Rachel Heath

Intentional Living: learning to be fully present

Archive for the category “12 Months of Simplicity”

On March: Purging and Nesting

March – our purging month – was one of the most hectic months of my life. During the last few precious weeks before our new baby arrives, all I wanted to do was spend time sitting on the floor reading books with Isabella and going on walks. Instead I had 4 times my normal workload, deadlines nearly every day, and a commitment nearly every evening. I accessed my extrovert for 4 weeks straight and I’m exhausted.

I also had a powerful biological need to organize my home and keep every square inch of it cleaned within its life, which is the only reason I was able to do any purging and nesting at all.

Before and After pictures of our front coat closet (definitely the biggest nightmare):


This is embarrasing.

My gym bag finally has a home!

I also tackled our bookshelf, bedroom closet, refrigerator, and both cars. Izzy’s toys are stored in a big shelving unit from Ikea so she can get whatever she wants out and put it away herself. Pretty much everything we own now has a place to live and we’ve given a ton of stuff away. Stephen got rid of at least a third of his clothes:


I’ve always hated that tie.

empty hangers

See all those empty hangers?



Once I finished purging and organizing, I started on my birth checklists.

My home is in order.

My deadlines are met.

My birth supplies are gathered and my birth kit is assembled.

The carseat is installed.

The tub is cleaned.

My freezer is full of fresh homemade bread and meals ready to go, and we’re stocked up on snacks for labor.

Izzy’s bag is packed for my parent’s house.

My emergency bag is packed in case we need to go to the hospital.

Barrett’s clothes are cleaned and folded.

simplicity bannerI’m officially ready to have this baby. My home is ready, my body is ready, but mostly… my heart is ready. I’m aching to meet him. I’ve been waiting. I’ve done everything I need to do. I’m ready for a new season with a new child and a new normal.

I’m very, very ready for April’s goal: No Negativity. We will speak only words that encourage and bring life to ourselves and one another.


On Living in Relationship Without Facebook

simplicity bannerI know, it’s March 9th, and I haven’t shared anything about our No Social Media February, or our Purging and Nesting March. I’ve written and revised several drafts of this and each pass brings up new things for me to process, so I’ve been putting off the final posting.

Because I update social media for a handful of my clients, I had to get on Facebook a couple times during February, and each time, there were more notifications. At first it made me feel like I was missing out on life; I had a little withdrawal anxiety. But I started to care a little less, every time.

I was surprised how easy it was after the first couple days. I really stopped thinking about what I was missing… stopped thinking about the myriad witty ways I could sum up that experience for my status; stopped thinking about instagramming that cute picture of Izzy; stopped thinking about tweeting that headline. I stopped missing out because I was picking the perfect filter for a photograph or replying to a comment.

I stopped thinking about sharing my life on the internet and started living it, completely present, in the moment. I don’t think there’s something wrong with all these things, but I’ve discovered through this process that social media had become another means, just like my hair, of molding my identity to fit into some ideal.

I feel newly liberated from the expectations of others. Because I stopped sharing the daily details of my life, stopped receiving constant feedback, and stopped comparing them with the details shared by others, I stopped caring about the feedback and where I fell in the comparison.

Some combination of this freedom and added time on my hands allowed me to start writing more. I published a couple blog posts this month that felt scary and personal which got a surprising amount of traffic. But my journal is doubly full of stuff I wrote just for myself, and I haven’t journaled in months.

When you decide to live instead of craft a digital life that looks just-so for the benefit of others, it’s risky. Relationship is not safe.

A friend and I were talking last week about relationship – that it inherently requires risk and trust, and that if you aren’t putting yourself in a position where you could potentially get hurt, you’re missing out on the full potential of that friendship. I’m enough of an introvert that social media can enable me to fully withdraw from the real world, and this month forced me to risk with the right people instead of the full sphere of everyone I know on Facebook.

As we’ve given up social media this month, I have felt isolated, a little bored, and… surprisingly peaceful. I’ve yearned for relationship, and couldn’t fill the void with status updates from people I haven’t talked to in a decade. Instead, I’ve filled it day-to-day and face-to-face with my family, through phone conversations with cherished long-distance confidants, and over coffee dates, dinners, walks, and yoga sessions with old friends.

