Tag Archive for peace

How I Created a Budget: A Story Involving a Church Plant, a Spreadsheet, Cash, and Envelopes

Yes­ter­day, my post on 12 Tips for Sav­ing Money res­onated with you. Within 4 hours, this blog post quickly moved to fourth on my list of most-read blog posts. The three posts receiv­ing more hits than that one are these:

#1: Run­ning around Like a Crazy Woman: Why Less Is More
#2: Up In the Clouds or Down on the Ground: When Mar­riage Is Dif­fi­cult
#3: Why I’m Uncom­fort­able with Mother’s Day

Since you seem some­what inter­ested in money and how to save it, I decided to fol­low yesterday’s post with another post on this topic. Today, I’m writ­ing about how (and why) I cre­ated a bud­get and what it has done for me and my fam­ily. This process involves a story, a spread­sheet, cash, and envelopes.

Cash System

First, the story. In 2006, Shane and I lived in Gatesville, Texas. We had been mar­ried for four years, and Shane was a preacher at a church there. I had just fin­ished my Ph.D. in May of that year and began work­ing at Bay­lor in August of the same year. I was finally mak­ing a salary after so many years liv­ing off of Shane’s salary and a mea­ger grad­u­ate school stipend. We were excited about almost dou­bling our income and begin­ning the process of pay­ing off school loans and other debt we had accrued, includ­ing our car loan, loans on some appli­ances, and our mort­gage. Luck­ily, we did not have credit card debt. We only had one kid. We didn’t really need a budget.

Shane liked his job, and we loved that church (our first child was born there and those peo­ple and that church will always hold spe­cial places in our hearts), but we felt a desire to reach out to “non-church” peo­ple. Peo­ple who didn’t know about Jesus. Peo­ple who hated the church or who had been burned by “church peo­ple.” We wanted to reach out to, meet, and befriend the so-called “unchurched” or “dechurched.” We had heard about Mis­sion Alive, a church-planting orga­ni­za­tion, and became inter­ested in this thing called“church plant­ing. After many months of pray­ing and plan­ning and prepar­ing, we decided to move to Waco at the end of 2007 to plant The Grove Church.

Dur­ing the tran­si­tion time (or the “in-between” time as Shane called it in one of his blog posts at the time), from the time we decided to plant until we moved (which was about one year), I began to think seri­ously about our money. Like I said before, I’ve always been a saver, but now we were about to have to raise money for Shane’s salary and the church’s oper­at­ing expenses. This was not a part of the church plant­ing process that we liked. So much was unknown. We didn’t know how much money we could raise or how much money we would need to live on in Waco where we would soon be mov­ing to a new, big­ger, and more expen­sive house. We did not want to rely on the gen­eros­ity of oth­ers for very long (less than three years). In the worst-case sce­nario, I wanted to be pre­pared to live off my salary alone if we had to.

So, in late 2005 at the very begin­ning of our dream­ing and con­ver­sa­tions on church plant­ing (years before we took any action), I cre­ated a bud­get in an Excel spread­sheet. I looked online to deter­mine what cat­e­gories I needed for my bud­get. I decided on 18 cat­e­gories, rang­ing from House­hold Pur­chases, Sav­ing, and Gro­ceries, to Giv­ing Stu­dent Loans, and indi­vid­ual bills (cable, inter­net, phone, water, elec­tric­ity, etc.). I then input Shane’s salary (I was writ­ing my dis­ser­ta­tion and bring­ing home zero dol­lars) and divvied up the money accord­ing to his pay­check. I fol­lowed the bud­get for three months, all the while adjust­ing it accord­ing to what I really spent.

After I started work­ing and bring­ing money home a few years later, I decided to imple­ment a cash enve­lope sys­tem. Here’s what this sys­tem entailed: I wrote out all the cat­e­gories in our bud­get on var­i­ous envelopes (see pic­ture), which had been extended to about 35 dif­fer­ent items.

Some of the Budget Categories I Use

When we got our monthly pay­checks, I went to the bank and took out the amount of cash I needed for that month’s envelopes. I then put the right amount of cash in each of the envelopes. We used the cash until it ran out, and we were very dili­gent about not steal­ing from one enve­lope if we had run out in another one.

I took the envelopes with me when I shopped. I even found a nifty checkbook-size orga­nizer that had eight dif­fer­ent sec­tions in it to carry around the cash I needed when I shopped. The sys­tem worked great. It did take me a while to get “caught up.” What I mean by this is that before begin­ning the cash sys­tem, I paid my bills based on the pay­checks for that month. With the cash sys­tem, how­ever, I had to have enough money in the envelopes before I spent the money. This meant that I had to have money in the envelopes and the bank. It was a process to be able to save enough money for this to hap­pen, but it did.

Around this same time, I also decided to read Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover. I found many of his prin­ci­ples help­ful, espe­cially the ones about reduc­ing debt, namely pay­ing off the loans with the least amount of debt (which we did with my stu­dent loan, our freezer pur­chase, and two of our car pay­ments). I also liked his sug­ges­tion to have a $1,000 emer­gency fund for use in, well, emer­gen­cies. If you had to use the money, then your imme­di­ate goal was to replace it.

One note about the book: I did not imple­ment Ramsey’s prin­ci­ple of abstain­ing from giv­ing (or “tithing”, as he called it) until you are com­pletely out of debt. No mat­ter how much money you make or have or how much debt you are in, I think it’s impor­tant to give some of it away through­out the process of get­ting out of debt. If we all wait until we are com­pletely debt-free, we will NEVER give any­thing. Remem­ber the widow in the Book of Luke? She gave all she had, even in her poverty. One of my friends did recently tell me, how­ever, that he has since revised his stance on this issue (good!), but I’m not sure what he advo­cates now.

