Stuff That Lasts

I used to have a poverty mentality when it came to stuff. Like, physical stuff. The poverty mentality is one which decides that more stuff for less money is better because, well, you get more. It’s about the quantity of stuff (food, clothes, gum balls– whatever), not necessarily the quality.

But after one too many “BOGO” sales at Walmart and Rue21, clipping coupons for processed food that I knew wasn’t healthy for me, and that I would never buy unless I had a coupon, as well as after the 10 Hanger Project, I realized that cheap stuff doesn’t usually last.

It was a few years ago that I started to think of my wardrobe as a year-round capsule, with some very seasonal pieces here and there I could stow away for the winter or summer (think shorts and bulky sweaters). With this in mind, I decided to invest in a few very nice, and quality pieces, which I usually got secondhand via consignment stores, eBay, or Thredup. I’m talking things like a pair of J Brand skinny jeans, my Matt & Nat saddlebag, and this super versatile Market & Spruce navy blazer that I’m wearing now. This worked wonders for my tendency to shop for clothes, because I was very specific about what I needed (read: wanted) and would be willing to spend money on.

I started to apply this principal to other items too. Baby products were a go-to, since my little girl is just under 11 months, and most first-time mothers research the heck out of their baby products. But I also tried to think about it with kitchen utensils, household cleaning tools, home decor, and even food.

(Note: With food, think of it as what will make a lasting difference on your health or on your experience of the food, not so much about the quantity or expiration date. Organic chicken has less hormones that will screw up your system, for example, so it might be worth it to spend the extra cash. But that tray of Fanny Bay oysters with butter sauce and $18 glass of Chardonnay may not add to your health, but is worth the splurge when you and your hubby are celebrating your 10th wedding anniversary because you will always remember it and smile. That kind of lasting.)

I’m finding that if I’m careful about researching the quality and functionality of a product, whether an item of clothing or a kitchen gadget, I’m more likely to appreciate it, and also take good care of it. In addition to it simply being of higher quality and lasting longer, my care and pride in these things also make them last.

This is a good lesson to learn. The Tripp Trap high chair my daughter sits in at breakfast will probably be used by all of our kids. My long sleeve wool black dress will likely be a staple in my closet for years to come. Even our stainless steel water bottles will no doubt help us save money for as long as my husband can keep track of them ūüėČ

But even these heavily-researched, quality-made, price-compared, and highly-functional items do not fall into the category of “stuff that lasts”.

Tee shirts get holes. Evens ones from Banana Republic. Sheets get stained. Even ones with good reviews and high thread counts. Purses wear out. Even ones that go with every outfit and fit all of your “essentials”. And while I don’t think there is much wrong with hunting for the few quality items that will make your wardrobe functional and fashionable, or that will help you be more sustainable in your cooking and lunch-packing, I cannot deny that for me, it is easy to get swept away by these seemingly lasting things, which are, in all reality, completely temporary.

They are temporary not simply because they all will get holes, stains, or wear and tear. They are temporary because this entire world is passing away. Even your kids are temporary. Even your best friend or your spouse or your mom is temporary. Even you are temporary.

Here’s where this post takes a turn, people.

“So we do not loose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing fur us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”¬† (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

As a follower of Jesus, part of my job while I’m here on this temporal earth is to stare at the unseen–the eternal– to not become blinded by the transient. And, if I’m honest, I spend far too much time looking at temporary things. My heart, on the surface level, loves things that don’t last. There is always something immediate and attractive that keeps me from anticipating heaven, and all of those unseen things that are little tastes of what is to come.

God has used many things to get me to be smarter about what I spend my money on, and choose to own. For ethical reasons, like: who made it and how were they treated? For practical reasons, like: am I really going to wear that enough to justify the amount on the price tag? But the world still tempts to distract my wandering heart, even in this noble call to minimalism.

I am reminded that spending hours price-comparing a purse that I don’t actually need is not saving me anything, and is actually hindering me from being of use for the spread of God’s Kingdom. Being prideful about the fact that all of the furniture in my home was purchased used or given to us as gifts does nothing to prepare me for my future home in heaven. Researching and reading reviews of the safest and most versatile baby carrier might help me rest easy when I wear my daughter out and about, but it does nothing to foster those invisible Fruits of the Spirit that will help me rest easy in the gracious arms of Jesus.

My point is, even being prudent and wise and a minimalist can make a girl take her focus off of the real point of this life. This time we spend here on earth is merely a blip on the frequency of eternity, and none of our capsule wardrobes, safe carseats, or eco coffee mugs will matter one we get to heaven and see our Savior’s face.

