Having trouble letting go of clutter? Read this.

Decluttering my wardrobe started with the easy stuff… the items I didn’t really like all that much or were uncomfortable. Then went the stuff I loved but that didn’t fit quite right. Next I got rid of things I used to love or thought I should love or would love someday.

After all this, there was one category of clothes that still remained in my closet. It was the stuff that was beautiful, fit well, was relatively expensive and almost new, or (hard swallow) brand new. These are the items that I have had a really difficult time letting go of….until today!

So how did I finally let go of these things?

I figured it out by accident. One of my dear friends also happens to be a phenomenal human being and is holding a clothing drive at school. He is collecting clothes for homeless LGBT teenagers and donating them for the holidays.

This morning, I was getting dressed and I noticed a pair of nice pants that I paid too much for and then proceeded to wear one time in five years. (The truth is, they are a liiiiitle too small). It suddenly hit me that these pants would be perfect for a young kid going to, say, a job interview.

That one realization and my perspective changed.

Suddenly, all of these brand new or almost new clothes had a new purpose, and it wasn’t sitting in my closet. These nice things were destined to go to a needy kid.

Can I tell you how easy it suddenly was to get rid of those things I had been hanging on to?

So friends, here is what I learned….There are so many things that cause us to hang on to unnecessary clutter, and many of these are completely negated in the face of a good cause.

If you are having trouble decluttering an area of your home, try to visualize who the recipient of these items will be when you donate them.

Too many kids’ books and toys? Picture some happy munchkins, opening those books and toys on Christmas morning. Picture their parents, who couldn’t afford those things glance at each other across the room and throw each other a teary smile.

A box of maternity clothes? There is a pregnant mama out there that can’t afford them. Your clothes that you have been meaning to sell on Craigslist for four years could be keeping her warm.

A ridiculous amount of serving pieces? Post them for free online to a family in need, or drop them off to a shelter that serves homeless vets… and picture them eating a holiday dinner served from your lovely dishes.

It doesn’t matter what you donate or who it goes to… just remember that your excess clutter can be another person’s saving grace, especially during the holiday season.

Have a Wonderful Thanksgiving everyone!:)

How to use Pinterest to simplify your life

True Confession: I loooooooove Pinterest.

I have spent countless hours browsing all those beautiful photos, and I have learned so many amazing tips… Can I just mention the upside-down pineapple pancakes that I made last weekend? 😉

Pinterest can be an amazing tool if it is used wisely. However, if it is not used mindfully, Pinterest can foster discontent, insecurity, and unnecessary spending.

Case in Point: The other day, after mindlessly browsing Pinterest, I saw a really cute photo of a cozy winter outfit. I did not need this outfit. It was not on my list. But you know, I kind of moseyed over to the Banana Republic website to check out the price of some of these items. Lo and behond, they were on sale! Long story short, by the end of the night I bought several items that I didn’t need.

GRUMBLE.

It was the first time since embarking on this minimalism journey that I strayed from my list, and by the time I woke up the next day, I knew I had made a mistake. It was a cheap lesson, I guess. It all seemed like a good idea in the moment… but by the next day, I realized these things really would not add to what I already have. The shipping was free and I can just return everything, fortunately. It will cost me a trip to the post office and the annoyance of the mistake. But hey, we are embracing imperfection, right? 😉

Overall, it was a good reminder. And it got me thinking about how I can use Pinterest to enhance my life, and how to avoid allowing it to clutter my life.

I came to Pinterest for the recipes. I stayed for the clever DIY ideas. Eventually, I started browsing around.

There have been numerous studies showing that the simple act of looking through a fashion magazine has an immediate and negative impact on self-esteem. Turns out, when we look at picture after picture of these women, airbrushed and unrealistically perfect, we cannot help but compare ourselves and feel that we fall short.

Pinterest is like that, except instead of “just” comparing our looks with those of airbrushed models, we end up comparing every aspect of our lives to an airbrushed ideal. We tailor our Pinterest feeds to display every single image of the BEST possible version of our own reality… the fanciest parties, the most beautiful hair, the most immaculate homes, the most perfect bodies… and it would be impossible NOT to fall short. Friends… JUST DON’T.

I still love Pinterest. And I still use it often. But I have come up with some groundrules so that it is a wonderful tool in my toolbox, not a hook to encourage the idea that unnecessary purchases will make me happier, or that my simple tea party birthday for my 6 year old was subpar. I follow my own rules and I truly feel that Pinterest gives me access to information, inspiration, and ideas that make my life better.
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Here are my Pinterest guidelines:

1. DON’T BROWSE!
Mindlessly browsing “Popular” pins or following every board will inevitably set you up to view image after image of products that make you feel inferior instead of empowered. Here is the thing… if you haven’t independently realized that you have a need in your life… don’t allow advertisers or pinners to artificially create that need.

