Organized Simplicity Chapter Six “A Gathering Place.”

“…it’s still not easy to keep a well-organized, efficient, peaceful home when you’ve got three-foot mess makers running around.  Or six-foot mess makers, for that matter.”

AMEN, Tsh.  Amen.

We need to accept the stage of life we’re in, but STILL “keep up the house.”  (Sigh- can’t we just get a “buy” for a few years?)

Tsh uses a home management notebook to keep herself organized- it sounds impressive!  It acts as a daily reference for tasks, and depending on your needs could be a binder, a notebook, a folder, or an expanding file.  Here’s what’s inside this Home Management Notebook.

  1. A daily docket- the “to do list on steroids.”  Tasks, meals, appointments, notes, and inspirational quotes.  It’s a skeleton of her day, but still flexible rather than listing out her day in 10-minute intervals.  She fills it out the night before, and a sample to print and fill out can be found at her website (SimpleMom.net>downloads)  She makes sure to list the top three “Most Important Tasks” that must be accomplished (MIT) and she’ll feel successful if those three things are done.
  2. A cleaning checklist- she keeps this in a plastic sleeve and marks it off with a dry erase marker as tasks get done during the week/month.
  3. Monthly calendars- she prints out monthly views of her Google calendar, for when she’s away from the computer and to jot down appointments and meal plans.
  4. A master grocery list- an Excel list of the staples she wants to keep in her kitchen, and she marks off what needs to be purchased.
  5. Monthly budget- a print out of the monthly budget from the computer.
  6. Master project list- a blank sheet to jot down ideas of things to do, i.e. make slip covers, buy a specific book
  7. Work ideas- like the project list, but work-related
  8. Babysitter’s Guide- cell phone numbers, bedtime routines, what’s off limits, emergency information, etc.
  9. Things for the kids- web sites and ideas of things to do.  Also, printed articles that relate to parenting.
  10. Gift ideas- things she wants (a quick list for when somebody asks), and things she wants to give
  11. Personal notes- inspiring quotes, goals, and prayers to think about and meditate on.

She advocates this (impressive) notebook as a way to have all of your home management tools in one place, and to include what YOU need.  Do what works for you- scribble in a notebook, or keep it online!  It helps if it looks nice, and you should adjust it till it meets your needs.  She likes to add a pocket at the back for loose papers.

A lot of this I already do with my iPhone thingy (thingy…because it’s an iPhone yes, but I don’t have it hooked up to a data OR a cellular network.  So it’s a PDA?  An iPod Touch?  Something my kids desperately want to play with, and keeps me sane during midnight feedings with the baby?)  I’m curious what it would be like to have my entire brain in a notebook so I didn’t miss things.  Having a master grocery list, updated with my actual pantry contents and needs, would be incredible- how often do I come home from a MAJOR Costco run and find out I already had two gallons of oil in addition to what I purchased, and I’m totally out of brown sugar?

Organized Simplicity Chapter Five “Money is a Tool”

Budgeting can be such a nasty word, but Tsh reminds us that money is simply a tool.  It’s not good or bad, it’s just money!  We can follow plans, and spend on what matters most to us.

We can:

  • Pay off debt from past choices
  • Budget to make current choices with our money
  • Save for emergencies, future choices, and wants.

The author uses zero based budgeting- the bottom line is zero, and every dollar is set aside for something– either a current expense or savings for the future.  In savings, she advocates “sinking funds,” meaning that if you know a large expense is coming up, or there is a regular expense that doesn’t happen monthly, you set aside a portion each month so that your budget remains static.  For example, we pay our house taxes twice a year, but I set aside a sixth of the cost each month so that the funds are available when tax time comes around again.  See?  Easy.  Budgeting is easy.

She includes a basic budget worksheet in her book, but in general here is a form for you to use:

  1. List all income sources and amounts
  2. List all regular expenses
  3. List all irregular expenses and what you’ll set aside each month.  This includes savings.

The bottom line should be zero.

Budgets require us to say no.  It’s simply not possible to say yes to everything, and having a plan is an incredible help.  We say no to what doesn’t matter to us.  Also, if we are debt free, then we are free to save money for the future!