Temporary things don’t matter as much in light of eternity. Peter says that a person can become “so nearsighted that he is blind” (2 Peter 1:8). We are capable of getting so focused on temporary things that we become blind to the things that actually matter. A mouse infestation can make us forget about our future inheritance, eternal security, and the grace that God promises to pour out for us for all eternity. We quickly loose the joy of our salvation and future glory because of a grape juice stain on the carpet. We become focused on the here and now. And it’s not that we shouldn’t pay any attention to the issues that surround us, what we choose to spend money on, or how we choose to do life with our families and friends, but we need to look at all of these things with an eternal lens.

At any moment, I am going to be taken into a new existence. I will not care at all about some of the things I currently obsess with.

So while I’ll probably still be very choosey about what I hang in my closet, and I’ll likely still invest in grass-fed beef over the cheaper tubes they sell at my local grocery store, I will remember that these things are not a part of that category of “stuff that lasts”, and I will fix my heart, my treasure, and my eyes on what truly is. The invisible stuff. The God stuff. The real stuff that lasts.

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What Minimalism Isn’t (to me)

It’s been about a year now since I began my minimalist journey– or rather, my wannabe-minimalist journey. I’ve gotten rid of a lot of stuff, mostly clothes, and I’ve reworked a lot of my schedule to reflect a more simplified … Continue reading

“So what do you do?”: on work, Millennials, and identity

identity

It’s been well over a year now. I haven’t been a CPS teacher since June of 2015. It seems almost impossible, when I think of that young idealistic teacher setting her sights on her newly decorated classroom, nervously awaiting the first wave of Freshman to enter in and take their seats.

That girl was going to change the world. Despite all odds, she was going to stick with it and be strong. This was what she was made to do.

… Okay, so maybe I never really felt like that. But that’s what you think you feel when you’re a newly graduated education major about to become educator. You just assume that stereo-typical, overly-idealistic, “Freedom-Writers“-esque attitude that may or may not be around at the end of the first semester. You just do. Because, if you don’t, it is way too easy to admit that you’re discouraged already and are hoping and praying no one notices that you have no idea what you’re doing. And also because, every other young new-hire in urban education acts like they feel this way, so, I mean, what real choice do you have? So you convince yourself that you are going to change the world, one student at a time, and you put on your game face and you assume this attitude as who you are.

What a mistake I made in doing this. 

Because three years later, when I find myself utterly hating my job and myself, and feeling completely ineffective and drained, I decide it’s time for teaching and me to part ways. Yes, it’s only been three years. But I’ve been in romantic relationships for less time than that before I¬†realized it wasn’t meant to be either. So, there.

But now that I am no longer Hilary Swank, the dedicated teacher who is willing to give up her entire personal life in order to reach the “unteachable”, who am I? And why did I place my identity in such a fragile place as a 22-year-old hoping for the best in a toxic work environment with little to no resources or support?

I don’t think I am alone in this. I hope not. Because then this blog post is solely for my own benefit, which I guess is fine…

The¬†Millennial generation, of which I am a part of, often gets a bad rap for being socially inept, obscenely selfish, and unable to hold down a job for more than a few years, much less have a successful longstanding career. Now, believe me,¬†I could write an entire blog post on why I think this reputation has come about, and my response to it, but I’ll save that for another time.

I will say though, that after being laid off every single year I worked as a public school teacher, I was only able to successfully be rehired each time (sometimes the only rehire in the entire school), by working long hours, volunteering to lead professional development, obtaining outstanding evaluations, and sufficiently increasing my student’s test scores. I was able to successfully¬†make¬†myself invaluable to my Principal and co-workers, and I hardly think I could have been rehired each year without some level of social skills, strong work ethic, and an¬†inexhaustible desire to keep my position. Just sayin’.

But the reason I mention the whole Millennial thing is because I think this reputation (specifically about the job/career piece) stems more from the changing times than from a character flaw spreading across the entire generation–which oddly includes 19-year-olds all the way to 39-year-olds.

According to the most recent available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker today will stay at one job for an average of only 4.4 years. And according to a recent survey of 1,189 employees and 150 managers, 91% of Millennials¬†(born between 1977-1997) expect to stay in a job for even less than that:¬†three years. This means that¬†most men and women of this age group¬†will¬†have 15 ‚Äď 20 jobs over the course of their entire working lives. But this is due more to things like an unstable¬†economy and technology replacing workers than to an entire generation of fickle people who can’t make up their mind about what they want to do with their lives… which is sort of how I feel, but which I don’t think is the norm.

