There’s something about February that always sends me to the kitchen. I don’t know if it’s all those pink and red packages in the grocery store or the cute little heart-shaped cookies or simply the fact that Colorado is in the dead of winter, but my sweet tooth tends to come out in full force this time of year. My whole-foods, low-histamine diet doesn’t really allow for candy or packaged sweets or processed anything…and while that’s good for my waistline, it’s not so great for sitting down with tea and something carb-heavy while I plan out my day each morning.
Cue banana bread. It’s perfect for breakfast or dessert, and this version is packed with organic, natural, unprocessed ingredients. My husband insists on calling it banana cake, but this has far more in common with dense, moist Boston brown bread than it does with the cake-like sliced loaves from Starbucks. I find this particular version a bit bread-like for dessert, but it’s perfect when spread with butter for breakfast, and it goes equally well with a dollop of jam or accompanying savory dishes like eggs. Or, if you’re feeling really fancy, I can picture it cut into small cubes and used in place of croutons with a beet and chèvre salad, à la my favorite salad at Fruition in Denver.
For this recipe, I’ve gone for the best quality, minimally processed ingredients I could find: unenriched organic white whole wheat flour and organic all-purpose flour (I use Wheat Montana and Bob’s Red Mill, respectively), local raw unfiltered honey, virgin coconut oil, organic bananas, and organic cage-free eggs.
I’ve gone through several bunches of bananas this week tweaking the recipe, so I had to run to the store for more…leaving me with slightly underripe fruit. Perfect for eating, but not so great for baking. Normally, my oven comes to the rescue, and 30-40 minutes at 300 degrees will soften them to the same degree as a counter-ripened banana. This time, nothing I did would soften those bananas, and I ended up with banana chunks in the final product. (You can see them in the sliced photo below: at 11pm the night before the blog was scheduled, I didn’t have time for a do-over. This is what happens when you eat your experiments before they’re photographed.) I don’t care for the texture of cooked banana lumps, so I really recommend you wait and use the softest, blackest bananas you can get. The riper the banana, the more intense its flavor will be in the final product.
When you mix all the ingredients together, the coconut oil is going to cool back to a solid pretty quickly, so you’ll want to work fast once you’ve added it. If your batter turns out to be more of a cookie dough consistency–mine usually does, depending on temperature and humidity–simply press the batter down into the corner with oiled fingers or a sheet of waxed paper.
I’ve spent the month of January talking about minimalism, but before I move on, I want to address the elephant that creeps into the room every time a conversation about minimalism creeps up: that little voice inside your head that says, “That’s great for them, but it would never work for me.” Maybe you love the idea of it, but think you could never accomplish it. Or maybe you’ve tried and failed at purging your house of unnecessary items. More often than not, it’s not a failure of action, it’s a failure of intention. We like the idea of having less, but we don’t know why we’re holding onto what we have. And without addressing those reasons, it’s nearly impossible to move on. Let’s look a few reasons why you and I may be struggling to make a change.
1. I paid a lot of money for this stuff.
This is the big one for me. It’s good old-fashioned American frugality mixed with a healthy dose of guilt. I spent this money, I must have liked it at some point, so now I can’t get rid of it. This was my own biggest trap, until I finally convinced myself that holding on to unloved, unused, or non-functional items was not going to bring that money back. If you’re caught in the same trap, try dividing the items you want to offload into categories: things to sell (i.e. would bring you enough money to justify the time you spent in trying to sell it on eBay, Craigslist, or Facebook), things to give away (what would make someone else happy? Many times, I give away my favorite items to friends who would really appreciate them. Just make sure you’re not offloading your junk on them), and things to throw away/recycle (clothes that are too worn to be useful, broken toys/appliances that can’t be fixed, etc.) I made enough money by selling big ticket items to offset the cost of my new basement office. Now that feels like money earned for something I will really use, than money wasted on useless stuff. And not having to step over that CD player that might get fixed someday eliminates a source of stress that I didn’t realize even existed.
2. I might need it someday.
This is another big one. I think anyone whose parents or grandparents grew up in the Depression Era has a touch of this. That generation never got rid of anything because they knew they might need it but wouldn’t necessarily be able to replace it. While I really do admire the resourcefulness that came out of that era—and the ability to fix anything that has been largely lost—much of what we hold onto isn’t irreplaceable or so unique that another thing couldn’t take its place. That’s not to say you should eliminate every last “just in case” item in your house. I hold on to my fabric and craft stash even though it’s way too large. That came in handy when I had to sew a last-minute costume for my son’s medieval festival this week, and saved me both the time and the cost of a trip to a craft store. However, I’m betting you that in an emergency situation, you’re not going to wish you kept that juicer you never use or your daughter’s sparkly prom dress. If it’s not an emergency situation, very few things are so expensive that you couldn’t decide to buy another one years down the line. The money spent is well worth the peace of mind you gain in the meantime.
