The first time I went to our parish priest’s house, I was very nervous. Every week he railed against the evils of money in his sermon and I knew he worked a good job when he wasn’t preaching. The fear of walking into his home and finding it fancily furnished with high end furniture was a real fear. It was a pivotal moment for me on whether or not I was in or out with the whole church thing. But when I walked in, I saw immediately that the furniture was used. The home was simply decorated with books, icons, and various items that reflected the family’s Palestinian/Russian heritage. It was welcoming and homey and I was all in. The message was clear–money and possessions were secondary to the family’s primary value…the gospel. I wanted our home to reflect our values as clearly as I saw them here.

People’s houses say a lot about who they are. It tells you what their values are. If you walk into a house with designer layouts and tons of expensive possessions, chances are that person’s values are about money and image. If you walk into a house that’s covered with pictures of their children and family–that person probably values their family. That’s why it’s fun to visit other people’s houses and get a feel for who they are as people.

I started watching the show Fixer Upper recently and got completely addicted. Like, binge watched. I couldn’t stop until I was finished with all three seasons available on Hulu. I was suddenly overwhelmed with the desire to update our house…which we had not touched since we moved in eight years ago. We’d always talked about doing something like painting or getting new floors, etc, but we never got around to it. Minimalism had helped me accept the imperfections in our home and to be content but after watching this show, it was gone. I had fallen down the rabbit hole of consumerism and was determined to do something at any cost.

What I really wanted to do was paint. But the trouble is that when you do these sorts of “small” changes, it can quickly escalate in other things….like new wall decor, new furniture, new light fixtures, etc. I did my best to keep things on the cheap…Goodwill and Walmart were my go-to sources for purchase. And when we finished, it looked great…but the funny thing was that I didn’t feel any happier than I did before we painted. It was nice but I still felt empty. I began questioning why it was that I actually wanted to change things.

After further reflection, I realized what my real trouble was. I never wanted to be a suburban housewife. I wanted to be a hip globe trotter a la Colin Wright. I once ran into a friend at Target and he said, “You looked so suburban I almost didn’t recognize you.” It was intended as a joke but it crawled into my soul and stayed there. I cannot be associated with these women who strut around in their active wear because they can’t be bothered to dress themselves. I cannot be the boring, bland suburbanite soccer mom that is mocked in stereotypes. I had to prove it. And I was going to do it by updating my house to be the hip, cool place I wanted it to be.

Except that this did not reflect my true values. Aesthetics are important to me, but they are definitely minor values…as they are also to my husband. We discussed what it is we want people to see and feel when they come into our home and we both wanted the same thing…we want our home to be warm and welcoming and comfortable…not cold and untouchable like an art gallery. What is truly important to me is knowledge, my family, and my church (not necessarily in that order). Money is not my value and I certainly do not want anyone to walk into my house and think that money is our first priority.

A coat of paint is not so bad. We’ll probably finish painting the interior of the house now that we’ve started. But at least now I recognize that it is not going to cure whatever insecurity I have about my station in life. It’s not going to make me cool (and seriously, I’ve never been cool, so why try and start now?) and it’s not going to change who I am–a suburban housewife with a knack for writing and an obsession with research. It’s just paint.



I was listening to the Katy Says podcast yesterday. I discovered Katy Bowman’s work about six months ago and it has really shaken up the way I look at exercise and movement. In her podcasts, she often talks about the disconnect modern society has created between itself and movement. For example, driving a car has removed the need for walking to and from where we need to go. Our sprawling living arrangements has made it more difficult to walk and thus creating the need for the car. Our furniture has removed the need for sitting on the floor and has turned us into Wall.E style humans. The conveniences of modern society have made us sedentary. But while she covers that in her podcasts and writing, she also talks a lot about how our conveniences have isolated us from our surrounding communities.

At church last Sunday, the sermon was also about isolation. How something as simple as a bike lock has removed us from social contact with our communities. The speaker mentioned that when he was in Morocco, someone was paid to watch people’s bikes. If you went somewhere, this guy would watch your bike for you until you came back. If your bike was still there, you’d give him some money. But here, we have bike locks and no social contact. In my city, we have bike stations where you put money in a machine to rent a bike. Imagine if that was a person? We’d be forced to interact with people. Katy also talks about this as a benefit of more movement–if you’re walking to the library, you see the world from a totally different perspective because you are interacting with it instead of being isolated from it.

