Project Renovate My Life: Cultivated Contentment

When my husband and I began a home renovation project a year ago, we both knew it would be tough. We both knew it would take longer than the contractors said, and we both knew it'd be fun. You see, we have a history of creating unnecessary challenges for "fun." We are not "home-renovation people." Our kind of fun was the short-term challenge of living differently.

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How Sustainable Practices Keep Me Focused on Living Intentionally

Lauren Hooper


I can’t remember a time when I didn’t consider myself environmentally conscious. My generation grew up watching Captain Planet and learning about global warming from Bill Nye: The Science Guy. It’s not too crazy to expect that I understood the impact of our choices on the Earth from an early age. Paper over plastic. Always put your empty Coke cans in the recycling bin - don’t forget to snap off the tab. Keep the thermostat set to 78 in the summer and 68 in the winter. Turn off the lights and fan when you leave a room. These are all lessons most of us heard, but the idea of being a protector of our environment really spoke to me. If there was a product, service, or mission that was more eco-friendly, that was always my choice. But regardless of how deep my passion was for being a tree-hugger, my understanding of my choices and how they affected the environment were under-developed.

When I started college, my career path was Architecture with a focus on Environmental Sciences. I wanted to design structures that were not just eco-friendly, but echoed the functions of plants. In the book “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things” by Michael Braungart and William McDonough, the authors begin to describe the architecture of the future by saying “imagine a building like a tree, a city like a forest….what if our homes and workplaces were enmeshed in the landscape, harvesting the energy of the sun, sequestering carbon and making oxygen. Imagine on-site wetlands and botanical gardens recovering nutrients from circulating water. Fresh air, flowering plants, and daylight in ample supply. In short, a life-support system in harmony with energy flows, human souls, and other living things.” There isn’t another quote that speaks more deeply to me than this one. Even re-reading it now leaves me feeling just as inspired as the first day I read it, over ten years ago. With the inspiration from this book, the lessons I learned from my architectural studies, and the forward-thinking students around me, I dove deeper into the idea of sustainable practices and how I could make them applicable to my life. I drastically reduced my water usage, traveled by foot and public transportation as much as possible, purchased secondhand clothing, and moved my diet towards veganism. I was beginning to feel more connected to my environment as I became more intentional with my choices.

At the same time, my academic career was taking a nose dive, and I soon ended up without a degree and in search of a better financial opportunity. My focus shifted from sustainable choices to finding a job. And after months of searching, I found a great job, and I was on my way to a new city, a new place to continue adopting my sustainable, intentional lifestyle. 

However, there is a funny thing that happens when you remove yourself from an environment that reinforces your values. It wasn’t long before I was not only forgetting to put paper into the recycling bin, but printing out unnecessary items on a whim. I was driving to work the 0.9 miles from my apartment to the office, even when the traffic was so bad it would have been quicker to walk - I even had a sidewalk and places to safely cross the roads through the entire distance. I found myself blasting the heat in my apartment on those “cold” Florida winter nights because I was so excited about having my utilities included in my compensation package. I still identified as being eco-friendly, but I wasn’t truly making eco-friendly choices. My car ran perfectly fine, but I was dead set on buying a Prius with the justification that it had better gas mileage, and therefore, was the more eco-friendly choice. Regardless of the fact that I drove a Corolla with great gas mileage and had a walkable commute.

Fast forward three years later, I’m back in my college town with my college boyfriend, now husband, and our infant twin babies. I’m driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee for my two mile commute to work.  I tried to justify my choice to buy the nice SUV and business casual clothing from Banana Republic and take 30 minute showers because I was buying recycled toilet paper and bringing my own grocery bags to the store. But I was living comfortably, focused on material goods, and not being intentional with my choices. 

I can’t say there was a specific day that I decided to focus on sustainability again. The arc into this lifestyle was very subtle and occurred over many months. One day I was removing extra decorative items from our living space because the babies were starting to crawl and get into everything. Then I started to not miss those items that had been moved to the highest shelves of our closet, so they were donated. The more the kids grew and became curious to the things around them, the more I realized I didn’t love many of the items in my apartment enough to be constantly keeping guard over them or putting them back when they were moved from their usual home. Around this time that I was culling more and more of our belongings, we were relocating from Gainesville, FL to Huntsville, AL, and I was transitioning from full-time working mom to stay-at-home mom. I had a lot more free time on my hands, and I found myself perusing books, blogs, and YouTube channels associated with zero waste living, minimalism, and green beauty. 


"With minimalism, it is often easy to just remove something unnecessary. With sustainability, we want to avoid having that unnecessary item in the first place."


