A Tribute to the Path

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When we were without Internet access, a friend of mine tagged me in a Facebook post, sharing this article. When I was finally able to take a look at it, I wasn’t sure how to respond.

First off, I thought, this is silly.  I have no need to defend the choices I’ve made.  Would I be happier if I just said “forget it,” moved into a house, and bought all the things we do without (you know, like an oven or private shower)?  Of course not!  Not at this point.

So that’s my choice.  And there is no need to defend it at all.  But my friend shared the article with me because she was curious about my choices, not because she wanted to start a debate.  In that spirit, I had so many thoughts about the article (and no, I did not disagree with all of the points they made!), that I thought I would write a blog post in response.  I thought I might address every point they brought up, and give my thoughts on it.

But first, I thought I would pick some of my friends’ brains and find out their thoughts on the article.  What followed was a great discussion, neither a debate nor an echo chamber.  And this ever-so-slightly snarky response from a long-time blogging friend of mine.

I thought of the discussion on and off throughout my day and realized how fortunate I am to have friends who challenge me, yet in such a gentle way.  My friend who shared the article reminded me to think for myself rather than blindly following a doctrine.  My friend who wrote the blog post reminded me to balance my time and notice the life happening around me.

Which led me to think about minimalism–as well as the other choices I have made.  And thinking of that led me to change my approach in this response.

Minimalism does not need any further debate, defense or explanation.  There is no need for me to re-hash what has already been written.  Everyone makes great points, but they are all missing one concept.

And that it the concept of the path.

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Life, and all that it entails–be it minimalism, materialism, sustainable living, spirituality/religious beliefs, thoughts and assumptions–is a journey.  Whatever paths we choose are just that, paths.  We need to be willing to follow the curves and bends in the path, and to choose when it forks.

For me, minimalism was a path that I traversed.  Yes, there was a time when I was a little too obsessed with physical decluttering.  There was a time when I purged possessions obsessively, to the point where my *stuff* got all the attention.  There was a time when I looked down on those who chose to have more possessions.  There was a time when I took things to a crazy level, so that I could say I belonged to this group.

Notice that I didn’t say that I’m ashamed to admit any of that.

Because, for me, it was all necessary.  It was all a part of the process–it was my path.  I began my journey into minimalism, because I wanted less stress.  I wanted to stop worrying and living in fear.  I wanted to feel like I was living correctly, like I was doing the right thing.  And, so desperately, I wanted to belong to something.

Minimalism gave me none of those things, directly.  But it was the path that led me to all of that and more.

Through my writing about minimalism, I became connected to a community who challenged me to question the way we were “supposed” to live, and led me to realize that my potential was more than I could have imagined.  Through questioning the possessions we are “supposed” to have, I began questioning the entire script for life we were supposed to follow.

As I began to question the script, I began to question all the assumptions I had been holding, about life.  I saw that the world open to me, and that I could create any life that I could imagine.  But I also saw that peace and the end to fear, worry, and stress could come from nowhere except within myself.  I could see that there is no “wrong” way to do life, and that it isn’t a test.  Kindness doesn’t come from a philosophy on possessions; it comes from increasing understanding–of ourselves, and our place in the world and in life.

As far as belonging, I came to see that we are the only ones holding ourselves back from belonging to all humanity.

I no longer count my possessions.  I live in a small space and do without a lot.  I am still happier living with less.

But the real reward of minimalism has been the path that it has led me along.  Rather than being the quick answer, it has led me to a life of looking deeper and working toward finding the real answers.

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Texas Women Bloggers

Community

When I was in high school, I loved attending and working on the staff of a religious retreat called Happening. Not only were we encouraged to ask the difficult questions, but we were also able to do this in a close, positive atmosphere. Building community was the most important theme, and during the weekend, I experienced a sense of belonging to something larger, a sense of purpose. I spent three days in this wonderful utopia, before crashing against the rocks of reality.