This intrigues me for a number of reasons:

  • 1.) I have found that many people’s response to my 3-year “career” as a teacher is mixed. Upon examination of the different reactions, many people within my generational age group (20-something Millennials), seem to totally get it, while the majority of retired people (of the Baby Boomer generation) seem to view my short-lived career as puzzling, even if they act extremely polite about it all.
  • 2.) I have always been told that job instability on a resume could cost one a future job. From what I understand, “chronic job-hoppers” are often screened out, and recruiters instead¬†seek prospective employees who seem to offer longevity.
  • 3.)¬†From my limited experience, and from a bit of research, the average person gains a sense of identity from their work. The question we almost always ask a new acquaintance at a party is “so what do you do?”, meaning not “what hobbies do you have that make you happy?”, or”what do you like to do for fun?”, or even “what is your mission in life?”. No, this question invariably means “what is your job?”, which places a lot of importance on what we choose to do to make a¬†living, rather than how we choose to live. I find this interesting coming from a generation that will ultimately answer this question of “what do you do?”, 15-20 different ways throughout their working life.

Okay so, that’s the end of the statistics and research part of this post. Back to the point.

I have been mulling over¬†this whole ¬†“identity thing” for a while now– really, ever since I quit my job last year. What are the elements that go into shaping who we are, and how is who we are perceived differently by different people, and do those different perceptions impact our identity?

As a Christian, I often remind myself that my identity is in Christ. However, I believe that God made each of His children¬†to have unique characteristics and purpose, despite our commonality of contentment with our lives through His will. I know that I personally have discovered more of my true identity as¬†I draw nearer to God, which I have done¬†quite a lot since last year. So, although I know that my mission is the same as other Christ-followers in helping to bring God’s Kingdom here on earth, I know that God has equipped me to do this in a way that is true to my identity,¬†and which will not be the same as every other Christian.

As a Millennial who has accepted the fact that job-hopping is probably¬†unavoidably¬†in my future, I am seeking ways to define myself verbally to others so that more of myself is revealed rather than¬†simply what my job happens to be at that particular time. I know I am viewed differently now that I do no answer the question “so, what do you do?” with “I’m a High School teacher¬†in the inner city”, although I do not think the core of who I truly am has changed much at all. How one¬†makes money at a particular season in life, is not always an accurate reflection on who they are.

All this is rather complicated. And I find that it is made further complex by this new season in life that I now find myself approaching currently.

You see, I found out in June that I am pregnant. And since then I have had this vacillating sense of what this means about my identity, as if the other stuff wasn’t enough to think about.

Don’t get me wrong! I am extremely happy and utterly ecstatic about this news! The baby was planned, and my husband and I are over-the-moon-excited. This is what we want. And yet, it’s difficult to imagine, or rather, realize, that my identity is now shifting¬†due to another living being occupying my body. Already, this little creature is impacting who I am–what I eat, what I (don’t) drink, how often I eat, sleep, and pee, and what limitations my body has, even down to what positions I can comfortably sleep! These things are also not who I am, but I’m sure they effect other’s perception of me, and I know I personally am starting to see myself differently: as not simply a woman or even a wife, but as a mother.

Side note:¬†this is totally the first time we will be sharing this news publicly online (for those that actually read this far), so please forgive the lack of cute announcement photos or “bump pics”– that’s just not our thing.

Upon reflection of the loss of my “career” as a teacher, the realization that my elder Baby Boomer friends and relatives ¬†probably won’t fully understand the generation I was born into, and this growing child inside me, slowly becoming more and more a reality that impacts the way I do life,¬†I guess the question¬†I am really wrestling with is this:¬†how do I apply a minimalist ideology to my ever-shifting and complex identity?

We live in a world where who we are is presented in so many public ways. To some extent, we can even control the public perception of ourselves by way of facebook, linkedin, “about me” sections in blogs,¬†and other social media outlets. And sometimes these things do truly reflect our true selves. But I believe it also over-simplifies our identity. Which makes me wonder if having a minimalist approach to defining my identity is even realistic or possible.

Perhaps this continuous exploring, changing, and figuring out of one’s identity is simply a part of our work as people living in a complex and changing world. Perhaps finding our calling is more about finding the common thread in our motivation for life rather than what our work entails in the moment–public school teacher, fitness instructor, or stay-at-home-mom. Perhaps it’s less about saying nice phrases like, “my identity is in Jesus” and more about figuring out how God made us, so we can understand what that truly looks like in real life.