Here are some ideas of what to save for:

  1. We save for emergencies.  Many people rely on credit cards, but the author reminds us “It’s so much simpler, so much more reliable, and so much freer to pay cash.”  If you are currently paying off old debts, when the debt is gone KEEP paying those same payments, but put them towards savings if at all possible.  We should try to have at least 3-6 months of basic living expenses saved up.  If you have an accurate budget, you’ll know exactly what you need to set aside to get by.
  2. We save for the future.  Retirement won’t be paid for by anybody else, it’s our responsibility if we want to live our last years in dignity.  Saving for kids’ education is wonderful, but she reminds us that this is not something our children are entitled to- our retirement must come first.
  3. We save for our wants.  Jot down your dreams.  Is it a house?  Car?  Vacation?  Maybe new jeans, or a weekend getaway?  After your emergency fund is set up, set aside money for your wants.  The total you want, divided by the months until you want it to happen, is your monthly expense line.

“One of the best side effects to financial progress is increased inner maturity, and part of this inner paturity is learning the value of saying “No.”

Tsh shares a bit of her own story in this chapter, lest the reader begin to think that we have nothing in common!  She was a good student, and a hard worker, but lousy with money skills.  She had student loans and no savings when she got married.  As newlyweds, she and her husband felt like there were holes in their wallets- they had no idea where the money went.  “How can my friends manage to save?” she wondered.  “We often prayed our way to the end of the month.”  Her response?  “…I never looked myself square in the eye and took responsibility for my lack of money management.  I always blamed it on the money side of hte equation, reasoning that if we could just earn more, we’d be OK.”

She’s now a Dave Ramsey devotee (you can google him, lots of folks just love his financial advice) and writing this book.  So I guess she learned her lesson!

Our own family has certainly had lean years.  We, like the author, have always paid tithing to our church first before any other bills (and we’ve always seen the blessings of that- I’m quite fond of saying that I can’t afford to NOT pay my tithing, because it’s totally true.)  My husband started college just before we got married (right around the time I was graduating.)  So yes- lean years.  I worked until our first baby came, and he worked part time all through college.  Employers helped pay tuition, and parents helped when we needed it.  (And we needed it.)  After we thought we were well settled money-wise, my husband started a tax practice with a friend.  That was a lean time.  Then, we weren’t part of that tax practice any more, and were looking for work.  THAT was a lean time too.  Now we have good employment again, and are doggedly saving as much as we can.  Well, that’s not true, we’ve budgeted some fun lines into our budget (oh my goodness, for the first time I have cash every month that I can do whatever I want with- giddy!)  I really like her take on budgeting, and yes- money is just money.  We need to be dead serious about what is a need, what is a want, and knowing when to say no.  Also, one of our biggest challenges is budgeting is being honest with ourselves- if we accept that money is just a tool, we can’t be bashful in calculating what we’re spending.  Did you or didn’t you spend $30 on donuts last month?  OK then!  You lay it out, you see where it’s going.  You decide if it’s going where you want it to, and you make choices.

Organized Simplicity: Chapter Three “A Family Purpose Statement”

The tyranny of the urgent: “The greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.”  –Charles E. Hummel

In this chapter we write a Family Purpose Statement.  Her definition of simple living was “Living holistically with your life’s purpose” so a purpose statement is a helpful tool to decide what that life’s purpose IS!  It will help us find an unshakable rock to determine what we can and can’t do.  It should also be easy to read, timeless, and holistic (simple, timeless, and general without being too general.)

In this chapter, Tsh gives a series of questions to answer about what you do, what you want, and what you plan to do- I won’t copy it here, but if you can get ahold of a copy of the book, I found that it was a worthwhile excercise!  We answer the questions, and then look for trends in what we said.  Use those trends to decide what we’re really all about, and write our own purpose statement, and then make goals to align what our lives are with what we want them to be!  Kind of a neat little trick- it feels like all those quizzes I took back in business school.  They were fun then, and still fun now!

