I have been thinking a lot about pictures and photography lately. Mostly because I have been going over my personal life and interests trying to see where else in my life I am being distracted from what is really important. It is so crazy to see how easily I have been deceived. I am still so ashamed that I have spent so much of my life focused on “things”. Ie: What to buy, how to make more money to be more successful so I can upgrade my “things”, managing “things” all day long, teaching my kids to be greedy consumers etc. I am still trying to make it right, and am making changes everyday. But I am so quick to forget and go back to my old ways. I am grateful the Lord is forgiving and so patient with me.
Most of you know I love photography. If you didn’t know, you can tell by taking a quick gander around this site. I love taking beautiful photographs and capturing the innocence of kids on camera. I have learned a few things about taking candid photos that I had no idea I needed to change.
First, I have way too many pictures. I took them all with the intention to put them in baby books and keep them for memories to make books and scrapbooks of my kids lives. I have not kept up on baby books like I had planned and now that I have some time to work on them it seems overwhelming because there are a million photos. So many of them that I have to manage them just like I have been managing my “things” all these years. I have to sort them by date so I can find them. Then I have to go through the 350 photos I took of one event and decide which ones are the best to keep. Then I have to edit them or choose to print the picture for a book or upload it and print it digitally. Gah! Too many steps for a book that my kids will only look at when they want to see if their kids look like them. Really?!? Why have I been stressing about these dang baby books anyway? Somehow along the way what should have been an easy task of keeping memories of important things turned into documenting every minute of my kids lives. Digital photography changed everything. It is one thing to capture a child’s joy at the event, and another to capture every moment of that event. One million pictures and another hard drive later and not one baby book finished. It seems so excessive. I HAD to have a professional photographer take pictures of my babies when they were born. I paid good money for them. Then when I got the cd I remember thinking “what am I going to do with all these pictures?” I now have 300 newborn photos of a staged event. My baby looks beautiful…but really? A few of my favorites were picked and printed for the books and the rest sit on a hard drive or cd making me feel guilty that they weren’t the chosen photographs. They continue to take up space on my computer and in my mind, only to be forgotten by everyone else because the most recent event of picture taking takes precedence. I don’t need them, in fact as I am printing books now I am seeing how few pictures I really need. I don’t want a book full of posed pictures and perfectly clean and happy children. The pictures I am choosing to print are candid and silly. Full of mischievous moments and kids with dirty faces. I am not printing books of each event, I am only choosing one or two that really portrays the moment, and I am finding that “the moment” is not the picture I forced them all to stand together and smile. Which brings me to the second thing I have learned.
Second, I have been such a buzz kill trying to capture my kids lives on camera! I had no idea. Since realizing that I have way too many pictures I have made it a goal to keep the camera home and only pull out my iPhone if it is really a beautiful or silly moment. I am trying to be more present. It has really made a difference watching them with my own eyes instead of focusing on them behind my camera lens. I am really there and more aware of what is important to them and how they are feeling. I also see more obviously their curiosity and innocence as they experience life. The most shocking realization happened this week as I visited the new aquarium. I only had Finley and Harper because we went during school with a friend of mine. I didn’t take my camera intentionally. I had my phone and thought maybe I would take a picture or two. But I watched as every other parent there took a million pictures of their kids, as if they all had to prove each moment really happened. But the worst realization was what happened when they took their pictures. I kept hearing, “stop, turn around” or “wait, hold on” or “look at me and smile” I have heard these phrases a million times and said them all myself without hesitation. But this time was different. Each kid was filled with excitement and wonder. They were so thrilled to be there and see the animals. Then in the middle of their exciting curious moment their parent would tell them to “stop, turn around” cutting short the childs chance to live in that moment. I watched one mom trying desperately to get the perfect shot of her three boys looking at HER as the penguin swam right behind them in the tank. They were trying so hard to be good and “stop watching and turn around and smile” but they didn’t want to miss a single thing. The mom kept telling them what the Penguins were doing trying to make it better for them, but these poor boys were missing that moment because their mother was trying to prove it happened. Such a bizarre thing. I had no idea that my trying to capture the moment had actually infringed upon it. How many moments did I ruin for my kids because I made them “stop” then how many times did they get scolded because they wouldn’t hold still or smile? How many times have I told them to “wait” or do something again so I could capture it on camera? I feel sad for all the lost moments of joy and learning that I took away from them trying to get lots of great pictures. I feel even more upset that they lost those moments for a picture that sits on my computer, lost in a sea of a million lost moments. The pictures that really matter aren’t the pictures that we stopped for. They are pictures that were snuck, not posed for. And pictures that were real life, instead of planned.
