Redefining simple living: choose your priorities

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by Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and is currently traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

It is with reserved awe (and just a smidge of weirdness) to let you know that the countdown to my book’s release has begun. Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living is due for release at the end of this month. I’ve said it already, and I’ll continue to say it — this book exists because of Simple Mom readers.

You all have blessed me with a platform for my writing, so thanks doesn’t seem like an adequate word. Having a book published has always been on my “bucket list” of things to do in my life, and I’m astonished that it’s actually happening. Perhaps saying it three times? — thank you, thank you, thank you — will competently express my gratitude.

Not quite, but it’s getting closer.

With my book’s ever-nearing release, my mind has been circling back to the classic, overarching theme here on the blog… simple living. My desire for a simple life was the fuel for starting this blog almost three years ago, but ironically, the concept behind it can easily get a little — well, complicated.

Just what is simple living?

In my book, I devote some space talking about what simple living both is and isn’t. It isn’t a lot of things we presume — living off the grid, or swearing off TV, for example. Simple living could include those things for some people, depending on certain things.

But one thing for sure — the thing that is true for everybody – is that in order to truly live a simple life, you need to choose your priorities. Just like we don’t all have the same interests in music, or prefer the same climate, we can’t all live one pre-determined life and call that “simple living.”

My definition of simple living in the book requires an honest evaluation of all your priorities. And it asks you for a gut-check analysis to determine whether how you’re spending your time actually lines up with what’s truly important to you.

To get your brain percolating on the topic this month, here are some common characteristics that should be true of our priorities. Some are easier said than done. I’m definitely a work in progress on many of these as well.

1. Priorities work towards a greater good.

Okay, so it’s easy to say our priorities should be for good and not for evil (no “taking over the world” then, I guess). But things get a bit fuzzier when we have to choose either spending more on organic produce or saving that money to reach future financial goals. Or through what system our kids are educated. Or whether we take a new job opportunity that also requires a move.

2. Priorities are congruent with your season of life.


Ah, sweet bliss — it’s Finn soundly sleeping. Last night, actually.

Right now, it’s not as much a priority as it usually is for me to rise early in the morning.  Finn, my three-month-old, still nurses once per night and thereby interrupts my otherwise good night of solid rest.  I’ll take sleep when I can get it.

It is, however, a priority for my husband and I to keep our twice-monthly date nights etched in stone.  Our brood of five-and-under offspring sweetly suck the life out of us on a regular basis, and if we’re not careful, we could easily go weeks without a meaningful conversation.

In the future, we won’t have to be as conscious about going on regular, methodical dates because our lifestyles will be freer and the kids can watch themselves.  I’m sure we’ll have a different set of priorities by then, ones that are currently not a concern for us.

Priorities look different for different people, but good ones line up healthily with your season of life.

3. Priorities are responsible.

Okay, so I might not love waking up at 4 a.m. to feed Finn, but it’s my job as his mother. Going to work every morning might not be the most fun ever, but if your family depends on your paycheck to eat, then it’s pretty darn important.

Priorities should answer to your responsibilities; they should mature you. It doesn’t make much sense to prioritize reading ten magazine subscriptions if it means there are no clean clothes. Likewise, it’s irresponsible to prioritize staying up late to catch Letterman if it means not getting enough rest for the next day. Or to buy new furniture without first saying up the money.

It might not always be fun to prioritize responsible things, but that’s what grown-ups do.

4. Priorities answer to the important, not the urgent.

mother and son reading
Photo by Heidi @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

I’ve written before about understanding the difference between the urgent and the important, and how many times, the urgent can’t be helped (spilled grape juice or serious knee scrape, as examples). But if our priorities aren’t regularly checked against what’s truly important, the urgent will enslave us and suck the life out of us.

Answering the phone at dinnertime — is that important or is it urgent? How about the great sale you just happened upon at Target? Or driving over to school — again — your son’s forgotten homework? Or how about caving in to your toddler’s tantrum just to give your ears a break?

It’s a daily struggle for most of us to clearly differentiate between the two.

5. Priorities speak to your passions.

I love this last one… That if all the above reasons are true, our priorities should speak to that place deep within our souls that cry out for attention. We are each made uniquely and specifically, and our priorities should reflect that. I love writing — it fuels me and lights my inner fire. I can’t not write. I’ve made it a priority in my life to stoke this fire and keep it kindling.


