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Currently Digging: Emily Ley’s, “A Simplified Life”

1 Feb

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More than six months ago, I picked up Emily Ley’s book A Simplified Life: Tactical Tools for Intentional Living. If you know me or have been a long-time reader, you know I don’t often buy books. I love to read and I LOVE books, but feel that too many just weigh a space down. For something to take up space on my shelf, it has to be my absolute favorite and/or a favorite I will reference often, like a book of poems.

Therefore, I err on the side of hitting the library before committing. I owe Marie Kondo a debt of gratitude for teaching me this when I read her book, The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up a few years ago, (which, yes, I do own and highly recommend.)

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But Emily Ley’s book is a keeper, for sure, too. Just holding it in my hands at the bookstore made me feel calmer and hopeful that I could soon be back in control of everything that had been spiraling as of late last summer. And with it’s preppy, Kate Spade-esq navy, pink + green stripe cover, I was styling it on my shelves and coffee table long before I’d even cracked it’s spine.

Some of my favorite tips include:

  • Simplifying breakfast
  • Planning scheduled Friday Pizza Nights
  • Having a uniform

None of these are particularly mind-blowing in and of themselves, but sometimes you’re so in your own way that having someone tell you to do something via a book is just what you need. I’ve always been a huge consumer of anything in the “self-help” genre and, in general, would describe myself as a very goal-oriented, focused, driven person. There is so much that interests me, among which is self-improvement, so I read a lot about creativity, productivity, being your own boss, manifesting positivity, and so on. A lot of the books that did make the cut when I semi-gutted my possessions after reading Marie Kondo’s book were the “get it together” and “organize your life” types of books, so it’s safe to say I’ve always aspired to make the chaos of my life, home and mind more tamed.

It was the chaos that ultimately drove me to the Self-Help section at Barnes and Noble last summer, on what I jokingly call my “mom vacation” where I sip a coffee, alone, browsing books in peace after I’ve handed the kids off to my husband after those particularly challenging day as the “stay at home parent.”

There were a LOT of tough days this summer, let me tell you!!! I think I need to develop a multi-part series to really dive deep into the year-long journey I’ve been on as far as redefining my values, moving towards my goals and dreams, and eliminating all the unnecessary “noise,” in my life, be it wasted time watching mindless TV, keeping in touch with friends I’m not particularly close with, or even completing workouts I don’t absolutely love. But I digress.

What I learned from Emily’s book is not so much what or how to organize, but rather, what I can gain by focusing more on what outcomes or feelings I want in my life. And what I gain is margin. What is margin, you’re wondering? It’s the free space of your life to feel like you can plop down on the floor and actually play with your kids, free from worry about all the other to dos you “should” be doing. And going out to dinner with your spouse because you have a standing date night every other week. And it’s also being able to spontaneously walk out the door for a long walk just because it will feel good to move and get some fresh air, without having to rush off to some commitment you’re not that excited about. Margin is the single biggest takeaway I gained from reading Emily’s book.

Really, a lot of this ties in to everything I’ve shared since reading that Oprah article  last summer in addition to everything I’ve learned since starting my Bullet Journal practice last January.

Having two young kids at home used to mean toys strewn all over the house. Mealtimes were exhausting and stressful and the paper mess got out of control if I wasn’t vigilantly on top of it. Having to decide what to eat for breakfast myself often seemed like too much, to give you a sense of how starved I was some major self-care.

The past year has been a period of intense self-introspection and incredible shifts in redefining my values. And the result has been that I’m happier than I’ve ever felt, I’ve lost weight with minimal effort, I’ve appreciated and valued being at home with my kids more because the difficult moments are more tempered now, and I actually feel more fulfilled in my own dreams because I’ve managed to create space for me to actually devote time to them for a change. In a word = margin.

I can say with certainty that Emily Ley’s book, A Simplified Life, changed my life SO MUCH for the better in 2018 and has continued to do so in 2019. If I could gift just one thing to all my friends and family this year, it would be this book so I highly recommend.

 

 

Currently Digging: Bullet Journal + Hygge

6 Jan

With Christmas behind us and the new year here, I’ve had a couple things on my mind that I wanted to share in this first installation of “Currently Digging.” First, my thoughts on my year of bullet journaling. The other is “hygge,” the buzzword from 2018 which (in my own words) is the Danish term for a feeling of well-being, contentment, and cosiness brought about by being in nature, being together with friends, and being present in the moment. But let me start with the bullet journal.