Another example would be cell phones. Once upon a time, kids used to walk or ride bikes to someone’s house to see if their friends could play (movement and personal connection). Now, play dates are arranged via text message between parents (consumerism and isolation). No one would dream of stopping by the neighbor’s without calling first. Facebook is, of course, another example. Some argue that the advantage of Facebook is keeping in touch with long distance relatives and I have no problem with that. But it is not the same thing as a phone call (here is where cell phones do prove useful after all) where you have more of that personal connection. If you write a letter, you have to write down the words, put it in an envelope, and walk it to the mailbox or post office (movement). If you just scroll through Facebook to check out some photos, you remove both the movement and the connection.

All of our stuff–all of those conveniences–not only are they making us sedentary…they isolate us from the most important thing–connection with others. Look up anything about health, happiness, and longevity and you’ll always find movement and community listed as essential ingredients to a fulfilling life. What conveniences or things in your life remove you from movement and contact with others?

I’m Back!

It’s been awhile since my last post, so here’s a brief update:

I do not have a thyroid problem.

I spent several months after my last post feeling exhausted, emotional, sleep deprived, and unhealthy. I had no interest in things that I normally enjoyed doing–including this blog. So I went to the doctor to see if I had an issue with my thyroid…thyroid problems run in my family. But when I described my symptoms to her, she said I sounded depressed. Sitting in her office, I couldn’t think of any reason why I would be depressed. Then it occurred to me when I got home–oh yeah, my friend died almost one year ago. That’s why. Mentally, I didn’t make the connection. Physically, my body was way ahead of me. I refused the medication prescribed and started taking steps to get myself out of my funk. It’s been a little while but I’m back to this blog, taking long walks, swinging kettlebells, doing yoga, and eating well. I stay busy with the house and the children and have become very active in my church community. All of these things keep me from falling into the trap of self involvement and pity.

We’re homeschooling next year.

Yikes! The hubs and I made the official decision last month to pull the kids out of school for fall 2017 and start teaching at home. I’ll be doing most of the work–he’s in charge of sports and Spanish. As a homeschool graduate, I feel like it’s my moral obligation to give homeschooling at least a year. If it works out, great. If not, I can return my kids to public school knowing I gave it my best shot. I didn’t want to wake up in twenty years and regret not even trying. So we’re trying. I’m shopping for curriculum and getting excited about the possibilities! It’s going to be interesting homeschooling from the parent perspective.

I’m writing a book.

I don’t promise it will be published and it has nothing really to do with minimalism. It’s a book about teaching the Bible as literature to children–I’ve been studying the Bible this way for a couple of years and have written articles for another blog through the lens of parenting. It’s been great. The book is basically being written twenty minutes at a time but I am surely making progress!

Thoughts for this blog

I have become very interested in how minimalism relates to community–how being less interested in consumerism promotes community among neighbors. I’d like to expand beyond “buying local”, which I don’t think truly promotes community as much as one might think. But how can living with less positively impact our relationship with our neighbors–particularly with people who are different than us? I hope to write more about this in the future.

There you have it! A brief update on some of the things happening over here at Simple Material. Hope all is well with you!

Groups and Identity

My oldest friend came to visit yesterday–we have been friends since elementary school and bonded largely over our shared rejection from a group of popular kids at the church we both attended. She’s one of the few people that I can say I’ve known for twenty years. We’re similar personality types–both Type A–and it’s been fun to look back and realize how much we’ve grown up together. We have similar epiphanies around the same time and it’s always a relief to have the conversation and know that she understands exactly what I’m talking about.

We were talking about eating healthy, as we often do. This time the conversation flowed into how diets tend to run fanatical…it’s always presented as so black and white and truly, it just boils down to whole foods and moderation. She wondered aloud why it is that people have to be so dogmatic about what they eat and I said, “I think it’s because everybody wants to be part of the group that is correct.”

“Right,” she said. “Everybody wants to find THE path and THE truth and point out that everyone else is wrong and unite over their self righteousness. The reality is, it’s not that simple. It’s about finding what works for your body…each person is so different.”

Exactly. And that’s so true in terms of life as well. Everybody is looking for that place…that group…that label that identifies them and makes them who they are, so that they can point at everyone else and say, you are NOT this and you are wrong. Much to my amusement, I realized that not much had changed since high school when we were so desperately trying to fit into a group of kids that didn’t want anything to do with us. My inner teenager was/is still trying to fit in with the kids in the popular group…they just wear different labels: first the army, punk rockers, vegans, runners, hikers, minimalists, whatever. I keep trying to fit my square peg in a round labeled hole and I just never quite fit.