Photo by Lindsey T

I also love being outside, good music, celebrating seasons and milestones, and nesting. As long as these things work toward a greater good, align with my season of life, answer to the truly important, and are responsible, then it’s okay to make them a priority in my life.

Yours will be different, both individually and collectively as a family. You might be in a unique life stage that calls for a certain set of priorities. Your children might have particular interests that dictate some of your priorities. Perhaps even the geography of where you live shapes what you prioritize. And of course, there just might be an innate, God-given passion for something in life that means you cannot not make it a priority.

Knowing your priorities are an essential part of simple living. When I discovered — what I feel like is — the true definition of simple living, it became so much easier to freely say “yes” to those lovely things in life I’ve been called to prioritize, and say “no” or “not right now” to the things that just aren’t so important. And to do so without any guilt.

Next Monday, I’ll share more about what it means to redefine “simple living” in a realistic, reachable way.

What are some of your priorities that speak to your passions? Are you making room for them right now?

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Comments

  1. I love this and the timing is perfect. I just handed in my resignation at work in attempt to find a better balance in life, to find room for my passions. My passions, my daughter and husband, my family and community, and science.

  2. What a great post! I can’t wait to read your book when it comes out. Your blog has been so inspiring even for moms who don’t stay at home full time. I’ve been following your blog for about a year, but this is my first peep.

  3. Tsh,

    This is why I keep coming back here. Your wisdom is solid and grounded in what’s real, practical and eternal. Simple living is exactly how you defined it – living by our priorities, or by what truly matters most to us in our season of life. I’m glad that although you are still in process, you’re obviously farther along the journey and I’m thankful to reap the nuggets of insights you pass along.

    Hooray for your book!

    Love and Light,
    Vina

  4. My priorities are my hubby, pre-schoolers and fleeing from debt like a “gazelle”! It always amazes me when I read your blog how pertinent it is to what we are going through! I started reading when you had 5000 subscribers and it is just wonderful to be on the journey with you! Looking forward to your book.

  5. Very timely post! Just last night my husband asked about some of my hobbies and whether I am truly passionate about them because I have been complaining about not having the time to do them. It helped me to rethink my schedule and today I’m going to fit in time to actually work on them. I’m going to make them a priority, if you will. :)

  6. The countdown to the book launch is really on! I’m thrilled for you!

    I can totally relate to your comment on ”..weeks can go by without a meaningful conversation.” Scary but true!

  7. Congratulations!

  8. we are a “priority” family. Making daily, weekly and monthly and large scale grand plans according to our priorities. And I would agree that living this way if how I frame my own definition of “simple living”.

    And I’d add that simple, no matter your definition, is not easy, nor is living according to your priorities “easy”. But it is rewarding, fulfilling and energizing.

    Priorities that speak to my passions… well pretty much the stuff I’m doing right now.
    http://fimby.tougas.net/forget-about-balance

    Homemaking, homeschooling, photography, blogging and planning our next grand adventure as a family, one that is going to move us towards living our life the way we truly want – together as a family everyday.

  9. Love this post! Great view of simplicity…love how gracious a view it is and how it’s different for everyone.

  10. I really love the concept of doing what is important- not urgent. Leila at Like Mother Like Daughter says to start housekeeping in the master bedroom (important) NOT the kitchen (urgent)

  11. with small kids at home and being in full-time ministry it feels like i have to constantly reassess what it is that is important to me and make sure i am refocusing. for me, i want depth in my relationships, be it with God, my husband, my kids, or others. thanks for the reminder of keeping the main thing the main thing.

  12. I echo the other comments in that your topics are always so timely! I also just pre-ordered the book!

    Now that I have 2 children in school, I realize how counter-cultural it is to aim for a life of simplicity and faith. It is ridiculous yet true to say that it requires work.

  13. A new priority for me is carving out time for me to write. Not only to keep up with my blog, but to work on a couple of book ideas I have had on the back burner of my brain for a couple of years. Through talking about it with others I found out that an acquaintance of mine (a good friend’s good friend) is a writer’s assistant by trade and often takes on first time, unpublished book writers to help them see their project through, pro-bono! Now my priority is her priority, too and she keeps me encouraged and focused. It’s been awesome so far!!