So when someone asks me that question, “so, what do you do?”, I think I’ll respond with something, well, not so minimal. Something like,

What do I do? I wake up every morning praying¬†that I can figure out who I am so that I can live the way I will be most successful at bringing knowledge of Jesus Christ¬†into people’s hearts. I try to eat healthy so that my baby can grow strong and develop good eyesight and a taste for a variety of foods, while at the same time, making sure I don’t throw up at Praise Dance rehearsal. I blog, but not as often as I would like, because I’m trying to balance sleeping 8-9 hours a day and helping my husband with his career, which often means hardcore napping, but also filming random auditions¬†or promo videos at moment’s notice, or faxing in music contracts or mailing out posters in time for upcoming shows. I thought I was going to be a teacher for my whole life, but now I’m content with teaching fitness classes and preparing to be a stay-at-home mom in the not-so-distant future, and maybe homeschooling our kids–who knows!? I hang out at Starbucks and work on my book, I make color-coded lists and meal plans in my passion planner, I do my BSF lesson every morning, I go to MOPS on Tuesday mornings, and recently I started swimming laps since I can’t run while I’m pregnant. I do a lot of stuff, actually, and hopefully some of those things will give you an idea about who I am. But mostly, I just hope that you can be courageous enough to know that your identity is not always defined by what you do, especially what you do for a living, because it’s taken me a while to come to this conclusion, and I’m still shedding so much of who I thought I was in order to see who I truly am.¬†

But…that’s not really my initial idea of a “minimalist answer”. However, I do think it’s probably more genuine in reflecting my thoughts and feelings towards the question. And who knows? Maybe it will let people¬†know what I actually do.

That was the question in the first place, right?

5 Ways to be a Minimalist on your Smartphone

Today’s technology is incredible. We can communicate so easily and share ideas, photos, videos, and art with countless people via the internet, social media, or even just email or text messaging. That said, our smartphones can be powerful tools in … Continue reading

The 10 Hanger Project Week Two: On Feelings, Re-Decorating, and Post-It Notes

There are only 2 more weeks left of November. Can you believe it? Who’s ready for Christmas? *raises hand*

I start with this fact because that means I am at the halfway point of my 10 Hanger Project. I originally had set out to go an entire month with only 10 hangers in my closet (and 7 workout items in my dresser). You can read about why I chose to do that here.

Last week I shared with you some of the things I have been learning during the first week of the project as well as some tips for whittling down your wardrobe.

Today I want to talk a little bit about how I’m feeling at this halfway point, and I can probably just sum it up in one word:

(You ready for this? Okay here it is…)

free

giveupSeriously y’all, I have never felt so free!

Free from the love of clothes, free from the countless combinations of what to wear, free from the worry of what others think of my clothes, free from the burden of choices in the morning…

To be honest, I am little anxious for December to come because I know I’ll have to take all of my clothes out of storage and…well, deal with them.

But really, this whole process has been really amazing because it simplifies my life so much.

This past weekend I was thinking about what I could do to encourage my future-self to donate a lot of the clothes I still have in storage. I want to hang on to this simplified kind of style, but I still would like to not have to do laundry multiple times a week. So I came up with a plan:

1.) I got 33 nice wooden hangers super cheap on amazon. (See why I chose 33 here).

2.) I rearranged my entire house (it’s small–don’t be too impressed) so that I no longer have my own dresser anymore, which significantly¬†limits my drawer space.

3.) Posted-noted Hebrews 13:5-6* and 1 Timothy 2:9-11* all over my house (think War Room), and decided to practice the spiritual discipline of memorizing these verses of scripture to remind me to be content, self-controlled, free from the love of possessions, and acquiring an inward adornment rather than an outward one.

*Note: I used a combination of translations with the phrasing that spoke to me the most. Bible scholars, don’t hate– this is what works for me.

That last step is particularly important. I know all scripture to be God-inspired and profitable, and His word tells me that it will never return to Him void— so I know that His Word WILL have an effect on me. I am counting on it to transform my mind so that I do not fall back into the patterns of this world. These scriptures are also applicable to other areas in my life in which I need encouragement, but we’ll stick to the subject at hand for now.

The first two steps will be very helpful as well because they significantly limit the amount of space I have for clothing.

I won’t be able to just put the clothes back exactly where they hung or were folded up before– I’ll have to be choosey about which ones to keep and which ones to give away.