I remember a conference talk a few years ago where a man was a prisoner of war and after a few years got to write a short letter home to his family so they would know he was alive. He said “these things are important” and one of those things was “take family pictures twice a year.” I thought it was an odd addition after all the beautiful things he had said before and kind of brushed it off thinking, of course he wanted pictures twice a year…digital photography didn’t exist and he wanted to be able to see his family grow. I had no idea it actually applied to my life. This doesn’t mean I am done taking pictures. But it means that I am going to be more intentional about what pictures I take and what moments are worth the interruption of a camera. There will be no more “stopping” or “waiting” for their picture. Pictures twice a year really makes sense. No more distraction during our daily lives, and no more bazillion digital photos to manage. I will be much quicker to participate in their lives instead of proving they are living.
The third thing I have learned about photography is how much of a distraction a camera is. When I pull it out to take pictures I notice that the subject immediately responds emotionally to the camera. For instance, if my kids are playing and acting sweetly and I pull my camera out to capture the moment they immediately begin showing off. They are no longer involved in what is happening. They are distracted by making sure what they are doing gets captured, or that they are the center of attention. I have begun to notice that when people are bonding and I want to capture them forming this bond on camera, as soon as I pull it out they turn inward thinking, “what do I look like?” “did I blink?” “I wish I was thinner.” or a child will think “capture ME.” “Look at ME!” Pulling the camera out seems to accidentally make everyone a little self-centered, and immediately makes them uninvolved in what is going on by distracting their thoughts. If you watch teenagers with their phones, especially the ones who communicate with snapchat, they are constantly distracted by taking their own photograph. I don’t think taking “selfies” is bad per say…but the idea that taking personal photographs makes us only think of ourselves and what others will think of us. I want to be intentional about the candid photographs I take. I want them to be family selfies of us together, and pictures of silly kids and fun happy moments. If I must get my camera out, I want to ask myself first if it will distract from the feeling I am trying to capture. Is it worth the distraction?
I love being a wife and mother. I am finding so much more joy as I am trying to be more intentional with these two callings. I can’t believe how easy it is for me to be distracted from my divine purpose and really want God to know that I am trying to put Him first. I am trying to eliminate everything that gets in the way. We don’t take “things” with us when we die. But we take memories and knowledge. Somehow I thought photos fit into the memories category and have felt they are more important than they really are. I am so grateful that as I ask hard questions, He is giving me answers and showing me ways to improve.
While going through the house purging our possessions I found myself wanting to keep a lot of things on the “what if” factor. “What if I make a craft with the kids and need this 100 feet of ribbon” of course the ribbon was purchased long before I had kids, and no crafts had ever been made with it after it’s first intended use. “What if my next baby is a girl, she will need every single item I used with her older sister” never mind that I had already learned that baby’s seasons hardly ever match, stains darken and yellow, styles change, and I had a chubby son, then a skinny one…a skinny daughter and then a chubby one! Keeping all the clothes just gave me another chore to do because every couple months I had to go through bins just to find the few the items were actually useful. “What if my daughter will want to wear my wedding dress when she gets married?” this one still makes me laugh. “What if I decide to redecorate my bathroom and need these decorations that have been sitting in a box?” “What if I get a bigger house someday and have room to put all this stuff out?” There have been so many “what ifs” along the way as I cleaned out my house. I finally got to the point where if I said “what if” I knew I was trying to rationalize keeping the item. I only ended up keeping the “what if” items that I have been advised to keep by the prophets and apostles, i.e. food storage, emergency essentials and supplies etc. But the craziest part of purging is that now that our things are gone, we can’t even name 10 items that are missing. Out of sight, out of mind is totally true. We can hardly remember what it was like before. Having room in our closets and drawers has already taken place as the new normal. All of the stuff we were hanging onto was just weighing on our minds because we thought in some unforeseen future moment we would need it. We were holding onto our things because we were afraid that our futures depended on them. It sounds funny to put that into words, but we had SO MANY items that served no purpose in our current lives. We were holding onto them just in case we might decide to one day find the time to color and put together that 100 page Family Home Evening packet that we bought before digital files existed. There have not been any moments of regret or bereavement for my missing possessions. The truth is if I want to do a craft with my kids then I can go buy 3 feet of ribbon for that specific project. Then I am not stuck with 97 more feet of ribbon that I have to store, because who knows “what if I will need it someday?”