  14. Oh….and I pre-ordered your book as well! =D

  15. avatar
    Denise C. says:

    Great post, I am sure I will be going back & re-reading it again! I get SO MUCH insight from the posts at Simple Mom. :) I am in the process of organizing & re-evaluating my priorities. 2010 has hit both myself & husband hard financially (think one big thing after another). One of my biggest priorities is getting our savings account back up. My husband. My kids. My home. All on the list too. Your book is on my Amazon.com wishlist, I am just waiting until I can purchase it! :)

    P.S. Finn is a DOLL!!! :)

  16. First of all, a huge CONGRATULATIONS on your upcoming book. It looks just beautiful, and I know how proud you must be :)

    Second, I seriously love this post. I just finished a month of writing about the issue of TIME, and one of the things I kept going back to is being true to your priorities–even if they don’t match the priorities of other families you know and even if admitting some things AREN’T priorities (like, say, doing crafts with your kids if you’re not a crafty mom) is a little uncomfortable at first.

    I especially love your point about determining the difference between urgent and important. How true it is that your life can be overtaken by emergencies if you aren’t careful to carve out time for what’s important to you. And by prioritizing and organizing your life you can head off some emergencies and make others easier to deal with.

    Whenever I talk about time management I find that some people get turned off, thinking I’m trying to advise them on how to cram more stuff and more activity into less time. Not so at all. What I try to do is figure out a way to live that lines up with my values…and thinking about organization and time management helps me do that.

    Your book’s on my “must read” list :)

  17. Congratulations on the book!

    Great post! Maybe we’ll try the twice-monthly date night. My husband and I could use some quality time without our 3 kids (all 3 and under).

    I look forward to reading your book!

  18. I hope this is not only a book for moms but also for dads! I have just published a post about “priorities”, but this is more leaned toward the “priorities” at the workplace.

    Your book is awesomely interesting in more ways than one! I think it will speak of priorities in relation to life in general. I’ve been in my journey toward the path of ultimate productivity at work and at home. Your book will be a useful resource that I can use.

    Let’s help to put this on the Bestsellers List!

  19. Congrats on the upcoming book!

    For a very long time I let the fact that I work outside the home make me feel like I wasn’t living a life that was simple for me. But through a very (VERY) long journey I’ve realized its where I am in my life as well as what works best for our family. That being said, its still very hard to follow a simple life — I often feel like I don’t have enough time for all the things I’d like to do for myself, especially given my husband’s crazy work schedule (he’s a sheriff’s deputy). But realizing that I’m OK with all of this being a work in progress and that its OK to have room for improvement has allowed me to “let go” of some of the stress I’ve put upon myself. Which, when you think about it, makes my life a bit more simple. :)

  20. 1. Love your new pic!
    2. Horray for the twice monthly date nights. Many moms with young ones skip this and it is vital for your relationship.
    3. I think that writing speaks to my passion. When I was young I regularly wrote in my journal and it just felt so freeing. After the kids, work and our busy family, I just did not have time so blogging is a wonderful way to keep up on it.

  21. Yea!!! What a great post!!! So often I think I have spent the day doing nothing… well lay on the bed and read through a mountain of Dr. Seuss…. but you are so right – it isn’t doing nothing if you are living by your priorities!!!

  22. Great post, I love reading the information here. I struggle with living in my ‘season’. So often I just want to make things happen how I think they should and that just makes things harder for me.

    I agree that priorities mature us. Before I had my daughter I thought I knew what responsibilities and priorities were. I quickly learned I didnt have a clue. I am still learning what my priorities should be and trying to balance that with what I want to do and what I need to do.

  23. Love your post and your site! So glad I found you on twitter. Can’t wait for your book

  24. Oh Tsh.. how you always make my day! =)
    Can’t wait for the book to come out!

  25. Like you I have a newborn (7 weeks old). Next to the baby, sleep is the most important. Because without it, I can’t do anything else well. I’m trying to make writing one of my priorities again, because it fuels me as well. Exercise is also a top priority because it makes me feel good. Everyone wants a feel-good momma around :). My other children are a priority because they are ultimately the most important to me.