For sev­eral years, I car­ried around a lot of cash. Cash for gro­ceries, house­hold pur­chases, baby, hair­cuts, med­ical expenses, and a few other cat­e­gories. How­ever, this all changed two years ago when my hus­band and I went to see Wicked at Faire Park in Dal­las. While we were eat­ing lunch, some­one stole my big orga­nizer with all my cash right out of my purse (my driver’s license, social secu­rity card, and credit cards were also inside–ugh). I lost thou­sands of dollars.

I thus dis­cov­ered a flaw in the sys­tem. A HUGE FLAW.

I began look­ing for other ways to uti­lize this sys­tem. I decided to still uti­lize the cash sys­tem but to do so with­out hav­ing to take out so much cash each month. I decided to orga­nize it all in a spread­sheet and to just keep track of it elec­tron­i­cally. It has worked even better.

Today, our bud­get con­tains 57 items in the list. Shane thinks I’m crazy for how detailed it is, but it works for me (and him, I think). I am con­stantly adjust­ing the items and the amount des­ig­nated to each item because dif­fer­ent expenses come up as your sit­u­a­tion changes.

And what have been the results? We have a bal­anced bud­get. I don’t stress over money. I adjust the bud­get when nec­es­sary. We have paid off or got­ten rid of at least seven loans (2 school loans, 2 car loans, 1 fur­ni­ture loan, and 2 large appli­ances). We have not accrued any more debt. We now save in advance for cars rather than pay­ing for them after we buy them. We only spend what we have. We have gained finan­cial peace.

I want to leave you with a list of five bud­get cat­e­gories that have helped me in one way or another. These may not be the typ­i­cal items you will include in your bud­get, but they have been help­ful to me so I’ll share them with you.

1. “School Fees”, one enve­lope for each child you have (this includes teacher gifts, school sup­plies, school pic­tures, field trip money, t-shirt money, and all those other expenses that come up once kids start school).

2. “Extracur­ric­u­lar Activ­i­ties.” Includes tee-ball and other sports for your kids, as well as piano lessons, swim lessons, or art lessons. It can also include art, cook­ing, or ten­nis lessons for your­self (This cat­e­gory could also include the gym, but I typ­i­cally have a sep­a­rate item for it when I have been a mem­ber of the gym since it’s a recur­ring fee). You could also include going to the movies or other fam­ily activities.

3. “Babysit­ting.” If you want to have a Date Night with your sig­nif­i­cant other, or if you are a sin­gle mom/dad and want to go out at night, this enve­lope is a MUST. Sav­ing for a babysit­ter is also good incen­tive to actu­ally go on the date. You already have the money saved, so go spend it.

4. “Christ­mas.” I have a “Gift” enve­lope for birth­day par­ties, hol­i­days, and other spe­cial occa­sions, but I have found that I am more con­scious about how much I spend on Christ­mas and what I buy when I have a spe­cial enve­lope des­ig­nated for Christ­mas. Begin­ning in Jan­u­ary, I start putting money in this enve­lope. By the time Christ­mas comes around, I know exactly how much I have to spend, and it is there before I spend it. No wor­ries. No fuss. I have also noticed that I spend much less than I did before. It’s not because we don’t nec­es­sar­ily have the money to spend; it’s just that I became aware of how much money I spent on Christ­mas and real­ized that it was way too much…and not even what Christ­mas is about for me any­way. If you don’t cel­e­brate Christ­mas (or if you don’t spend enough to war­rant a sep­a­rate enveloped), then maybe you can think of a dif­fer­ent occasion.

5. “Work Expenses.” I have two sep­a­rate Work envelopes–one for Shane and one for me. We both have expenses for our jobs (most of them are for books we need to buy). It’s impor­tant to item­ize all of these small items so that you don’t mess up the budget.

Thanks for reading.


We Were Swinging

Some fam­ily vis­ited us this week­end. City folks. My mom and younger sis­ter Kellee and her adorable daugh­ter Olivia.

Olivia at 17 months

Sweet Olivia

My mom is from Hous­ton and my sis­ter is from Dal­las. We live about halfway in between the two cities, so they met in the mid­dle at my house for the week­end. We enjoyed our­selves. We didn’t “do” much–not as much as we would have had we gone to one of their homes, or to my other sis­ter Kim’s house in Austin. There, we prob­a­bly would have taken the kids some­where to do some activ­ity (i.e., a museum, a splash pad, a well-known park, a great restau­rant, the movies, shop­ping). The activ­ity would have been a lot of fun, but it would prob­a­bly have cost a lot of money and we would have been on-the-go the whole time.

In this small town, we don’t have as much access to these kinds of expe­ri­ences. Sure, we could have dri­ven to Waco, which is about an hour away, but Kellee’s house is only an hour and fif­teen min­utes away. Why would we do that? And our small town does have some entic­ing places to eat as well as a won­der­ful state park just a few miles away.

But, they didn’t really come here to spend more time in the car. They came here know­ing we prob­a­bly wouldn’t do very much. They came to rest. To relax. To take things slow. To get away. To enjoy the slow pace.

And it was the sim­plic­ity of our week­end that they seemed to enjoy the most. This says a lot com­ing from my mom who likes to be busy and “doing” things. She is con­stantly on the go and likes it that way. But not this week­end. She was the one who kept insist­ing that we just take things slow.

