The Aunt Trap (or, Christmas for Kids Who Aren’t Yours)

In the midst of all this packing, my husband and I have also been trying to figure out what to do for our families this Christmas – seeing as we’re trying to save money and get rid of more possessions than we’re comfortable with, it’s kind of nerve-wracking to go Christmas shopping.

However, here’s the situation (it’s most certainly not a problem, it’s actually quite a blessing): I inherited six small nephews when I married my husband. Like, small enough to not fully understand the impact of getting rid of all our “grown up” things and moving across the country. Small enough that we want to give them gifts that will awe them. All of them are under 11 years old, and precious as can be.

When my husband and I have kids, we’re definitely going to try and keep Christmas low-key and focus more on family time than on presents (this I say now, years away from having kids). But what do you do when you don’t want to force your lifestyle on half a dozen young children that aren’t yours?

I’ll admit, we caved. But it brought up some very interesting conversations.

What we did

Birthday Toy

Yep, that’s a Nerf gun for Zombies.

My husband’s godson just turned 4 this week, and we wanted to find something he’d be able to enjoy now. And we also wanted to start making more of an effort to recognize the nephews’ birthdays.

So, we spent an overwhelming amount of time at Target (which is anything more than 15 minutes for me these days), where I paced the aisles and wondered aloud, “how long will these toys even last? Junk! It’s all plastic junk! Why do we do this to ourselves?” I’m sure my husband was pleased with that…

After deciding on a Nerf gun for the little guy’s birthday, we decided on books for Christmas. I know books aren’t usually the “dream gift,” but they fit into our budget and I at least knew that they’d get something of value from it (let’s be honest: I enjoyed the heck out of my Captain Underpants book, and I still got a kick out of paging through the one we got for our nephew).

We’ve also been playing Where’s Waldo, another of the books we got for our younger nephew. Two “grown” people, loving the heck out of a book made for children. I love it.

What we’ll do next time

So next year, we’ve decided that we’re going to plan ahead. Books are still a viable option, especially if we’re still on a budget (and again, a moment of honesty: we’re going to be living in LA, so we’re most likely going to be watching our expenses). But hopefully, time and money restraints considered, we’ll be able to offer more “experience” gifts than material ones for Christmas.

I’d love to take the boys for a day of tobogganing and hot chocolate at a nearby state park. I’d love to get them games and learn with them. Maybe spend a day volunteering with them. Heck, I’d even take them to a movie. Something that gives us time with them, especially since they’re all starting to grow up so fast.

Plus, I want to be a cool aunt that’s present – get it? Present? – and memorable.

What we won’t do, though, is get super preachy about consumerism and waste and all that good stuff, because lifestyles should only be shared openly, not forced. Kind of like a vegetarian coming to Thanksgiving dinner and forcing everyone else to eat tofurky – don’t do it. It’s your choice, let them have theirs.

Holidays for minimalists

What the rest of our Christmas looks like

This year, we’re forgoing Christmas gifts for each other, with the intention that furnishing our new apartment will be our gift to each other! I’m getting overwhelmingly excited for our new adventure (which begins exactly one month from today).

For our parents and families, we’re making candles and getting wine. Who doesn’t love wine, and how fun/dangerous does first-time candlemaking sound?

When it comes to asking for gifts, we’re simply reminding everyone of our upcoming journey, and not requesting anything specific. Ultimately, we just want to go home and play games and spend quality time with everyone before we take off. And drink wine.

What does your Christmas look like? Do you have suggestions for us and our nephews for next year?

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Partners in Minimalism

And so it begins. My husband and I have had “the talk” several times before we were married, but now we’re putting it into practice: he’s making the shift into his own kind of minimalism. What we’ve learned so far is that simplicity means different things to us individually, so it’s fun getting to know each other’s needs vs. wants!

Emily and Victor

Shot by the lovely and talented Elise from Lusicovi Creative

It started a couple of weeks ago with my first challenge to him: get rid of 100 things. This was motivating for him, since he likes having an end goal in mind.

We then decided that our next move will likely require downsizing. Right now, we live in a 680-square foot one bedroom apartment, and the amount of space we truly use is way less. I’m pushing for a 450-square foot studio, but we’ll see.

So, we’ve been taking inventory of our furniture. Do we really need that old record player that doesn’t work? Of course not. Could we go without such a large coffee table? YES please (that thing collects junk like crazy).

The pieces of furniture that are absolutely necessary for our next space include the following:

  • Rorschach’s dog crate cage (made for a 50 lb. dog – this rabbit is spoiled)
  • Our bed

…and that’s it. My parents generously gifted me with a beautiful bedroom set years ago that includes a chest, nightstand, armoire and two gorgeous benches, but as we move around in apartments, I may send them back to my parent’s home for guest bedroom furniture. We’re not settling into a house, so right now these things would only get dented and damaged in the many moves that lie ahead.

Essentially, I want to pack everything I own into a Honda Civic and drive off into the sunset. But, we’ll see about what our next steps actually are before I take it that far.

So, what was “the talk” like?