I plan on documenting all of this process when it happens in December, but I have to tell you, I am not exactly looking forward to it. I think it might overwhelm me to see so many clothes that I literally do not need. These two weeks have proven this fact– I do not need them!

things I actually need

I’m half tempted to just dump the entire lot of them and stick to these 10 hangers forever, but I don’t think these clothes I have now will work for when the seasons change or when someone gets married or if I can’t do laundry one week.

Still, I am hoping and praying that these last few weeks of the 10 Hanger Project will motivate me to maintain this detachment to clothes and simplistic approach to my wardrobe.

That is, after all, what this blog is mainly about— simplicity– minimalism– at least wannabe minimalism right?

Thanks again for walking with me through this journey. It’s pretty amazing what one random idea in the middle of the night will turn into over a month-long process.

10 Hanger Project Week One: Baggy Clothes, Fear of Failure, Wardrobe Whittling Tips, and #OOTD

Well, I have officially survived the 10-Hanger Project Week One. If you are unfamiliar with this project, check out my blog post and get all the deets.

I will start by saying that I had to make some minor adjustments to the wardrobe… well, given that it’s only 10 hangers, I guess they would be considered major adjustments, but I think I’ve finally got it figured out now.

See, when I started the project, I chose items I thought I could make great combinations with. The only problem was the timing: I decided to do this right when the seasons were changing, so I chose some items I haven’t worn since last fall.

Well, over the summer I completed the Insanity Max 30 Program with my friend Michelle and we kicked the crap out of it! I lost almost 2 inches around my waist, and I wasn’t even trying to! All I wanted to do was tone up a little and work out with my friend– I had no idea I even HAD 2 inches to loose around the middle! I guess a terrible last year of teaching made me stress-eat and gain some extra pounds that I didn’t realize, or maybe I just toned up more than I thought. Anyway, right after that, I started the P90X 3 program, which I am ALMOST done with (check out my November goals— I’m so close to completing that one!). I haven’t taken measurements, but I’m guessing I lost some flab and toned up with this program as well.

That being said, the skirt and the dress I chose for my 10 Hanger Project did not fit me at all. Check it out:

IMG_6076

***Note to self: try on the clothes before you decide to wear them for 30 days straight.

So, I swapped out and put the baggy clothes in the donation pileIMG_6077.

My new items are on the side ————->

You can see that they are vey similar to the previous ones.

Here are some tips I’ve learned through this process:

1.) Don’t keep clothes that don’t fit. Even if they are just a tad too loose or a tad too tight, you’ll feel uncomfortable every time you wear them, and you should feel great in every item you own.

2.) Do an in-depth closet evaluation at the beginning of each season. This will help you get rid of things that may not work with your style anymore, or things that don’t fit right or have stains, holes, or too much wear. Just because you loved it last fall doesn’t mean it’s salvageable this fall; just because you lived in it¬†last summer doesn’t mean it’ll work for you this summer.

3.) If you have clothes that are very similar, get rid of the ones you like least. There is no use having 5 of the same gray tee shirt or 3 black skirts. Choose the one that is the most flattering, makes you feel the best, or is the most versatile. Donate the rest, especially if they no longer fit (like in my case)!

4.) Don’t be afraid of failure. This isn’t so much a wardrobe tip as it is a life tip. If I was going by my own rules, I would have just stuck it out and worn the clothes that don’t fit me. It honestly made me fearful to share this failure with you because I felt like I was cheating– I didn’t get this project absolutely-positively-perfectly-right.

But the point of this entire 10 Hanger Project is to get rid of my attachment to clothes. There may have been a time when I would have noticed that the dress and the skirt didn’t fit right, but still tried to keep them and make them work because I was attached to them. One of two things would happen: 1.) they would have hung in my closet, never getting worn, or 2.) I would have worn them, and felt awkward and uncomfortable the entire time (I probably would have looked pretty awkward too!).

No, no no. This time, these babies are gettin’ tossed! I failed at picking out the very best 10 items for my project. I failed. It’s okay. Fix it. Be flexible. Move on. Breathe.

And finally, I wanted to share with you some of the outfit combos I came up with this past week (#OOTD):

Not bad right?! See, I don’t need new clothes! In fact, I only need a few. But I’m not going to lie, laundry has been a doozy… Now I know what it feels like to have LITERALLY nothing to wear by the end of the week!

Thanks for tuning in with me as I journey on this minimalist mission this November!

What do you think would be the most challenging thing about whittling your wardrobe down?