3. I can’t live in bare surroundings.
Neither can I. In fact, it makes me a little depressed, even though I like clean lines and very few tchotchkes cluttering up surfaces. However, moving towards a minimalist lifestyle doesn’t mean living in a bare, white box. In fact, I came across the perfect term yesterday: “cozy minimalist.” That sums up my philosophy exactly: surround yourself only with things that makes your life easier and better, however much that is, and eliminate the rest. Only you can decide what that means, but I’ll give you one rule of thumb: if you’re spending more time putting away and organizing your stuff than enjoying it, you probably have too much.
I’ll be the first to tell you, changing an entrenched lifestyle and mindset takes a lot of conscious effort. I still have a long way to go, and I still probably have 50% more things than I really need. But now that I’m mindful of my excuses, it makes it that much easier to take intentional steps in that direction.
What are the reasons you have for either pursuing or not pursuing a minimalist lifestyle?
Leave your answer in the comments below and one reader will receive a copy of the book that started this all for me: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
Last week, we talked about why minimalism isn’t simply getting rid of stuff, but rather a process of determining how your possessions fit into your goals and values. I also challenged everyone to define what they wanted out of life and then see if what they owned reflected those goals. But some of you may be asking, “Why bother? So what if my dresser drawer is overflowing with my concert tee collection?”
Good question. For the longest time, I figured that as long as things were put away, it didn’t matter how much stuff I owned. The mess was the problem, right? As I’m finding out, however, “out of sight, out of mind” really isn’t true, at least not in my case. So here are five reasons you might want to consider pursuing a minimalist lifestyle.
1. Owning less makes you appreciate your possessions more.
We tend to believe that when we love something, have multiples of that item will multiply our love for it. In fact, it works the opposite direction. Psychologists call this scarcity: we place a higher value on things that are scarce and a lower value on things that are abundant. Therefore, your one beautiful piece of jewelry will feel much more special than if you had five similar items. That unread book on your nightstand takes on a new focus and importance when there aren’t thirty other new books on your shelf. And when you do finally buy a new item—say, a blouse you’ve been eyeing for months—it can be the sparkly jewel in your wardrobe that you’re excited to wear each week. When you have fewer things, you can give what you do have your full attention and appreciation.
2. Owning less saves you time in the long run.
How many times have you been running late and had to spend precious minutes sorting through three hundred tops in your closet to find something to wear? Or lost that kitchen implement you need in the sea of other kitchen tools, only to give up and run to the store for another one? (If you’re like me, you’ll immediately find the lost item when you return, and now you have two doo-dads to deal with.) Let’s not forget the time spent putting away, organizing, and rearranging your things. When you own fewer possessions, you can spend less time dealing with them and more time living your life.
3. Committing to buying less in the long term frees up money and resources for what you really want.
This is a lesson I repeat over and over with my children who can’t resist spending their allowance on the new and shiny item they see in the store, only to regret not having the cash for a big spend later on. You’d think I’d learn something from them, wouldn’t you? Yet for the longest time, I found myself picking up one more notebook and a new package of felt tip pens under the guise of “office supplies” or yet another tank top from the clearance rack, even though I already owned five other colors. Had I saved that money and put it in my savings account (or in a jar), I’d be well on my way to that European vacation we’ve been talking about for years.
4. Fewer choices means less decision fatigue.
I don’t know about you, but some days feel like an endless string of decisions to make and problems to deal with. By the time I sit down at my desk to work for the day, I’ve had to pick out my clothes, decide what to make for breakfast, choose my coffee mug, pick a coat, and decide on the best route to drive the kids to school based on the traffic report. All small, silly decisions, but often I feel exhausted before I even start my day. With a pared-down wardrobe, I grab two pieces that I already know will match. The endless coffee cup collection has been pared down to a handful of similar mugs, all of which I like, and I’ve already chosen what my daily breakfast will be for the entire week. While I’m still paring down the coats (I love ‘em, and I live in Colorado which has crazy weather, so they’re kind of necessary), I’ve now only made two decisions rather than five. Since I’ve simplified these areas of my life, my mornings are calmer and more peaceful.
5. Clearing clutter can improve your health.
This is where minimalism and clutter diverge into two separate concerns. Some people may have tons of possessions, but they’re perfectly organized and easily accessible. Others may own very little, but it’s strewn around their house. Most of us are some permutation of the two. Personally, I’m a distracted housekeeper on the best day, and the more items I own, the more likely they are to be covering every available surface. But a few days past the point where the house needs to have a good clean (and items put back in their homes), I begin to get anxious, unfocused, and irritable. I know that clutter is bad for my mental health and my creative process, and for me, the only thing that keeps it under control is owning less stuff. Experts agree that not only does clutter take a mental toll, but it can take a physical toll as well: studies have shown that women eat more in a messy kitchen than a clean one, and clutter is often correlated with weight gain and/or obesity. In fact, there are whole books written on this phenomenon.
