Our house is empty, our things are packed. In the flurry of these last few weeks I have, multiple times, shoved all of my belongings into various cabinets, boxes and suitcases. Needless to say, I’m ready to take a little break as Andrew and I travel to see family before jetting off to our new home. In my absence here I’ll be breaking in a new journal and wearing out an old pair of shoes, and I’ll tell you all about it when I get back.
I recently finished reading the book Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living by Tsh Oxenreider, recommended to me by a good friend. It was incredibly inspiring.
Tsh writes about pragmatic ways to live a simple, organized life, and outlines a comprehensive plan to turn your home into a clean, well-managed place through ten steps. She also delves into the emotional and spiritual realm, discussing how clutter and chaos can negatively impact our ability to live life on our own terms. To be controlled by one’s objects is to not to have life to the full, she writes, but to be steered by the society of more, the attitude of the consumer.
The more I think about our impending move, the less I want to own, to schlep in luggage through airports and across oceans to a new place. I’ve done plenty of work to get to where we are now — i.e., to where all of our stuff fits in our little 900-square-foot house — but reading this book revealed to me some junky places in my heart in addition to the junky places in my home.
As I read through the ten steps, in which Tsh outlines a plan to comb through every detail of every room, I kept a notepad by me on which to jot down any notes that came to mind as I mentally walked through our home with her guidance. I ended up filling an entire notebook page with ideas for things I wanted to sort or get rid of. Within a week I was taking it all to the charity shop. This meant drastically reducing the size of our record collection, tossing out dingy college t-shirts and home decor items, and researching how to responsibly dispose of old prescription medications. I discarded old makeup and unused scrapbooking materials, organized our toiletries and first aid kit, corralled all of the many electronics wires and culled our collection of orphan pens. I disbanded the concept of a junk drawer and, thanks to a little bug infestation, ended up cleaning out and reorganizing our kitchen pantry. Now I know where everything is. Now I know exactly what I have. Now I have control over these objects in a way that, before, they had ownership over me.
One of the most important concepts in the book is the idea of purpose. Tsh describes simple living as “living holistically with your life’s purpose,” and one of the first exercises she encourages in her book is to create a family purpose statement. This will guide the direction of your life, yes, but will also determine the purpose of your home, which will further direct how the home is curated. Is your family purpose statement focused on friendships and hospitality? This will be reflected in the warmth of your home and the diligence with which you maintain it — ready to host at a moment’s notice. Is your purpose statement centered upon environmental stewardship and the love of the outdoors? This will be reflected in your commitment to reduce, reuse and recycle.
Andrew and I are still working on our family purpose statement, but I loved this concept. How refreshing to have a team decision already formulated about life goals and the purpose of our home. We often discuss these things — how we want to live, what we value, etc — but to have a fully-composed vision to turn to when making decisions will be helpful in pursuing our goals to streamline and simplify.
Another aspect of Organized Simplicity was an insistence on the value of relationships over objects. One of the factors that is contributing to our general de-socialization, Tsh writes, is the importance placed on getting more over loving more, being more. We are so consumed with buying, collecting and earning that we forget to care, to establish a home base, to spend quality time with loved ones. I know that everyone in the country isn’t this way, but I concede that there is a reason that we are more “connected” than ever and yet feel more isolated. This phrase — “value relationships over objects” — will definitely become a part of our family purpose statement.
Tsh ties in all of this organizational theory with personal values: her commitment to living a life glorifying to God, one that is in harmony with the environment, one that is simple and frugal and full and rich. She advocates homemade body and home care products as a way to save money and limit exposure to toxic ingredients. She homeschools her children because she values the freedom to travel and individualize the curriculum in accordance with her kids’ personalities. She values debt-free living and rigorous savings plans, and outlines her budgeting system in great detail.
But she does not push for us to do more just for the sake of it. She does not want her reader to feel compelled to take on meal planning and DIY deodorant-making just because she says so. There is purpose behind her every action, behind her every word — and it is to cultivate a simple life. A life that is good and bountiful and beautiful in its slowness, in its attention to detail.
This is the sort of life I want to live. (I also want to be her friend.)
How I’m implementing Organized Simplicity:
1. Getting back to a budget.
2. Tightening up my spending.
3. Bringing less into and taking more out of our home.
4. Composing a family purpose statement.
5. Making my own household cleaners.
6. Letting go of objects; releasing the hold they have over me.
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I’ve started reading 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker, and I’m finding it to be the perfect follow-up to this book. This prayer is the lodestone of her work — “Jesus, let there be less of me and my junk and more of you and your kingdom.” Amen.
The span of events between this day last year and this day this year have been immense. Last year’s birthday was a pretty wonderful one. Andrew and I had just returned from our honeymoon in Hawaii, and I got to spend a few blissful days with him and my family at the farm in Arkansas, soaking up the lush, rolling gold of the hay fields, gin & tonics and cookouts. We had a birthday cake and ice cream, we watched movies and languished in the summer heat, and it was all very quiet and small, we four together.
My parents gave me a beautiful antique locket with my new-last-name initials engraved on the back — purchased at the vintage store that way, mind you — and blurry photos of someone else’s beloved inside. I treasure it.
Now, birthday gifts aren’t near as important as the one-on-one time spent with my parents, the pets, my grandparents, my great-grandfather, and a few choice friends from back home. This year I flew back to Arkansas alone to revel in a few days of my favorite things and people — sangria by the pool with college roommates and childhood besties, cooking dinner for my family, falling asleep with the windows open to the sound of peepers and cicadas by the pond. A run along the gravel backroads, past grazing cattle and ponds. Immense sunrises filtered through the tangle of tomato plants. Chickens pecking at the flower beds, cats curling around my ankles, my parents just within hugging distance. This, this is what I treasure. This is the best birthday gift I could have asked for.
Twenty-three marks and entirely new set of challenges than did twenty-two. I will live somewhere else, I will possible go back to school and start a new career, I will write and run and struggle and strive, I will try my best to love and be loved. Somehow, it feels a little more important than the year before, as if all of those past experiences are building up with more pressure to create something bigger, more powerful, in this upcoming 365 days.
And what have I learned in twenty-three years on this earth? Oh, the same things I seem to learn and re-learn every year. To think before I speak. To put on mascara before I leave the house. To pay attention to people and details, to listen, to give abundantly despite my best efforts at selfishness. To enjoy a homemade chocolate cake but not too much or too often. To move and pray every day. To let go of regret and focus on making tomorrow a better day. To speak kindness and love or nothing at all. To think twice before making a purchase, to save rather than spend. To fight like hell for those I love. To loosen up. To eat more vegetables. To send a handwritten note or make a quick phone call.
So, happy birthday to me. Cheers to twenty-three years of lessons learned, good and bad, the hard way and the easy way. Cheers to family and friends, to a home that is steadfast and welcomes me no matter where I come from. Cheers to homemade cake and loyal pups and birthday presents that can’t come from any store. I’ll toast to that.