New blog

Hello all,

I’ve really enjoyed blogging since joining the WordPress community and I’ve decided to create a more personal, custom blog at www.themulberrypatch.com. It is a lifestyle blog featuring the things I’m most passionate about – slow living, mindful parenting, health, fitness – all with a focus on living simply and intentionally.

I’ll still be posting occasionally here, but I hope those of you who do follow me will also join me in this new space.

Namaste,

Kristin

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Creating a simple home and self

In my very first post, I talked about the importance of owning only what we absolutely need. Today, I’d like to elaborate on what that means. A common complaint of minimalism is that it can leave a person’s home and life looking and feeling sterile. However, that doesn’t have to be the case on your simple living journey. The simple living philosophy isn’t about owning next to nothing. Instead, it focuses on keeping only the things that add value to your life.

Francine Jay, author of the blog Miss Minimalist and her book The Joy of Less, writes about how we can organize our stuff into three categories: useful stuff, beautiful stuff, and emotional stuff. Useful stuff are the practical things you need in your day to day life. This includes clothes to keep you warm, a house to shield you from the elements, cooking utensils to prepare your food, etc. Beautiful stuff includes items that make you feel happy or cozy, such as a piece of artwork that is visually stimulating, or throw pillows that add comfort and beauty to your living space. Emotional stuff is the trickiest of categories. This includes items that have strong memories or nostalgic value attached to them. These items are often the hardest to declutter and can also be the cause of clutter chaos.

It is important to keep the useful stuff in our lives, but it is also essential to not loose elements of our life that are also lovely or have sentimental meaning. It is the beautiful and emotional stuff which accounts for our sense of self and how we wish to be viewed in the world. The idea of keeping objects in your life may sound counter intuitive when the ultimate goal is to simplify, but I assure you it’s not. Instead, it is a call to really look at and analyze the items you surround yourself with. What do you need? What adds value? What makes you feel like you? Most importantly, how do you decide what objects fulfill those qualities?

A good exercise to help determine what should be kept and what should be tossed is actually pretty simple (but I wouldn’t say painless!).

  • Get 2 containers of some sort. You don’t have to go out and buy one. An old box, a hamper, or even a trash bag will do.
  • Dedicate one container as “trash” and the other as “I don’t know.” I recommend starting with one space at a time and then really diving into the objects you own to decide if they should stay or go. As you go through your belongings, put back the ones you want to keep and set aside the ones that are trash or that you aren’t sure about yet. This may take a day or it could take a month. It really just depends on your situation and the amount of stuff you own.
  • Dump the trash. This is the easiest part. Usually the items that make it into this basket are a no brainer. You don’t want them or need them and it feels so good when you finally get rid of them. When you go to “throw away” these items, make sure you are doing it responsibly. If there are items that could be useful to someone else, donate or sell them.
  • Tuck away the “I don’t know.” Close this container up and mark a date on your calendar when you will revisit the contents. More than likely, a majority of the items will be emotional ones. You may even have a few “beautiful” items as well. When you revisit your box, ask yourself: did I miss this? If the answer is no, then it gets tossed. If you still aren’t sure then you may need to take a deeper look into what’s holding you back.

Emotional stuff has always been the largest part of my clutter. I’m a very sentimental person and at the beginning of my journey into simple living I had boxes full of old things dating back to middle school! What I found most helpful when dealing with these items was to ask two questions: Could this be considered a family heirloom? or Is this something I would want my children to see or know about when they are older? If the answer was “no” (which it was to a majority of the items I was holding onto) I let it go. Was it painful? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Save for writing this right now, I haven’t thought about those things since I eliminated them from my life.

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We all have baggage so to speak. What’s important is, which baggage you let cling to you and ultimately define you? If you look around you and don’t feel at peace, then it’s a perfect opportunity to reevaluate your life and belongings. Imagine your life the way you wish it to be and then set out to make it so. Sometimes this may involve letting go of things you always thought impossible. Other times, it’s an opportunity to reconnect with aspects of your life you may have missed. Either way, I wish you well on your path to a simpler, freer life.