Then, during the second such retreat, someone gave a talk that changed everything. The last talk of the weekend is always the “back to reality” talk, to prepare everyone for re-entry into the “real world.” This time, the theme was that we already were in reality. That we were all real people, and the community we created, in such a positive atmosphere, was real.

And so, throughout my adult life, I have been searching for that community in the “real world.” I have been looking for places where I can nurture that positive, cohesive atmosphere.

And I have found it many times.

One of the most memorable places where I found it was in our first neighborhood, after we were married. It was called “Pleasant Beach Mobile Home Resort,” and I wrote about it here.

Last weekend, while Beanie was staying with her grandparents, Rob and I made a trip back to Pleasant Beach. We are considering renting a lot there and living in the motor home, while we tie up some loose ends, after we are done with the house.  We brought a picture, as evidence that we had lived there before, because we didn’t expect anyone to remember us.

What followed was a very delightful walk.  People most definitely did remember us, although it’s been 9 years since we lived there.  Everyone was happy to see “the newlyweds,” and they fussed over pictures of Beanie.  They caught us up on all of the drama that had taken place over the years–the park went through a rough period, but now things are returning to the way they were.  Our old house was now the social gathering place in the park.  We learned who had moved away, who had died, and we met some of the new residents (including two, who were boaters).  We were assured that the manager (sadly, the lady who managed the park when we lived there has long since retired and moved out of the park) would definitely let us park our motor home on a lot.

For dinner, we ate at our old restaurant, in “our” table.  The restaurant had changed ownership and had a new name, but much of the staff had stayed.  Everyone came over the greet us, as they all had been wondering what we have been up to.  At the table next to us, we conversed with a couple who vacations in Galveston–they said we definitely need to take Beanie to the beach.

This is what it is like to return home, never as a stranger.  This is the kind of community we seek to become a part of, and help create if necessary, wherever life takes us next.

Back in 2001…

boat                                                                     pbsunset

 

trailer                                                                        trailerkitchen

And last weekend…

betterfrogandtrailer                                                                          trailer

About my Blogroll

Since many of you have recently joined us, following my move to WordPress, I thought I would take some time to explain my blogroll, as setting it up has been (and still is) an ongoing project.  I’ve done a lot of legwork for you, in finding the blogs that I’ve chosen to share!  Before putting a someone on my blogroll, I follow their blog for at least a month, looking for the following criteria:

1.  Small enough to still be personal.  The big minimalist blogs: The Minimalists, Becoming Minimalist, Zen Habits, Minimalist Mom, etc., all contain a wealth of information, but you don’t need my help finding them.  Instead, I’m looking for smaller blogs that are actually written by the author.  I’m looking for more voice, more community, than out-and-out information.

2.  To be on my list, the author needs to do something to foster community.  That would mean answering comments, answering e-mails, etc.

3.  Updated on a regular basis.  Generally speaking, this would mean at least once a week, although there are exceptions.  But, basically, when I first set up my blogroll, I would start following people who would stop updating, all too frequently.  The people on my list here, are pretty hard-core!

4.  Minimal advertising in posts.  It’s tempting to want freebies and money, but some minimalist bloggers have seriously sold out.  I’ve worked hard to find people who don’t (or very, very rarely) do sponsored posts and other sorts of advertising, under the guise of information. 

So, in case you’re new here, let me re-introduce everyone.

Be More With Less
Yes, this is one of the bigger minimalist blogs, but Courtney does so much to foster community, that I had to include her! An absolute expert on time management, Courtney still replies to her comments and answers every e-mail she receives.

Born Again Minimalist
Caitlyn offers a unique perspective as a relatively newer minimalist. Her posts are extremely honest, and she always generates great discussion.

Farming Your Backyard
Probably the best homesteading blog I’ve ever seen, Kathryn gives tips for self-sufficiency and life without a refrigerator. I’m going to use a lot of her suggestions next summer, when we’re on the boat.