During this time that I was highly focused on removing unnecessary things from my life, I also began to focus on what I was bringing into my life. The idea of eco-friendly and sustainable had vastly grown since my college years in the club “Gators for a Sustainable Campus”. With the time and effort I put into re-educating myself on sustainable practices, I developed a detailed idea of what intentional choices I needed to be making to not just cultivate an environmentally-conscious lifestyle for myself, but for my family as well. 

I started with the basics - water conservation, electricity conservation, purchasing items with little to no packaging, recycling, and composting. In my family’s case, it was easier to slowly transition away from our previous habits. My wonderful husband is supportive of my choices, but is not quite ready to embrace into an environmentally-conscious lifestyle for himself. So I lead by example and give him little nudges. And like most partnerships, he has his strengths in areas that help me do better – like remembering to not let the water run and only buying what we truly need. And he’s more than supportive of my choice to not go crazy with interior decorating. 

Because of this continued focus on sustainable practices, we spend a lot more time thinking about whether we need to bring something into our lives. With minimalism, it is often easy to just remove something unnecessary. With sustainability, we want to avoid having that unnecessary item in the first place. Therefore, a lot more thought goes into what ends up in our home. If I’m in need of green juice, I’ll place a pick up order at our local juicery because they source their products locally, return vegetable and fruit remnants to local farmers to be used for compost and feed to those same farmers – they even package it in returnable glass bottles. This requires me to be intentional about my purchase as I won’t just throw a bottle of Suja in my shopping cart during a regular grocery run. As I move towards a more zero waste lifestyle, I use a simple system before I bring something new into our home. First, I ask “can I repurpose what I already own to address this need?” If not, I will attempt to borrow this needed item. If that’s not possible, I will scour secondhand shops. If an item must be purchased new, I seek out a local merchant with sustainable practices. While we have far from eliminated our need for a trash can, actively working towards zero waste and sustainability in our everyday lives keeps things simpler, allowing for more time to focus on our family.


Bio - Lauren Hooper is a minimalist living just outside Huntsville, AL with her husband, boy/girl twin toddlers, and two rescue dogs. When she’s not hanging out in the backyard with the chaos twins, Lauren spends her time doing sales and education for Beautycounter, creating content on her lifestyle blog, cooking up vegan & gluten-free recipes, and curating her colorful capsule wardrobe.

You can follow her family’s journey on laurenetc.com and sneak a peek into their minimalist home on Instagram @lauren_etc.

 

Settling for Less: Our Story of Abundance

Rachel Dillow


We value being hospitable.  We value community and connection.  We value our faith in Jesus.  We are the Dillows and our simple living lifestyle has been abundant.   

In 2010 Jeff and I were newly married, living in the Midwest, making modest incomes and on the hunt for our first place together.  We looked at new buildings with spacious apartments, one with historic charm and a complex with some resort style amenities.  We weighed the options and laughed as we signed the lease for a one bedroom unit in a nursing home turned apartment building.  Yep, it was dated, it was ordinary, and it still felt like a nursing home but it allowed us a luxury we wanted above everything else we saw – the ability to save for the future even though we had no immediate goals in mind.  We quickly found the real character of the place came from the best friends we made down the hall, an adorable man who hosted movie nights in the old drab theatre and from Franklin, the maintenance man, who we still quote to this day.

We moved in and as life started to settle we began to feel less connected because of our work schedules. Jeff was working nights, I was working days and weekends which left us missing the time together we’d hoped for.   Jeff wanted to leave his career as a news photojournalist to run his own photography business. He put in the time working news while building his photography company and soon the time came where he could pull back and focus solely on his business.  Being the calculated and financially risk adverse gal I am I came up with a “fun” spending challenge to help plump up our savings as we planned for his self-employment.  For the month ahead we would not spend any money above the essentials of groceries, gas, bills and rent.  We called this “no spend” month and we loved it.  

At the end of the 30 days we found joy in becoming more resourceful and intentional in our time together.  We found we enjoyed cooking at home and watching Netflix more than going out to eat.  We loved going for walks and riding our bikes.  After a month of not feeling like we were deprived by the experience we decided to try it again the next month.  After so many months it turned into an ongoing effort.  There were plenty of times we deviated.  We would want to go out to dinner with friends, see a movie, buy a juicer after watching a food documentary, need a new pair of shoes, an irresistible decorative pillow, a clearance shirt at Target that was just too good a deal to pass up and the list went on.  It wasn’t always perfect but since we started sprinkling in “no spend” months we’ve found saving towards a big goal to be more rewarding than little splurges throughout the month, and it helps to keep us focused on what we value most. 