I have read (because I’m a nerd and read about these sorts of things) that it’s in your thirties that you start to break free from all that. You become more comfortable with who you are as an individual and by the time you’re in your forties, you basically don’t give a damn what other people think and just do you. I feel like in my twenties, I knew I didn’t fit in. In my thirties, I’m starting to recognize that it has less to do with where you fit. Nobody really truly fits anywhere unless they follow all the rules of that group and seriously…who really truly follows all the rules? It’s more about living and enjoying life as you lead it. Stop worrying about what group you belong to or what rules to follow to be perfect, and just live to the best of your ability. Take care of each other, eat food you like, spend time with people you enjoy, and just be grateful for the time you’ve been given. Sooner or later, we will all join the exact same group in the graveyard regardless of what dogma we followed in life.

Photo Credit 


On Stress, Change, and Hair

I’ve been toying with the idea of cutting my hair off for awhile. I wrote in another post about the story of my hair–how I’ve always had it short and then I decided one day to grow it out because I was sick of it and I didn’t want to think about it anymore. It’s now the longest I’ve had it in years, but whenever my hair is this long, I rarely last more than a year before I get antsy and need some kind of change.

What I’m trying to figure out is why I feel like I need a change right now. Women’s identity is often tied up in their hair and oftentimes we make rash decisions to change it based on something that is happening in our lives. Life has been changing for me lately and the changes have been stressful–my husband is moving to second shift at work and will be signing up for classes in the mornings, which means long days with the kids for me; our van decided to start stalling while driving and so it’s currently in the shop, but it’s fixable, so that’s good news; and because of the van, our emergency fund is now depleted. I know that the purpose of an emergency fund is to cover emergencies and avoid going further into debt but it’s really hard to feel like we’re ever going to get ahead when these things keep happening.

My husband listens to the Dave Ramsey podcast and he says he gets irritated when people call in saying they paid off $100,000 of debt in less than a year…usually because one of them went back to work and the other one got a super awesome promotion making six figures and so of course it was really easy for them to pay everything off. He says that when we are finally debt free, he is going to call in and say, “Woohoo, we’re debt free, but it took FOR-FUCKING-EVER!!!” Because that’s how long it takes for a lot of people!

In any case, I’ve been stressing over our finances…worried that there isn’t going to be enough, that a car is going to die and I’m going to be stuck at home with the kids during these long days, wondering if I made a mistake quitting my part-time library job…that we’re never going to be financially independent and I will never get to do the things that I stupidly did not do when I was young–like backpack in wild places, travel to Europe, India, and Thailand, road trip across Route 66 and down Highway 101, retire in a small town on Lake Superior and write for the rest of my days.

So yeah. What does this have to do with hair?

Like so many other women, I tend to cut my hair when my life is in crisis…when I feel like things are spiraling out of my control, so I reach for the one thing I know I have some say over. Especially when I see pictures of cute, seemingly carefree women with pixies on Instagram (I set up my account again…no Facebook AND no Instagram was too Luddite for me)…then I think, I want to feel that way again–the way I felt before I was married and had three kids and a mortgage and a stupid loan that I regret with every fiber of my being (the loan and mortgage, I don’t regret the first two). So I cut my hair and then I am left with my life being exactly the same way it was before. Except now I have short hair and a monthly maintenance bill…which doesn’t really help the whole financial independence thing. I’ve yet to see a frugal blog with a short-haired protagonist.

While I’m trying not to fall back into old patterns, I was contemplating this move before all of this happened. I like my long hair, it’s easy and cheap to maintain but I thought I would do more with it. I’m not much of hair girl…I don’t like fussing with my hair beyond an occasional blow dry and flat iron (and it better not take longer than a few minutes). So what usually happens is that my hair ends up in a ponytail or a bun and that’s the extent of the so-called “variety” that I expected from long hair. I could make more effort, but I stay home with three kids…one of whom is a messy toddler and it seems sort of ridiculous to put a lot of work into a hairstyle that is overkill for a day at the zoo. I’ve never been that dressy mom on the playground because I’ve never been a dressy person. The closest I’ve ever come to being put together every day is when I had a pixie because it took five minutes to fix my hair. Long story short–I am a simple maintenance person. I’m not fancy, I prefer comfort over fashion, and while I would never wear socks with sandals, I’ve committed many fashion faux paus in the name of comfort…to my trendy sister’s everlasting horror (she hates my Keenes…I can’t live without them). A pixie fit my style because it allowed me to look fashionable without investing a lot of time. Long hair also fits my style because it’s easy, but I feel like I’m starting to fall into the “mom” trap of just looking like “blah” all the time. Invisible. That’s how I feel. Invisible.

