I'm Heather - lifestyle photographer & homeschooling mama. We choose simple and slow. Freedom and fresh air. And I like to make things beautiful.

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Embracing Rest by Embracing Less

Recently I was asked to speak at a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) meeting about embracing rest. Despite feeling like a hypocrite (hello busy season!) with a loaded schedule as a freelance photographer and mama, I still feel really passionately about living a fuller life and wanted to share from our own experiences about how we do that. For all the ladies who were there and couldn't write fast enough, here's what I talked about :)

The prompt I was given that felt like familiar territory and resounded with our family philosophy and lifestyle was this: What if the best way to flourish is to rest and play?

When we decided I would be stay at home mom, it was tough. (Check out my previous posts Full & Less and What do you DO all day? | Why I chose to be a Stay at Home Mom) We went from two incomes, apartment living and no debt, to one income, a mortgage and now two babies. We had to seriously reevaluate our priorities and make due with less "luxuries." TV was gone. We stopped eating out (in the beginning - now date nights are a regular occurrence and necessity), stopped going to movies, curbed shopping - basically a complete halt on all spending that wasn't a necessity. It was painful at first. I remember feeling chained down and limited by our new life, but eventually we found new substitutes to fill in the holes. Like tending a garden and cooking from scratch. Like biking instead of driving. Like playing with kids instead of watching a show. Life all of a sudden got so much...fuller. It was less, but full. And I had rest. Sure with babies it's not 8 hours of straight sleep, but it's a leisurely breakfast with a quiet morning playing on the floor or an impromptu afternoon stroll. I wasn't keeping up with anyone. I wasn't working for someone. I was the queen of my domain and I got to tend it all day long. Suddenly I got to spend time with my children, pursue my creative interests (something I would never have gotten to do working a full time job), and take care of the house and upkeep during the day. I also had time to grocery shop and prepare meals so that when JD came home we could spend more time living and less time "maintaining."

But even as a stay at home mom, I struggle with balance. I'm a compulsive project completer, and I find it hard to rest and be present with my kids unless everything is done. I come from a typical Midwestern farm family that prized hard work and integrity above all else. That translates to perseverance and perfectionism which is great when you need to get a job done, but it's awful if you want to - need to - take a moment to relax and refuel. It's like I can't allow myself to relax and enjoy "free time" if there are tasks to be done. (Side note: "free time" doesn't exist - it always costs something.) One of the mental shifts I've been trying to make is recognizing there is a time for work, but perhaps more importantly a time for play. It's going to take a long time before I strike a balance everyday, but I'll get there. I'm always fighting the compulsion to do the dishes or fold the laundry before playing with the kids. It's a sickness at times - that need to finish a job. But then there are those great moments of clarity when your daughter comes up to you while you're working and invites you to a tea party and you just know in your soul that it's the most important thing in the world to drop everything and go with her. (For a major mommy fail in this area, see this post. It's still a heart-wrencher.)
So as I've pondered rest, I'm beginning to realize that the things that rob us of rest are misspent time and money. Time spent maintaining what we have and money we work for to buy what we don't have. My approach to embracing rest? Embrace less.
This idea of less/life hacks/minimalism all started when we became a one-income family and it quickly infiltrated every area of our lives. Here are a few tangible things we've done to make life easier. 

1. Wardrobe: Six months after having Alice, my weight finally stabilized and I had a new body to accept. It was softer and rounder and not the one I graduated high school with, but it was mine and I was still beautiful. I found that dressing my shape was a challenge, but I just needed a formula. Wrap dresses compliment by hourglass shape and skirts that flow away from my hips make me look my best, so that is what I buy now. Sure I have few pairs of pants, but what I have in my closet makes me feel smokin' and I won't make room for anything else. Why bother wasting time and self-esteem looking through clothes in which you don't feel good about yourself? Now that I have a streamlined selection, I do not spend time standing around wondering what to wear. Less clothes = less decisions = fuller life. Done.

A few previous posts on my minimalist wardrobe choices here:

The key is that it's liberating to give yourself permission to be content with less. Cut out the empty decisions and full hangers. Give yourself the assurance that anything you choose looks great on you and makes you happy.

2. House clutter: Do you spend loads of time corralling clutter before you even start cleaning? Do piles of stuff crop up and paralyze you or send you into procrastination mode because they are too overwhelming? Clutter around the house sucks rest right out our lives. If you can make intentional decisions about ridding yourself of your stuff, you'll find you spend less time picking up, cleaning, yelling at kids to clean, and less time being frazzled, frustrated, and overwhelmed by your belongings. The best way to begin is pick a drawer, a closet, a basket, a room, and go through it. What do you use? What do you need? What do you love? Anything else should go. Once you consolidate and centralize like items, you can discard multiples. You do not need three potato mashers. You do not need grandma's doilies. You do not need the knick-knack curio cabinet full of things. Again, if it brings you joy, keep it, but if it doesn't and it isn't useful, let it go. And most importantly: don't feel obligated to keep something because it was a gift. If it was a family heirloom and you don't want it to leave the family, find a cousin or aunt or sibling to share it with. But please, don't keep your house full of stuff because you don't want to hurt someone's feelings. They wanted to bring you joy, not rob you of it.