The part of the “what ifs” that is the most interesting to me is how I held onto some of these items and put them in a special category. At some point I had decided that these items were only going to be used for a special purpose, the “what if” purpose. Let me elaborate…
Before Keith and I had kids I was an aspiring artist. I was studying Graphic Design and Desktop Publishing at UVU and was taking a couple hands on art classes. We went to Savers one day and stumbled upon a high end art kit that someone had donated and never used. All the colored pencils were sharp and perfect. The pastels hadn’t even been touched. The markers were vibrant and in pristine condition. I was so excited. We made our purchase and I lightly used the art kit throughout my classes and for a couple art projects here and there. Then we had kids. The kit moved with us twice. It sat in a corner in my laundry room waiting for the “what if I have enough time to do a project and practice painting?” One day a few years ago I got it out to paint with my 2 oldest kids. They had their $1.00 paints and I had my art kit. The watercolors had never even seen water. They oohed and awed at my glorious art kit and begged me to use it. I didn’t let them because “what if” they ruined it? Heaven forbid they break a marker that I hadn’t used since 2003. I justified my actions because it was mine and I wanted to keep it nice and usable for future projects. (I still believe that if it were an item I used regularly it would be okay for me to behave that way…but I didn’t use it regularly, or annually for that matter.) So I put it all back in its metal box and stored it away. Now that my kids knew this glorious art kit existed they would ask me regularly if they could use it. I never said yes and justified that it was mine for that future undetermined free time I was going to have to use it someday (insert sarcastic laugh). Then came the great purge of 2015! I was going through my laundry room filling DI bags when I came across the art kit. I had so many “what ifs” with this item and knew I wasn’t going to part with it. But the idea of minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts from it. I knew I couldn’t justify the art kit if I didn’t give it a purpose in my life. I took it out of the laundry room with the idea that my children were what I valued most and opened it and told them they should make something with it. They were flabbergasted. They all questioned me like I had some ulterior motive. It was a Saturday, and they played with that art kit the entire day. They were so honored to use it, and felt so special that they had miraculously moved up a notch in my book. It hit me hard that afternoon when I realized that I had possessions I was holding onto that unintentionally made my children feel unimportant. They felt that I prized that possession more than I prized them as my child. That art kit is well loved now. My kids use it every day. They drag it everywhere. It brings me so much joy to see them use it. More joy than it did seeing it every day in my laundry room waiting for that special “what if” moment to happen. Every moment is special, and I don’t mean that lightheartedly. It makes me so happy to see my children create special moments with the magical art kit. I had been waiting for that special moment to occur before pulling out the treasured kit when in reality those closest to me filled all the “what ifs” special moment purpose. I want all the things I own to bring me joy and fulfill purpose in my life. I have been intentionally eliminating the “what ifs” since this discovery and am ashamed that there are many more examples of this scenario. I have been searching for purpose in the things I own, sharing them with those I love and eliminating the things that get in the way of our relationships. I am trying my hardest to let my children know that I love them so much more than a broken marker in an art kit. It has been a hard adjustment to change my behavior on this matter. I do love my kids more than my possessions without a doubt. But I have found that most of the things they get in trouble for have to do with “things”. I get upset that something is broken or lost. They get in trouble if they use an item without asking. They are threatened that they will have to buy the next one if they keep using it so much etc… The examples are endless. As I review my day I can’t believe how many times I focus on “things” before I focus on them. I do believe it is important that they respect and take care of their’s and other’s possessions and want them to learn that behavior. But I never want them to feel that an item is more important than they are. I don’t want to break their creative spirit just because they used an entire roll of tape. I want to focus on teaching them how to use it properly so they don’t need to use so much, or focus on their creation instead of my material loss. It is a continuous effort for me and I am still learning how to change my focus. I value these 4 little people in my home more than anything. Do they know that? Or do they go to bed worrying that they accidentally used too much toothpaste and they are going to have earn the money to buy the next tube?