Mother’s Day Wish, 2017

On this, our day, may we pledge:

  • To make room for what matters (and let go of the rest)
  • To slow down when and where we can
  • To honor ourselves and our values without fear or regret 
  • To treat all mothers (including ourselves) with grace and compassion
  • To accept whatever we feel at any given time
  • And to trust that we’re doing it right. 

Happy Mother’s Day to each and every one of you–may it be simple and slow and filled with what matters most!

Lagom and Hygge: Two Little Words That Temper Our Minimalism

We’ve been called extremists by those outside minimalist circles. Friends, family members, and colleagues have struggled to understand why we only have four coffee mugs, why we would extend our minimal tendencies to our calendars and diets, or why I would want to take up bike commuting. With every new discovery on our minimalist journey, they respond with an “Oh, Jenna…” If only they knew how moderate our family’s minimalism can be!

If we think of minimalism as a spectrum, my family would probably fall somewhere in the middle. We only have one child, but we drive two cars. We’re fairly close to Francine Jay’s 100 Essentials model (I could not recommend this book more highly!), but one of those “things” is our several hundred books. We have a pet, we have more than two arm chairs, and we have a lot of candles. And, as minimalists, we’re more than okay with that. Here’s why:

  1. Lagom: Francine Jay wrote a great post on lagom, or the Swedish concept of “just the right amount.” She describes lagom as “a desirable state of appropriateness, or enoughness—[which] has nothing to do with scarcity or deprivation.” A personal state of appropriateness, which is different for everyone and, sometimes, is different within one family. What is just right for me is not the same as what is just right for my son or my husband. I like a sparse space, with few furnishings and room to play. My husband likes a cozy space filled with hefty, rustic luxuries. Our son can’t tell us what he prefers yet, but I’d bet it’s somewhere in the middle. To avoid conflict, each of us gets our own lagom.
  2. Hygge: We’re recently obsessed with the Danish concept of hygge, which Meik Wiking describes in The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living as “a sense of comfort, togetherness, and well-being.” We’ve spent the last month or so cultivating this intentional coziness in our home: lighting candles, turning off phones, putting on extra pairs of wool socks. It does require us to keep a few small comforts around (candles, books, blankets, etc.), but the payoff is well worth the price. We justify the extras by saying our minimalism makes room for our hygge. Our brand of minimalism is about intentionally practicing a genuine, comfortable, surrounded-by-loved-ones-with-hot-chocolate kind of life anyway.

No matter what we prioritize or define as enough, there’s room for all of us on the minimalism train, and we get to chart our own courses. It’s a journey, after all, toward a meaningful, authentic, and individual life—whatever that means to each of us (and no matter what we pack in our suitcase).

Minimalism, Now More than Ever

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Somewhere between the fall and spring I lost my center. Between the national election (and the divides it created in my organizations and families), the anniversary of our unexpected birth experience, and the allure of more (always more!) to be busy with, I lost sight of my goals and priorities. I lost myself. Fortunately, I won’t be that hard to find.

Why? Minimalism.

Minimalism is the answer when we feel this way. When we’re unsure of ourselves or our futures. When we find ourselves asking,

  • “Who am I?”
  • “What am I doing?”
  • Where am I going?”
  • “What do I want?”
  • “Why?”

Minimalism helps us answer these questions and silence the wondering. Here’s how:

  1. Minimalism helps us remember what’s important. Rather than an absence or an abstinence, minimalism is simply the thoughtful cultivation of a life worth living. It helps us identify our core values, priorities, and beliefs. When we do that, we see more clearly what gives our lives real meaning.
  2. Minimalism removes the unnecessary. When we commit to minimalism, we make room for the things that matter most, and we clear out the rest. By doing so, we start to realize how many of the things that tie us down or cause us anxiety have little to no bearing on our priorities. And if we don’t really need them, we can look at removing.
  3. Minimalism creates headspace and heartspace. We create space by eliminating the unnecessary. Once we eliminate noise and distractions and give ourselves room to think, we’re able to hear our own voices more clearly.
  4. Minimalism allows us to honor our values. If we remove the things that don’t honor our values, all that’s left are the things that do. If we’re diligent in this (in keeping our spaces free and clear), we can’t help but live authentically.
  5. Minimalism teaches us to let go of things. If we practice minimalism, we’re likely to purge things: physical items, calendar appointments, commitments, thoughts, and worries. Over time, we learn to let go. And each time we do it, the act of losing becomes a little less painful. We learn to hold tightly to what matters, but to loosen our grip on everything else. We see that all things serve a purpose in our lives and that it’s okay to say goodbye once that purpose is achieved. We learn to let go: either to enjoy it, or to let it hurt just a little bit less.