Gold Stars Double Rainbows
Allison and Isiah are living in Paraguay, volunteering with the Peace Corps, and they share their adventures–and their joy–in living this simple, very meaningful lifestyle.

Intentionally Simple
Minimalism and parenthood definitely work well together, and Rachel gives many practical suggestions for living simply, with young children. She has a good mix of practical tips and slice-of-life type posts and pictures.

Just a Little Less
Claire’s blog is charming, and…well…cozy. She focuses not only on the larger ideas of minimalism, but also on the simple delights that make everyday worthwhile.

Little Red Suitcase
Like Claire, Heather focuses on simple pleasures as well, and her beautiful photography and sweet honesty make this blog a must-read.

Living Lagom
Everyday, no matter what happens, we all have the choice to laugh or to cry. And Sandra will always choose the former. She shares her sense of humor, at all of life’s absurdities, as she strives to find “lagom” (Swedish for “just enough”) in all aspects of life.

Living Simply Free
Lois has got a bit of everything! She tackles both the practical and philosophical aspects of minimalism. My favorites: her repurposed trash and thrift store finds, and her extensive list of links (be prepared to do a LOT of reading!) every Friday.

Miss Minimalist
This is another larger blog, but I had to include it, because Francine’s blog is definitely the hub of the minimalist community! Francine has been taking some time off, enjoying her toddler and all that motherhood has to offer, but she still features “Real Life Minimalist” guest posts once a week.

Plastic is Rubbish
“Polyethyline Pam” travels the world, completely avoiding plastic! Her blog is very action-oriented, featuring pictures of polluted areas, out-of-control-trash and tips for living life without plastic.

Simply Super Kim
Kim gave up a high-paying job to move closer to her family, and re-invented herself, as a minimalist, in the process! She focuses mainly on the philosophical side of minimalism, with a few practical tips in-between.

Slow Your Home
I’ve already shared Brooke’s book with you, but you also need to check out her blog! Just like in her book, Brooke’s emphasis is on being intentional with time, but she also gives many practical tips for decluttering and organizing.

Smallish Blog
All right, so it was the title that made me want to check out this blog! Evelyn and her family moved to a small house, which she calls the “Shoebox,” and she shares their adventures in living in a “smallish” space.

Streamlined Living
Sandy is new to the minimalist blogging community, and she shares tips and stories from her simple life, with a toddler. She has a mix of philosophical and practical posts.

The Ramble
Gigi travels around the world, living simply and seeing all there is to see. Her blog focuses mainly on telling stories–very good stories!–about her adventures.

The Simple Year
Kerry and her family are buying nothing new for an entire year! She shares amusing stories, tips, and lessons learned from her project.

Writing from Afar
An adventurer, Tony began his blog with a very specific destination in mind. But, gradually, his focus has changed from fixating on the end goal, to getting all that he can out of the journey. His stories are definitely my favorite aspect of his blog, where he also shares tips for living intentionally with time and money.

Zach Aboard
Cindy’s two children–Zach and his little sister, Naia–have never lived on land! She shares beautiful pictures, stories, and ideas from their life aboard the Majestic. My favorite posts are the ones about sailing–we definitely share the same passion!

Zen Presence
Dan’s writing focuses on Zen philosophy, intentional living, anti-consumerism, and sustainable living. So he has a very diverse audience with some great discussion! Dan’s writing is brilliant in its simplicity–he can make a point beautifully in very few words.

Happy reading everyone!

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Walled in by Possessions

I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that we’ve lost our sense of community, as our “standard of living” has increased.

There are so many little things, that used to be done outside of our home, that we now do in our house.

–Instead of going to the movies, we watch our big screen television.

–Instead of going to the playground, we own a swingset.

–Instead of going out to eat, we order fast food and eat it at home.

–Instead of going to the library, we order books and e-books at home (and have our own Internet access at home).

–Instead of going to the laundromat, we own our own laundry machines.