While it was definitely a recurring topic, I can’t point to one single conversation that tipped the scale. I first led by example – I showed my husband what I had gotten rid of, and I exhibited how easily I could let go of certain things. Then I started to explain to him how much better I was feeling by reducing my possessions.

Finally, I started to talk to him about what he had – his clothes were starting to fall out of our shared armoire and he could go a surprising number of weeks without having to do laundry (the man had more clothes than I do). So I started with anything ripped or torn and asked if I could toss it, and it was an easy “yes.” Those clothes were followed by others that he realized he no longer needed.

Finally, after an influx of gifts from our wedding, he finally rose to the challenge of getting rid of 100 things.

I’ve noticed his eyes looking around the apartment these days, looking for additional things to get rid of. We’re both still chipping away at simplifying and now we’re both looking forward to having less space for fewer things.

What have you experienced when getting a partner or a roommate on board with this journey?

Settling in and starting back up

The thank you notes have been sent, the work has been caught up. The flowers are all put away, and the wedding photos are in. The final checks have been cashed. The wedding is over.

I am tired. I am grateful. I am married.

Flowers and a bowl

I am also sad that it’s been this long since I’ve posted! I may recap the wedding on a later day, but for now I thought I’d take a chance to reflect on what’s been changing in my life this past month.

A bit before, but especially after the wedding I started to realize that my husband is now my priority. Jobs come and go, apartments and bills get taken care of one way or another…but the one thing that needs to be at the top of my list is so easily pushed to third or fourth.

I’ve begun to think deeply about this, and what it means for my life. It means a lot! It means that we work together as a team – support each other when we’re down, encourage the other to go above and beyond to live the life that they dreamed. It means sacrifices and challenges, but it also opens up some great opportunities.

While focusing in on this need for selflessness, I’ve had to become more selfish than ever. A well rested, fed and healthy Emily makes for a happy Emily – which helps bring peace in times of stress (which, ironically is what causes the lack of rest, proper food and care). When I put both myself and my new husband second to anything else in my life, things seem to fall to pieces.

What realizations did you all come to in the beginnings of a marriage or a relationship? Or what have you found in the beginnings of new journeys you’ve experienced?

Talking Points

Great Minds - Eleanor Roosevelt

Talking about people is often a waste of energy. It’s nothing more than a filler to seal the gaps between points of true connection.

One of the main tenets of the journey towards a simpler life is to only welcome things, people, and conversations into your life that add value. I know how often I’m full of hot air, and I know that I let frustrations and negative interactions guide my speech. Now, it’s time to stop and listen – does this rant have anything to offer anyone? Or does it actually do more harm than good?

Plus, we can focus in on what really matters in conversations – sharing ideas with close companions and hearing theirs, too.  Broadening conversations to include dissenting opinions and intelligent agreements will only help our creativity to gain momentum.

Expand yourself. Focus your brainpower on the orphaned concepts that are rattling around in your mind – give them a home, complete them, fulfill them. Don’t focus on irrelevant choices of others or insignificant bumps in the road.

Talk less, listen more, and you’ll start having more to actually say.

Overscheduling (Or, Why I Flake)

Today, I get an F. A big, horrible red F. F for flaky.

Lately, it seems as if I’ve asked for rain checks or reschedules more than I’ve actually gone through with my plans. I’ve enthusiastically accepted invitations a week ago that I now have to turn down for one reason or another. It kills me. And I know it’s not helping me form any solid relationships.

What’s going on?

A huge misconception of time.

I’m a chronic overscheduler, a misinterpreter of how much time I really need to get things done. I have a feeling that many of my young, vibrant, social cohorts are the same way – we gladly RSVP for things well beyond our comprehension at the time. For me, that is often any time after 12 hours from now.

Any TimeOn top of work and more work, I have great (and sometimes overwhelming) aspirations: writing, exercising, crocheting, sewing, reading, playing music…the list goes on and on. I also have a fiance that I live with and that I usually get to see only briefly – although I’m so grateful to at least see him every day, since we’ve had our fair share of long distance.

But that list of excuses still doesn’t explain why I’m consistently letting down people I care about. It turns out, I’m just not good at saying no, at setting limits. But since everything around us has become on-demand, it’s easier than ever to pause and come back for it all later rather than passing on it the first time around.

I’ve had enough. It’s time to fix this weird, broken clock that I’ve been operating from for the past couple of years.Stop

My proposed cure(s) for flakiness

This isn’t one-size-fits all. It’s my starting point, so I’m sure it will evolve with time. I want to hear your tips, too!

  • Anything that is scheduled during the work week should be a no – until it can be reasonably defended as a yes. Or, maybe we all just need to be more aware that there’s really only 4 or 5 hours in the evening in which we have to eat, work, clean and the like. Not much time for gallivanting around town.
  • Don’t immediately tell someone “I’ll be there!” – take an hour or a day or two to confirm your plans and to evaluate your workload. Saves them the disappointment, saves you the embarassment.
  • Know priorities. Create a numbered list if you have to, and check your time against it – do you have room in your time budget for a quick coffee with a friend, or are there real and terrible consequences to delaying other tasks?
  • Schedule me-time, or downtime or naptime or whatever name you prefer – don’t book your days straight without having a little time to sit and stare at a wall or listen to classical music sans phone or conversation. That does so much more good than you think it might.
  • And finally, my largest struggle – single tasking. Personal schedules often look more like something a small army should handle, and so no matter how hard we work, the work is never done. I’ve started to resign myself to one big “to-do” per day after work. Not five. Not eight. One. At work, I’ve been in the helpful habit of listing a few little tasks to work on as well as one or two focuses for the day.