Namaste,

Kristin

5 ways to enjoy family time without spending a penny

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It’s almost Halloween here in SA, TX, which means the weather has finally dropped from 100° to about 75°! This is my family’s favorite time of year, because it means that we can spend more time outdoors enjoying nature and each other. But it won’t last long. I’d say we have a solid three weeks before the weather starts getting cold and icy. Given the unique nature of our city’s climate (two season’s instead of four essentially), our little family has had to get creative in how we spend our time together outside of the house. Since we’ve made a commitment to living a simpler lifestyle, we try to save our cash as much as possible. Here are 5 ways we love to spend our time together, without spending a penny.

  1. Go to your local library

Traditionally, a library conjures up imagery of stuffy, old lady’s telling you to “shh!” while you sit in absolute silence with a book. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Libraries are hotbeds of civic engagement. It’s where, in the U.S.A. anyways, we go to vote for our favorite candidates for public office – not just the president, by the way. There are educational programs for adults and children, digital libraries with movies and music, and most popular magazines are available for you to look at as well. Every Thursday, my family likes to start the day off at our local library. Ezra goes to baby-time, where they read stories and play with toys to help with their cognitive and social development. Then David and I will go look at the latest movies and music, talk about articles we read in the New York Times or one of David’s tech magazines, and then we play with Ezra and read him some more books. I guarantee you it’s not boring and there will be no one “shh-ing” you. Plus, it’s free to check out all of the media if you want to continue the fun at home!

  1. Attend your favorite museum on a “free day”

Most museums offer free admission days or family nights, where you can come and tour the main collections… for free! Granted, these are usually on weekdays, which could interfere with work schedules, but there are also plenty of special events that take place on the weekends as well. For example, one of the art museums near us is hosting a special, free Halloween event on Saturday morning. Our local grocery chain, also sponsors a family night once a month in the evening at the children’s museum. It may take some research to figure out when all the free admission days are, but it’s a great way to get out of the house, look at and learn about art and culture, and spend quality time together as a family.

  1. Visit your local farmer’s market

Farmer’s markets aren’t just for selling produce. It’s also a great place to go to walk around, get to know your local farmers, and listen to music. Most cities will have one big market that forms, usually on the weekend, and will include food vendors, local artisans, and musicians playing fun, family friendly music. It’s a great way for the family to get some fresh air, meet new people, and hear (or dance!) to a great band. No purchase necessary! Click here to find a market near you.

  1. Take a picnic to the park

If the weather is nice, venture out to the nearest park to enjoy lunch… or breakfast or dinner! It’s a great way to take a break from the distractions of television, social media, or even some unfinished chores, so that you can focus on time together as a family. After eating, you might even be tempted to go on a walk or relax at the playground while the kiddos play. This is my family’s favorite way to spend time together. Studies have shown that walking and being outdoors is a great way to boost creativity and ease symptoms of depression and anxiety. So much goodness for your soul and the best part… it’s free!

  1. Volunteer for a good cause

This activity may seem more like work rather than quality family time together, but the truth is that this is a perfect way to bond and connect with one another. By giving the opportunity to showcase special skills and competencies, volunteering allows you to see your family members in a different light. Children don’t always know what their parents do when at work and parents often get stuck in, well, parenting mode. When everyone comes together for a great cause, it allows for new levels of respect to be fostered, while also benefiting your community.

These are the 5 main ways our family likes to spend time together. We sometimes do one activity more than another, but it just depends on what’s going on in life.

What about you? What are some budget friendly ways you love to spend time with your family?

Until next time…

Namaste,

Kristin

How to create a simple wardrobe

There are many places to start when embarking on a minimalist living journey. But where to begin? I think the best place would be to focus on where you struggle the most. I find that if you tackle your biggest problem area in the beginning it makes all the rest that much easier. For me, it has always been my wardrobe.