–Instead of taking our children to various places in the community, we fill their rooms with toys.

–Instead of enjoying hobbies within the community, we fill our houses with the supplies for different “activities”.

–Instead of cooking out at the park, we grill at home.

This disconnect never really hit home until last summer.  With 100 square feet of living space, we were forced to either make use of community resources, or lose our minds while living in a very small bleach bottle.  We didn’t have our own garden, so we would sit and enjoy the public garden on the riverwalk, right by our slip.  Beanie’s one box of toys got old fast, so she got used to walking across the bike path to the playground, where there was always a multitude of friends waiting.  Laundry was a weekly task, and I would enjoy the company of other transient boaters while I attended to it, in the laundry room.  We went to story hour at the library, we used the public grills (and sinks, if we were lucky!).

Docked in a public place, especially in a downtown wall slip, we were instantly a part of everything.  Tourists walked past our home, and looked inside.  We talked to everyone, and we were a part of it all.  Without a fortress of possessions surrounding us, we had no choice but to join the community.

We need to rethink this “American dream,” and we need to rethink “standard of living.”  Our current lifestyle is removing us from each other.  It’s time for us to come up with something better.

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Rethinking the Human “Race”

Years ago, when I was in my second year of teaching, a colleague told one of my students, in an IEP meeting, “You know, it’s called the human RACE for a reason.”

I chuckled, which earned me dirty look, as this well-meaning teacher went on to explain to the young lady that it’s a world where you eat or be eaten, and she will have to work harder, in order to have a place.

The student went on to do well, but what the teacher said never sat right with me.

Another case in point. Looking at a site with stats on my blog, it listed my largest “competitors.” Competitors? Seriously? As if one of us gets a trophy for having the most readers?

Clearly, the designer of that site didn’t get it.

Let’s take look at your typical foot race. Yeah, it’s pretty competitive for the top places. But you don’t have to go much further back, and the goal is no longer to beat out the other runners, it’s to beat your personal record. For some, it’s just to finish the race. And it doesn’t hurt you at all if the other runners beat their personal records as well. In fact, you will celebrate with them if they do. You will encourage those who are thinking about quitting the race.

Everyone who finishes the marathon, or half-marathon, gets the sticker for their car. It doesn’t matter where they placed.

If we’re living our lives trying to crush others in order to get ahead, we’re missing the point. If we’re living for nothing but personal gain, our time here is meaningless. We will accomplish nothing lasting.

If we want to change the world, we can do it. We can leave our mark, do something that matters, that lasts. But we can’t do it alone. One person is like a mere length of string, easily broken under strain, easily snapped. But woven together, the many lengths of string form an unbreakable rope.

We need each other. We need to re-establish community and build each other up. Together, we can bring an end to the mindset that the world is cutthroat place, without enough good to go around. Together, there is no limit to what we can accomplish.

Note: Please take a look at yesterday’s post, if you haven’t already. There is still room for you to join our weight loss group, if you are interested! We will get that going by the end of the week.

My One-Word Theme for 2013: Love

Last year, for the first time in a long time, I made New Year’s Resolutions. They provided our family with a destination, so they were definitely worthwhile. And we had a great journey, as we worked toward meeting all of them.

Eating healthy, reducing our energy usage and waste, being intentional with our possessions, and even keeping Christmas simpler will continue to be areas of focus in our lives. But, for 2103, I wanted to try something different, and do a one-word theme. This will provide a broader focus, kind of an umbrella under which all we do will fall.

Many times, when considering my theme, I wondered if the word “Love” would be appropriate. It’s such a cheesy, all-encompassing word, that seems to carry little actual meaning in this day and age. I considered other words, such as friendship, compassion, and kindness. But none of them seemed adequate for what I wanted to express. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines love as “the unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another.” That’s the love that I am talking about here.

Because this kind of love is what we need.

