It's Just Stuff (A #MinimalismSimplified Post)

Last week I had a little meltdown when I went up into the play loft and discovered that my much beloved American Girl dolls (and their various accouterments) that had been in my possession for almost 30 years were - to put it mildly - trashed. There might have been weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth...or at least a few tears and a lot of disappointment that the girls had taken such poor care of my treasured childhood toys. I did my best to keep my temper in check, but my disappointment with them was evident, and internally, I was seething.

After the kids were in bed, I found myself in the bathroom, sobbing. I was so angry - with them, for ignoring my instructions to take care of the dolls, and at myself, for caring so much about stuff, and not enough about the tiny humans who live with me 24/7. But God has a way of taking situations with the kids and turning them around to teach me valuable lessons, and this time was no different.

As I wiped away the tears and continued to dissect my reaction (I'm an INTJ, it's what we do), I realized that God was giving me an opportunity to model any number of things to the girls. I could either teach them that stuff was more important than people, or I could show them - by example - that even when the stuff you prize is ruined, the people responsible are still the only eternal part of the equation. Stewardship and care taking are good lessons to learn, but so is the value of the human behind the mistake. Stuff is just stuff - we can't take it with us. It's good to keep that in perspective.

As I continue in my quest to de-clutter, dealing with the kids has helped me ask myself some new questions. What am I saving it for? Why am I holding onto it? Who could use it and enjoy it more than I do? Is there a reason I'm storing it - and if so, is it a good reason? I may never live a minimalist lifestyle (and I'm not saying that I want to), but I would like to find a way to simplify the stuff we live with, and maintain the perspective that none of it lasts forever.

If you're interested in living simply, you may enjoy this post by Joshua Becker (the guy behind the becoming minimalist blog). Three times a year he offers a 12-week course to help families and individuals declutter their homes. The fall session of the Uncluttered course will begin in September. If you're interested in learning more, you can sign up through this (affiliate - thanks!) link to be notified when registration opens. 


Keep It #Simple - A Blog Renewal

Everyone who works in social media knows that it's difficult to get traction on Facebook pages these days without paying for ads. And anyone who knows me (IRL or through the blog) knows that my Scotch-Irish heritage makes me too cheap to ever pay Facebook to push my post. So, naturally, this puts me at an impasse with the social media giant.

However, I keep using my Busy Nothings page because I've never been good at doing short blog posts. I'm too wordy, wanting to get it just right, while Facebook offers a faster way to do shorter posts, add an image, and get people to see it. For example, yesterday I did a quick post about this necklace that once belonged to my grandmother. For some reason it struck the elusive sweet spot and people started liking, sharing, and commenting. In less than 24-hours my post had almost 2,900 views. Do you know how many views my last blog post had? 58. {crickets} While the blog is an echo chamber, Facebook is a community. Lesson: No one wants to click twice.

Short and sweet, with the right content. This is the sweet spot that I dream of hitting more often, not just on Facebook, but here on the blog as well. With five kids to feed, clothe, and shuttle around, plus my work as a freelance writer and editor, my aspirations of writing a book, and my personal goal of still managing to read 50 books this year, my time is spread thin. "Like butter scraped over too much bread," as Bilbo Baggins said. If I want to continue blogging (and I do) then I need to learn how to keep it simple. Don't use 50 words when 6 will do (for example, Seth Godin).

So today is the beginning of a new writing plan, something that fits in with my ongoing desire for simplified minimalism in everything - from my kitchen pantry to my blog. Keep it simple. Life is already full of busy nothings, so perhaps it's time for me to add something a little more substantial to the mix. I've been blogging for 10 years, and it's time to figure out exactly what I want to say. Will you come along to see what changes? I hope so. But if not... I'll see you on Facebook.


What's On My Nightstand #WOMNS (Summer Mystery Edition)

Summer 2018 seems to have been the season for discovering new (to me) British mystery stories. As stated previously, I've long been a fan of Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and their respective detectives, but this summer I not only stumbled across the Death in Paradise books, but a lovely little series called the Lady Hardcastle Mysteries by T.E. Kinsey.