  26. We’re in the middle of a series at my church call 30 days to live. The concept is pretty basis – why don’t we live our lives, every single day, as if we only had 30 more days to live? This series has been life changing for me because I’ve really had an opportunity to reflect on what is important to me, what I can do for others, and how I can prioritize what matters most in my life. I’ve found that there are things that I put off until “tomorrow” or “next week” or “next month” that now take more priority in my life. There’s no doubt that changing your priorities can simplify your life!

  27. Tsh- congratulations and best to you. I just read the first pages on amazon and it reads well. I want more…so I can have less.

    :) Rae

  28. yay, tsh! i’ve asked for your book for christmas :).

  29. I like the idea of knowing what stage of life one is in. I am going to have the clutter of sippy cups right now :)

  30. I can’t even stress to you how MUCH i needed to find this post this week! For months now I have been drowning in the unending challenge of trying to organize my home, my schedule, my children’s activities, my job, and my passions…sadly with little success as of yet. Your great wisdom not only gives me a place from which to begin-organizing my priorities first-but it also gives me hope that I don’t have to feel this stress and unhappiness forever! With a lot of your suggestions, my life can, and will be simplier!

    Thank you! Kate Agliata

  31. Tsh, this post got me so jazzed for your book– I’m so excited it takes a personal exploration angle to this topic. Can’t wait.

    And I’m heading your wisdom about the date nights…something my husband and I were good at for a while, but with #3 have gotten out of the habit of…it really is essential and worth making the commitment to have it scheduled and non-negotiable.

  32. A top priority at the moment, which just happens to be a passion of mine is nesting/organizing. I am gearing up for baby boy #3, due in just 4 short weeks. Nothing makes me quite so happy as purging clutter and organizing a space. And on top of that, I have the best reason to do it, preparing for baby N.

    Can’t wait for the book!

  33. These points are SO worthy of putting into action. And my husband does, which is how he accomplishes so much. I, on the other hand, struggle with priorities and tend to spin my wheel. I pray that I can implement this knowledge and simplify–one baby step at a time.

  34. I wish I could implement these points as well as my husband does. The difference between us is remarkable.

  35. Oh, congratulations, Tsh! So happy for you!

  36. First of all, love the new pic, Tsh! Secondly, really excited about the new book and looking forward to reading it. Third, excellent post on priorities. Am all for choosing between important and urgent, focusing on passion and responsibility and while all this may not be easy, it is surely doable and can be a lot of fun:-)
    Thank you for all that you do!

  37. This is my first post but I’ve been following your blog for a few months. I’m so excited to read your book and you have helped this mother of twins more than you know!

  38. Great post, as always, Tsh. I especially appreciate your thoughts on priorities being congruent with your season in life. As a Professional Organizer, I see so many people who are clinging to items and priorities from the past. When we can’t let go of what’s no longer important, we prevent ourselves from enjoying our current reality and a simple life.

  39. Love it here and I would love to give-away a copy of your book on my blog.
    Also love to create any artwork for you – if you need. I posted your a link back to you and your super “blog tips.”
    Enjoy the dawn of a new day!
    pve

  40. Tsh, I love that you are so focused and tuned in to what’s important for yourself and your family at such a young age. Kudos to you! As a mom with two adult kids, it took me too many years to get that all figured out and now I hope to someday have grandkids so I can do it all over and laugh a lot more and cry a lot less! LOL! Thank you! Blessings to you!

  41. Hi Tsh,
    I just chanced on your blog — I say chanced because I started at one blog this lovely Sunday afternoon, and went through various paths and ended up here. I’m glad I did. Simple living, slowing down, getting priorities straight — as much as we know this is sound advice and have heard it said before, it always bears repeating. Especially when you repeat it so well!

    Best wishes with your book, and its launch — since you already have a faithful community of readers, I’m sure you will have no problem staying on top of the publicity efforts.

    Cardinella/aka Alex

  42. Oh my word. I just stumbled into you by linking to a link to a link… and I think I have a bit of a crush on ya now! :) Your words spoke to my heart and have articulated what I’ve been trying to sort out and explain to myself and my hubby, so I’m printing this to add to my notebook as a tool to sharpen my focus.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

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