Fri­day night, we did have one event. We went to Elizabeth’s t-ball game. She played the best game of her (3-year!) career, and it was a lot of fun.

Elizabeth at t-ball game

My mom with Levi

Nana with Levi

Sat­ur­day morn­ing, we watched the kids swim in the kid­die pool and play on the jun­gle gym.

My mom, Kellee, and I sat in one of our porch swings for much of the day, drink­ing our Sonic drinks and talking.

Kellee and Olivia

My sis­ter Kellee and niece OliviaLevi (9 months) play­ing in the pool

Swinging awaySat­ur­day after­noon we walked over to our church to attend a Fish Fry. None of us really knew what to expect and, to be hon­est, we were a bit skep­ti­cal of how the food would taste or what it would be like.

I guess some peo­ple from my church are read­ing my blog because one woman was very sur­prised that I had never attended one before because “it isn’t a coun­try thing; it’s a lake thing.” My fam­ily went camp­ing two to three times a year when I was younger, and we would fish. We caught perch and cat­fish, but we always threw it back. Even if we were to catch some­thing worth eat­ing, my dad didn’t have the sup­plies to clean and fry the fish, so we always threw it back.

But there’s just some­thing about fresh fish. It is scrump­tious. The fish we ate was breaded with flour and coated with a deli­cious mix of spices. It was flaky, yet crispy and so very tasty. We also ate our fill of hush­pup­pies (which Pey­ton kept call­ing “cheese balls” because they were so soft in the mid­dle), cole slaw, potato salad, baked beans, and all kinds of desserts. I hope I can attend many more fish fries while I’m in the coun­try (And it was really nice not to have to cook it but to enjoy some­one else cook­ing for me for a change!).

After the fish fry, we went back home, put the kids to bed and sat in the back­yard on the swing for the rest of the evening. The breeze rus­tled the trees. The birds tweeted and chirped. Our dog Shiloh ran around and licked our feet (they did not like that). It was even cool enough that my mom wore a light­weight jacket. We enjoyed the smell of the night air and the cooler weather, know­ing it would not last much longer. Sum­mer heat and humid­ity would be com­ing soon.

And we kept swing­ing. Even long after it got dark. We were swing­ing, back and forth. Enjoy­ing the quiet of the country.

This was a relax­ing week­end for us all. It was peace­ful, rest­ful, and sim­ple. If you were to ask us what we did all week­end, I would say, “We were swing­ing.” I was glad that my fam­ily got to expe­ri­ence a lit­tle bit of my life, to see why this city girl likes the coun­try.

 


12 Reasons I Like Living in the Country

I did not choose to live in the country.

My hus­band took a min­istry job in a small town out­side of Waco, and I fol­lowed him here (just as he fol­lowed me when I went to grad­u­ate school). I was skep­ti­cal of mov­ing to the coun­try. I grew up in Hous­ton, the 4th largest city in the United States. And I liked it.

When I left Hous­ton for col­lege, I moved to Abi­lene, a small West Texas town. I thought it was a small town (about 150,000 peo­ple). It was small. And, when I moved to Cen­tral Texas to work at Bay­lor, I thought Waco was a small town.

But my def­i­n­i­tion of “small” has changed since liv­ing where I live now.

I live in a town of about 7,500. I still con­sider myself a “city girl,” but I do like some things about the coun­try. For today’s Twelve Series, I’m going to write about rea­sons I like the country.

1. The wide, open spaces. I love the Dixie Chicks song, “Wide Open Spaces,” but this has new mean­ing to me liv­ing here. Most peo­ple here, even those who live in town, have large yards (front and back) and quite a bit of space between homes. Many peo­ple own acres and acres of land.  I like hav­ing my own space; it doesn’t feel like peo­ple always know when I’m com­ing and going or what I’m doing (I do live in a par­son­age, though, but that’s a dif­fer­ent story). If I ever do move back to the city, I would like to have some land, if pos­si­ble. Not much, just some. 

Even the idea that things are slower here really appeals to me. Even though I still run around like a crazy woman, I also slow down. Sit on the front porch, watch my chil­dren play in the back­ground, and enjoy life.

2. We don’t need a Farmer’s Mar­ket; we have the farms! I love going to the Farmer’s Mar­ket, and one con­cern I had mov­ing to a small town was that I would no longer have access to the Farmer’s Mar­ket I had vis­ited for years. Come to find out, one of the farms rep­re­sented at this Farmer’s Mar­ket was from the town I now live in! So, I can now drive 3 miles to the farm and pick out all the pro­duce I want. And, unlike the Farmer’s Mar­ket I vis­ited before, which was only open from May through Sep­tem­ber, this one had a year-round farm stand. Buy­ing my food from them makes me happy. I also like that my chil­dren are learn­ing where food comes from, how it’s grown, and what it means to buy local produce.

3. The close-knit com­mu­nity. In some ways it feels like the bar in Cheers where every­body knows your name. Shane and I have got­ten to know so many peo­ple, far more than run in our “typ­i­cal” cir­cles. Peo­ple who (in some ways) are dif­fer­ent from us but who are liv­ing life and try­ing to do the best they can. We love this com­mu­nity. No, it’s not per­fect, but the peo­ple here will always be very close to our hearts.

4. The stars. The wide open spaces allow for us to see so many stars at night. “The stars at night. Are big and bright. [clap, clap, clap, clap]. Deep in the heart of Texas.”