As Jeff’s photography business grew, I began a new job in the travel industry.  Our careers were blending and overlapping with each other.  He would shoot video for the company I worked for and I would assist him on his shoots.  We got to travel and experience the world together but when we were home we didn’t feel like it was where we were meant to be.  We wanted to move to a place that didn’t keep us trapped indoors because of extreme weather.  We prayed for direction on where to go, decided that was San Diego and brought back the “no spend” budget to help make our move happen.  We pared down to save more so we could make the move without depleting our finances knowing we would be starting Jeff’s business from scratch, and I was building up my client base as well.  It’s been 4 years since we headed west and we’ve hustled hard to grow our businesses, pay off bills, spend less, give to causes we support, save and live in a way that reflects our family values.  We’ve embraced simplicity and tried to keep a non-comparison attitude when we looked at what our friends were doing.  We weren’t buying a house, a new car or filling our place with new furniture though at times we wished we were.

Since we started out living in a small space it wasn’t too challenging to maintain a lifestyle of not acquiring a lot of possessions.  We transitioned to being a one car family, which can be limiting at times but moving to a neighborhood where we can walk to grocery stores, coffee shops and parks has been the right place for us to be able to do so.  We adopted a vegetarian diet and cook at home 95% of the time.   Simplicity in our meals and eating fewer ingredients is one of my favorite aspects of a minimalist lifestyle.  I also love being able to tidy up pretty quickly. 

Most of our furniture has been hand me downs or thrift store finds, and we aren’t bothered by it.  We recently bought a few new pieces of furniture since our hand me downs were on their last leg.  When a new need arises we sell or donate items to make space for new ones in an effort to keep our space clutter free.  I don’t feel our home lacks character because of fewer possessions; we find the character comes from who we fill it with.  

What I’ve found most helpful in being content with less has been focusing on the benefits rather than seeing it as a sacrifice.  It also helps that we’ve added a “fun money” line to our budget so we each get to have some money to spend if there is something we want or need. Jeff usually indulges in burritos and falafel.  I usually go for coffee with friends and DIY projects.  

Currently, we’re in the midst of another big transition.  Our family of 2 grew to 3 this summer, and I left my job to be home with our son, Sam.  I never imagined I’d have a baby or step away from work but I’ve loved it and it’s pushed me to face the demons I have with productivity, self worth and my identity.  Now, as I’m home taking care of Sam, Jeff is in a very busy season of starting a new business, and we’re working towards a goal that feels impossible.  

We want to purchase a house with space to plant a community garden, grow our family and deepen our connection with friends and neighbors. It’ll be awhile until we can afford a house in San Diego so we’re embracing our current space (ugly brown carpet and all) and doing our best to live in line with our values.  

A few weeks ago Jeff made the bold decision that our vision doesn’t have to be exclusively tied to home ownership.  He planted squash, tomatoes, herbs and greens in the small patches of dirt around our complex.  I made a sign and hung it on the fence encouraging our neighbors to take what they need.  We’ll ask for forgiveness later. 

We were encouraged when a neighbor one house over asked Jeff to start a garden in her yard too.  It seems a house won’t be in the plan for us for a long while but we want our family values to thrive wherever we dwell.


Rachel Dillow is a workaholic turned stay at home mom delighting in a simple lifestyle with her husband, Jeff and son, Sam in San Diego, California.  Currently she’s learning to sew, surf and let go as God moves her in new directions.

 

IG : @rachel.dillow

 

How Clearing Your Space Creates Gratitude

Abby Cameron


What you think, you become

 What you feel, you attract

What you imagine, you create. 

-Buddha


My family and I live what I call an indigo life.  A life lived deeply in gratitude.  One that is rich, wild, and abundant.  I would love to say we have always lived this way, but like most of you, this kind of life sometimes takes work and definitely requires daily practice.  

Before living a life of abundance, we were always ok, but not very mindful of being thankful.  We spent a lot of time going through the motions of life.  Sleep. Eat. Work. Sleep. Repeat.  Then, about five years ago we went through a tumultuous time with my wife’s family.  We were in the process of buying the family business and there was discord among the family members.  Every day was an emotional roller coaster for us.  Hurtful words were spoken and relationships were severed.  This went on for two years.  For two years we cried, yelled, took it out on each other, but mostly felt raw.  We were devastated. We tried to move forward and find joy, but neither of us knew what that looked like or how to go about getting it back into our life.  We got a puppy and then took a vacation, but there was something still missing.  