I don’t mean to make light of serious questions; finding and honoring ourselves takes work, and a lot of it. But we can make that work a little easier if we practice minimalism and choose the pursuit of a meaningful life.

Breathe: My Best Marriage and Life Advice

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My little brother got married this past weekend, and I spent a good long time trying to think of some good advice to give him. Having been married for five years myself, I knew he’d be looking to me as something of an expert, but to be honest, most days I feel like I still have a lot to learn. Add to that the fact that I’m a writer by trade and an actor at heart, and I was looking at a lot of pressure to get this advice and delivery bit right.
My now sister-in-law(!) asked me to write my brother a letter to be read the morning of the ceremony, a letter speaking to our life together and my wishes for the next phase of his. I spent weeks wracking my brain for good advice and putting it off. As I was driving to the hotel the morning before, I knew I finally had to come up with something. And quickly.
So I stopped overthinking. I looked out the window at the sublime beauty of central Minnesota— the gilded horizon, the bluest of blue skies dotted with billowy white clouds—and I took a deep breath. I looked down at my son sleeping in his car seat next to me—a tangible reminder of pure and unconditional love—and I took a deep breath. I looked up at my loving husband, the only person with whom I have ever imagined sharing this life—patience, understanding, and good humor personified—and I took a deep breath. And just like that, I knew what to say.

Here is my best advice for a beautiful life, married or otherwise: breathe.

Breathe to slow down the days you want to remember. Breathe in moments when you need to hold your tongue. Breathe to center yourself or to remind yourself of little blessings. Whenever you need it: breathe.
Sometimes life can be messy and complicated. Sometimes it requires careful planning, clever problem-solving, or something in between. Often it’s simple, and all it takes is a clear mind and a deep breath. So breathe.

4 Personal Finance Rules We All Know (But Rarely Follow)

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Money terrifies me. It really does. I don’t like it, and I don’t understand it, and I fear what I don’t know. (Seriously, when I work on budgeting, I often ask my husband to hold my hand.)

But I also know I need to face that fear and take control of my finances in order to live the life I want. So I’m working on it. And it’s a painfully slow process, but I’m trying.

I took a webinar yesterday on personal finance, and afterward, was feeling great about where we’re at. I felt so good, in fact, I decided to go through our spending report (which I do monthly) to identify small money leaks before they become floods (Day 9 of No Sidebar’s 30 Days to a Simpler Life course, which I highly recommend).

Now, I knew we had gone a little overboard this month with some anticipated extra spending and minor emergencies, things like work on our basement, ER bills from our two-month sick spell, a family wedding, etc. Would you like to guess how much we went over our monthly budget?

In the last 30 days we have spent $2,000 outside of our regular budget. You read that correctly: $2,000! We’re not rich people by any stretch of the imagination, and that for us is a lot of money.

I should clarify: most of that spending fell in the “anticipated extras and minor emergencies” category, but there was a fair amount of trivial stuff, too. Coffee-shop stops and a Target run. That’s where my money went last month—instead of building our wealth, saving for our family’s future, we bought coffee and crap we didn’t need. I’m so disappointed in myself.

But everyone slips from time to time, which is why we have an emergency fund. Fortunately, we’re going to be just fine, but this seems like a good time to remind ourselves of some personal finance rules we all know but rarely follow:

1. Pay cash.

I’m 99.9% sure this never would have happened if I had paid for these purchases with cash. Because the sacrifice of the transactions register differently in our minds, we spend, on average, 12–15% more when we use credit cards than we do with cash, so making the switch should be a no brainer.

