What I’m Learning in the Dark

This last weekend, I suddenly became aware of the fact that I don’t know how to give sacrificially.

I have never given food to a food drive until I went hungry, or deprived myself of my favorite treats.

I have never given money to an organization until I was forced to stop spending on something for myself.

I realized that I want to know what it might feel like to give until it hurts, so I spent some time thinking about what we could give up as a family that would “cost” us something on a daily basis. It seemed to me that electricity would be a fun one to try.

Luckily, my family was up for the challenge, so we have spent this last week in darkness.

candles photo   © 2013   ElTico68 , Flickr

We’re still using heat, as it would be quite chilly without it, but in all areas, we’re just trying to cut back on how much power we use. At the end of the month, we’ll give the amount of money we saved to a charitable organization.

So basically, when it gets dark at night, we light candles.

When we’re feeling a comfortable temperature, we turn the thermostat down a bit, and get sweaters or blankets out.

When I do the laundry, I hang everything to dry.

When we’re done using an appliance, we unplug it.

When we’re not using the computer, we turn it off.

Pretty much, all those things we all know we should be doing to save energy, but don’t? That’s what we’re doing.

We’re not expecting it to save a ton of money. A 60 watt light bulb uses up $0.01 of energy per hour. Not a whole lot of savings there, but we keep reminding ourselves that it’s not just about the money – it’s about the learning experience.

Here’s what I’m learning so far:

1) I waste energy.

Apparently, I turn lights on all the time, even when I really don’t need them. This surprises me, because I’ve always been the kind of person who’s very diligent about turning lights off when leaving a room, and all that. But it turns out we need light even less than I thought we did.

I never used to think about unplugging appliances when they weren’t in use, but about three days into this experiment, I came into the kitchen, and actually thought, “Oh no! I left the kettle plugged in – what a waste!!” What??! Money-wise, that’s not a huge deal, but it’s very interesting to feel myself not wanting to use something I don’t truly need.

2) I like ease and convenience.

Sometimes, I get grumpy because it takes longer to do things in the dark. And I walked into an open closet door last night because I couldn’t see it. Sometimes, I want to just turn on the lights to get me out of my misery. I don’t want things to be hard, or take effort.

But sometimes, things are worth the effort. Good things come out of hard challenges. I’m a bit disappointed by how quickly I was ready to give up the whole thing. Thank goodness for Ben, who encourages me to keep going when I think the whole idea is silly. Maybe it is silly. But isn’t it good to go without ease and convenience sometimes? Not to punish ourselves, but to experience growth.

3) I like the darkness.

This is a big one for me. I have struggled with Seasonal Mood Disorder for years, and have always dreaded the longer hours of darkness in fall. I would have thought that less lights in the evening would bother me, but I’m finding the opposite to be true. After a week, I am completely loving our evenings of candlelight. We’ll see what happens after Time Change, but for now, I feel as though I’m welcoming the darkness, rather than trying to artificially shut it out.

It makes me feel different about daylight, too. I have this desire to get a ton of stuff done during the daylight hours, because I know I can’t in the evening. As cheesy as it sounds, I feel as though I’m more connected with the natural rhythm of our days.

4) When we save in one area, it’s contagious.

This may be my favorite lesson. When we’re using candles every evening to save on electricity, it makes me want to stop spending in other areas, too.

Suddenly I’m super motivated to budget more, and find ways to save money on groceries, or clothing, or gas…whatever! If we’re putting in a ton of effort to leave the lights off, it seems like such a waste to go blow our money on other stuff.

5) We are so blessed, we have no idea.

There are so many things we take for granted. How many people accept darkness as a part of life, and never flick on a light switch? How often do I think of them? How often am I thankful for electricity?

How many other things do I see as my “right”, rather than a blessing? Clean water, flush toilets, food, clothes, a warm house, a car to drive…the list goes on and on and on. Going without some of these things occasionally may be the only way I can gain back the sensitivity and appreciation I’ve lost…or never had, because I’ve grown up with these blessings at my fingertips.

I have no idea how much this blog post can affect someone – maybe this blessing is just for me, as I wander around the house with my candle. But I would love to encourage you today, as you enjoy the warmth of your house, or flick the lights on this evening: Be grateful. And send up a prayer for those who live with so much less.

I wish you much warmth and light in all you do today!


34 Days of Favorites: Purging!

Okay, everybody, in honour of Joshua Becker’s latest book, today’s favorite is all about purging!

(To read more about 34 Days of Favorites, go here. And to check out my review of Living With Less, go here.)

If you’ve been reading this blog over the last year, I’m sure it will be no surprise to learn that I’m enthusiastic about the idea of purging.

Here are some of the posts I’ve written on the topic:

Tips for Purging

What I’m Learning As I Purge Our House

Why (and How!) I’m Choosing to Own Less Clothes

And I’m thinking about writing a post on purging with kids – but that one’s still marinating in my mind….

I’ve been reading some fantastic books recently which are further inspiring me simplify my life, and get rid of stuff. The dresser drawers are getting emptier all the time! Ben better get home from work quick today, because I’ve got a box of his stuff all packed up and ready to ship off to the thrift store.

