Real Real Simple

I’ve always been fascinated by magazines. Something about the editorials alongside brilliantly colorful ads and the smell of the perfume samples really gets to me.

But of course, the temptation to buy is there, and it’s strong. And a few years I realized the ultimate irony: Real Simple is filled with tempting products that claim to offer a more simple life. But there’s so rarely a case for more when it comes to our quest for less.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the magazine, but take a moment to flip through the pages or webpages and you’ll see ads and product recommendations – quite the opposite of what it takes to really live a simplified life.

So I’ve been brainstorming what that might actually look like.

Real Real Simple: Tips for living a truly simplified life

My tips for a real, real simple life

  • Work. If you love it, stay. If you don’t, get out of there. I’ve seen too many Millennials (and older) hang on to jobs with excuses about money and the job search is hard…if you really want to make a change, then change. If you’re miserable and unwilling to try to make a change, then that lies on you. Complaining will get you nowhere, but some research and effort might take you further than you’d ever think.
  • Food. Forget learning how to read labels. Learn how to shop for (and cook!) meals made from things without packaging: fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. A diet like that isn’t terribly expensive or time consuming – in fact, the extra love you put in now will save you health care costs in the future. The closer you get to the natural state of the food, the better. (Also, I don’t really subscribe to one particular diet, but I’ve found that veggie-heavy and very few animal products works well for me).
  • Relationships. Put your people into three buckets based on the energy they bring to your life: positive, neutral, and negative. Start spending more time with the positives and spend less with the negative and neutral people. Being aware of how they impact your life is a strong first step in curating your relationships – and more meaningful relationships will benefit everyone, not just you.
  • Stuff. Declutter before organizing every time. If you’re overwhelmed with your stuff, getting new storage bins is just a temporary solution to a larger, more permanent problem. You don’t have to get rid of it all at once, but edit when you can. Keep your stuff only if it’s useful or beautiful to you.
  • Exercise. You don’t need a plan – just get outside and take a walk. Switch out coffee dates for walking dates. Bike to work. Do pushups or situps while you’re watching Netflix. I think, for me especially, it’s easy to get in our heads about doing something good for our bodies. We can’t expect to run a marathon on our first day, and we can’t even expect to feel like working out everyday. But what is most important is making the time to do one thing for your body every day. I love this advice: make it a goal to get your shoes on and get out the door. What comes next is up to you, but at least you’ve accomplished that first step.
  • Finances. Track your spending, then make a budget. Awareness is the first step! This ties in with almost every other point I’ve mentioned. Stick with whole, healthy bulk foods, find free ways to get fit and socialize, and don’t buy it if you don’t need it. If you really love something and want to get it – give it some time, research it, and think about where it fits in to your life. I usually give myself at least a month to really know that it’s something important to me before taking the plunge.

My golden rule of simplicity

The most simple, real thing I believe we can do that has a lasting impact is this: be kind to yourself.

I know this sounds a little cliche and/or silly, but I really believe that finding the right balance of motivation and self-care has profound effects on our lives and the lives of those around us. Are you any good when you’ve neglected your most basic needs (like a good night’s sleep or a healthy meal)?

In the real simple world of managing time, clutter, relationships and more, that’s the big factor that we’re missing. If we’re not meeting our basic needs, everything else gets a lot more complicated.

What’s your golden rule for simplicity?


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?

Saying Goodbye to Bunny

Last week, while I was staying with my family and finalizing wedding plans, I received a heartbreaking phone call from my fiance: our little deaf rabbit, Niels, had passed away in the night.

My heart sank to my stomach as I heard about how peaceful he looked in the morning, and how unexpected this had been – my fiance hadn’t noticed any difference in his behavior over the weekend, and Niels had certainly not indicated that he was having any troubles before then.

He’d always been a sickly rabbit (he was deaf and had recovered from a broken back), but he was a happy rabbit. He ate well and loved to snuggle with his “husbun” Rorschach after long days they spent exploring outside of their cage. So while it was unexpected, it made sense. But it didn’t make it any easier.

Niels, celebrating his first Easter.

Niels, celebrating his first Easter four years ago.

Closure: What I realized

When I drove back home the next day, I resolved to see Niels one last time. My fiance had put him in a shoebox so that we could bury him back on my parent’s land, and I needed to see his beautiful black fur. When I saw him and reached out to touch him, I realized that it wasn’t actually the still and silent body in front of me that I had loved.

It was the life he had, the life he brought to our little family every day, that I most loved and will most miss. But when I saw his tiny body, I knew that it was time to send it off – just like the other possessions I’ve been slowly passing on through my life.

The memories and happiness that his life brought me still remain, and the hole I thought he would permanently leave has already started to fill up with help from my other rabbit, my fiance, and my dear friends. I look back at pictures fondly, knowing that Niels was my little source of consistency through a period of great changes in my life.

I miss the little guy, but I feel I’ve come away from this sadness with a heart full of gratitude for the nearly five years he was with me, lighting up my darkest days with the rare, pure joy that sometimes only pets can bring.

It was a reminder to always pay attention to the littlest and simplest things, even when there are loud, big distractions trying to disconnect you from them. It was a reminder to always say a fond goodbye to your loved ones, even if you’re only gone a day. And even if they’re rabbits.

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.

Venturing to the West Coast

Last weekend I took my second ever plane to Seattle to visit one of my wonderful friends. She and I lived together in college and the second I hopped into her car, it was like we were gallivanting around Bloomington again. Nothing between us has changed, and for that I am grateful.

We explored Pike Place, wandered around the beautiful city and shamefully drank 7-Eleven gas station coffee (but later redeemed ourselves with awesome and unusual coffee from actual Seattle favorites – I got a cardamom latte from Victrola Coffee and I imagine that’s what heaven’s coffee might taste like). We visited the Fremont Troll and ate enough late-night Velveeta (our college favorite) to last us a lifetime. I can’t even begin to express how refreshing it was to get out of town and to see her lovely face. And to do our relentless, loud Arnold Schwarzenegger impressions together again.

But this trip had me thinking more about what I want out of my life, and I realized that nesting in Indiana forever is not my calling. While I love the Midwest (I find it charming and welcoming, and I can’t lie – I love these chilly, bare-tree November days), I can’t imagine myself living here every single day for the rest of my life.

My fiance and I still need to get our affairs settled (you know, the whole “I’ll change my name and we’ll both get rings and then let’s party” deal) and determine where we really want to go, why, and how we’re going to get there. But someday I want to wander around this country and see everything I’ve missed these past 23 years. I want to go west of the Mississippi again (last weekend was my very first time crossing that great river).

So decreasing my need for material things has a new perk: I don’t have to be tied down. I don’t want to be tied down to matching dish sets and fine china, or tied down to nice furniture and expensive, massive electronics. I don’t even want to be tied down to books or to extra pillows. I love my rabbits more than anything, but even they tie me down a bit (but that is a commitment I can live with).

So for you all either living a simple lifestyle or considering one, where would you go if you weren’t tied down? Would you leave this country or explore more of your neighboring states?


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.