We’ve also been practicing the skill since childhood. The lucky ones among us were given a cash allowance, which we’d spend until it ran out, and then we’d be done until we earned more. After years of practice, we should be pros.

But finances get complicated as we get older: we’re encouraged to open credit lines to boost our credit scores, and we take on debts that aren’t always easy to pay with cash, things like student, car, and home loans. My hope, though, is that using cash is like riding a bike: easy to pick up after a while, if inconvenient.

2. Make a budget or spending plan.

If you can’t control your spending today, it will control you tomorrow. It’s as simple as that. Make a budget or a plan for how you want to use your hard-earned cash. Allocate it while you can.

Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist has a really interesting suggestion for monthly money management: a spending plan as opposed to a budget. Because, let’s face it, life isn’t the same from month to month. I’m really intrigued by this idea. Has anyone tried it?

3. Pay yourself first.

I’ve never successfully done this, but paying yourself first—setting aside money for savings before it gets eaten up by discretionary spending—is a great way to build wealth while reigning in a tendency toward unnecessary spending. If you don’t have it, you can’t spend it, but wait: you do have it. It’s just already been used for something more. And if an emergency arises, you’re covered!

4. Stop digging.

This is obvious, and we all know it, but if you’re in debt, or you want to increase your savings/decrease your spending, stop overspending! We all have our hangups; ours is emotional spending and a penchant for convenience, but now is the time to resist. Like any habit, it simply takes practice. Our society will tell you, and the commercial interests of the big-banking industry will tell you, that you can have whatever you want when you want it. But if you’re like me, you likely can’t, or shouldn’t.

I never want to be in the same position I was yesterday, so starting today, we’re following these rules. Stay tuned to see how it goes.

There was good news yesterday: I was fortunate enough to have a piece published on No Sidebar, “4 Ways Having a Baby Made Me a Better Minimalist.” I have so much respect for the community being built there, and I’m honored to be a part of it.


What personal finance tips and tricks, simple or complex, help you stay on track with your financial goals?

Sick and Tired (Literally) from Too Much

I am sick and tired—literally—from too much stuff. Seriously. Between a busy stretch at work, the beginning of the school year, and our little one starting daycare, we’ve just had too much to do, and we tried really hard to get it all done. Then we all ended up sick.
Which got us behind. So we worked harder, which wore us out. Which got us further behind. And the cycle continued. For two months!

We’re just coming out of it now, and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but  it’s clear some things need to change.

We’ve been minimalists for a while now, but I believe there’s always room for improvement. After spending four years focused primarily on simplifying our things, we’re ready to start simplifying other areas of our lives, so here’s what we’re working on these days:

There will, if the universe is willing, be more  regular content coming your way shortly. Stay tuned, and thank you for your patience!
In the meantime, how do you reset when your stuff and schedules get the best of you?

Minimalism Update: Two Things I’ve Learned in the Last Four Years

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After four years on my minimalist journey, here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. I’m pretty good at purging.
  2. I’m also pretty good at bringing in new things to fill the empty space.

Until recently I’ve approached minimalism with a feast-or-famine mentality: I’ve done really well at resisting “stuff” for a while, but then I’ve felt the need to reward myself for resisting said stuff, so I’ve treated myself to more stuff. And then I’ve felt guilty for bringing in more things, so I’ve purged, and replaced, and purged, and replaced. It’s an expensive, exhausting, and unnecessary cycle. But it’s just felt like the thing to do.

It wasn’t until I came to terms with wanting more out of life that I understood and really, truly, started to want less. My son’s arrival has made me want more of everything that makes life worth living:

  • Time
    Love
    Health
    Security
    Adventure
    Generosity

And in order to make room for these things that matter so much to me, I have to learn to (and want to) let go of the things that don’t:

  • Debt
    Worry
    Possessions
    Perfection

I’ve got a long way to go in the next four years. I’ve got a mind, home, and schedule to clear. I’ve got more concrete priorities to set. But the good news is I can let go. Now I just need to learn to keep that space free.


What have you learned on your minimalist journeys?