2. BE SELECTIVE
Unfollow any pinners that give you the impulse to needlessly spend time or money on things that are not important to you. This might include fashion boards, makeup boards, certain home decor boards, etc. It might take a while to weed these out… no rush, be patient. Follow only boards and pinners that provide you with inspiration that is in line with your priorities. For me, this includes whole food recipe boards like the one I have put together, minimalist home inspiration like this one, positive parenting boards like this one, boards that encourage me as I continue to grow out my grey hair like this one, travel boards like this one, boards about simplicity like this one, and others that fill my Pinterest feed with beautiful ideas and images, like this one.

3. LOOK FOR INSPIRATION WHERE YOU NEED IT
If you need ideas… search specifically for them. Use that search bar! Don’t type in something like “work outfit” or “kid party.” Instead, try searching for “girl’s tea party games” or “black pencil skirt” for ideas on how to wear an item you already own. When I want to search a subject that is a bit more broad, I’ll use qualifiers like “simple” or “easy.” “Simple Christmas decorations” will give you a much different set of images than just “Christmas decorations.”

I hope some of these tips were helpful to you… happy pinning!

And by the way… here is a photo from the above mentioned tea party. My baby girl had a blast… can you tell she picked out my outfit?;)
sophie and mommy bday

Embrace the Imperfection

Last week, as I was wrapping up class, one of my former students stopped in and asked if I had a minute. Sometimes, just the way a kid says these words makes your teacher spidey sense kick in, and you know to drop everything else.

We stepped into the office as my class packed up, and this usually upbeat student unleashed a mountain of anxiety and stress. He is a performer, and had a show coming up. Long story short… the deadline was looming and he just didn’t feel like he was where he wanted to be. To him, this translated to meaning that he was not good enough and man, was he rattled.

I can’t tell you how honored I feel when a kid comes to me like this. There is so much trust and bravery in it, and I feel such gratitude toward the kiddo for opening up and such responsibility to do right by them.

I took a deep breath, mostly to sort through my thoughts and what I wanted to say.

And then, I fumbled along…I reminded the kiddo that he is an artist. That art, like life, is messy and imperfect. That life and learning doesn’t go in a straight line, and that we can’t expect to reach perfection… ever… because that implies there is nothing left to learn. That the best thing we can do for ourselves and our passions is to embrace the imperfection.

He looked at me and repeated slowly, nodding…. “Embrace the Imperfection.”

When a kiddo does that, you know you said something they needed to hear.

And yet, as he repeated it back to me, I realized that it was exactly what I need to hear as well.

It’s been a difficult and also remarkable year for me. Discovering this new lifestyle of simplicity and minimalism has been a game changer in such amazing ways. Writing this blog has helped me focus and helped me heal. And yet, I have these moments where I look around and realize I have so far to go, so much to learn, and so much I want to do! Sometimes I look at all the areas of the house that are still chaotic, or that need a second or third (or fourth) round of decluttering, and I get discouraged. I have books I want to read, lessons I want to improve, and people I want to connect with.

And on the grieving side, I have times when I know I have made progress and then a single song or photo or memory will derail me for days.

So having this kiddo look into my eyes and say to me, “Embrace the Imperfection…” well, I think it was no coincidence that that phrase popped into my head. We both needed to hear it.

There is a reason I named this blog “Crooked Path to Simple.” “Crooked” wasn’t meant to be a lamentation… it was my acknowledgment that the paths we take in life are not straight lines. They bend and curve, and sometimes even double back. There are rocky areas, and plateaus, and inclines so steep you have to climb them on bloody hands and knees. The thing is… it’s all part of the journey, and the sooner you embrace the journey, the sooner you can get on living a life of gratitude, even during the rough times.

So I am going to find that student next week and thank him for coming to me and working together to figure out what we both needed to hear…that we are not in a race to perfection in this life, we are on a beautiful journey, and we are happiest when we do our best to embrace all aspects of that journey.

I don’t need to be anywhere other than exactly where I am… with my house, my grief, my life. Neither do you. And as my dad used to say, “90% of life is just showin’ up.”

So, as crooked as my journey may be, I am going to keep living and learning with all the gratitude and awe I can muster… to me, that’s showing up.

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How I display little masterpieces (And keep them from taking over the house!)

Just a quick post tonight, my friends…

I’m sitting at the kitchen table, taking a quiet moment to myself, sipping a glass of wine and listening to my sweet Littles giggle and play upstairs. The weekend stretches out in front of me, and I’m feeling so relaxed and grateful.

In quiet moments like this, I have the perfect view. My Littles bring home TONS of art, math, and language projects from school each week, and then often create a few more masterpieces before bedtime. What to do with these dozens of pieces of their heart and soul?
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Whenever the kids bring these things home from school, we go through everything. I love listening to them explain each piece to me, and they pick out their favorites (I pick out a couple too) and we hang them up on our Gather Wall, just using twine and clothespins. (The rest goes in the recycling, which the kids don’t mind a bit because we make such a big deal about what is on the wall.)

We add to it for a few weeks, and when it gets full, I take everything down. I pick out a few things that the kids were most proud of, and anything else that is special… helper awards from school, sweet letters, etc. The special things go up to my office, and the rest goes in recycling.

By the end of the school year, I have a very manageable-sized file full of the things that are most memorable and most special to us from the year.

Looking at my kids’ beautiful art and hard work is a great way to start the weekend… I hope you all are having a great night too!