Bullet Journal Thoughts

I fell hard and fast for bullet journaling in early 2018. Right at the new year actually. I wasn’t sure how dedicated I would be to the on-going task of essentially creating my own planner week to week though. It seemed like a lot of work for someone who is great about starting projects but rarely finishing them.

Well. Let me just say that I filled an entire Leuchtterm 1917 over the course of the last year and was giddy with anticipation at the prospect of starting my next one. Just organizing my Index from my 2018 journal had me bouncing with glee. Before I say any more, I should note for those new to the “bullet journal” concept, that bullet journal planner is probably a more appropriate term. Journal implies keeping a diary, which can be part of how you choose to bullet journal, but I think the best way to describe it is a completely customizable system to help you track and organize anything you want to track, organize and remember. Buzz Feed had an excellent beginners article about the bullet journal that I referenced a lot as I got started.

As a paper person through and through (I hate staring at my phone), I’ve always had multiple notebooks going all at once to try to organize the chaos that is my mind. I had a notebook that was a journal. A traditional planner, for tracking important dates and appointments and to dos. Additionally, and in a haphazard order, I’d use post-it’s and note paper and sheafs of printer paper for things like grocery lists, project ideas, blog post ideas, book ideas, DIY ideas, funny things my kids have said that I want to remember… you get the idea. It was a disaster. And it was a mess. But more than that — it WASN’T WORKING.

I never had the information I needed. The date or the address or the idea I wanted was never in my iPhone calendar, or on the notepad, or I couldn’t remember where I’d placed the notebook I’d jotted the idea down in. I’d be late to events because I couldn’t find the invitation with the event details that I’d stuck into a planner specifically so I wouldn’t lose the event details! Enter the bullet journal.

The beauty of a bullet journal, to me, is purposeful reflection and mindfulness. I stumbled across a fantastic article in an old issue of “O” magazine about goals and paying attention to those tasks that you feel “pulled toward” and those that just keep reappearing on your To Do list, yet never seeming to get accomplished. Essentially, the advice was to PAY ATTENTION and realize that if you’re not pulled toward or excited by those To Dos, you should be striking them from your to do list because you’re obviously never going to do them. To me, this is the essence of what keeping a bullet journal is all about: mindfulness. (For reference, the article is titled, The Simple Daily Habit That Keeps You Aligned With Your Purposeby Martha Beck. It appeared in the October 2017 issue of “O” magazine.)

As I organized my Index for my 2018 journal on New Years Eve day, it was mind blowing to see how closely aligned my happiness in the last year was with the types of content I was putting into my journal. Think: Daily Gratitude spread vs “Projects To Do.” Without realizing it, my bullet journal habit helped to shape my life for the better — probably the best, in fact, that it has ever been. And on the heels of what was probably the worst, and hardest year of my life (both personally and for my family), that is saying something.

In the past few months in particular, I’ve been making a huge effort to do something I refer to as “Pages.” Each morning while I sip my coffee, I fill a page with everything I’m grateful for. This fall there was a lot of mention of foliage. And I can’t say that this fall was particularly more beautiful than any others, but I feel like I appreciated it more than in the past. Something about putting pen to page and reflecting on that beauty every couple days actually encouraged more gratitude and appreciation I think.

The next part of “Pages” is to just do a brain dump of everything on my mind: usually part “To Do list” and part journal. I don’t have too much to say about this aspect of my pages, but it serves a purpose to ease the burden on my mind to remember everything. It’s the more practical day-to-day stuff. The gratitude piece and practicing gratitude regularly was what really boosted my mood throughout the last few months of 2018 and helped me come more to peace with who I am, where I am in my life, what I value, and what I contribute to the world every day. 

I KNOW.

Bullet journaling, guys. You should do it!

Hygge Thoughts

First off, this is pronounced: “Hue-gah” or “Hew-gah.” It doesn’t rhyme with “jiggy” I’m disappointed to share. And I know I’m about a year late to this buzzword, but if you know me, you know I’m a late adopter to most things. So hygge is on my mind for 2019. It’s interesting that I’m sharing my love of bullet journaling in the same “Currently Digging,” because hygge encompasses so much of what my bullet journaling practice has brought to my life: an increased mindfulness, appreciation of togetherness, and appreciation of simple pleasures, like reading a good book while sipping my favorite tea; twinkle lights on the TV sideboard, or spending New Year’s day (and Brian’s last day of vacation) snuggled under blankets in the living room watching The Christmas Chronicles as a family. Piling into the car every night in the days before Christmas (with cocoa!) so we could tour the neighborhood in search of the best Christmas lights was another simple highlight that (cliche though it will sound), truly made the season bright.