Surface relationships conducted through the screen of my iPhone are being replaced by messy, authentic, deep relationships with the people who matter most to me, people whose feedback I really value and who have authority to speak into my life.  Over the shouting and clamour of children; over the stirring of pots and pans; over long evenings, glasses of red wine, laughter, and many, many dirty dishes; this is where my heart has found relationship this month. And it’s better than Siri, that’s for damn sure.

I fully realize the irony of this entire post given the fact that I’m sharing it on the internet, via social media channels, my life out there for everyone to see. This difference lately is that I’m living my life in the real world and just writing about it here.

I’m not writing this to tell you the “right way” to use social media, but to challenge you to look at your own habits. When we came up with this Year of Simplicity, nearly everyone I asked listed Facebook as a major distraction from the important things in life, so I have to imagine I’m not the only one who felt controlled by it without even realizing it. For me, the issues went much deeper than wasted time and energy, and I’m still sorting them out.

Speaking of sorting things out… we’re spending this month getting rid of crap and organizing our home. Embarrassing photos of our closets to follow.

Did anyone else give up social media with us? If not, do you feel like you could benefit from a break?

On February: We’re Going Dark

simplicity bannerFebruary: No Social Media. Seriously. None.

When I first polled friends and family about what distracts them from important things or wastes significant amounts of their time, at least 75% of people cited social media. When I hear stats about how many of us check facebook first thing in the morning, I don’t feel as “What is this country coming to??” and “Kids these days!” as some people do about it. In fact, I’m inclined to think that we’re created for relationship, and in a world where there is increasing distance between family and friends, where our lives are increasingly busy, social media provides a valuable and unique way to connect with one another.

But when you’re checking facebook 20+ times per day (yes, brutal honesty, that’s me), I think the drawbacks begin to outweigh the benefits. That’s why we decided to include this in our experiment and include it early. I have a suspicion that I will end up feeling somewhat isolated, but I also suspect that the loss of social media will push this introvert into more antiquated forms of communication like, say, texting or email. God forbid I make a phone call. Or – gasp – actually get together with people. Needless to say, Stephen The Extrovert will be totally thrilled and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s more productive at work this month.

I’m still not sure where I’m going to find the self-control for this. I might actually delete the apps from my phone and reinstall them at the end of the month. I can’t decide if that’s sad or funny. Probably both.

While I will continue to blog during February, I won’t be tweeting, pinning, sharing pictures, or updating my status. My blog automatically shares new posts on facebook and twitter, so if you reach this post (or any other this month) from one of those sites, please know that I would love to respond to comments here on my blog… just not on social media.

That’s it… we’re going dark. See you in March! Or, maybe I’ll just see you in person. Imagine that!

On January: I Kinda Suck

simplicity bannerSo, our first month is over. How did we do on our rules? What do we want to change moving forward?

Social Media: At this point I think it’s safe to say that I’m addicted to social media. I decided not to check social media more than twice a day and I’ve broken that rule almost every day. If we’re facebook friends or you follow me on pinterest, you’ll see that I’m still on there all the time. I give myself a break when I’m sitting in the car with a napping toddler in the middle of the day, but most of the time, I could and should be doing something more important. I’m updating less frequently but I’m still opening the apps and making comments. Sometimes I unlock my iPhone and facebook is open before I even think about it. January has showed me that this behavior has become second nature and that scares me.

Television: We were so-so on the TV thing. It’s easy to fall into old habits, and there have been a handful of nights where we decided we’re just too tired to do anything, let’s just watch 4 episodes of Arrested Development, and we usually regret it. However, I think we’ve made a big improvement on how we were before; at least half the times we would have chosen TV, we chose reading, or cards, or drinking tea together instead. I’m feeling myself caring less about our favorite shows.

Purchasing: I think we did ok here.The only things I bought brand new were Izzy’s birthday present (we’re making an exception for gifts, and I had it picked out for weeks), a pair of cross trainers, and 2 sports bras (sorry, I’m not buying bras and sweaty workout shoes second-hand). We made no major purchases.