Mama’s Peanut Butter Granola

I have had a couple requests for the recipe for the granola that makes breakfast easy in this house:)
Here it is!

In a large bowl, mix together…
1 cup Peanut Butter
1 t vanilla
2/3 cup TOTAL maple syrup and local honey (I do 1/3 of each, adjust to your tastes)
1/4 cup brown sugar or coconut sugar (key for texture)
2T Chia seeds (Don’t bother measuring… that’s about what fits in a cupped palm – close enough!)
2T Flaxmeal
1t Cinnamon
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Stir…

Then add 8 cups uncooked regular oats. Mix VERY well… you don’t want any dry oats. Add a bit more maple syrup if you need too.
Add 1/2 cup sliced almonds if you want… mix again.

Then bake at 325 for 8 minutes. Use a spatula to flip and stir a bit, and pop back into the oven for 3 or 4 more minutes… be careful, it burns quickly!

If you let it cool in the pans, you will get some nice yummy chunky granola.

Hope you all enjoy it as much as we do!

Minimalist Mornings

I was lucky enough to stay home with my Littles for 5 amazing years after my daughter was born. Mornings were imperfect but leisurely, and there was no rush because the day stretched out in front of us. Those were the days of morning puzzles, chocolate pancakes, and pjs. Can you tell I LOVED staying home with my kids?

Then, I went back to teaching last year and our mornings dramatically changed. Now, we have to have two kids fed, dressed, and out the door by 7:45. At first, this was a bit overwhelming. When we found ourselves yelling to get out the door on time, it was time for a change. As we have been doing with everything in our lives, we have “decluttered” our mornings. We took a step back and decided what was important to us, and made sure we started with THAT.

What we realized was that our number one priority was to make our mornings more peaceful and loving. Yelling at the kids and stressing out at them, and then dropping them at school for the entire day just did not sit right with us. We had to do better, and so we made some changes.

1. Get up 15 minutes earlier. This applies to everyone, and applies to earlier bedtimes too.
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These extra 15 minutes allow us some leeway for the inevitable issues that crop up, and make time for us to find lost shoes or have some extra snuggles without stressing out about getting out the door on time. The benefit? I can’t remember the last time I had to yell at my kids to get out the door. (Ooook, now I remember. But it’s been a while!:)) I get up about 45 minutes before the kids… I take a few short minutes to meditate or have alone time, shower and get ready (SO much faster with a smaller wardrobe), and then I crawl into bed (yes in my workclothes) to wake the kids up with snuggles and kisses.

2. Let go of perfect. My 3 and 6 year old pick out their own clothes. This makes for…um…interesting combinations.

But you know what? We’ve completely stopped caring. They are KIDS and they love dressing themselves. We give them loose guidelines due to that day’s weather and then let them go to town. Usually, they pick the night before, but either way, they both dress quickly when they get to pick for themselves. 20150908_074502
As for me… I stopped doing my hair every day. Every other day I use a little trick… I have a jar of corn starch mixed with about 10 drops of lavender oil. It is the perfect dry shampoo. I use an old makeup brush to apply it to my hair, especially around my face, and then brush it through and put it up in a bun or pony tail. In about 10 minutes the starch absorbs any excess oil and my hair looks washed!

3. Find your favorites. For breakfast, I mean. When I was a stay at home Mama, I would ask the kids what they wanted for breakfast. Now, I give everyone their favorite. Every. Single. Day. My husband, son, and daughter are all obsessed with Mama’s homemade granola. As long as I make a big batch on the weekend, all I have to do in the morning is set out two bowls of it (one with yogurt for my son, one with milk for my daughter) and that is what they have every weekday. If I have a couple extra minutes, I set out some fruit too… but if not, I don’t worry about it. They get lots of fruit throughout the day. My husband has granola with almond milk and blueberries, and I make a delicious protein smoothie with spinach, banana, coffee, and cocoa every morning. No thinking, no fighting… it works great!
(In the winter, we often switch to overnight crockpot apple-cinnamon-raisin steal cut oats…the smell gets us all out of bed!)

4. Be prepared for one day of hell. My kids go to an AMAZING Montessori school. The teachers there are not strangers to the occasional preschooler tantrum. After one such morning tantrum from my daughter years ago about getting dressed, I called one of her teachers for advice. Her suggestion was to shrug my shoulders and say to her with love, “What a bummer, I guess we have to go to school in your pjs!” My strong-willed sweetie didn’t back down, and I walked her right into her school in her pjs and handed her teachers her clothes. Let me tell you, that only happened ONCE. She didn’t like explaining to her beloved teachers why she refused to get dressed, and that one morning showdown translated into years of calmer mornings.

Seriously, put your pants on.
Seriously, put your pants on.

5. Alternative responsibilities. If you can swing it, taking turns with your partner getting the kids ready and driving the kids to school is a lifesaver. Every other day, we each get to go in as early as we want, and then on alternate days, we get to be the parent who sings songs on the way to school or gets the kids started on a “work” before heading out for the office.

These ideas have really helped us… I would love to hear what you have implemented to make for easier and more peaceful mornings at your house! Please share!