Personally, all of these consideration ring true for me in some fashion, which is why I’m slowly pursuing a minimalist lifestyle. (No going overboard this time… purging and minimalism can be just as addictive as shopping!) Do any of these resonate with you? Do you think you could go minimalist or at least move that direction?
Last week I discussed the ways that I was getting my life into order for 2017. I was all set to go into the planner system that I’m working on myself and giving some tips on how to get started with your own when I ran across half a dozen posts related to minimalism on my Facebook feed. Clearly, paring down and cutting back is on all of our minds.
Can we take a moment to think about the fact that we live in such a land of plenty and opportunity that we have to intentionally cut back? All over the world, there are people struggling for their next meal. When I heard the story of a seventy-year-old woman that because of Beauty for Ashes Uganda (an organization I’m involved with—check them out!) owned a mattress for the first time in her entire life, I cried. It hit home how absolutely spoiled I am with my 1900-square-foot house, multiple rooms, and climate control, not to mention everything that fills it.
Too much of everything that fills it.
I’m not suggesting that it’s a sin to own things. I’m not espousing selling all your possessions and moving into a 200-square-foot tiny house. As much as I love watching those TV shows, it would be blow to my mental health to live in a space that small with my three men. (I read somewhere that the average residence in a tiny home is only one year, so obviously I’m not the only one.) However, I am suggesting that there comes a point when your things can get in the way—of who you are, who you are becoming, who God intends you to be.
You might be toiling away at a job you hate, simply to pay for the things you have or acquiring more things that you technically don’t need. You might be procrastinating over a new calling because it requires cutting back and you’re afraid of how that will look to family and friends. Or you could just be stumbling along in a haze of stress when really all you want is some margin to clear your head, pray, meditate, rest. If that’s the case, then perhaps it’s time to take a look at how the items that surround you might be hindering your goals instead of helping them.
Minimalism isn’t about simply getting rid of things. If you don’t take some time for reflection, you’re just going to bring in more stuff to replace the things you just eliminated. Purging can feel good, but without conscious consideration, it’s futile as a long term fix. At its core, minimalism is about evaluating what you want your life to be. It’s recognizing how what you own and what you surround yourself affects your goals and values, for good and bad.
For me, a major need is time. I can easily feel crushed beneath all my responsibilities. Paring back on my possessions has helped me spend less time cleaning, washing, organizing, and putting away. My wardrobe is now about fifty mix-and-match pieces that can get me through ten-below-zero winters and ninety-degree summers. Without having to dig through my closet every morning and figure out what to wear, I have more time to focus on getting my kids ready for school…and I can sleep in a bit longer. (Maybe I should have put sleep on my priority list too.)
On the other hand, since my own health and that of my family is a big focus, I’ve begun making most of our food from scratch from fresh ingredients. I also love to cook as a hobby. Both take a well appointed kitchen. I’ve gotten rid of duplicates and chosen items that can do double-duty, but I require a bunch of pots and pans, my pressure cooker, specialized knives, and the right dishes for serving. My kitchen may seem minimalist to some people, but to someone who hates to cook, it would seem excessive. What matters is that I have exactly what I need to meet my goals and nothing more.
So today, I have a challenge for you: Ask yourself, “What are my goals and priorities?” and then take a look around your house, apartment, or room. Does what you own support those goals, or like me, do you have some paring down to do? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so be sure to comment below!
Some of you may have noticed that I largely disappeared from sight for the last couple of years, and the answer is a simple reason: life is crazy. There’s probably not a person out there that can’t relate to that statement. It seems that demands on time and energy grow every year, without any margin to rest and recharge. For two years, I reduced my activities to the minimum so I could deal with family issues and my own health: no travel, no blogging, minimal social media. For a while, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to return to traditional publishing. I’d been planning on going indie just to get some breathing space. That is, until I got connected with the wonderful folks at Tyndale House Publishers and decided I could have no better partner if I were going to keep writing fiction.
But that brings me to a 2017 that is even more jam-packed than the ones that came before. One book to edit, two to write…a platform to rebuild, a street-team to grow, publicity to plan. Not to mention a husband who works full time, teaches martial arts four nights a week, and is starting a business… plus two boys who have school (30 minutes from our house—that’s two hours a day in the car for me), therapy appointments, tutoring, and separate activities. Oh, did I mention that we have multiple health conditions and food allergies, all which require a slightly different diet?