The benefit of having this family purpose statement (and displaying it somewhere easy to see) is that we can wipe away needless guilt about “doing it all.”  We simply can NOT do it all- it’s patently impossible.  If traveling is important to you, and letting your kids see the world, don’t feel guilty about not having an enormous garden that you don’t plan on being around to tend.  If social volunteering is important to you, and your family spends time doing that, don’t feel guilty that you’re not home to bake homemade cupcakes for the raffle at school.  For me, this is a pretty novel concept!  (Again, I can hear my parents snickering- they’ve been trying to hammer this concept into my head since I was a kid.  Ah, stupid youth!)

If you had to make a purpose statement for your family, what would it be?  What’s important to you?  What are you all about, and what is your life’s purpose?

Organized Simplicity: Chapter Four “Time is a Tool”

In this chapter, we talk about time being a tool- everyone gets 24 hours in a day!  If it seems to slip through your fingers, ask yourselves about these hot spots:

  • Too much screen time
  • Too much structured time for kids
  • Too much work- we need to work, yes, but work smart!

She gives a neat little exercise to evaluate our time

  1. Decide what your priority activities are
  2. List what you need to do
  3. List everything you do

What can you see that is ONLY on list number three?  If it’s not a priority to you, and it’s not a need, do you really want to spend time on it?

  • Ask yourself if you’re doing it to make somebody else happy- sometimes, that is a VALID reason to do it.  Sometimes, it isn’t.
  • Ask yourself if it’s really necessary to do, or is it just a habit?  Also, realize that some things are just part of the season of life you’re in.
  • Ask yourself if your work that you do is what you really need to be doing.  We need to work, yes, and it’s not always going to be our favorite thing to do, but it shouldn’t be soul crushing.
  • Make sure what when you have free time, it’s real free time- don’t waste time mindlessly doing an activity.  Do something you enjoy and that will really be enjoyable for you.
  • Change your habits- make sure your time choices reflect what’s important to you.

I can definitely see some things to think about in this chapter.  I’ve taught piano for 13 years- it’s good to sit back and ask myself why, and if I’m enjoying it (I am.  Mostly.)  I can see myself wasting time after the kids go to bed- I have hobbies that I’d like to be spending time on, but instead I fall down in the nearest chair and do whatever is close at hand (which normally involves reading blogs.)  I’ve made some definite choices with my time- I make most of our food, I garden, I home school.  All these things take up a lot of time, and if they’re not valuable activities to me, there’s no reason to be doing them!  After reading this chapter, I came to peace with some things, and called a friend who cleans houses.  It was a struggle for me to admit that my house is normally close to a disaster zone, with flour all over the kitchen, and mud from gardening boots in the entries.  Bits of paper from school projects lurk under the desks.  And please don’t ask me about the state of the kids’ bathtub, which serves to clean them up after all these activities!  But knowing that I’ve chosen to add a part-time job to my schedule (teaching piano and school), plus cooking and gardening… yes, I can not do it all.  And I’m trying to be at peace with that!

Organized Simplicity: Chapter Two

In this series I will be working through Tsh Oxenreider’s book, Organized Simplicity.

The era of the ubiquitous “suburb” began after World War II in America- people wanted space, but to still enjoy the benefits of living close to the city.  Now, the vast majority of Americans live in suburb communities.  Tsh gently reminds us that what we enjoy are luxuries, not necessities.

  • In 2005, half of the world’s population lived on less that $2 per day.
  • 80% of the world’s population doesn’t have running water, or electricity.

So, can we keep our luxuries AND simplify our lives?  Here’s her advice:

  1. Don’t go to extremes.
  2. Say no, so you can say yes.
  3. Decide what “simple” looks like for YOU.

Her definition of simple living is, well, SIMPLE: “Living holistically with your life’s purpose.”

To break it down:

  • Holistically- all parts work together for good of the whole, and the whole is more important than any one part.  Components can include spiritual, relational, emotional, intellectual, physical, and financial.
  • Life’s purpose- what are you are ABOUT.

The benefits of simplifying and decluttering, or “living simply”?