Thanks to our Amazon Prime account (which I love, but hate that they recently raised the yearly fee - again), through the Prime lending library I was able to read A Quiet Life in the Country (Book #1) for free. I will now state that this is a brilliant marketing ploy, because I got sucked in to the series and purchased the second book, In The Market For Murder (albeit with credits that I got on Prime Day). But even if you didn't have credits for a free book, the Kindle editions in this series are currently priced at $1.99, which isn't bad for a new book (but if you insist on paper, those are currently listed for $6.99).

Let's get one thing straight from the start - these are not the best mystery books I've ever read, but they have relatively good character development (I did feel like a book was missing between #1 and #2) and unique plot lines. Set in the early 1900's, Lady Hardcastle and her faithful servant, Armstrong, are unique in their independence and abilities (Lady Hardcastle drives her own car, while Armstrong is trained in martial arts and isn't afraid to use those skills when necessary), and the local police are soon calling on them for a cup of tea and help with the latest murder case. Whether they are chasing jewel thieves or rounding up local poisoners, Lady Hardcastle and Miss Armstrong keep things light and steer clear of the blood and gore.

Although not on par with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, T.E. Kinsey has written an entirely enjoyable series of books, and continues to churn them out (Book #4 - A Picture of Murder - will be released on October 22). For $1.99, they have made a delightful addition to my Kindle bookshelves, and I look forward to more Hardcastle and Armstrong escapades in the future.

What's on YOUR nightstand (or Kindle)?


What's On My Nightstand (#WOMNS): Caribbean Mysteries Edition

If you've been reading the blog for any length of time, then you probably know that I am a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, and enjoy a good British mystery show when I find one. In the case of Holmes and Poirot, I read - and loved - the books long before I ever saw Benedict Cumberbatch or David Suchet own the characters on TV, and as much as I enjoyed their respective portrayals of my favorite detectives, in my own mind the books would always be better.

Image result for sherlock surprised gif
No copyright infringement is intended
But two or three years back, I came across a lovely little stand-alone BBC, British-French mystery show called, Death in Paradise, staring Ben Miller (seasons 1-3), Kris Marshall (seasons 3-6), and, currently, Ardal O'Hanlon (season 6-present). The cast (even with the changing D.I.s) was a perfect mix of British dry humor and French-influenced island charm, with the original D.I. Richard Poole (Miller) bringing his prejudice of all things non-British with him into every case. A cultural clash in the sense that D.I. Poole is continually frustrated by the laid-back island life, the beautiful weather, the lack of a good pub, and an annoying little lizard named Harry, yet very Poirot-esque in the way that all three D.I.s always have their "moment" of realization, when all the clues come together and the killer is revealed. It's a murder mystery show, but a light-hearted one. No gruesomeness, no blood and gore, and plenty of witty dialogue (thanks in part to Dwayne Myers - played by Danny John-Jules). Bottom line is that I'm always excited when another season is released. But this is supposed to be a book review, so why am I talking about a television show? Good question. Read on!

Last month I was browsing through the Prime library and discovered a free Kindle version of a British mystery series I hadn't heard about before (A Lady Hardcastle Mystery). I downloaded it and read it in a few days (review still to come), and when I got to the end it informed me that if I enjoyed this book, I might also like the Death in Paradise mysteries. Say what? There are books?

As it turns out, yes, there are - three of them! Robert Thorogood is the creator of the TV series, and as D.I. Poole was removed from the show (no spoilers - you'll have to watch it to see what happened!) at the beginning of season 3, Thorogood turned plot ideas involving Poole into mystery novels. I decided to take a risk and buy the first book, A Meditation on Murder, since it was just $0.99, and much to my surprise and delight, the book was every bit as good as the television show! The books stand alone (meaning, you needn't have watched the show to enjoy the books), but if you've seen the show, then the voices and personalities of the characters are already in your head and it makes it even more enjoyable. 