(I took a few quick pictures of Dylan in my wedding dress before I donated it, she was thrilled. It was fun to watch her, and even more fun for her to see me donate it to Tender Mercy Angels. The dress means much more to her donated than it ever did hanging in the closet)
A lot of people have said that they really want to start the decluttering process and don’t know where to begin. This article helped me get started and gave me a sense of direction. I LOVE the 4 box method he talks about. Remember this whole process was accidental for me. I was just trying to make some room in a few closets and ended up decluttering every part of my house and life. Starting small is key. For some reason whenever I talk to people about getting rid of their possessions their minds always go to the most daunting place in their house…”my basement has so much stuff I will never get it clean.” or “I inherited so many things when my parents died that there is no way I could get rid of those items.” I am not asking you to start in your basement or with your sentimental items. In fact I suggest you don’t attempt those areas until you WANT to. Start in a drawer that is cluttered and get rid of all the garbage, duplicates, things you don’t need, and stuff that you haven’t used in the last 6 months. Or start with an old toy bin, or even your sock drawer. The key is to start. It feels so good to get rid of stuff. I feel like the happiest days I have had this year are the days I am on my way home from DI. It is so funny, but so exhilarating. This process is work, but you have to clean your house anyway right? So grab a couple bags while you clean up the toy room and fill them. You can donate your items or if you want a little extra cash you can sell them. Facebook has been my best friend for selling things. I found a few city yard sale pages and sell a lot of things on there.
There is a game called Minsgame which is short for the ‘Minimalist Game‘, created by The Minimalists, aka Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. The idea of the game is to reduce your possessions over the course of a month, starting with one item on the first, two things on the second, and so on until you’re getting rid of 30/31 things on the last day of the month. Anything can go! Clothes, furniture, electronics, tools, decorations, etc. Donate, sell, or trash. Whatever you do, each material possession must be out of your house—and out of your life—by midnight each day. (this isn’t practical for me, so I make a DI pile in the trunk of my car and go when I have time.) Keith and I started the game this week, (even though it isn’t the first of the month) We have already gone through everything in our home at least 3 times so it should be interesting to see what we get rid of. We ask ourselves questions like “is there someone who needs this item more than I do?” “when was the last time it was really used?” “do I have more than one of these?” I made a tracking sheet so we could mark our progress. I am not the type of person who will stick to this and only do 1 today and 2 tomorrow. When I get in the mood to dejunk I will make a pile of 30 or so things and cross them off all at once. It doesn’t matter how you play the game. The winner could be the person who completed the most days. Just know that in 30 days you will have eliminated 465 items from your life. Which means in a month Keith and I will have eliminated 930 more items from our home. If you feel up to the challenge print out the sheet below and track your progress!
My husband Keith and I have been so excited about all the changes that are taking place in our home, and our new perspective on life that we assumed it would be easy for others to understand and be happy for our journey. But we spent the weekend with some people close to us and they were far from supportive. I had forgotten how gradual it was for us to learn what we have learned, and expected them to have the same perspective. They did not, and maybe they never will. But it is so liberating to throw things out, and de clutter my life that I want you to know how it feels. I know Heavenly Father wants to be a part of our lives, and in order for us to let him in we MUST make room. Room in our homes, room in our schedules, and room in our minds.