  1. More Time for people- you have less to do, less to clean, and so more free time.
  2. Improved health- too much stuff stresses our bodies.
  3. Improved financial well-being.  We don’t need to spend money on maintenance of things we don’t love, or buying things we don’t need or love.
  4. It’s an ecological step in the right direction.
  5. When we get rid of things, others can use what we don’t.
  6. We need less space.
  7. We produce less trash.  (Landfill space isn’t getting any bigger, folks!)

This chapter really gave me some things to think about!  One of my favorite things about traveling is how easy it is to keep clothes and things organized- we have what we need, and little else.  Laundry can be done in one load, it’s easy for the kids to keep track of their things, it’s dead simple to keep our temporary living space neat and organized.  What if my home was the same way?  Surely nothing to drastic as asking us all to live out of a suitcase, but do I really need 20 shirts? Do  my kids need 30 pairs of underwear each?  (Somehow, it just stacks up.  I’ll bet half of it doesn’t fit, but they’ll never give up their favorite pair without a fight, so I’ll never know!)

I love living in the suburbs- we can drive to the zoo, we can have a big garden.  Costco is just a few minutes away.  I can definitely see myself breaking from the societal norms around here already- the toddlers aren’t in preschool, we try and keep the toy situation to a manageable chaos.  I stay at home with the kids, and we home school to keep our family life simple.  I like what she’s suggesting, though, and I’m wondering when I’ll be able to stop my life-long hoarding tendencies.  (My parents are snickering right now, I just know it.)

Organized Simplicity Review: Chapter One

In this series I will be working through Tsh Oxenreider’s book, Organized Simplicity.


“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.”  –Will Rogers

In this chapter, Tsh talks about being responsible home managers.  In her own life, she and her husband have paid off all their debt (mostly student loans,) purged almost all their possessions, and moved overseas.  She’s come to realize that things are just things- we can carefully evaluate what we want and need.

Between 1950 and 2004 the average home size in America doubled from 983 square feet to 2,349 square feet.  The average family size has shrunk from 3.67 to 2.62.  The same trend has been happening in Australia, New Zealand, and much of the “Western” world.  As families, we are filling more space with fewer people- we’re filling that space with stuff.

In America, there are no vacation laws.  25% of workers don’t receive a paid vacation, and those that have paid vacation receive 15 days a year, on average.  Our kids spend their years in classes.

The average paycheck has risen in the last 30 years, but according to a survey by Italy’s Siena University in 2007, the quality of our personal relationships has dropped.

Viewing these statistics, it’s obvious that our culture is not practicing “simple living,” in any sense (other than using convenience products and credit wherever possible, I suppose.)

She writes that she knows it’s not realistic to completely swear off fossil fuels, eat only organic food, grow all our own produce, wear free trade organic clothes, etc., etc., etc. These are the trademarks of what popular culture views as “Simple Living.”  So, we need to completely re-define what simple living actually means.

What do you think?  Do you feel like your life could use some simplifying?  Are you happy with where you are in terms of owning stuff, and having time to enjoy it?  I’m really enjoying this book, and look forward to working through it to see what she says!

Kale Harvest

Ernie and I tramped outside tonight to harvest an armful of kale- it’s Russian Red kale, I planted it last Spring.  Yes, it’s still doing fine- I’m amazed!

red russian kale

I was surprised to see young growth on these plants-  there were large, old leaves yes, but clustered around their bases were bouquets of frisee-sized kale leaves.  Yum-mo.

I sliced up a red onion and a clove of last year’s elephant garlic, sauteed them down, then threw in the huge bowl of torn up leaves and a cup of chicken stock.  Cover it with a lid and let it cook for about 10 minutes, then throw it in a pot of hot pasta with about a cup of the pasta water and maybe 6 ounces of feta.  Stir it till the pasta water thickens up into a silky sauce and the cheese is totally melted in- one of my all time favorite meals!  The baby was shoving it in by the fistful, it was pretty funny.  (A more precise recipe is here, and it uses parmesan and lemon juice and other fancy things- also very good!)

pasta, braised kale and onions, in a feta sauce.  red cabbage coleslaw