JD and I have pared down to the essentials and joy-giving things and it feels so liberating not to be weighed down with empty belongings and a tote-filled closet/attic/basement. You probably don't need 2/3 of what you own. How far can you go?

3. Kid clutter: one of the sad realizations I made when having Alice was: kids = stuff. Gifts and papers and all manner of objects find themselves scooting into our house along with her and it can be hard to remember at times that you have control over it. You - yes, you, the parent - are the monitor of what crosses your threshold. JD and I have been fairly lucky in that family members and friends give very thoughtful and imagination-driven gifts at birthdays and holidays, but we still get a fair amount of hand me downs and odds and ends that don't interest the kids or jive with our family philosophy. We always keep a box or bag in a closet that is bound for the thrift store that at any time we can add to when a toy is no longer age appropriate or of interest. When the bag fills up, it goes. The time leading up to the holidays is a great time of year to get kids on board with decluttering because they will have more toys coming in. Helping them practice evaluating what they love and play with v. what they don't really like anymore is good for them, and when you tell them that it could bring joy to another little boy or girl they will be excited to let things go. You could sneak things out in the middle of the night, but chances are they will catch you at it and it could bruise their trust in you, and you would also be robbing them and yourself of a great life lesson to grow.

One of the things we also realized is that too many toys = white noise, over-stimulation, indecision, and boredom. They get so overwhelmed by the selection of toys that they can't decide on just one or they get easily distracted by another after a minute and pretty soon they're off terrorizing a different part of the house because the mess was too much for them. This is especially true when it comes time to clean. If Alice has dumped all her toys and the floor is strewn with blocks and cars and accessories and who knows what, she's paralyzed when I ask her to pick up. It's daunting! You know how it feels to stare down a pile of paperwork that you don't quite know how to start. It's absolutely overwhelming and our children experience those same feelings. By only getting a few things out at a time, they will be able to more fully enjoy their toys and when it is time to pick them up it is much easier to manage.

4. Personal routines: I promise I am not a hippy, but I now shower only twice a week. By doing this I save 5 hours a week easily because I am no longer blowdrying my mane or trying to sneak in a scrub. On my non-shower days, I wash my face, do my makeup if I'm going anywhere, and done! So simple!! 

I also just gave myself permission to not give myself pedicures for the winter. My tootsies are taking a break and I'm so relieved! They had started chipping and I was about to give them a new coat of polish when I had the epiphany: it's winter. I wear socks in winter. No one sees my toes in winter. Why waste my time making them pretty? So glad I can let it go til next Spring. Maybe I should add shaving my legs to that vein of logic...;)

5. The phone: I have an old flip phone. I can text and call, and I have access to a computer during the day to email and blog and edit, but when I'm not working, I have zero compulsion to see what the world is doing - it's wonderful!

A close friend of mine just sold her iPhone and went back to a "dumb phone." She told me she would get to the end of the day and not remember being present in it because she was always down the rabbit hole of what her phone could offer her. Keeping up with conversations, social media, articles, research - all good things, but left unchecked it stole her whole day and the feeling of being grounded in the reality around her. Now that she's removed the temptation of the constant checking in, she feels so much lighter and present with her son and life. Could you do that? Could you even just put your phone away for the afternoon? Could you make a pact not to pull it out every time you twitch for it? These are habits to unlearn, but you can still choose to make a new way.

6. Digital clutter: The clutter hiding in my email, social media, and blogs can get out of control really fast. I clean out my inbox daily and unsubscribe from promotional emails quarterly. All of those emails with their expiring discounts and new products add up to a lot of stress for me and it gets to a point where I don't even want to open them. I make a mental note that if I would rather delete it than open it, I need to take a second to unsubscribe. It's also a great idea to unsubscribe from blogs if you're no longer interested in them. My RSS feed had a couple dozen at one time but as my life, priorities, and interests have evolved I now have 5. And when it comes to facebook, I clean house every other year or so. There are a lot of great people out there, but I don't need to be friends with them all - and they don't need to see my life. If strolling through your newsfeed causes you anxiety or repulsion, hide posts or unfollow that person. You get to control what you see for the most part. 