All around us, we see a lack of community. Possessions and “entertainment” are replacing our connections to others. We have the ability to “connect,” online, but we turn to shallow, fast-food style “communities” such as Facebook, where interact on such a shallow, surface level. And we all know the interaction is not always positive.

But wait, you might say, we have love, in our families! And most people do. We love our children, but can we really do our best raising them in a vacuum? Who can we ask for advice and support, when they’re misbehaving, struggling with their friends, or having trouble in school? We love our spouses, but is it really fair to expect one person to be our entire support network? Is it even possible for one person to be that (and for us to be that, for one person)? And who will we turn to when things are difficult (and at one point or another they will be)?

Our families will thrive only with love from the outside.

We will accomplish nothing by sitting around, complaining (or posting on Facebook!) about the lack of community in modern society. What we need to do–for the sake of our children, our marriages and relationships, our selves, and our dreams–is build our own.

You can keep your Facebook account, if you must. But stay in touch in a more personal way with those you truly care about. Don’t be “too busy.” It’s not a matter of writing everyday; it’s a matter of keeping that connection. And have interactions in real life. Invite people over–who cares if your house isn’t clean enough! Rather than reading pointless status updates, spend your time cultivating relationships, giving love.

As we strive to build community, and to share love with others, we will inevitably be given love as well. This can be extremely difficult, for those of us who have been hurt, who are convinced that we are not deserving. (Read this poem, as well as this blog post, from Be More With Less). We’ve all been hurt. It’s easy to run away, to stay isolated, but we need to learn to trust. We need to learn to receive love, to accept it and not immediately explain–under the guise of modesty–why we are not deserving.

We can love others, before we love ourselves. But when we can receive love, when we truly believe that we deserve it, our ability to give it expands far beyond what we can imagine.

So, my theme for 2013 is love. During this new year, I will give it, every chance I have. I will give other people the benefit of the doubt, and work toward having empathy toward their situation. I will stop complaining about the lack of community, and continue to work toward developing it. And I will work toward accepting love–without giving an explanation as to why I’m not good enough or why I don’t deserve it. Because we’re all good enough, and we all deserve it.

I love you.

I will not be writing any posts for the next three days, as I will be celebrating the holiday with my family. Have a wonderful Christmas, and I will be back on the 28th!

15 Great Small Blogs by People Who Don’t Have a Lot of Stuff

Being intentional with my online time has led me to rethink the reading that I have been doing. I enjoy checking into other people’s blogs, and I’m always looking for new ideas. But I’ve too often been disappointed–sometimes someone will have great ideas, then stop writing. Sometimes, a blog gets too big and becomes removed from the community they once were trying to create, or worse, starts merchandising.

The reason I share my ideas, and read the ideas of others, is to be a part of a community. To be a part of a discussion. To be challenged to make positive changes in my life. I found that some of my online activities did not do that, were just “fluff” or even a complete waste of time.

So, to improve the quality of my online time, to make sure that technology is actually enriching my life, I took a good look at my blogroll. I started searching for other people in the community, and followed their blogs for a few weeks. The end result is this list, which I will be presenting to you!

I won’t be referring to these as “Minimalist Blogs,” because I’ve found that many people resist that label. I always thought of it as a positive thing, because I always definted “minimalist” by the first people I met who lived this way. Because of that, my mental picture of a minimalist was NOT of someone trying to live like a monk, or someone living in an empty, sterile house. Really, “voluntary simplicity” might be a better descriptor, or even “intentional living.” But, no, as a special education teacher I’m sick of labels already. So I’m calling it as it is. Henceforth, we are “People Who Don’t Have a Lot of Stuff.” And it doesn’t get abbreviated, or turned into an acronym, because I see enough of those in my day. So there. The issue is settled.