5. No traf­fic. I grew up in traf­fic. I went through 32 (red) lights on my daily com­mute to school. Traf­fic was a part of life. Some­times it took an hour to go to a friend’s house. When we trav­eled for junior high and high school sports, the trip could take an hour and a half, each way. My dad worked Down­town, 19 miles from our house. It took him well over an hour each way. Dri­ving long dis­tances and and wait­ing in traf­fic was a part of life. I didn’t know any different.

Even though sev­eral major high­ways (both state and national) go through our town, traf­fic is not much of an issue. It’s easy to get around and there isn’t much wait­ing. Now, when I go back to Hous­ton to visit my par­ents or to Austin to visit my sis­ter or Shane’s par­ents, I dread the traf­fic. It takes 20 min­utes to go two miles (and that’s good!). Shane and I com­ment each time we go that we are glad we don’t have to expe­ri­ence traf­fic like this on a reg­u­lar basis. It’s a perk.

6. The oppor­tu­ni­ties to be involved in many aspects of the com­mu­nity. Get­ting involved is easy. There are so many ways to help this com­mu­nity, and we like get­ting involved, serv­ing oth­ers, and mak­ing our com­mu­nity a bet­ter place. I like to feel like my life mat­ters, that there is a pur­pose greater than myself, that I can use my gifts to help others.

7. My big back­yard. Hav­ing a huge gar­den and still enough space to run around and play games with the kids is amaz­ing. We don’t have neigh­bors beside us (on either side) or behind us. It’s quiet (when the neigh­bor down the street isn’t play­ing the drums!) and relaxing.My Backyard

8. The ecu­meni­cal nature of the churches here. We have a great diver­sity of churches here–all types of denom­i­na­tions. We even have a Mor­mon church. In large cities, peo­ple often get together with other churches from their same tribe (Bap­tists with Bap­tists; Pres­by­te­ri­ans with Pres­by­te­ri­ans; etc.). Here, though, since there is typ­i­cally only one church for each denom­i­na­tion, the churches work together, play together, and serve together. Recently, we had an ecu­meni­cal prayer walk. It was so neat to see all these peo­ple com­ing together to pray to our one God.

We do have peo­ple from other reli­gions liv­ing here, but I do not know of syn­a­gogues or mosques in the area; the great major­ity of peo­ple here are His­panic, and most of them are Catholic. 

9. The diver­sity. Even though I come from a big city where peo­ple from all walks of life live, I also live in a town that is extremely diverse. Approx­i­mately 80% of the pop­u­la­tion are racial minori­ties (45% His­panic, 30% African-American; 25% White). This is a very, very poor town, and my kids go to schools with other chil­dren they never would have been exposed to in the sub­urbs or in pri­vate schools (at least not at the same percentage–Elizabeth is one of 3 White kids in her entire class). The rate of peo­ple with col­lege degrees is very low, but it does allow for us all to learn from each other and to see how to live together even though we come from dif­fer­ent back­grounds and places.

10. Our church. I love the church com­mu­nity of which we are a part. Our church is at the top of our list on things I like best about this town. Great peo­ple with ser­vant hearts. I’m glad to be a mem­ber here. 

11. The teach­ers and prin­ci­pals and coun­selors and nurses and admin­is­tra­tors and para­pro­fes­sion­als and jan­i­tors at my daughter’s school who know our chil­dren and us very well. Attend­ing a small school has its perks, espe­cially how “every­one knows your name.” These peo­ple care for the chil­dren and know where they come from, which, I think, makes a dif­fer­ence in being able to meet (and exceed) each indi­vid­ual child’s needs.

12. The numer­ous small busi­nesses in the area. Many peo­ple who live here decide to open small busi­nesses. Retail stores. Quaint bou­tiques. Deli­cious restau­rants. Con­sign­ment shops. And other unique places. This entre­pre­neur men­tal­ity helps our com­mu­nity in many ways.

If you live in the coun­try, what do you like about it?
If you don’t live in the coun­try, what do you think you would like the most? The least?


Letting Go of Superwoman: Beginning the Process

Superwoman graphicI was at one of my rou­tine doc­tor appoint­ments last year, preg­nant with Levi. After hear­ing the baby’s heart­beat and fin­ish­ing the exam, my doc­tor, who was now see­ing me through my third (and final) preg­nancy, asked me how I was doing, how I was feel­ing about life and moth­er­hood and work and all the other com­mit­ments I have.

She has known me for sev­eral years, since the time before I took a tenure-track job, when I was just writ­ing my dis­ser­ta­tion. She is in her late 50s/early 60s and is the best doc­tor I’ve ever had (Shane even told her that he wishes she could be his doc­tor!).

I guess I looked stressed out or overwhelmed—I don’t know. But before I knew it, words and tears and emo­tions came gush­ing out, like water from an unmanned fire hydrant.

I feel guilty, this is what I told her.

