Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Keeping it Simple

These mountains are what we wake up to each day. The clouds are constantly changing around them, creating a new painting moment by moment. The power lines are a bit of a downer. If you look closely between the peaks of the mountains, you can see some water falls trickling down. Those waterfalls carved the peaks the way unconditional love smoothes a heart of stone.

The year before we left for Hawai'i I came to the conclusion that an enormous part of my life was spent simply managing my possessions. Saturdays were chore days, where the whole family chipped in in to dust, polish, clean, straighten, vacuum or put away our accumulation of possessions. But cleaning wasn't just for Saturdays. Every day had a list of chores assigned to it in order to keep our family of 6 fed, clothed and clean. I think the initial misdiagnosis of a possibly shorter life due to a heart defect caused me to ask myself what I was doing with my life. I wondered if I was spending the time that God gives me each day in a way that increases peace on earth or simply reduces dust collection and laundry pile-ups. Not that laundry and cleaning are bad things, but I became convinced that if I would let go of some of my stuff, I could have more time to do the things in life that really mattered such as helping people, writing, and loving my family. Our move to Hawai'i provided an opportunity to rethink my home and life with a focused goal: make more time of people-oriented tasks and less for possession-oriented tasks. Saving time became even more critical when we decided that for the first time in our marriage, both parents would work full-time. To keep ourselves from burning out, we made some specific resolutions:

1. Spare the stuff. Keeping only the furniture, toys and knick-knacks that were useful (or too meaningful to lose) and ridding our lives of the rest of the things we were holding onto was really helpful in freeing up our time. The less things we have, the less we have to dust or maintain, the more time we have for other things, most importantly, people.

2. Smaller is better. I was always thankful that we lived in a small home in Maryland but our current house is even smaller. We determined to furnish our home with only the necessary furniture for living comfortably. So, not only is our home smaller, more importantly, it is less cluttered. It used to take us hours as a family to get our house spiffy clean. Now it takes about 30 minutes.

3. Touch it once. One huge time saver is to set up systems for mail, laundry, food and other daily tasks so that the items involved are touched as few times as possible in the completion of the task involved. For instance, in our home in Maryland, the mail was brought in, put on the step, taken upstairs to the office and put in a basket. Now, the mail is brought directly in the location where we pay bills (the most important part of mail). Some of this is the difference between living in a one level home instead of a multi-level home, but some of the process just needed fixing. Dishes are another example. In our old house, we had a dishwasher and many cabinets. Each day someone would empty the dishwasher, put the dishes in the cabinet, take the dishes out later, set the table, then re-load the dishwasher and start the process over again the next day. I still wish we had a dishwasher, but now I have a dish rack (which used to be an aquarium stand) that displays my dishes and utensils and allows them to dry at the same time. Now, I don't set the table during the week, only on Sundays. So for a regular meal, we grab the dishes from the rack, fill our plates and enjoy our dinner at the table in the lanai (in beautiful weather all year long). Such a simple thing, but every few minutes saved adds up.

4. Keep it simple. Life can be so complicated and we add to the frenzy with all of our unrealistic expectations. One area we have tried to keep more simple is gift giving.I was horrified to discover that many of my attempts to love our kids by blessing them with toys or other treasures ended up in the attic only to have me drip with sweat as I packed them up for Goodwill.It has been such a relief to look at birthdays as days to go and do special things we wouldn't do otherwise instead of feeling compelled to go out and buy something. So far, our children have said they really like this method of gift giving better than before.

5. Stay close. My life in Maryland was anything but strategically located. Now that we live here, I can see the value of small town life. Everything is close. We grumble when we have to go "all the way into town" because it means going through the mountains and driving for 20 minutes. We are so used to 7 minute drives that 20 minutes feels like a day trip. Having lived here a year, I am astounded by the time saved (and gas, too) because we live and work and worship closer to home. I had no idea how much living closer to everything would reduce stress.

6. A place for everything and everything in its place. This sounds nit-picky but it's so helpful to really think about the most strategic place for everything instead of the place things ends up. Being intentional about our home will help us be intentional about our lives. Keeping after my kids about putting things away helps them be intentional about their lives, too.

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