For years now, I’ve been on a quest to de-clutter my home thanks to a book that found me at the exact moment I most needed it: Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui. (Aside: It’s AMAZING. I can’t recommend it enough.) I discovered it long before Kon Mari was on my radar, so as much as I love that book too, I owe the positive energy flow of my home to Karen Kingston. I mention de-cluttering because minimalism plays a large part in hygge, I think. Over the past year, the number of moments I’ve felt frustrated to the point of screaming and the amount of time I’ve wasted digging through mounds of clothing blocking my closet door, only to show up somewhere dressed in something I hate made me realize the extent to which all my “stuff” is negatively controlling my life.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve had all the ingredients for a favorite recipe, only to not be able to find said recipe. Enough was enough.

Although I have a long way to go, I’m making slow and steady progress eliminating all this excess. I’ve donated a lot in the last few months and have started to slowly move towards a capsule wardrobe for myself and the girls and have found so much peace in not struggling with what to wear every day. I’m happier. And I feel better too, because how I want to dress and what I’m actually wearing are starting to align for the first time in my adult life. Mindfullness, guys. It really works wonders! We traveled to Florida for a wedding in October and took the girls to Disney, and for the first time in my life, I packed using the capsule wardrobe concept and I loved nearly every single thing I wore on that trip.

I mention this because I think there is a lot to be said for minimalism. The less you have, the less you’re responsible for and the more value you place on what you do have. I was in the basement in early December and discovered an entire tote of Kate Spade stuff I’d packed away during my first pregnancy and forgotten about for almost THREE YEARS. I used to have a hoarder mentality since I’ve always been on the frugal side, but I’ve realized that letting go of things actually frees me up. I can always go buy a new X if I really decide I needed something I donated, gave away, or sold, but I can’t rewind the clock spend all those minutes I’ve spent looking for stuff, cleaning up stuff, sorting and trying to organize stuff and instead choose to relax by the fire with a good book and a glass of wine. Or sit with my laptop and the family photos I’d been meaning to edit and organize into a family yearbook. Or take a trip somewhere I’ve always wanted to go.

I also think minimalism lends itself more to creativity and togetherness. Earlier this year, I wrote about how much longer and deeper my kids played with fewer toys at their fingertips. I remember from my own childhood how much more creatively my siblings and I played when we were on vacation in a sparsely decorated cottage in Maine. One time, we literally played with a plastic bag on the beach (it was very windy and we were all laughing hysterically chasing it down after it gusted away on storm winds.) And instead of turning on the TV to watch a movie, we’d all gather in the living room to play games, or just sit and talk. I think vacations also lend themselves to hygge too, because when you go away, assuming you’re not staying in your own vacation home, you’re not surrounded by all the same old “stuff” you are at home which is invigorating. Things carry a lot of energy I think and, for better or worse, it affects us, whether we’re aggravated that we’re tripping over it because it doesn’t have a home, or our heart flutters a bit each time we pass by a favorite piece of art in the hall. I think I realized this most acutely earlier this year when Bri and I started watching old seasons of “Stripped,” which really helped me reconsider what I think of as “essentials.” (Aside: I can’t recommend this Bravo show enough. If you appreciate the emotional overhaul of Stacey and Clinton on “What Not to Wear” or love “Queer Eye,” Stripped is right up your alley.)

Anyways, I didn’t intend to dive so deep into my thoughts on minimalism and living with less, but in my quest for clarity in my own life, I’ve found that the most pleasure is often found in the simplest things. So one of my greatest tasks for 2019 will be determining how to best align my day-to-day with the things that bring the most joy. Stay tuned!

Our Sentimental Ornament Tradition

20 Dec

IMG_4331Longtime readers of this blog already know that Brian and I absolutely adore Christmas. It was a love we shared early in our relationship which is largely why our tree today is covered in sentimental ornaments we’ve collected or made together over the years. It all started when we visited the Newport Mansions all decked out in holiday grandeur on a date the first winter we were together. As we were leaving one of the mansion’s gift shops, I spotted a little roly-poly penguin (I LOVE penguins) with little shoes attached with springs that I just had to have. He’s one of the more random ornaments, and special for just that reason. He’s been gracing our Christmas tree ever since and our ornament tradition was born.