What I have written below is what I have learned about my “to do” lists, and Satan’s plan.
I have wondered far too many times why mundane repetitive tasks are a part of Heavenly Fathers plan. So many days of my life have been spent repeating the tasks I did the day before. Cleaning, washing, folding, piles of dishes, toys away, relocating items, putting things away for the 100th time…etc. I know we all have purpose here, and I have often wondered how to find that purpose when I was buried in tasks to do. At one point I finally decided it must be because I need to be able to find joy in the mundane, and learn to live happily among the chaos having children brings. I also thought it was to learn to prioritize, to show Heavenly Father that I could do what He wanted me to do first, then fill in all the “need” to do tasks later. I was trying to do scripture study, plan FHE, exercise, do service, prepare healthy meals for my family, and have playtime/structured time with my kids, and get my food storage because I knew Heavenly Father had asked me to do those things. But all while doing those things I was distracted by my to do list…how was I going to organize the pantry, clean out the garage, wash AND fold all the laundry, clean out the coat closet, buy Dylan the perfect dress for her school performance, decorate my bedroom, plan the perfect birthday party for Finley, finish the logo for a client, e-mail the school back about Logan’s upcoming party, organize baby books…etc. The list is always HUGE! Sometimes overwhelming, and sometimes manageable. I really believed that the key to it was to just do my best and the Lord would take care of the rest. (And it took me 5 years of being married to learn that. I learned to do this when I had postpartum after Dylan was born and was so overwhelmed with my life that I finally had to give my offering and let the Lord deal with the rest. What a blessing it was to know I didn’t have to do it all, and I didn’t have to be perfect. For more on this topic you can read the book “Believing Christ”) Although the Atonement is always applicable in our lives, I was missing the main problem. Most of the things on my to do list had absolutely nothing to do with the Lord’s plan. Some tasks are part of the society we live in, but a lot of them I had brought upon myself. I “needed” to clean the garage because we had too much stuff out there to manage. We had bins of things that we were saving for that “just in case” moment. Boxes we hadn’t opened since we moved in our twin home. Toys our kids didn’t play with anymore. All things we had purchased because at one point we thought we “needed” them. I “needed” to decorate my room because Pinterest had too many cute ideas, and Instagram had way better rooms than my own. I “wanted” to buy Dylan a new dress, because the 5 beautiful dresses in her closet apparently weren’t good enough. She didn’t need it, and she didn’t even ask for it or know that I had the intention to buy her one. But I assumed it was a need so it cluttered my to do list and stressed me out because I couldn’t find the perfect dress nor the free time to shop for one. I “needed” to plan the perfect birthday party, with the most perfect decorations and invitations because my 4 year old totally cared what his party looked like…NOT! All he needed and wanted was to spend time with his family. Because so many people throw gorgeous parties I assumed I better do the same or my kid won’t be as happy. I better give him everything he asked for or his 4th birthday will be an epic fail. I was so wrong, but HOW? The world told me to do all of these things, so I kept scrolling my Instagram feed assuming they were right. But what I remember most about my birthdays as a kid was 1-I got to pick what we had for dinner. 2-I got to ride in the front seat of the car. 3-All my brothers treated me like royalty because it was my special day. So what I am really trying to say is…we don’t need stuff! For so long I have cluttered my life with things. With to do lists that all have to do with purchasing something, changing something, or doing something that takes my time away from what is really important. We have not only uncluttered our life by getting rid of all the physical things that needed to be reorganized in the garage, etc. But we have been taking away the to do list by simplifying everything. I unsubscribed from all my emails, so now I only get email from family, friends, Etsy (I have a small store there), and my kid’s elementary school. It takes me under 5 minutes to manage my email a day. It is refreshing to check it because I am not annoyed at all the emails I am receiving. I don’t feel stressed out because I have to hurry and get online to purchase something that is being advertised or I won’t get it before the sale ends. (especially because I didn’t know I needed that item until my e-mail showed it to me, making me think I now “needed” it) I unfollowed everyone on Instagram and Facebook that I didn’t know in person, or wasn’t beneficial to me and my family. It