I don’t really know what I’m going to do and the odds are very likely that I will do nothing. I’m just thinking out loud about things that are silly and it’s my blog so I get to do that. So if you came here looking for deep exploration of minimalism, frugality, beauty…that’s not happening today.

How do you handle stress and change in your life?

Who I Am vs. Who I Want to Be

I want to be Lara Croft.

I know, I know. You’re all falling down in fits of hysterical laughter and I certainly can’t blame you! But can you blame me? Wouldn’t every girl like to be Lara? A wealthy heiress who rides motorcycles, goes on adventures, does martial arts, has giant boobs, and a swinging braid?

Here’s the thing: I don’t really like driving motorcycles, they freak me out. I don’t mind adventures as long as I get to sleep in my own bed at night. Giant boobs are overrated, as years of nursing babies has taught me. I still haven’t tried martial arts because I’m afraid of getting kicked in the face. I’m definitely anything but rich. And I’ll get back to you on the swinging braid…as my hair is not long enough for such a feat. I think the thing I’ve always liked about Lara is that she was brave and tough in ways I’ve always wanted to be.

Now in my thirties, I still find myself wishing that I was cool like Lara. But I’ve also recognized that I am not a video game character who is supposed to be eternally twenty. I’m a mom of three kids. I stay home to take care of them. My five year old thinks my job is to clean the house. While there may have been a time where I thought it would have been awesome to run around in combat boots and fatigues chasing after war zones and helping refugees, I know now that is not me. Or at least, that is not the work that the universe has given me. The job I have been given is to raise these three little monkeys running around my house. That’s my work. That is my grand contribution to the world…three more citizens who will hopefully be loving and responsible people. And they will go on to make their own contributions.

Sometimes it’s a little depressing to think that my grandiose dreams have taken such a nosedive. I meet teenagers who are ready to graduate and the world is at their fingertips. They are ready to go out and make their dreams happen. Sometimes I wish I could go back and start over with the knowledge I have now. But I can’t. Instead, I can accept the work that I have to do now. I can accept that I’m more of a librarian than a soldier. I can accept that I’d rather raise children than lead troops. I can accept that I prefer jeans to camouflage, obstacle courses aren’t really my thing, and that I’d rather drink wine on a patio than dodge bullets. My life is here in the Midwest–quiet, peaceful, and some might say boring. Sometimes minimalism means discarding those old, unrealistic dreams of being a video game character and accepting where and who you are in real life.

And that, my friends, is both brave and tough.

Minimalist Date Night

This morning I’m glowing from a date night with my hubby.

Actually, it wasn’t really a date “night”–it was more like a date afternoon. My mom came over to watch the toddler (the big kids are at my MIL’s for the week) and hubby and I went for a hike in the nearby regional park.


Traditionally, we’ve always gone out to dinner and possibly a movie…spending a great deal of money in the process. I never minded so much going to dinner–although in the past we’ve eaten out so frequently that it hardly felt like a treat–but I hated going to the movies. We watch TV at home and let’s face it, movies haven’t been that amazing in the past few years. The point was to go out and bond without children and it seemed ridiculous to sit in front of a screen to do it. So I came up with what I felt was a fantastic alternative. I would make him go shopping with me. It didn’t really matter where…what I really wanted was to go some place where we could walk around and talk. The drawback was that my husband feels that shopping at a mall is akin to the plague. It never really worked out and we would end up driving around for hours, wasting gas and arguing about where to go and thinking to ourselves about how we were spending money that we really didn’t have. Or he would go shopping with me and make it very clear that he’d rather be at a movie. So much for date night.

But yesterday, as we wandered aimlessly through the woods, pausing occasionally to investigate various forms of wildlife, chatting quietly, or sometimes not speaking at all, I said to him, “Remember all those times that I dragged you shopping on our dates? I think this is what I really wanted to do.”

He laughed. “We both probably would have enjoyed it more.”

It’s true. We had more fun on our simple, three hour hike, than we did any of the times we went out to a restaurant and shopping/movies. The only money we spent was on gas and the New Belgium beer we picked up on the way home. At home, we grilled our chicken for dinner (with sweet potatoes and salad), drank a beer, and had my homemade chocolate zucchini bread with vanilla ice cream for dessert. It was a meal I enjoyed far more than any restaurant we would have chosen (except for Matt’s in Minneapolis but that’s a treat for us!). Date night does not need to be an elaborate, expensive affair in order to bond. It can be as simple as a hike or a bike ride (our plan for the next time).

How do you keep your date night minimalist/frugal?