I figured out years ago that I can keep exactly three things in my mind at any given time, and do two of them well. And those things are constantly rotating. It requires meticulous note-planning and note-taking, the tools for which always feel less than ideal. So this year I’ve decided to focus on three things:
Devising a planning system that works for me
I’ve tried everything: Blue Sky, Erin Condren, The Spark Notebook, legal pads, the Bullet Journal. None of them quite worked for me the way that I wanted them too. The problem is, I’m both structured and freeform— I absolutely must have a traditional visual calendar to figure out where I need to be at any given time, along with the space to take notes and jot down reminders. Normally, my desk ends up littered in sticky notes, which is probably the least efficient way to plan.
What I really need is a combination of the two: traditional monthly calendar and freeform notebook, with a clean, minimalist feel. I adore beautifully decorated and designed pages, but the thought of doing it myself gives me a panic attack. I facetiously told my friend that I’m going to invent the Mullet Journal: business in the front and party in the back. After she stopped laughing, she said, “That’s a great idea. You should make it…and blog about it too.” And since this person is part-friend and part-life coach most days, I’m gonna do it.
Meal planning — for real this time
Guys, if you know me, you know I love to cook. But I am a terrible meal planner. My idea of meal planning is wandering through the produce section to get inspired by the pretty, locally-grown vegetables. Really not the most sensible way to use my time or structure my week. I’m also just started a low-histamine diet, which introduces a whole new level of restrictions and difficulties, especially since I can’t precook anything and hold it in the fridge for use later in the week. But I have to have a plan, and because of both my requirements and my kids’ food allergies, picking dinner up at Chick-Fil-A is not longer an option.
So I need a relatively-affordable, mostly-organic menu, flavors that my children will actually eat (they’re not as enamored with ethnic food as my husband and I am), and things that can be quickly cooked from fresh ingredients or prepared, frozen, and then quickly reheated in a reasonable amount of time. Oh, and don’t forget that I’m crazy picky about my food and most of the “umami bombs” I rely on for big flavors are now verboten. Let’s just call it Meal Planning Impossible, shall we? Feel free to come along for the ride…or just lay bets on how long it takes for me to lose my mind. I’m thinking they’re even odds.
Paring down — big time
I’ve been running behind the minimalism train since I read two books in late 2014: The Power of Less by Leo Babuta and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. We have a fairly modest house, but we are people who like stuff. I tend to be a collector unless I keep those impulses in check. But all my things were suffocating me. The time it takes to maintain, organize, and work around all the stuff is time I’m no longer willing to spare.
So I’ve decided to board that train for real and get serious about some major paring down. Did you know that you actually don’t need thirty colors of Post-It Notes in your desk drawer? I know that’s a humorous example—after all, Post-It Notes just take a little bit of space—but multiply that mentality towards everything you own and it can become a serious problem. I’ve already cut my kitchen gear by two-thirds and I’ve gone to a year-round capsule wardrobe to simplify my closet. But there’s still a lot of work to be done. The final goal is to have the minimum that I need to live plus the things that I absolutely love and put a smile on my face every day. Life’s too short and time’s too precious to be sucked into the black hole of consumerism. This year, I’m opting out.
These are some big goals and big changes, but I’m willing to bet most of you are feeling the same need for a fresh start for 2017. If you want to play along with the big New Year Makeover, I’d love to have you. Leave a comment below about your 2017 goals and we’ll do this together!
It’s been an eventful spring/summer, y’all! If you follow me on social media, you probably already know the big news…I just signed a contract with Tyndale House Publishers to write a three-book contemporary romance series!
This is kind of a big deal, because… well, Tyndale. I’ve always admired their fiction program, particularly their contemporary romance and women’s fiction, so the fact that mine straddle the line between the two genres makes it pretty much an ideal fit. Plus I knew I wanted to work with their Associate Director of Fiction, Jan Stob, from our first conversation. Editor relationships are a big part of successful publishing partnerships, so I’m very excited about this one!
The unexpected bonus is that the entire MacDonald Family series has been acquired by Tyndale as well, including Under Scottish Stars, which was scheduled for release this summer. This third book will be coming, but it will be released at a later date once scheduling and formatting and repackaging has been completed.
In the meantime, you can look forward to the first volume of my new series in Fall 2017. Set in my beloved hometown of Denver, this food-centric book focuses on the romance between the chef-owner of a local fine-dining restaurant and the writer who inadvertently tanks her career. It’s fun to be back on American soil, but you can expect the same trademark romantic chemistry and delicious food that you got in my UK series… plus some fun glimpses of Colorado’s outdoor beauty and our thriving food scene.
Stay tuned for more details as they are available, and if you haven’t already, sign up for my newsletter in the sidebar to the left. I’ll even throw in a free e-book to sweeten the deal!