Tithing and Giving: We 90% fail at this. Stephen gave $20 to a new friend we met who is living in his car, but that’s it. Truthfully, I just don’t know how we can afford to give when we have to save up to pay my business taxes and buy new tires for our car and we already live paycheck to paycheck. But I suppose that’s the point of giving in faith, isn’t it? This is one of those things that feels wrong in the natural when you’ve never done it before, and we just have to decide to take the risk. So this month, I want to give… even if it’s just a little bit. Then I want to give a little more every month after.

Tomorrow is the first day of February, and the first day we officially ditch social media… and I thought this was hard before. #FirstWorldProblems, right?

On Our Have-To’s and Want-To’s

simplicity bannerOne of our major goals this year is to make sure we’re spending our time, energy, and money in a way that’s consistent with out values. For example, I deeply value time spent face-to-face with my husband and daughter. I love to feel healthy and fit, which means time spent being active and cooking every meal fresh and from scratch. I feel aimless if I’m not spending regular time in prayer, bible-study, and worship.

So how do I actually spend my time and energy?

  • Two days a week, I sit at Starbucks working while Izzy plays with my blessed and wonderful mother. I’ve gotten very good at time management because I know I only have 8-10 hours a week to meet my deadlines.
  • Four or five days a week, I go to yoga, swim, or lift weights. Isabella loves the gym nursery so much that she’ll often ask to “play… gym?” We’re both much happier afterwards.
  • One morning a week I go grocery shopping. Somehow this takes an entire morning. I don’t anticipate it taking any less time when I’m doing it with a toddler and an infant.
  • In the summer a minimum of 3 days a week are spent hiking… but it’s 7 degrees outside right now and I don’t want to talk about it.

A typical day at home:

We get up when Izzy does, anytime between 6:30 and 8.

Stephen makes our breakfast protein shakes, ideally retreating to his office (our bedroom) within a half hour to start working. Sometimes he starts much later because the kitchen is dirty and he just can’t help himself, it must be cleaned. Hopefully one of us remembers to feed the dog.

It’s cold right now, so we’re stuck inside. I spend the morning alternately:

  • photo (13)playing with Isabella (stacking blocks, coloring, reading books, chatting, swaddling  the same stuffed animal eight hundred times)
  • on my phone, absent-mindedly wasting time on social media when I get bored, followed shortly by guilt
  • checking my work email and trying to take care of necessary admin stuff while trying to keep Isabella from turning my computer off (that little power button is so inviting)
  • doing chores (dishes, laundry, cleaning, tidying up the crap that inexplicably accumulates on every surface)
  • On rare occasions like today, actually writing while Izzy plays happily (today, in an empty box from costco. “I got box!”)

The three of us usually eat lunch together. These days I’m tired enough that I need to share Isabella’s afternoon nap. We wake up mid-afternoon and play some more or go to the gym.

When Stephen gets done working I try to make dinner. I say “try” because Isabella, who has been knocking on Stephen’s door and begging for his attention all day, often chooses this moment to completely ignore him and instead claw desperately at my legs and whine while I try to cook. I get annoyed because Stephen (understandably) feels unwanted and retreats to facebook or ESPN. Sometimes we try to discuss our day and we both end up annoyed with Isabella because she’s (understandably) bored and needy and acting out.

I actually love to cook for my family, but making dinner is can easily become a joyless and frustrating experience for me. I think this is the most stressful time of day for all of us but we haven’t yet found an easier way.

Stephen usually puts Izzy to bed around 7:30. We’re both mentally and physically tired and often spend our evening watching TV online. After a couple hours we retire to bed having barely looked at each other the entire day, which is ludicrous considering we’re both at home, no more than 30 feet apart at any given moment. Less often, Stephen will get more work done while I read or write, or we’ll worship together if one of us is one the worship team and needs to practice.

It sounds pretty monotonous. I suppose it often is. Part of it is simply life unavoidable: work must be done; paychecks must be earned; clothes and dishes must be cleaned; dinner must be cooked. Everyone can break their life down into “have-to’s” and “want-to’s.” But after I fulfill the day’s needs, am I giving space and attention to the right wants? For me, many of the less important things win out: TV over time spend with my husband or engaged in something meaningful; social media over taking a rare opportunity to write; inefficient home management over valuable interaction with my child.

Take time to honestly evaluate your own average day. Are you pursuing the things that you’ve defined as most lasting, most valuable? Or are you (like me) wasting time on things that… aren’t?