We don’t grab an ornament on every outing, but anytime we travel or do something special, we keep an eye out for something unique. It doesn’t necessary even have to be an ornament. On a trip to DC with Brian’s parents and grandparents, I couldn’t find anything I liked so I just grabbed some postcards. A few ornament hooks later and ta-dah: the perfect memento from our trip. Likewise, on our “Babymoon” back in 2015, we selected a beautiful, very delicate ornament made entirely of seashells. It doesn’t have “Sanibel Island” or “babymoon” emblazoned anywhere on it, but that makes it that much more precious and important to talk about with our daughter so she learns its significance and can share in our memory of what that trip meant to us as we excitedly awaited her arrival.IMG_4344To commemorate our first trip to Martha’s Vineyard together the summer after we got engaged, we picked up this lighthouse ornament. And to remember a trip in to NYC to see the tree at Rockefeller, we chose — what else — a glittery Rockefeller Christmas tree ornament. I think we found this one at one of the Christmas market stalls in Bryant Park actually.
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I like to write on the backs of the ornaments too, so it’s like a walk down memory lane each Christmas as we unpack our decorations and dress up our tree.IMG_4338

Once Emilia arrived, there wasn’t a question that she’d grace our tree in some fashion, so I started turning each year’s Christmas card into an ornament through Shutterfly. It was probably one of my more brilliant ideas for a number of reasons, but mainly: doing Christmas cards is a LOT OF WORK. In addition to figuring out the photo to use which more often than note requires booking a professional, there is coordinating everyone’s hair and outfits, finding tights and shoes, then finding the perfect card design, and finally, getting the address list prepped for a marathon envelope addressing session. Finally, there’s the postage.

Suffice it to say, if I’m going to all the trouble to craft this magical piece of post for our family, I am going to splurge and commemorate each year’s card with an ornament. I also love to see how our collection (and our family) has changed through the years.
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Some of the secrets to our success with a toddler and a tree: start them young. We’ve never had to gate ours off or move to all plastic ornaments because we just taught our daughter from a young age that she can only touch the ornaments “with one finger” and that she can hold absolutely anything she wants, but she just needs to ask Mama or Daddy to get it for her and to not pull it off the tree herself. We also wire the tree to the wall and I secure anything delicate or precious using a little loop of floral wire so it’s really stuck on there. And I hang the more fragile breakables just out of her reach.

For her second Christmas, when the tree was endlessly fascinating for her, I actually kept a selection of her favorite ornaments in a basket just underneath the tree or her to look at, play with and place on the tree if she liked. It worked out well — she got to play with the ornaments she loved, like a little puppy figurine that belonged to Brian as a kid — and I didn’t have to hover around her anytime she approached the tree.

IMG_4324I must really love this one design because I’ve just realized in putting together this post that I’ve used the same design for three consecutive years without realizing it. Oops!
We also make a point to gift at least one special ornament to Emilia each Christmas, too. This year, Caroline, will join in on the fun. Here is the sweet glass snowman I chose for Emilia last year. I usually try to stay away from glass ornaments because why risk the heart ache of a broken treasure, but I couldn’t resist this one. As a Christmas color traditionalist, the colors are giving me major Tiffany’s Christmas catalog vibes and I love the slightly wistful, nostalgic nod with the retro-looking snowflakes. I feel like this ornament is the embodiment of Christmas spirit actually? Look at that little snowman face. Adorable. IMG_4330

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One of my favorites is this ornament from our first family trip to San Diego. Emilia was just about to turn 7 months old and officially crawled for the first time at our hotel there. She was such a champ on the flights and was the BEST companion to explore with. IMG_4333And finally, here is one of my favorite ornaments of all that my parents gave me when I was growing up. I was in the music program all through school and performed at both Symphony Hall and Tanglewood with my high school orchestra. It was incredible to have that experience as a kid! When I graduated, one of the most bittersweet moments was my final performance of Hallelujah Chorus in the Christmas concert with the full orchestra. Unwrapping and placing this particular ornament always reminds me how luck I was to have been involved in that program.

I made a LOT of ornaments when I was growing up too, so some of those also grace our tree in addition to ornaments that Brian was gifted as he grew. A few years ago, Brian and I filled some clear glass ornaments with paint for a fun, swirled effect, and last year, I did salt down cut outs and hand prints with Emilia.

I’m still looking for this year’s ornament project inspiration, but so far, I’ve already thought to scan a piece of her artwork and have it printed to an ornament and will likely turn some of her “school” projects into ornaments as well. She did the cutest little reindeer handprint complete with a red pom-pom nose that is just begging to go on the tree.

I think as the girls grow older, I’ll let each select an ornament for the other each year to fill out the tree that is in Emilia’s room now. Right now, it’s just decked out with a felt ball garland.

Merry-almost-Christmas, everyone!