Guilt in regards to my chil­dren: about being a work­ing mom; about not being there at some of their school events; about not tak­ing them to or pick­ing them up from school because I have an hour com­mute each day; about being so tired when I’m home; about being on my com­puter too much; about work­ing too much from home; about not being present when I’m with them; about yelling or scream­ing or being unforgiving.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my job: about hav­ing a fam­ily; about hav­ing chil­dren that pre­vent me from being as pro­duc­tive as some other of my col­leagues; about liv­ing so far away.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my hus­band: about him hav­ing to fill so many of the typ­i­cal “moth­er­hood” roles, such as doing the laun­dry, doing the dishes, putting the kids to bed, or cart­ing the kids to and from school each day, par­tic­u­larly when he did not ask for that or expect it (he is won­der­ful!); about every con­ver­sa­tion we have being about tenure; about being so exhausted in the evening that I fall asleep dur­ing a movie we’re watch­ing together; about him being the go-to par­ent so much of the time; about not hav­ing time to go out on dates (which we love to do); about being stressed, mean, rude, and selfish.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my sis­ters, fam­ily, and friends: about not keep­ing in touch bet­ter; about not being there more when I want to be; about tak­ing for­ever to send thank-you cards, or not even send­ing them at all; about not see­ing them as often as I like; about not notic­ing when they are strug­gling or going through a hard time; about not call­ing to say hi.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my house: about its messy state; about the clutter.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my role as a preacher’s wife: about not being able to teach Bible class because I have no time to prep; about not cook­ing a home­made meal each week for potluck; about not sign­ing up for nurs­ery duty because my hus­band needs me to be in there lis­ten­ing and sup­port­ing him as he preaches; about not fit­ting the typ­i­cal preacher’s wife role (what­ever that is); about being shy.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my body: about being over­weight; about using food to sti­fle my emo­tions; about not hav­ing time to exer­cise; about my body chang­ing through 3 preg­nan­cies and 2 c-sections.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my rela­tion­ship with God: about not pray­ing or read­ing the Bible as often as I desire; about going for weeks with­out even talk­ing to God; about won­der­ing who God is; about doubt, doubt­ing cer­tain things I grew up believ­ing but that I now question.

Guilt.

About every­thing.

Think­ing and talk­ing through many of the ways I was feel­ing guilty didn’t take too long (she is a busy doc­tor after all). When I was done, she said she under­stood. But she also told me to stop. Stop feel­ing so guilty about things. Just stop, she said. Stop feel­ing guilty about not liv­ing up to my own or society’s  expec­ta­tions of what makes a good mom, wife, employee, or friend. She pointed out that I wasn’t Super­woman; no woman is. And, yet, we all think we need to be her in order to be loved, admired, respected, or valued.

Her words res­onated with me. I went home from the doc­tor feel­ing bet­ter. I resolved not to feel guilty. My chil­dren love me, my hus­band loves me, my par­ents love me, my friends and fam­ily love me.

I can give up my per­fec­tion­ist ten­den­cies. I can­not do it all; I am not Super­woman. I can just be myself—that’s all I can be. But I don’t have to feel guilty anymore.


Anxiety Abatement: 12 Ways to Simplify Your Home

Today is the first post in my 12 series.

I write today about sim­pli­fy­ing your home by clear­ing out the clutter–physical clut­ter, such as toys, books, and decor; envi­ron­men­tal clut­ter that increases anx­i­ety; and emo­tional clut­ter like distraction.

I have my own issues with clut­ter. Last fall, I stayed home with my new baby. I work out­side of the home, but my won­der­ful uni­ver­sity gave me a semester-long mater­nity leave when I had my baby at the begin­ning of the term. Dur­ing this time at home–almost every sin­gle day–I came to real­ize that I did not like being at home. I was shocked by this rev­e­la­tion. I really thought I would like stay­ing at home.

I have a nice home. And I like my stuff. But I dis­liked being at home because of the con­stant mess. I didn’t like look­ing at the junk, and I mostly stayed in one or two rooms so that I didn’t have to see the rest of the house. Too much clutter.

I decided to do some­thing about it.

Today, I present to you 12 ways to sim­plify your home, to de-clutter your home so that you can find the emo­tional san­ity you need and truly live your life in focus. These items are not ranked in order of most impor­tant, but I chose to num­ber them to make it eas­ier to skim the list.

1. Con­sign, sell, or donate at least 2/3s of your toys. Seri­ously, do it. Over the past sev­eral months, I have been clean­ing out the toys. It’s been easy to get rid of the ones my kids have out­grown. If we don’t need it any­more, I’ve got­ten rid of it. I also tried to get rid of toys that limit cre­ativ­ity or orig­i­nal­ity, toys that come in such a pre-form pack­age that they do not allow chil­dren to use their imag­i­na­tion. My daughter’s Bar­bie dolls are the only things that I have yet to throw out in this vein. She has about 10 of them. I told her she can keep 2. She’s decid­ing which ones and then they are gone.

The hard­est part for me has been to dwin­dle down the toys to a very small stack. But I have tried. I only have one more room to do. The results? It’s been free­ing for my chil­dren. Their rooms are neater. Clean­ing up is not quite as big of a task. They don’t seem so stressed out or over­whelmed when I ask them to clean up. I’ve also noticed that they are play­ing more. They aren’t com­ing to me say­ing their bored. They know where their toys are, and they want to play with them and then pick them up. As I was sep­a­rat­ing the toys into con­sign­ment or dona­tion piles, I also added one more pile–a rotat­ing pile. I put the rotat­ing pile into one stor­age bin and moved it to our garage. Even­tu­ally, I will rotate the toys in the bin out with the toys in their room. My kids are enjoy­ing their clutter-free spaces. And I am enjoy­ing their bet­ter atti­tudes and their renewed inter­est in the toys they have.