On 2013: An Experiment in Priorities, Balance, and Purpose

simplicity bannerHappy New Year! I always love New Year’s Eve and I looooove resolutions. I love seasons in nature and in life, and I’m very good at assigning deep meaning to everyday things… perhaps a little too good. But the transition into 2013 felt incredibly important to me.

We spent the evening with my parents and sister playing games and eating chocolate and drinking wine. Stephen and I celebrated being able to keep our eyes open till midnight and hit our pillows promptly at 12:01. Fun, but not very different than past years. But it felt weighty to me. It felt extraordinary.

Yesterday marked the first day of our year-long experiment in simplicity. We’ll be closely examining our lifestyle and making changes- big and small- to make our life more balanced, intentional, and, of course, (drumroll please…) simple.

We’re examining how we spend our time, energy, and (groan) money. We’re reducing our waste, eliminating distractions, thinking about how our lifestyle affects our global community, and investing in what’s most important to us. We’re actually making changes.

We invite you to join us in asking yourself:

Do my choices reflect my values?

In almost 6 years of marriage, Stephen and I have consistently found our two biggest distractions to be social media and television. The time we spend on these two activities is downright embarrassing. I think the only thing more embarrassing is our bank account, which is usually empty, because we’re terrible at sticking to a budget, constantly “sacrificing what we want most for what we want now” (Gordon B. Hinckley).

First, we’ve come up with a few rules we’re going to stick to throughout the year:

  1. All Social Media (facebook, instagram, twitter, pinterest) limited to set times during the day- once in the morning, once in the evening. I’m one of those people that gets on facebook first thing in the morning, often before I’m even out of bed, and then at random intervals throughout the day. I’m not doing that anymore.
  2. Consolidate our TV time. We have 4 or 5 shows we really like and we usually watch them on Hulu the night after they air. What usually happens is we re-watch an episode of something else and and episode of something we aren’t crazy about and before we know it it’s 10:30 and the evening is over. Instead, we’ll pick one night a week and watch all of them on Hulu that night, keeping our other evenings free to read, write, or – yes- actually spend time together.
  3. No purchasing brand new. We spend far too much money on new things that we could easily find used. So next time I need a pair of jeans, or we start looking for a double stroller, I’ll go thrifting. Obviously, we’ll make exceptions for things like razor blades and underwear… because, gross.
  4. Push major purchases back 1 month. One big problem we have is making major purchases spur-of-the-moment. We’ve decided to make ourselves wait a full month on any purchase over $100, with the idea that the excitement will wear off and we’ll avoid buying stuff we don’t really need.
  5. Tithe and give. I believe in giving. It’s one of our deeply held values, but we don’t really do it. I think there’s no more important time to give than when we have little.

Second, we’ll be choosing a change to implement every month. We’re looking at this whole thing as an experiment, so I’m sure we’ll find that some adjustments work well, while others don’t.

  • January: Goalsetting (There’s no more powerful tool in goal setting than writing them out, making them plain, and having to be accountable!)
  • February: NO social media. (At all. Yikes.)
  • March: Purging (Sorting, selling, giving, and throwing away stuff we don’t need.)
  • April: Practicing positivity (No complaining, self-deprecation, or negative speaking.)
  • May: No restaurants or coffee shops (We’ll give the money away instead. Somebody is getting very blessed this month.)
  • June: Our global impact as consumers (Go fair trade, organic, no slave labor.)
  • July: Shared cooking/cleaning schedule (Divy up and schedule household responsibilities.)
  • August: Reduce our waste (Switch to all cloth, try composting.)
  • September: Family devotional time (make regular time to for family time together in worship and prayer)
  • October: Relationships (Relationships can either enrich or distract us. We’re going to experiment with a balance.)
  • November: No TV at all (Yep, right in the middle of the fall season. I did that on purpose to make it harder!)
  • December: Advent (Evaluating the year- what worked, what didn’t – and celebrating Christ With Us as a family.)

It’s my aim to write one or two posts a week – don’t laugh! So check back often to see how things are going, and join us in whatever aspect of this thing resonates with you. Also, make sure you bookmark Stephen’s blog as he’ll be sharing his perspective regularly.

Here’s to a simpler 2013!


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