People have asked us for the past couple of years where the idea of simplifying our life, traveling more, and wholeheartedly believing in giving our children experiences over things came from, and I’ve always been at a loss for words. Because I wouldn’t say it came in one lightbulb moment, but rather evolved over time. A long, hurtful time. And to understand that, you kind of have to know our story…
When we moved from South Carolina to Oklahoma in 2011, I had just turned 23 years old. I had been married to the love of my life for 3 years and in those newlywed years dealt with struggling finances, renovating/living in a house that was a dump while being pregnant, and parenting a toddler, my husband working three jobs, pregnancies, a miscarriage, my grandparents’ deaths, the unraveling of suicide in the family, my own depression, and 4 moves.
When we boarded that little plane in Greenville, SC, to embark on an adventure to Oklahoma, people thought we were crazy. And we kind of were. My husband had gotten the job promotion we had been praying for, and we were looking for change. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. I was 35 weeks along with our third baby and we had a 2 yr-old and a 1-yr-old. So we packed up what we thought we would need to live on for a couple of weeks before the movers could pack up our house and send it to an unknown address in Oklahoma, sent a couple Facebook messages to a friend Steven had worked with for a summer at a camp, and bought one-way tickets for me and our 2 girls. Those first couple of weeks in Oklahoma were faith-stretchers. Steven was back and forth between the coast and the midwest, we lived on very little money, borrowed time with my pregnancy, and the generosity of perfect strangers who had taken us under their wings.
And that was humbling for me.
We looked and looked for a house to rent, but couldn’t find anything in our tight budget that seemed worth dishing out our hard-earned cash for, so we decided on a very basic 2 bedroom apartment that we really did love. And it was small. Very small. With the most basic amenities, but very within our budget. And when the movers delivered all of our stuff? You couldn’t walk in the apartment, let alone see anything because the boxes were piled from the floor to the ceiling. I’m dead serious.
We were coming from a 2,100 square foot home with an unfinished basement that stored all of our tools for the renovating we had done, and an acre plot land. It was quite clear. All of our stuff was not going to fit in this little 1,100 square foot apartment. So we were faced with our first milestone in our journey to simplify our life: do we get a storage unit, or do we give away the things we can live without?
We chose the latter.
We gave a lot away to friends and loaded up our mini van from ebay to the brim and took trip after trip up to Goodwill. I prayed each time Steven would take off with another load of my nice, Gymboree clothing and our baby equipment I had always thought I needed, and my Pottery Barn outlet finds, that God would put the right people in that store who needed our things.
In the course of about three days, at 38 weeks pregnant, we downsized our things by %50. I couldn’t believe that although I was 40 lbs overweight, I suddenly felt so light! There was a peace and a relief that settled into our little home that only me and Goodwill could ever understand. We could settle in for baby now. We bought a set of bunk beds for the girls in the second bedroom, and I bought a small side chair at TJ Maxx for the living room and that was it. We were ready.
And then God sent the blizzards…and we weren’t ready to deliver a baby at home. (You can read that whole whirlwind story here.)
Looking back, I wonder how we lived in that little apartment with three babies. How we stayed sane. And then I remember Abraham Lincoln lived in a one-room cabin with his family. You know? I mean, have you ever read even a teensy bit about Abraham Lincoln? He was awesome.
I also think there is a part of me that loves the idea of living against the grain of culture. Of doing things that are slightly crazy, or don’t make complete sense. I know the criticizers in the world love to pounce on people or situations like this, but if I weren’t ready to hear it, I wouldn’t be writing this. You see, for several years I felt this overwhelming need to explain ourselves and the decisions we made as a family to other people. I hated that I lived in that trap, and yet I couldn’t seem to get out of it. But God slowly freed me of that in Oklahoma. I guess we did one too many crazy things, fell on our faces one too many times, and I just came to terms with the fact that we were a work in progress. That I was waaaay harder on myself, than what other people were. And my perspective had gotten very self-focused to think people even cared what we did anyway.
After the apartment, we moved 4 times in the span of 2 years. We had put our house on the market in SC and needed to cut our costs here in OK significantly to afford both housing expenses, so we signed up to do show homes. They are homes on the market that you rent for a very reduced rate (ours were $400/month) and the pay-back is that you must keep them spotless for showings, and be ready to leave within an hour if a realtor calls you wanting to show a house. Oh, and you move when the house sells. We had realtors show up at our door and want to look at the house on the spot. We had people drive by taking pictures. We had an inspector show up once when I had a friend and her kids over for lunch and the realtor asked us to leave. And we did. The lasagna left on the kitchen table.