By Thanksgiving that second year I was desperately looking for a reason to be grateful.  I was searching for something to keep my heart from closing.  I found the inspiration to create a gratitude tree in my front yard.  There was a young oak tree with small, low branches.  I put up a cardboard sign, threw some tags and markers into a old tool box, and made my puppy pose by the tree for a photo.  Every day I would make my way out the tree and write down one to five things I was grateful for and then hang the tags on the tree.  My neighbors took notice and they started to add grateful tags to the tree as well.  Soon, there were several tags of thanksgiving blowing in the breeze. 

It wasn’t easy for me.  At a time when I didn’t have anything positive to think or say, it was difficult to come up with something meaningful.  Some days it would be as simple as I was grateful for toothpaste so my teeth wouldn’t rot.  That was enough.  I started to notice a shift in my attitude and big waive of relief came over me.  

I wasn’t really surprised in my attitude adjustment.  After all, I knew enough to know that energy flows were you put your attention.  However, what shocked me the most was that I had sparked a movement and didn't even realize it.  The next year came and I was being asked to put up the gratitude tree again by my wife, friends and neighbors.  The answer to my own pain had also helped others find their own joy.

I started to see things differently.  What I began to noticed in my relationships was that when I interacted on a negative level, the other person usually followed suit, leading us no where good.  When I approached my interactions with others with a grateful heart, I made better connections, and built better relationships.  In turn, they started to live with a grateful heart too.  You are who you hang around.  

Since that time I have gone on to become a life coach, making it my mission to help others find their indigo life.  Being a field guide for life has also helped keep me accountable because I firmly believe I have to live it in order to give it.  I want my family to keep living an indigo life especially as it grows. 

A life lived in gratitude became a value for us when we realized we didn’t want to be surrounded by negativity any longer.  We felt happier and more at peace when we stayed mindful about our words and actions, and from my gratitude tree experience, that behavior was contagious.   

This way of living became especially important about a year and half ago when our son was born.  We want to raise him with a grateful heart, and it’s important to set the example for him.  Children are sponges, soaking up language, energy, and meaning.  He is influenced by what we say and it’s important to us that we model the habit.  Even though he can’t communicate with words quite yet, we ask him what he is thankful for and we tell him what we are thankful for.  It’s become a family ritual.  We look forward to the day he can use his words to tell us. 

Today, when schedules allow, we take daily walks with our dog and son.  Naturally, the conversation starts with events of the day. Sometimes it turns negative. but then one of us will stop and say, what are you grateful for today?  Then it turns to our blessings and our time together as a family feels stronger.  

Another tool we use as a family and one that I use for my clients is called the Living Space tool.  When we start to feel we are moving away from our indigo life, it’s a good indication we need to do some clearing.  There is a philosophy that states our outer world reflects our inner world.  Meaning, the state of our homes, work places and other spaces is a direct reflection on where our mental state is.  

In order for us to keep living a grateful life, our minds need to be free of mental baggage and focused on staying mindful.  The tool is simple.  Clear your space, clear you mind. 

Here is how it works.  

  1. Think of a space in your home that you don’t like.  It may be a drawer, a closet, or an entire room.  Make a list of what you don’t like about this room.  How does it make you feel when you are in that space?  Notice any body sensations such as anxiousness, etc.  
  2. Next, think of a space in your home that you love.  Again, make a list of what you love about it and how it makes you feel to be in that space.  
  3. Now clean, declutter, reorganize, paint it, remodel, etc the space you don’t like so it reflects the space in your home you do love.    

You might notice that something you have had negative thinking around suddenly changes.  Or a problem you have suddenly has a solution.  This supports the minimalist mindset.  Keeping around unwanted things in your life blocks you from joyful living.  

Although we celebrate gratitude all year, November is especially important for us.  We still set up a gratitude tree and have encouraged others to do the same.  There are gratitude trees in several states across the nation this year.  Grateful living has really helped us and those around us focus on being present in our lives.  Showing up and living in the moment rather than sitting in fear or worry about the past or future.  It’s enough.  What we have today is enough.  I am grateful for Kate and Melissa and all the families that are a part of the Cohesive Home community.   


Abby is a life coach, gratitude warrior, and field guide for life in addition to wife and momma to one son. She believes everyone can live a rich, wild, and abundant life.  They just need a little help getting out of their own way to make that happen. Outside of guiding others, she enjoys meditating, practicing yoga, taking road trips, sipping peppermint tea, and chronicling life in her journal.  Her family lives on a small lake in North Texas.

IG: @abbycameron26

Abbycameron.me