2. Cook the same meals (or types of meals) each week. I like to cook gourmet meals. I like to eat good food. I like to watch cook­ing shows and dis­cover new recipes. And I must admit, I’m still try­ing to put this one into prac­tice. We have sim­pli­fied our weekly menu by insti­tut­ing Pizza Night, a tra­di­tion going strong for sev­eral years now. The prob­lem here is that I’m the only one who’s known about this weekly event. I cook and plan the menus and hav­ing one weekly meal on my list has made meal-planning and grocery-shopping eas­ier. My kids know that we have pizza a lot (it’s my daughter’s favorite food), but until recently, I didn’t call it Pizza Night. I am learn­ing, how­ever, that chil­dren need to expe­ri­ence antic­i­pa­tion, so I plan on com­mu­ni­cat­ing meals like “Pizza Night” to my chil­dren. Over the sum­mer, I plan to insti­tute “Meat­less Mon­day,” “Pasta Night,” and a “Mys­tery Dinner.”

If you were to take this tip one step fur­ther, you might even des­ig­nate the exact meal: chicken spaghetti, soup, chicken ten­ders, breakfast-for-dinner, lasagna, etc., so that the meals are sim­pli­fied even fur­ther. I don’t think this would work for me because of my own inter­ests as a cook, but if it works for you, great. Go for it. The goal here is to sim­plify meal-planning, cook­ing, and eat­ing and for all to expe­ri­ence joy at the din­ner table.

3. Get rid of all those extra cook­books on the shelf. Admit it, you prob­a­bly don’t use half the cook­books you have on the shelf. I just went and counted my cook­books. I have at least 50 (and I just got rid of about 30–still work­ing on the oth­ers!). I prob­a­bly only use 8 of them. But the oth­ers are spe­cial to me, so I’ve kept them. I still have too many, though. My sign should be that they don’t all fit on the book­shelf I have in my kitchen. Still trying…

4. Play a game. Indoor or out­door. As a fam­ily. With your child. By your­self. Play a pick-up game of bas­ket­ball. Play Horse or Knock-Out (I recently played this with my 7-year-old nephew and my brother-in-law Derek, and it brought back so many mem­o­ries of play­ing these games in mid­dle school and high school. I loved it!). Play a base­ball game where the trees in your back­yard are your bases. Play board games like Candy Land, Chess, Monop­oly, or Check­ers. Play Dou­ble 9 domi­noes, Uno, Spades, or Mem­ory. Any­thing your kid likes. Or, make up your own game, com­plete with mate­ri­als and rules.

5. Try to fil­ter out the adult world from your chil­dren. Try this for one week: No fights with your spouse. No neg­a­tive com­ments about other adults (friends, teach­ers, church peo­ple, the pres­i­dent, politi­cians, rel­a­tives, in-laws). No inap­pro­pri­ate con­tent com­ing to your chil­dren through the TV (espe­cially the morn­ing and evening news or cer­tain video games that can desen­si­tize us to vio­lence). Instead, be present with your chil­dren. Talk to them at the din­ner table or when they come inside from the back­yard. Lis­ten to them. Learn about their world, their inter­ests. And let me know how it goes.

6. Donate all those books on your book­shelf to your library. My hus­band and I both went to grad­u­ate school, where we were required to buy hun­dreds of books for our courses and our research. Most of those are at our respec­tive offices, but many have entered our home. If you don’t use it or think you will use it, get rid of it.

But grad­u­ate school books are the least of our wor­ries when it comes to books in the home. Nov­els, Chris­t­ian books, self-help books, biogra­phies, and children’s books are of much greater con­cern. I must admit that I am cheap when it comes to books. I don’t like to spend money on books. I go to the library at least once a week. Any book my local library doesn’t have I can get through my university’s inter­li­brary loan ser­vice (which is awe­some). That being said, I still have a lot of books. Peo­ple give books to me because I am an Eng­lish teacher, and, hey, I like books. But I don’t like books to clut­ter my shelves. I used to think hav­ing books in your home was a sign of intel­li­gence and bril­liance and being smart. Just think of all those movies where smart, rich peo­ple have these amaz­ing libraries with the mov­able lad­der. But now I don’t really care to live up to that stan­dard. Books and book­shelves lead to clut­ter. So, get rid of your books. Get­ting rid of the children’s books has been the hard­est part for me. I put some of them in the rotat­ing pile and got rid of at least three shelves’ worth. I now have three shelves of books–one shelf for each kid. That’s still a lot, I know. But we do read a lot and we read a lot of the same books, so I’ve kept a few.

7. Con­sign or donate your unworn clothes. Seri­ously, do it. It is lib­er­at­ing. Go through your clothes, your spouse’s clothes, your kids clothes. Con­sign clothes that don’t fit or that are out of style. If you have gained or lost a lot of weight recently, get rid of the clothes in the dif­fer­ent size. Even if you lose that weight (or gain it back), those clothes will be out of style. And it will make you feel bet­ter when you are get­ting dressed each day not to be star­ing at those other sizes.

8. Turn off the TV. At least 2 days a week, no TV allowed. Try it. It’s amaz­ing how much more time you have to do things you love to do–and things that will make you feel so much bet­ter about your­self than watch­ing 4 hours of TV every night. Read, write, cook, eat, talk, scrap­book, exer­cise. Find a pas­sion and turn off that screen.

9. When you feel your­self get­ting over­whelmed at the mess, take 15 min­utes to do a quick pick-up of the house. Toys and mess can be over­whelm­ing for adults, too, and set­ting a limit on how much time you spend pick­ing up is good for you, too. Get the kids involved. Make it a game. We did this recently and it was the fastest, most fun clean-up we’ve ever had. I set the timer and pro­vided an incre­men­tal count­down of how much time we had left. The older kids were so excited. They kept com­ing back to ask, “How much more time?!!” Fun will be had by all.