I can’t even tell you how much money, space, and time I’ve wasted over the years on my personal appearance. Especially in regards to clothes. I have a bad habit of shopping when I’m bored or if I’ve recently seen a movie where an actress looks particularly chic. It also doesn’t help that anytime I’m using my social media accounts, tailor made ads for my shopping interests show up on my newsfeeds.

Even though it’s been three years since I made a commitment to living a simpler lifestyle, I still find myself being sucked into the consumerist merry-go-round. Recently, my husband and I sold our house so that we could pay off some of our student debt and also have a down payment for a slightly newer home (ours was from the early 50’s and proving to be a constant money pit). We were stunned when our house sold for full asking price in just four days. We were even more shocked when the buyer proved to be extremely motivated and requested that we be out of the house in just 30 days. Originally I thought, “No big deal. We’re minimalists! Moving will be easy since we don’t own much stuff.” Then we started packing and I realized I had gone off course from my simple living commitment.

There were so many boxes. Tons of boxes! Just full of stuff that I thought we used often, but then realized we didn’t. The hardest part was cleaning out my closet and realizing that I didn’t have a minimalist wardrobe like I had bragged about for the past few years. Sure I only wore the same staple items week to week, but I also managed to accumulate things that really had no place in my clothing space. For example, I had a very pretty lacey black dress that I originally held on to because, “what if someone gets married? Or I have a fancy birthday party to go to?” The truth? I owned the dress for six years and only wore it once.

The little black dress wasn’t the only thing I found. I had jackets, scarves, jewelry, and more than a couple of handbags, all of which I couldn’t remember the last time I really used or needed them. Since we had to be out of the house so quickly, I stuffed them all in boxes and paid a mover to move them. It was discouraging and honestly I felt defeated with a wounded pride. This whole time I thought I was doing so well. But I learned an important lesion: Out of sight doesn’t always mean out of mind. Having to pack up all of those clothes was frustrating and stressful. It took up space in our new tiny apartment and worse, I had to pay someone to move it!

Now we have found a new house and plan to move into it at the end of November. I’ve made a resolution to clean up the mess I accumulated, so that we don’t go through the stress and hassle of moving it all again. As I mentioned earlier, I believe focusing on the areas where we struggle most is the best place to start when trying to make positive changes. So for me, the first thing to tackle was my closet. If you find yourself in a similar situation, feel free to either copy or use the method I follow for decluttering as inspiration on your own journey.

Namaste,

Kristin

The method:

Step 1 – Count every single item in your wardrobe (this includes jewelry, handbags, underwear, etc.) and write it down on a piece of paper. It may seem tedious, but for every pair of socks write out “socks.” Don’t just write “12 pairs of socks.” Do this for underwear, earrings, and so on. The reason you write it all out is so that you can visually see exactly how much you own. After doing this exercise, I discovered I was at 78!

Step 2 – Take that number and try to get it down as low as possible. There are no hard and fast rules on the number of items you should own to be considered minimalist. The idea is to own only pieces that you need or which have deep sentimental value, such as wedding rings or family heirlooms. Below is an image of what I’ve currently reduced my wardrobe down to. Feel free to use it as an example or modify as needed. If you feel like you still need more guidance with setting a goal, there are several resources out there. Just check the resources tab at the top on this blog for ideas on where to start.

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Note: Obviously, the clothing you wear in the summer will be different than what you wear in winter. There are two things you can do about this: (1) Sell/donate clothes as they go out of season and replace with appropriate pieces, ideally purchased secondhand. (2) Have a dedicated storage container and rotate your wardrobe as needed. Personally, I use the second option because I’m in favor of spending less money.

Step 3 – Maintain. As time passes, you may be given wardrobe items as gifts or you may come across an item that you feel you couldn’t live without. When this happens, make a commitment to yourself that for every new item that comes into your possession one old item is either gifted, donated, or sold.