Anyway, when choosing which blogs to follow, I used these criteria:

—The blog is written by the person who maintains it. I don’t follow a lot of big blogs, because they tend to run out of things to say and resort to guest posts exclusively. I want to hear the writer’s voice! My exception to this is Miss Minimalist, because her guest posts enhance her message, and she does write a post herself once a week. I know I also host Fly Lady’s column on Fridays, so I’m a hypocrite there…

—No merchandising! We’re trying to get away from consumerism and Getting More Stuff. So nobody on my list does sponsored posts. A couple of them do the occasional give-away, which I find to be annoying, but I did not include any that make that central to their focus.

—I chose only blogs that facilitate discussion. Everybody either responds to their comments or has a great discussion going on.

—These blogs are all updated at least once a week, unless the writer lets everyone know that they are taking some time off. They’re not likely to run out of things to say anytime soon!

–And, finally, the subject matter is good. These writers will challenge your way of thinking and of doing things.

So, here’s my list!

Gold Stars Double Rainbows
This is written by a couple living in Paraguay, with the Peace Corps. They share their adventures, as well as they ways in which living in that culture has challenged their way of thinking.

Intentionally Simple
This is written by Rachel, a mother and a Person Who Doesn’t Have a Lot of Stuff. She has great practical ideas and did a series called “31 Days to Living Intentionally Simple,” which is a great way to get started at simplifying your life!

Just a Little Less
Dolly has a lot of practical ideas for living simply, and her honesty and sincerity are very refreshing. Be sure to look at the pictures of her house–it’s gorgeous in its simple, calm decor!

Living Lagom
If you haven’t read this blog, you really need to! Sandra shares her stories and ideas in a very down-to-earth manner. “Lagom” is a Swedish term meaning “just enough,” and Sandra takes us on her journey to find lagom in every aspect of her life.

Living Simply Free
Lois lives in a 300 square foot apartment and shares her ideas for downsizing, decluttering, and upcycling. The best part of her blog are her projects, for turning junk into treasures.

Miss Minimalist
This is the only big blog that I follow. Francine does a lot of facilitate discussion and community. Her guest posts support her message and bring more people into the community that she helped create. And she writes one post a week as well, chronicling her efforts to be a Person Who Doesn’t Have a Lot of Stuff, with a child.

Plastic is Rubbish
This couple completely boycotts all things plastic! They share tales from their adventures, as they travel the world, and some very practical ideas to avoid using plastic. Even if you don’t avoid plastic, their ideas will help you to live more sustainably.

Simply Super Kim
After having ovarian cancer, Kim began her journey toward a more simple, healthy lifestyle. She has actually been sugar-free for three months now! Kim is honest about her struggles, as she tries to go against the grain.

Slow Your Home
Brooke is on a mission to “slow the hell down.” You will love her sense of humor and her great ideas. She also offers a “boot camp,” to help you get started on your jouney toward simplicity.

The Non-Consumer Advocate
Katy is an expert on thrift-store hunting and repurposing. You will love reading about her finds and be inspired to do some hunting of your own. It’s retail therapy for People Who Don’t Have a Lot of Stuff!

The Ramble
The adventure lifestyle is much easier, when you don’t have a lot of stuff. Gigi will take you across the world and entertain you with her fun and insightful stories.

The Simple Year
Kerry’s family is going a year, buying no new things. She documents her adventures and learnings as she does this. The most interesting posts are about other people’s reactions to her project.

Writing From Afar
When I first read about Tony’s plan to break free from the 9-to-5 workday and adventure full-time, I thought it was a pipe dream! But now, he’s come so close to turning that dream into a reality, that I can’t help but be inspired. In his posts, Tony challenges the script that we’re all expected to follow.

Zach Aboard
My favorite live-aboard family details life on the Majestic, a cataran docked in Chesapeake Bay. Cindy writes about natural/attachment parenting, simple living, and, of course, sailing.

Zen Presence
Dan shares wonderful ideas for finding focus and calm in the middle of a crazy world. You’ll probably want to print off some of his reminders, to help you find a bit of zen in your day.

So, that’s my list! I hope you enjoy reading all of these blogs as much as I do!