I’m really hoping he won’t reclaim anything, but I will give him a fair chance. Sneaking items out of the house has never gone well for me, even more so where Anika is concerned.

Here are my two favorite things about purging:

1) Purging Brings Freedom.

The feeling of conquering stuff, of getting control over my belongings is absolutely amazing. I get rid of guilt – for owning too much, for allowing it to accumulate, for lack of organization and losing control over things in my life. Purging makes me feel like life is light and free and clean.

2) Purging is Contagious.

It’s contagious in my own life – once I get started, it spreads from one area to another. But it’s also contagious in spreading to other people around. Although my family still struggles a bit with getting rid of stuff, they grow more open to the idea as they see me doing it. They become increasingly aware of what they are not using and do not need, as all of us move towards a simpler life.

So, you want to purge, but don’t know where to start? I see two options:

1) Start with what’s easiest.

Joshua Becker wrote a blog post about it here. It makes sense. I’m sure all of us have things we know we don’t use, or maybe even don’t like, but it’s still sitting around, making us feel yucky every time we see it. There shouldn’t be too many emotions wrapped up in the decision to get rid of it, so if you want to start easy, start there.

2) Start with the worst.

I generally don’t use this tactic, but after reading Living With Less, I was highly motivated. And I was completely sick of the pile on my phone desk. It’s been growing for far too long, and I see it all the time. It is constantly sucking energy out of me, because it makes me feel guilty, not only for allowing it to grow, but also for allowing it to be there in the first place.

Last night, I decided to dig in. It was horrible, just as I knew it would be. But it’s done. And I feel wonderful. Now I’m even more motivated to get rid of stuff, because the worst is behind me.

Want to join me in lightening the load??! What would be the easiest area for you to purge? How about your worst? Do it, and then come back and tell us all about it!

A Book Review, and a Renewed Craving to Simplify!

Once upon a time, I was eighteen years old and ready to leave home.

I didn’t go far, having chosen to attend college half an hour away from where I grew up, but I still clearly remember the day I moved out.

My belongings were all packed into my parents’ vehicle, and I headed out to make my new “home” in a college dorm.

Back in those days, I didn’t need much to make a home. Life was simple in a lot of ways – as long as I had Christmas lights to tack up around the ceiling, and pictures to cover every inch of the walls in my room, I was happy.

Those days in dorm were rich with experiences and late night talks, and we all had such a sense of new-found freedom and independence.

Many moves later, with yet another fresh start recently behind me, I have thought a lot about what it takes to make a home. I have packed and unpacked hundreds of boxes, and faced countless decisions regarding which possessions are worth keeping, and which items win a free trip to the thrift store.

Gone are the days when the possessions I “need” to survive could be packed into a mini van.

Somewhere between 18 and the present, life has changed.

The gradual accumulation of “stuff” sneaks up undetected, and seems to explode suddenly in my face when life requires the corralling of belongings.

Because Ben and I have spent the last 10 years in youth ministry, those first years away from home never feel very far behind me. I watch young adults try the world on for size, listen to them share their thoughts and experiences, and connect with them in a way which keeps the memories fresh from that stage in my own life.

I love what my life has become, but every once in a while, I think about what I would have done differently, if I could go back.

I would do it simpler.

I would focus on what matters most.

I would recognize that sometimes, some Christmas lights and a few pictures go a long way.

This is why I am a huge fan of Joshua Becker.

He writes about getting back to the basics, and finding joy in the simple things. He is passionate about getting rid of anything that clutters up life, making it difficult to clearly see what is most important to us.

I discovered his blog, Becoming Minimalist, this last year, which hit exactly the right spot as I got our family ready to move, and was desiring to lighten our load. I’ve always been a fan of purging, but reading Joshua Becker’s books has opened my eyes to how great my need is when it comes to simplifying.

His latest book, Living With Less, specifically written for students, is about choosing a simple life style before the accumulation sneaks up on you. It’s a refreshing message in a time when the pressure to pursue more, instead of learning contentment with less, is constantly bombarding all of us, perhaps youth most of all.

Reading his book made me long for this very same information….twenty years ago.

I always intended to keep life simple, but somehow, I still ended up bringing 17 boxes to the thrift store before our last move. I’m not sure if I would have fully appreciated his wise words back then, but if I had, the U-haul trailer would have been much emptier…

Although this book is youth-focused, I appreciated the topics covered, and the timeless reminder to throw off materialism, enabling us to live more fully in the joy and simplicity of this present moment.

I received a copy of Living With Less for reviewing purposes, and am happy to say, I would recommend this book to anyone, student or older!

The book launches today, and if you’d like to read it, or wish to pass it on to someone younger you know who might appreciate some insights on simplifying life, you can visit his blog here to check out his book, and enjoy some of his fantastic posts while you’re at it! The Kindle version of Living With Less is available here.

Have fun reading!

I, on the other hand, am ready to hit my closet with great purging force!