10. Read more. Take the time to read that moun­tain of books on your night­stand. You will have more to con­tribute to dis­cus­sions with your hus­band or your friends. You will learn some­thing. You will feel good about your­self. You will grow as a per­son.

11. Make it a goal to have 2 entire days or evenings of unstruc­tured time at home. Noth­ing planned. Noth­ing sched­uled. Except being with your fam­ily and let­ting your kids run free. They can know you are there and come to you when they need you, but don’t plan an activity–even in the home. If your kids get bored, tell them, “Well, then, some­thing amaz­ing is about to hap­pen.” Just be. Your kids will appre­ci­ate it in the long run. And you will, too.

12. Pray more, and dwell in the pres­ence of the Lord as often as pos­si­ble. In the rush of my busy life, I must admit that per­sonal time with God often gets lost first. I used to have quiet time in the morn­ing. But with young chil­dren, such a goal is ide­al­is­tic rather than real­is­tic, and I won’t beat myself up over not being able to have this peace­ful time the same way I did as a sin­gle woman. Instead, I have learned–through the gen­tle love of some older, wiser women–how to inte­grate prayer and God into my day rather than save a sin­gle time or space for it. I like this idea. I’m still not very good at it, though. I am try­ing, though.

This list is far from com­pre­hen­sive. These changes take time. Change is a process, not a one-time fix. I merely offer some things that have worked for me. They’ve helped make our fam­ily closer. They’ve allowed my kids to open up to me in ways they hadn’t before. They’ve decreased my own anx­i­ety and have helped me deal with the feel­ings I have being in my own home.

What tips do you have to make your home a peace­ful place?


Crazy Woman, Part II

In my last post about run­ning around like a crazy woman, I dis­cussed how par­ents tend to over-schedule and over-extend their kids. Between sports, music, dance, and all sorts of other lessons, our chil­dren are not allowed enough time for unstruc­tured play, or free play time. Accord­ing to the author of Sim­plic­ity Par­ent­ing such lack of free time is harm­ful to our kids.

Why? Many rea­sons, but one that res­onated with me had to do with sports. I played team sports as a young child. In sports, rules are already cre­ated. Chil­dren play­ing struc­tured sports (whether team or indi­vid­ual) must adapt to the rules. In unstruc­tured play, how­ever, chil­dren make up their own rules. They use their imag­i­na­tion. They are cre­ative. They work with oth­ers to problem-solve how they can play a pick up game of bas­ket­ball. What will the rules be? What is accept­able behav­ior and play?

Today, I give a brief anec­dote. Sat­ur­day, my old­est two chil­dren had t-ball games. They had team pic­tures hours before their games. My hus­band is coach­ing both teams so he had to be there early for both pic­tures. They came home after the pic­tures to pick me and the baby up.

I woke up around 6:30 that morn­ing. I packed a bag for my baby Levi (food for lunch, 2 bot­tles, dia­pers, wipes, and all the other stuff babies need–except sun­screen, I for­got that). I packed a lunch for both kids to eat before or after their game, depend­ing on which kid it was. I packed drinks and snacks for them and me dur­ing the games. I found my chair and a kid’s chair and set it out to be loaded in the car, along with the stroller for Levi. It was my turn to bring snacks for the girls’ game, so I also packed snacks and drinks for the team. I got the cam­era and the video cam­era and the base­ball and soft­ball bags and on and on and on.

I was busy load­ing and pack­ing and get­ting myself ready for over 2 hours (yes, it didn’t take this long). What I haven’t yet mentioned–and the main point of this story–is that while the kids were tak­ing team pic­tures at the fields with their daddy and I was pack­ing and prepar­ing for the games, 8-month-old Levi–poor Levi– sat on the floor cry­ing uncon­trol­lably. Not just cry­ing, but scream­ing. With his head bent over on the floor. From 6:30–9:15 am, except when he was drink­ing his bot­tle, the lit­tle guy was crying.

You see, what my words up there did not express in the telling of the details of my morn­ing were the emo­tions going on–the feel­ing of my home at that moment. I was tense. I was stressed. I was try­ing hard not to for­get any­thing.

I was run­ning around the house like a crazy woman. I was not set­ting a good tone or rhythm or pace to my life.

And lit­tle Levi was the one telling me how much my schedule–our schedule–was impact­ing his lit­tle life.You see, even though I was hav­ing to do a lot of prepa­ra­tion for the games, Levi was the one most impacted by his sib­lings’ sched­ules. He was the one miss­ing out on mommy-and-me time. Right when he wanted it the most. Levi wanted me to stop what I was doing–to pause for a moment. He was beg­ging me to STOP. To sit on the floor with him. To make faces. To play peek-a-book. To tickle him. To do all those things I love to do but didn’t have the time for that day because of our plan.

Levi wanted his mom, and I was not there.

He also wanted a peace­ful home. A home free of anx­i­ety and ten­sion. A home full of spon­ta­neous moments.

When Eliz­a­beth was 8-months-old, we didn’t have t-ball games. There were no older sib­lings. The same is true for Pey­ton. But Levi, he just wanted some time to play on his own or with me and expe­ri­ence a care­free day, but instead his whole day–even long before the game started–was spent cry­ing because no one was pay­ing atten­tion to him. Because the house he lived in was full of one busy queen bee run­ning around and sting­ing all those who stood in her path.

My mommy heart ached see­ing this child so upset. I wanted more than any­thing to hold him and soothe him (I tried, of course, but he could read my motives, which said, “Please stop cry­ing so that I can fin­ish what I need to get done.”). But I needed to fin­ish my tasks (due to a com­pli­cated sched­ule we cre­ated). So, Levi’s needs were not met. The sched­ules of his older sib­lings deter­mined his day and set the tone for him. And he did not like it.