Rich man, poor man: thoughts about minimalism’s role in social mobility

I read an interesting article a while back on the class politics behind the minimalist movement and how for people of lower socioeconomic backgrounds the philosophy of minimalism is essentially another form of social shaming. At first, this op-ed piece conflicted me: On the one hand, I can understand the author’s point of view – “what if your life is streamlined out of necessity, and not choice?” On the other hand, I myself am a product of the lower middle class and I truly feel like living a simpler lifestyle has saved me in so many tangible ways. However, I ultimately realized that concern about the minimalist movement downplaying issues of poverty in our country is a facade for something much deeper. Instead, we should be asking about why people perceive the lifestyle’s attributes to be an insult versus an opportunity for upward mobility through the class ranks?

In the book The Millionaire Next Door, Thomas Stanley makes the striking point that contrary to what we are lead to believe via media and brand marketing, a majority of our nation’s wealthy live modest lifestyles. These are people with a total annual income of around $131,000 (note: this does not include the 5% category which earns $1 million plus). What’s even more interesting is that about 80% of these individuals are first generation affluent, who would describe their line of work as “not pretty.” They are truck drivers, small business owners, and even teachers. They are not usually doctors, lawyers, or trust fund executives. According to Stanley, the truly wealthy have chosen to trade acquiring high-status material possessions for wealth.

Personally, I am by no means wealthy, but so far minimalism has helped me break out of a vicious cycle of debt and move from lower class status to a comfortable spot in the middle. While it’s true that most occupants of the upper classes have more “luxury” when it comes to choosing to adopt a minimalist lifestyle, I don’t believe we should allow that to cheapen the fact that it’s a healthier way of living to begin with. Growing up, I was never taught the concepts of saving money, or buying quality over quantity when it came to my material possessions. Instead, I was told that if I kept working hard enough, I would eventually be OK and break out of my lower class status.

However, working hard only gets you so far. For years, I would let my hard earned money go towards things like a credit card bill, eating out, or another cheap $5 t-shirt, because the one I bought a few weeks prior already had holes in it. I used to blame it on my parents, because I somehow felt entitled that they should have saved more money for me to use when starting out in my adult life. I also heavily blamed my student loans, reasoning that it was because of my crazy high monthly payments that I was never able to get out of debt and start saving money. The truth is I started out lower class and I remained in the lower class until I adopted a minimalist lifestyle.

Minimalism isn’t a villain in the debates on class politics. Rather, it should be viewed as part of a solution to overcoming poverty. Instead of trying to show how it is a privilege only for a select few, we should instead be asking a deeper question: why do we view possessions and property as being equivalent to comfort and happiness? I truly believe that if as a society we could reframe the definition of success to include family and life experiences, while moving away from material possessions, we would see some substantial shifts in the movement of people into a higher class status.

 

 

 

My simple living journey: part two – emotional wellness

In my previous post, I talked about the importance of financial freedom in living a simpler lifestyle. Today, I want to talk about an equally significant, if not the most important, simple living practice: maintaining emotional well being. It doesn’t matter how little waste you produce, or how much you limit the activities and material possessions that clutter your life, if you don’t have a simple routine for your mental health.

My husband and I both grew up in chaotic households. Both of my parents suffer from debilitating mental illnesses and my husband’s aunt and grandmother both suffer from bipolar disorder. Growing up, I remember my bipolar dad chopping an entire shed full worth of fire wood… at 2 AM… in the middle of summer… in Texas. Where he found the lumber at such an odd hour remains a mystery to me. But he was the lighter of the two parents I had to deal with. My mother was and still is clinically depressed and refuses treatment. There were times when she would leave me for weeks alone or she would have a breakdown and ditch me in my school’s parking lot. I’d usually find my way home and she would recover from her episodes, but we never talked about it.