And to close, don’t sacrifice sleep. If you’re truly overbooked and your calendar is bursting at the seams, the last thing you need is to do it all while running on a few winks and a leaky caffeine battery.

How to Talk to a Minimalist

Dreamer Quote

It’s strange, I really don’t feel like I can call myself a minimalist yet, but for the sake of a short title, I’ll go with it for now. (After all, there is quite the spectrum to minimalism, isn’t there?) In fact, this might be more appropriately called “How to Talk to an Aspiring Minimalist (or Anyone Who Has a Dream)”

I’ve had several conversations lately where people come away feeling confused, inspired, upset, or excited about implementing it themselves. I love leaving people with an emotional reaction to my underway transition, but what I can’t seem to grasp is the people who insist on speaking down to me about it. So, here’s a few tips on how to talk to someone who’s making a lifestyle change, no matter whether it’s minimalism or frugality or whatever floats their particular boat.

Don’t Hate.

Rule #1: don’t mock or needlessly criticize. First of all, we’re not doing this for you anyways. We’re doing it for ourselves and our families because we’ve deemed this to be an important process. I know it’s different. I know some people get defensive about their way of life – we’re not making this change as a comment about you. We’re making this change because we want to make this change.

Ask the Right Questions.

Examples of questions that tend to miss the mark: “That’s impossible. What makes you think you can do this?” “Do you need money? Is that why you’re doing this?” ” [Rolls eyes] You like small houses? But where would you put all your stuff?”

Better questions would center around what about the process of changing your lifestyle is most intriguing to you (for me, it’s a weird mix of environmental, financial, and personal reasons, but mostly, I just love the way I feel without so much stuff). Ask the person making the lifestyle change what their ultimate goal is and don’t criticize it. In an ideal world, you might consider this lifestyle for yourself, even briefly. To each his own.

Give it a Chance.

This is my greatest point. Listen to the dreamer, consider what they’re saying and what makes them passionate about what they’re seeking. Would that be a good life choice for you? No? Then consider if there are things you can learn from this. Nothing? Then allow them to have their passion, acknowledge it, and move on to your own.

Many people, when they find out about my intentions to continue downsizing, feel that they need to justify their current lifestyles. Stop doing that. If it opens up a larger issue in your own life, then consider making a switch yourself. I get this message a lot: “yes, that’s fine and all, but someday you’ll need a bigger house for all your stuff, like ours. You’ll need a basement, and an outbuilding, and extra cars, too. Just like us.”

I’m not afraid to admit: maybe someday I will. But do I need that now?

For the Dreamers.

Don’t always preach to an unwilling audience. You can’t always gather a random group of 20 people and expect them to all love your ideal lifestyle. But here, on a niche blog in the corner of the internet, you can gain momentum. You can find like-minded people who will know how to talk to you. And they’ll inspire you to move further into the life you’ve always dreamed of. Go find them.

Hang Out With People Who are Better Than You

Rustic Fall 18'' Grapevine Wreath With Vintage Fabric and Blue, Maroon, and Gold Flowers

One of Andrea’s gorgeous handmade wreaths

I have passionate, talented, intelligent and beautiful friends who I admire endlessly. And, yes, I’ll admit it: I can get jealous (can’t we all sometimes?) But I realized that rather than pine over the skills I lack, I need to revel in their talents and learn everything that I can from them.

That is why I’ve decided to approach it this way: hang out with people who are better than me at something, at anything. Learn what I can: new skills, new tips, or even just absorb as much of their passion as I can and throw it into something I know I’m good at.

If the person is smug about their talents, ditch them. Strive to only keep the ones who are willing teachers (and learners, when it’s your turn to teach). These are the talented and generous people you should surround yourself with.

For example, my dear friend Andrea. Ever since high school, we’ve enjoyed going out on photo-taking adventures. Here is how my photos usually turned out:

Let’s just say I ruled out becoming a photographer. I just didn’t have the knack for it. But  those adventures are some of my most cherished memories, and to this day if she were to ask if I wanted to go take pictures, I’d grab my camera and be there in a heartbeat. I find her passion and excitement for her talent to be incredibly inspiring. Now check out her photos:

Yellow Flowers, Bee, Insect, Resting, Summer, Dreamy, Nature, Photography, Home Decor, Outdoors

Moth, Insect, Flowers, Outdoors, Nature, Zoom, Fall, Orange, Brown, Home Decor, Photography
Water Lily, Pink, Flowers, Water Drops, Lily Pad, Nature, Macro, Home Decor, Photography, 8x10 Photograph
If you’d like to see more, wander over to her HandmadeBySweePea Etsy Shop. She makes stunning stamped cards and ultra-adorable wreaths for all seasons too.
Do you surround yourself with people you admire? What can they teach you?