Since my $0.99 purchase, I've gone on to acquire (and devour read) book #2 (The Killing of Polly Carter) and #3 (Death Knocks Twice). I honestly don't have a favorite, or a least favorite, as they are all so different. D.I. Poole and Sargent Camille Bordey are just as interesting in the books as they are on screen, and each book leaves you hanging until the end when the killer is revealed. I've honestly been surprised in all but one of them with who actually did the deed. Fans of Agatha Christie and Alexander McCall Smith should love this series, and I personally can't wait for the next book to come out (whenever that might happen). Two thumbs way up.  

What's on YOUR Nightstand?


#MinimalismSimplified: Evolving Needs

Do you have a favorite mug? The one that you grab every time you make a pot of tea or coffee? The one you might even shed a tear over if it broke because of the memories associated with it?

Several years ago I cleaned out the mugs in our kitchen to a select group that - at least at the time - all meant something to me. The mug from when we lived in Alaska. The handmade pottery we bought when we lived in Lesotho. The one I had made for the Hubs when he (briefly) had an electrical contracting side business. These were the mugs I would never get rid of because we either used them every day, or we liked the memories that they recalled, or... I felt like I spent good money on them and to get rid of them seemed wasteful (but storing them, unused, in my cabinet somehow made the expenditure make sense??).

Over the last two years, my perspective on what is worth keeping and what needs to move on to a new home, has changed. When we adopted five kids, our kitchen usage habits changed. It was no longer a sanctuary for leisurely sipping coffee over breakfast - it became a place of packing lunches and handing out breakfast pastries while giving the minute-by-minute countdown of how long it would be before we needed to be out the door. For a variety of reasons, the Hubs and I switched from coffee to tea, and rather than using something from our carefully curated collection, we were grabbing our travel mugs as we headed out to work and the daily school run. Life changed, which meant our needs did as well. 

As I've mentioned before, life with a family of seven has caused our view on stuff and minimalism to evolve, and it's a regular occurrence for me to wander through our kitchen, opening doors and drawers, and asking myself, "What can go today?" As it turns out, last week what I deemed "no longer necessary" were these eleven mugs. 

As life and needs change, how often do we continue to hold on to the things that we used to think were necessary? Looking at these mugs whenever I opened the cabinet doors became more of a habit than a pleasure. The handmade steins were tucked away on the top shelf that required me to stand, first on a stool, then on the counter! Not exactly my "go to" choice for drinking hot chocolate, then, were they? The Dunkin' Donuts mugs were used for years, but when they were originally purchased it was as a reminder of our year in Boston and our weekly trips to DD. Now we have a Dunkin' Donuts just 10 minutes drive from our house, and the mugs have become redundant.

These mugs represent so much stuff - tucked away in the basement, in closets, in storage boxes, in drawers - that used to mean something, but has become secondary to more important things. My perspective has been slowly changing from that of an individual who needed to control everything and had a hard time letting go of anything, to one who can see that it's all just stuff. Only people matter. 

This weekend I pulled out some of my big Disney fairy tale story books that had been mine as a child. I'd been storing them away, waiting for the girls to be old enough and calm enough to read and enjoy them. The question that I finally asked myself was, "What am I waiting for?" Yes, I'd like them to take care of them, and I want to teach them to treat books with respect so that they last for years, but in this case, so what if they get a rip here and there? The girls are all into princesses and happily-ever-after NOW...not later, when they're old enough to take good care of the books but will be more interested in driving than dolls. As I brought the stack of books into their room, I was met with squeals and cheers and excitement over the fact that they could keep these books on the bookcase in their room, and read them whenever they wanted. Shouldn't it be more important for me to raise children who love books than it is to preserve the books themselves? 

Meanwhile, our ever evolving sense of what we need and how we use things means that we currently have a hot water kettle, a French press, a stash of tea and coffee, and our most favorite mugs set up in our bedroom. Our sanctuary has moved, our needs have changed, and I'm embracing all that could mean for the stuff that now sits, unused, in the rest of our house.


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