As they age, younger chil­dren must get more used to being carted around to prac­tices and per­for­mances and games because they do not throw the same type of fit that Levi threw on Sat­ur­day. But Levi’s 8-month-old self was speak­ing to the very depths of my soul when he told me, “Slow down. Hold me. Pay atten­tion to me. The other stuff is not as important.”

I am learn­ing lessons from my babes. What les­son have you learned lately?


Running around Like a Crazy Woman: Why Less Is More

Simplicity Parenting book coverI am cur­rently read­ing Sim­plic­ity Par­ent­ing: Using the Extra­or­di­nary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Hap­pier and More Secure Kids. This book, by Kim John Payne, a school coun­selor and an edu­ca­tional con­sul­tant, has chal­lenged me to re-think the way I par­ent my chil­dren. He has encour­aged me to con­sider the ways my good inten­tions as a par­ent may have neg­a­tive con­se­quences on my child. This book is chal­leng­ing, provoca­tive, and inspiring.

Right now, Eliz­a­beth is 6 years old. She is play­ing t-ball. Begin­ning next week, we will have prac­tice or games 3 nights a week.

Pey­ton is 4 years old. He is play­ing t-ball. Eliz­a­beth and Pey­ton are not on the same team. Shane (my hus­band) is the assis­tant coach of Elizabeth’s team and the head coach of Peyton’s team.

For the next 8 weeks, we are going to be eat­ing, breath­ing, sleep­ing, and think­ing t-ball. T-ball every night of the week, except Wednes­day when we have church. T-ball on many Sat­ur­days. Sev­eral nights, both kids have a game, so we’ll be at the t-ball fields for close to 4 hours.

But we love t-ball. We like that our chil­dren are engag­ing in activ­i­ties (we think) they (will) like. I enjoy chat­ting with other par­ents and get­ting to know adults and chil­dren in our small com­mu­nity. We like that our chil­dren feel good about them­selves by play­ing and accom­plish­ing some­thing. We like to be Jesus to the com­mu­nity by serv­ing them. We like being involved. We like our kids start­ing and fin­ish­ing something.

But that’s not all. In the Win­ter, Eliz­a­beth played bas­ket­ball. In the Fall, Eliz­a­beth and Pey­ton both played soc­cer. And through it all, we had a new­born baby who is now 8 months old to cart around.

I pause now to ask myself, “What are we doing to our chil­dren by enrolling them in all these extracur­ric­u­lar activities?”

In the United States, par­ents are told the fol­low­ing dom­i­nant nar­ra­tive: “You must enroll your chil­dren in as many activ­i­ties as pos­si­ble at very a young age. The more the bet­ter. Bal­let. Dance. Swim­ming. Soc­cer. Sum­mer camps. Team sports. Indi­vid­ual sports. And on and on.”

Just look at some of the exam­ples of prodigy kids. Tiger Woods began golf at 2 years old. Andre Agassi started play­ing ten­nis around age 4. Cild actors like Drew Bar­ry­more and the Olsen twins began act­ing when they were young. I’m sure there are numer­ous other sto­ries (if you know of some, leave them in the comments).

In short, if you want your child to be good at some­thing, start them early on the activity/task. Mal­colm Glad­well even points out in Out­liers that to become good at some­thing, per­fect at it, you must put in over 10,000 hours of practice.

So what have we done to make our chil­dren suc­cess­ful? We begin early. We want them to reach that 10,000 hour mark well before their teenagers and it is deemed too late. Just con­sider the book The Bat­tle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua (which I will write about soon). If you haven’t read it, you’ve prob­a­bly heard about the book (it was quite con­tro­ver­sial) and her “Chi­nese way of par­ent­ing.” The author–a law pro­fes­sor at Yale–spent count­less hours every sin­gle day mak­ing sure her chil­dren had mas­tered the piano and vio­lin. They prac­ticed all the time–literally. Even on vaca­tion. Every­where. Every. Sin­gle. Day.

But Sim­plic­ity Par­ent­ing asks a sim­ple ques­tion really, “Why?” 

Why do we do this to our chil­dren? What do they really gain through these activ­i­ties? And what is the cost of this atti­tude of more, more, and more? What are the results of our over-scheduled, over-stimulated, busy lives? Espe­cially on our children?

Through­out the book, he answers these ques­tions, and in quite provoca­tive terms. Put sim­ply, he says that “less is more.” Seems sim­ple, but when you unpack this idea in terms of sched­ules, tele­vi­sion, screen time, clut­ter, toys, your day hav­ing a rhythm, order, and flow, stress, antic­i­pa­tion, sleep, food and eat­ing, an ordi­nary day, and fil­ter­ing out the adult world from your chil­dren, you can see how this idea becomes even more convicting.

Less is more.

We have for­got­ten the gift of boredom.

Less is more.

Our chil­dren need unstruc­tured play time.

Less is more.

We need to clear away the clutter.

Less is more.

The true power of less is that it cre­ates smarter and more imag­i­na­tive, ener­getic, inde­pen­dent, cre­ative, self-confident kids. Kids that know how to solve prob­lems, get along well with oth­ers, fig­ure things out, and build a deep rela­tion­ship with their par­ents and others.

Sim­plic­ity par­ent­ing is worth the try.

For those of you inter­ested in learn­ing more about the book, you might like to watch this infor­ma­tive four-minute video by the author.