The reason I share this is twofold: (1) It’s therapeutic. I don’t think I’ll ever fully recover from my childhood, but I am learning forgiveness and understanding. (2) A simple lifestyle can help cope with learned behaviors from growing up with or around mental illness. Below is a list of 5 easy practices you can incorporate into your day to help ensure your mind remains calm, clutter free, and healthy*.

  1. Meditate on a regular basis. All you need is five minutes. You can do this in the morning or at night or whenever feels best for you. Set a timer on your phone and just be still. Turn off all distractions and soak in the silence. If you start to feel anxious or uncomfortable, simply acknowledge the feeling and sit with it. Too often we run to our phones, television, or some other form of distraction to avoid facing our problems or worries. This short time of meditation could be just what you need to recognize and begin to address silent dilemas.
  2. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. It’s amazing what a walk in the park can do for your soul. Or maybe yoga is your thing. Whatever feels good for your body is good for your mind. We are built for movement. When we don’t utilize our muscles, fill our lungs with air, or break even a little bit of sweat, our bodies slowly start to deteriorate. Think your body like a car. If you don’t drive your car for long periods of time, it will actually start to break down quicker. The inside smells musty, the oil gets gunky, the battery could even die. Same goes for us humans
  3. Eat a healthy, balanced diet. This is the same concept of “your body is like a car.” If you put the wrong type of fuel in your vehicle, your in for major performance issues. Try to eat the appropriate portion sizes for all the food groups. You don’t need to buy any fancy books on dieting or pick up the latest health and wellness magazine. A lot it is just marketing and someone or some company trying to make an extra buck. The best resource for what you should be eating can be found here.
  4. Make time for your hobbies. Do you love to dance? Sing? Maybe paint or draw? Whatever your hobby, try to find a way to spend time doing the thing(s) you love at least once a week. Better yet, maybe you can turn your hobby into your career! Whatever the case, I guarantee that after spending time in your leisurely pursuit your mind will feel refreshed, clean, and perhaps even inspired for the rest of the day/week.
  5. Get plenty of sleep. You’ve probably heard it before, but it’s true what all of the health professionals say: Our bodies all require long periods of sleep in order to restore and rejuvenate, to grow muscle, repair tissue, and synthesize hormones. These hormones are essential in our mental well being. I could go on forever about this, but you can read this article for more information on the detrimental effects of lack of sleep. It’s simple though. Set a bedtime and then turn off all electronic devices and bright lights 30 minutes beforehand. Practice a calming routine such as taking a bath, reading a boring book, or meditation and then once those first signs of sleepiness appear tuck yourself into bed and say goodnight.

*note: if you suffer from any sort of mental illness you should seek the help of a medical professional. I’m not medically trained and in no way recommend this as treatment for any type of mental disorder.

I hope that these 5 tips can help you on your simple living journey. I’ll go into each of them in more depth in later posts, but for now I’d like to leave you with this quote from Thich Nhat Hanh –

“When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace, and love.”

Namaste,

Kristin

My simple living journey: part one – financial freedom

It seems that minimalism and simple living lifestyles are all the rage right now and for good reason. The 2008 recession hit everyone hard (most industries are still recovering) and as millennials started graduating college the amount of student debt for the average 20 something year old grew to record highs. Pile on the ever present advertisements from companies trying to convince you that “you can’t live without our products” and we start to find ourselves overspent and overwhelmed.

I am no different. I graduated in May of 2010 with over $40K in student debt for a liberal arts degree that wasn’t producing any promising job leads. When I couldn’t find work, I decided to join a volunteer program so that I could put off paying my student loans and also gain valuable work experience. Although I was able to live in beautiful San Francisco for a year while working in development for a small private school, I left the experience further in debt and still just as confused as before. The school I worked for couldn’t afford to hire me and the one year of experience I’d gained there didn’t provide me with enough pull to get even an entry level position. So I moved back to my home state of Texas, got a retail gig, and started trying to maintain the middle class lifestyle I grew up with by paying for everything with a credit card.