7. Schedules: Right now at 1 and 3 years old, our kids are not in anything. They are too young to be athletes or musicians or experts at anything, and I will cherish this time of a slow pace. But some of my friends with littles are not so lucky. Here in Blair there is an entire culture around having kids involved in a slew of activities. Dance, karate, soccer, piano...the list goes on. These are all good things - healthy things - but it's important to take a step back and ask yourself why do I put my kid in this? Is it for her or me? Are they in too much? Do they just need more down time to play at home and relax? Are they in sports because everyone else is? Am I afraid of being seen as a restrictive parent depriving them of invaluable experiences? Is our family life suffering from the lack of time to spend together? Does something need to give?

I have a long history of over-committing and allowing myself to dwindle nothing. It wasn't until after college that I wised up and started saying no. Ministries are great, but you don't need to do everything. Pick one thing to invest in and make room for rest in your life. This year I chose to commit to Bible Study Fellowship. Spending time in God's word has become dear to me and after being invited multiple years to join, I finally said yes. It's work - three hours a week of reading and meditating, and every Wednesday we drive to Fremont to spend time discussing and learning, but it is wonderful. And not only am I closer to God and others, but so is Alice. Just last week Alice chose Jesus (full story here) and BSF had a hand in it. This is the one thing aside from my business I want to invest in and I am happy to keep it minimal. 

8. Vehicles: For a time JD and I made due with one car. (Post here.) JD carpooled with a friend to Omaha for work and I rarely needed to go out, and when it was local it was easy enough to hook up the trailer and ride our bike around town. Eventually we outgrew our little neon and outright bought a great used Volvo wagon (buying with cash is powerful!), but have you ever wondered if you could do without one of your vehicles? If you have three, could you just use two? Think of the insurance and taxes and payments you could save!

9. Purchases: since living on one income, my fun money curtailed to a mere allowance and I have to be much more thoughtful about what I'm going to buy. Instead of buying whatever strikes my fancy at Target, I usually spend months deliberating over an item before purchasing it. I also used to spend loads of time on the internet, browsing my favorite sites to see what new thing I absolutely needed. After being forced to think it through, I have found that more often than not I never needed that item and was glad I didn't buy it. My buyer's remorse is very seldom now and the time I have saved from on-line browsing has probably given me weeks back! Finding contentment with what I already have and not feeling compelled to buy something to find happiness has been so helpful to my own mental state and that of our marriage. 

For us minimalism has become a family philosophy and goes hand in hand with sustainability. Cloth diapers, recycling, using non-disposable items like cloth napkins and towels instead of paper towels, gardening, biking, using norwex cloths for everything, composting - it's all a great remedy for the disposable, indulgent culture we live in, and it's that old-fashioned quality of life we're after. 
I know minimalism requires work, but sometimes in order to rest you have to get your hands dirty first. Think long term, not immediate gratification. This is not about scheduling a pedicure or a massage or adding one more thing to your life - this is about taking things away. Making room in your life for rest. You're creating a lifestyle and habits that will allow you to make a rhythm of rest for years to come. In order to do that, you need to spend some time reflecting. Introspection. You know, turn your phone off and do some thinking. Ask yourself the hard questions and actually answer them. And this is the perfect time of year to reflect! What are you grateful for? What has God brought you through? Where do you want to go? What do you want God to change in you?

Below are some more great questions to get you started...

Do I need to embrace my shape and adjust my wardrobe accordingly? What can I begin letting go of in my closet? Do I feel obligated to hang on to things? Am I holding on to unrealistic hopes? Do I really need my pre-kid jeans? Do I really need 20 pairs of pants? Are there clothes in my wardrobe that are just plain dated and ugly?

What cupboard/drawer/room/closet/nook and cranny can I go through TODAY? What can I consolidate and centralize? What multiples can I discard? 

Could I keep my phone in my pocket for longer? Could I go back to a flip phone?

What activity could I cut out of my/our schedule in order to spend more time together? How could I make more family meals a priority? 

Could we get rid of one of our cars and make it work? 

Is there a TV show I could cut out? A magazine? Online browsing? Email notifications?

Could we become a one-income family?

Could we downsize our house and yard to have more time to play and less time "maintaining" (cleaning, mowing)?

Am I a retail therapy expert? Do I get a high from impulse buys? Does my heart quicken at the thought of walking through Target and seeing their gloriously trivial end caps? Do the words "indulgent," "entitled," or "deserving" pepper my vocabulary when I justify purchases? Could I go on a spending fast for a week? A month? Could I give up a luxury in order to practice denying myself indulgence and entitlement?

What could I let go of in my life to feel fuller? 

I hope beyond anything that you are not overwhelmed but empowered. This is not about changing all at once, but taking baby steps and moving through your house and life with purpose and intentionality. For some of you, this is a radical, welcome wake-up call and you will be motivated to change everything right now. But for some it will be a slower transition, and that is great too. Start with one thing, get a feel for how to let go, make your formula, and get excited to tackle the next thing. Pretty soon you will have new mindset and approach to life and I hope that once you've embraced less, you will truly find rest. 

Cheers to full and less and rest.

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