I had always considered ourselves pretty flexible people, but this. This really made me see we had room for growth! I was waking kids up from their naps and hustling to get the house perfect for showings. And it wasn’t long before we quickly realized – we need to downsize again.
So we did. We paired down our belongings to about a third of what we started with when we moved here from South Carolina. No microwave. No frilly baby items, just the bare necessities. We got rid of so many clothes, to the point that I was down to about 8 outfits per child. Steven and I shared one dresser (we have always done that) and it was comfortable again. We boxed up all the toys that were broken or that the kids never played with, and only kept what could fit into one small closet. We kept only what we were legitimately using, and what held sentimental value to us. And the rest? We gave away or sold.
We were beginning to experience a turning point. As we lightened our load and got rid of the excess, we began feeling more and more liberated. And less and less hindered. We began looking at life like not what is the next thing we can get, but what is the next thing we want to do? We began focusing on things in our family that had long been crowded out and ignored and began seeing monumental growth in our marriage and our idea of relationships as a whole. We began traveling and taking the kids on small weekend adventures in Oklahoma. All the free state park kind of places, museums, and libraries. We took a trip to our friends’ Missouri farm…where life is far from the city and very very simple. And we just kept soaking it all up.
Life was beautiful. Life was thrilling. Life was valuable…even without all the stuff.
I began wondering how we ever lived any other way.
I began dreaming about the future again and allowing my mind to wander….what if we actually pursued our dreams? Not just talked about it, but did them. What if we dared to live a little braver, and get outside of our comfort zones? What if we set our own course for our family, and not the one we were expected to take? What if we viewed our school choices revolving around what we wanted for our family, not what felt normal? What if we were givers? Not just thinking about the next thing we wanted to add to our wardrobe, or the next really nice car we wanted to buy. But what if we gave? To people. What if we viewed our stuff as not ours, but God’s? And not just said it, but actually lived it. What if we got over ourselves and our own agendas, and began seeing the world? Like, really seeing it. The needy people. The hurting people. The insecure people.
The ones who were just like us. Who had been where we had been and where we still are sometimes, with their own stories.
And I don’t know. Somewhere along the line, we changed. We’re still changing.
I guess what I’ve learned from our simplifying journey is to keep an open mind. You’ll feel like you have to do what other people are doing, or “fit in” with clothes and cars and houses, but I really think the whole thing is a trap. A trap to get you to always be looking for something, something you’ll never find it. You’ll always want something you can’t have, or wish you could be someone else and have their “perfect” life. But it’s all such a lie. Such a cultural thing we’ve created in America, that bigger is better, and more is cooler.
When Steven and I were shooting the Red Carpet event two weeks ago, I overheard Leland Orser talking with what looked like an extremely wealthy Tulsan. He said, “I used to think I had to keep up. And when I finally realized I didn’t, it was so much better.” The wealthy Tulsan agreed and they shook there heads knowingly, like a huge weight had been delivered from their shoulders. Here was a person who had fame, a successful career, and money, and he was saying it all wasn’t what was truly important. I am amazed that over and over again, this same idea has been reiterated in all the biographies I’ve been reading about successful actors and royal family members. Like God keeps sending me little hidden messages and if I look really hard, I see them.
I hope that we can be in our own home someday, like the one we have in South Carolina that never sold, where I can pick the paint colors again and salvage historic wood for my countertops. I would love to have a guest room and be able to give people a place to stay. I heart J. Crew clothes and I would rather have one pair of pants by them, then a hundred from Target. And I certainly have my wardrobe wish list. If we have another baby, we’ll need to get another car and we’ll definitely need tobuy a few clothes, because I gave away all of ours.
But I want to hold loosely to all of that. I don’t want to be clenching those things in my hands so tightly that if God asked to take it away it would cause me to despair.
When people ask why we have made the choices we’ve made in the past few years, how we got on this idea of simplifying and downsizing, and experiencing more, I guess you could say we saw that life was short. We saw that we only get one shot at this. And we wanted to live a well-examined life. We may be in our twenties, but we’re going to believe the 80-yr-olds who tell us it all goes by so fast. We’re going to believe the successful artists and creatives who have “made it” and who we look up to, and take what they say to heart. We’re going to believe the word of God when He says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
We only have one life. And I guess we know how we want to live it now.
Here’s to more adventures!
(This is in no way a post about people needing to live their lives the way we live ours. This is to tell our story, for those of you who have asked, in an effort to inspire and encourage and to give our God the glory for the work He has done in our life. I hope and pray my honesty here touches someone’s life today and gives you a small peek into our hearts. As always, I love reading your comments, and they truly make my day. But please leave them under that light.)