I think you can guess where this story is heading…

The moment that finally sobered me up to my overspending habits and inability to pay off debt was when my then boyfriend asked me to marry him. I broke down. I was only 23 years old, but my debt had grown to over $50K. I couldn’t even afford to pay for a marriage license. What kind of future could I expect to build with my husband if I couldn’t even establish a stable foundation?

Luckily, we did get married and together we began to erase our old life (he had over $20K in student debt) slowly and rebuild a new, debt free one. This didn’t happen overnight. We are still a work in progress and always will be. When we got married, our total amount of debt was around $70K. Currently, we are around $20K (4 years later) and expect to pay the rest off by the end of next year (2017).

So what does this have to do with the simple living movement? By changing our habits and way of viewing the world, we were able to change the way we saved/spent our money. I’ll go into each of these more with my next posts, but essentially we practice the following 5 habits to keep ourselves financially healthy:

  1. Only buy what we absolutely need. This one is especially hard for me. As a woman, there is a lot of pressure from coworkers, bosses, and sometimes even family and friends to look and dress a certain way. I’ve had to ask myself, “is it really worth it to spend $25 on a cute Calvin Klein tank top or would that money be better spent on things I need such as groceries?”
  2. Focus on the quality of our time together. It’s common and normal to want to spend family time out of the house. Before, we used to occupy these moments by going to a restaurant or to the movies. There is nothing wrong with these activities every once in a while for a special occasion, but overall we have found that (1) It usually costs $25+ to spend our time that way and (2) the quality of our time wasn’t worth the amount of money we were spending. Instead of sitting in a loud restaurant or silently watching a movie for two hours, we now opt to go to the park or the farmer’s market to connect with one another – for free. Plus, we get the added bonus of being able to talk and enjoy the fresh air together.
  3. Eliminate excess “things” from our life. When we first started this journey, we had just bought our first house. As we were packing up our apartment to move, we were amazed at how much stuff we had that we never even used. Ultimately, we realized that the possessions we keep ended up controlling us – our time, money, space – so we make sure to only keep what we use and eliminate all the rest.
  4. Keep and maintain a simple budget. This is probably the most important element of being financially healthy. I’m sure you’ve heard/read this in a million places, but it is completely true. A budget allows you to see where your money is going and gives you control over how much you spend. However, simply seeing that you overspend weekly on coffee outings (or whatever your vice may be) does nothing unless you decide to use that information and change the bad habit. There are a ton of ways to keep a budget, many of which are free. We personally use YNAB, but you can use excel or even an old school journal to keep track of your money. We started out by only budgeting our money for our needs – mortgage, groceries, fuel, etc. – and then once we got our accounts under control we started budgeting for splurge categories, such as vacation or T.V. entertainment (we use Netflix and Hulu instead of paying for cable).
  5. Treat yourself right and stay healthy. There is a Buddhist saying that goes: “Eat when you are hungry. Drink when you are thirsty. Sleep when you are tired.” Sounds simple and it is. Do these things and you will keep yourself in balance and thus healthy. When we don’t take care of ourselves we end up getting sick, which ends up costing money to make ourselves well again. For some people, habits such as smoking or drinking can end up costing a fortune to keep the addiction going. Take care of yourself and you’ll end up having more money to enjoy your life instead of “fixing” it.

I hope you found these 5 principles  insightful,  even if you’ve read them elsewhere before, and that our journey can inspire you to make positive changes in your own life – whatever the state you find yourself in. As I mentioned earlier, we still have debt to payoff, but we are a work in progress. I don’t believe there will ever be a moment when I wake up and think “wow, now all my problems are solved and I’ve achieved lasting happiness.” That’s not how life works. There will be unexpected moments that pop up and try to undo all of the growth and transformation we’ve done, however, I do know that the quality of my life and of my family’s and the overall happiness we experience will be much improved by living a more simple lifestyle.

See something I’m missing? Do you have a simple living practice that helps you financially? I’m always on a quest for new growth and welcome any comments or discussion.

Namaste,

Kristin