now takes me 5 minutes to scroll my Instagram feed, and I enjoy every picture because they are people I know and care about, or recipes I want to create. If there is someone I am following whose posts make me feel bad about myself, what I am doing as a mother, I unfollow them. I don’t spend all day doing mundane tasks because I got rid of most of them. If there was a toy I was sick of cleaning up for the 100th time, I donated it or let my kids sell it and keep the money. If there was a book on my bookshelf that always made me feel guilty because I hadnt read it, I donated it! It has been so refreshing to get rid of the to do lists that I had created for myself thinking that was a part of life. I realize now that every choice that I make comes with a price. It is either my time and/or money that was either wasted or used beneficially. President Monson has said, “Decisions determine Destiny.” I believe this 100 percent. Every choice I was making to purchase something new, or add more to do items to my list were just taking space in my mind and cluttering my ability to focus on things that were truly important. The more choices I make to simplify my life, the clearer I see that the Lord’s plan really is perfect. He didn’t put all of these stressful things into my life, I did. As I am slowly de-cluttering our home and life, I see more purpose to being here. I am a mother, not a maid. I am a wife and a neighbor. The Lord needs me. My kids need me. They don’t want me to spend my entire life cleaning up their stuff, or watching me read emails all day. They want to spend time with me and build a relationship with me. I see more opportunities to serve, and I see more clearly now how Satan is trying to work on me and my family by cluttering our home, minds, and time so we have nothing left for the Lord. I feel I am seeing “things” as they really are…clever distractions.
This is my favorite kind of work. This amazing woman started a non-profit organization Tender Mercy Angels making burial clothes for infants out of donated wedding dresses. She decided one day that she wanted more meaning in her life and wanted to do something to help. She has a gift of sewing and randomly decided to make clothing for babies who don’t make it home from the hospital. What started as something she only meant to do as a side hobby for herself accidentally turned into a non profit organization that is touching lives all over Utah. She started in January 2015 and was featured on KSL.com. This press made her idea explode and now she says she has so many people donating their time, talents, and materials that she couldn’t quit if she wanted. I donated my wedding dress and asked if there was anything I could do from a design perspective to help her. She said she needed a logo for starters. I finished this one and am currently working on some printed materials as well.
Those close to me already know the changes that are happening in our home. There has been so much going on over here that I thought I better share some of my new found joy with all of you. In January, I was having spring cleaning fever. While searching the Internet for organization/storage ideas I stumbled on Becomingminimalist.com. The blogpost said “you don’t need a bigger house, you need less stuff” I was almost embarrassed that I had never thought of that before. I figured with our growing family it was just the next step for us to get something bigger to house us all. We were totally bursting at the seams of our 2500 square foot twin home with all of our belongings. I read the Blogs “start here” articles and decided I would get rid of a few things we didn’t need to clear up some space for other things. What happened next has been mind blowing for Keith and I. Our lives have completely changed. Getting rid of things felt sol good that I didn’t stop there. Having empty space in the closets was a miracle. The more we threw out or donated the better we felt and the clearer our minds have been. All the sudden we had all this emotional space in our lives to focus on things that really mattered. I started reading everything I could on simplifying my life and have made many changes. Every day I learn something new. I want everyone to know how freeing and exhilarating it is to not think about and maintain “stuff” all day. I can’t really backtrack on all the things I have learned, but I have decided I will start writing them down. If you are seeking for joy, peace, or more time in your life, I promise you that simplifying your life will make a huge difference and help you find the things you seek. I can’t begin to tell you how much has changed. My marriage is stronger in so many ways (that will be another post for another day) my kids are happier, and I have free time. I have never felt so much joy in my life. Plus I have made over $1000 selling things I didn’t need or use. This is a tidbit of what I learned yesterday. My mind is racing with things I want to write down, but I had to start somewhere….
*We should have addressed Logan’s Christlike behavior.