for the imperfectness of them, within each circumstance I find myself in.
It is no secret that James' death sparked a massive change in my heart. A desire to be more, to do more with this life I have been given. I don't want to waste it wishing away for more of something or for something that I have deemed "better." I want to be grateful despite my circumstance. I want to find the value in what I have and to stop the pursuit of things.

Over the past couple of years I have become more and more disillusioned with our culture's constant push towards more and more stuff. I have been caught up in it for too long feeling like those basic necessities aren't enough and that I deserve more. I have dreams and hopes that I have mentally turned into essentials for my personal happiness.

We are a young family and as such are dealing with issues like paying off student loans, saving up for a home of our own, budgeting for extras like snow pants and family outings and it is hard to be patient through this time period and wait to accomplish personal and family goals. I found myself growing bitter and exasperated that the effort that I have put in so far towards these goals still has us moving at a snails pace. I am impatient, I want to accomplish everything RIGHT NOW!

I started looking more closely at my efforts and the smaller details. I started realizing that my daily pursuits did not match my long term goals. I have busied myself with stuff that eventually become clutter. Stuff to clean, to sort, to organize, to move from pile to pile, until finally it finds its way to the thrift store. My true goals and passions have nothing to do with this stuff that for so long I have accepted as a part of the daily grind. But I don't believe it has to be, or at least not in such a massive way.

I had a friend introduce me to the blog and since I have started reading I have come to many quick realizations. Realizations about the amount of stuff I am drowning myself in and how unnecessary a majority of it is. As I have made small changes to where I invest my time, my money, my thoughts, and my efforts, I have found peace. I feel as if I am not wasting the day, wishing it away but rather taking advantage of all the opportunities for special moments. I feel as if I am the best version of myself, the version God sees in me. I feel myself practicing true gratitude, doing away with excess and soaking in that which matters most. As a result, those footnotes have quieted and there really is more joy to each day.

I probably sound crazy but I cannot express how good it feels to pursue love, family, and personal growth rather than clothes, furnishings, and things.

Of course, I am not perfect in this pursuit, I still want many things, but I have seen the difference enough that it has lead me towards challenging myself more seriously (more on this later). I have felt a shift for the better and I truly believe that taking all the superfluous away has real and lasting benefits.

In the Sermon on the Mount the Savior said,  
 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
I want to follow this admonition. I want to invest in that which cannot be corrupted. I want to treasure that which lasts. I know that as I do, I can be confident that I am living the true life I have imagined, I can be more thankful for what is before me, because in reality there is so much.