January 1st is just another date on the Calendar

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The week between Christmas and New Year’s is always one of my favorites.  The busyness is over, the rest begins, and the light increases each day.  It is also an amazing time to reflect, to plan ahead, to dream, to iron out “what’s next” in your life.

We all put a lot of stock into the fact that we get to flip to a new month, a new year in the calendar.  I, perhaps, put too much stock into that very narrow, specific time period.

Surprise, surprise, it did not work out the way I had expected this year, and looking back at past years, it hasn’t been working for a while.  The thing is, all of the travel, extra sugar, and general hustle and bustle of the holidays creates, almost always, the perfect storm for sickness to land with my kids and me as soon as the busyness is done.

January 1st is just another date on the Calendar

For several years I haven’t had the opportunity to sit and do the reflection I want, and the dreaming I want, during the time period I want.  Because of this I often think I should throw in the towel, it doesn’t make sense to bother now, it is too late.

Is this you as well?

I began to realize that January 1st is just another date on the calendar, and while I love to be able to sit and do all of my reflection, have my goal planner filled out, have my bullet journal and calendar all ready to go, I know that it isn’t always realistic.

Just because you didn’t have it all done by January 1st does not mean that you can’t start now, where you are, as you are, right now.

January can be a difficult month for many of us.  Coming down from the amazing holiday high, the joyfulness, the lights on the trees, and then realizing that we are in the cold, dark winter (well, at least on the East Coast!).

Focus on the days getting longer.

What are you to do if you weren’t able to “get it all done” by January 1st?  The first step is grace, and acceptance, and realizing it is very unlikely that you will always have your new plans lined up for January 1st.

Put that small disappointment away, and begin to move forward.

Decide to not let the date on the calendar hold you back from reflecting and fleshing out new ideas.

Since we have come to the conclusion that the date on the calendar should not hold us back from moving forward, what is the next step?

If you haven’t reflected on the previous year, how you felt about the year, what were your successes, what were your challenges?  Those are the questions to start with. 

In order to figure out where you want to go, you need to know where you have been.

It is easy to forget that a certain rhythm didn’t work, or that one, big challenge that you blocked out of your brain because it was so difficult, or perhaps you had some big challenges and those have crowded out the positive parts of your life that you also should reflect on.  Or maybe you had so many positives, but you can’t remember them all off the top of your head.  When you sit down and start to think about the previous 12 months, you will start to remember things you definitely forgot, and it is nice to write them down.

PowerSheets Goal Planner

I have used various reflection questions over the years, but have come to rely on the Power Sheets by Lara Casey.  If you don’t have the PowerSheets, or prefer not to purchase them, Lara does an amazing job of showing you how to work through this with her yearly goal setting series – you can see the first posthere – there is even an audio version if you would prefer to listen to it rather than read it.  Then grab any notebook or bullet journal you may have and get writing!

Once you have reflected on the previous year, it is time to dream a little bit.  What do you want your life to look like at the end of year? 

Dreaming can be scary.  Part of the reason is because you aren’t confident you will be able to make the changes needed in order to get to that end goal, but don’t let that hold you back!  You need to be able to dream a little, it makes life a bit more exciting.  Or perhaps once you do that dreaming you will realize that what you thought was a dream really isn’t anymore, and you can move on to a different dream.

You have that vision of what you want your life to look like at the end of the year.  In order to get to that vision you will need to make some specific goals to reach that point.

A good way to do this is to make the big, dreaming type goals, and then take each goal and break it down into bite size steps. 

When you break your big goals down into smaller steps, then you are able to see progress each month, rather than veering off track and not accomplishing what you set out to.

I recently heard a podcast by Tsh of The Simple Show, and she talked about making 12 week goals rather than yearly goals.  I think that this could work really well also!  There are definitely shorter term goals that you make and cultivate, and if goal setting is scary to you, or you have a difficult time completing those yearly goals, something much shorter term such as a 12 week goal would be a great idea.

This can easily integrate into yearly goals as well.

When you have your yearly goal, there are steps that you need to take to reach that end goal, and you have to break it down, like we talked about above.  However, within these smaller steps, you may find that the yearly goal you came up with no longer makes sense, and at that point, since you have been making small steps towards that goal, you can then pivot to change that goal into something that lines up with your life right at that moment. 

Do not continue working towards a goal just for the sake of completing it.  If it no longer makes sense for your life right now, scrap it, and move ahead.

When I look ahead to my year I see a lot of big picture goals, but I also see a lot of intention type goals – especially when it comes to my family.  Intentions I need to work on daily, so that they become habits and figure into the ethos of our family life.  But, there are always a couple of concrete goals that I want to work towards as well, whether they are paying off another debt, or the number of books I want to read.

Don’t limit what you want to accomplish because you think that it is too big.  Perhaps it is, perhaps the time frame will need to be adjusted, but you will be happy that you started, that you didn’t let the date on the calendar hold you back.

What goals are you working on this year?

Holiday Shopping Tips

This is a sponsored post in partnership with U.S. Cellular.  All opinions are my own.

Are you still doing a bit of Christmas shopping?  I know that I am!  I tend to wait until the last minute, which means that I am so happy to know how easy it is to shop from my iPhone!  In fact, I do more shopping from my iPhone than my actual computer these days.

According to U.S. Cellular's annual consumer survey, nearly 60% of smartphone users have shopped online from their phones.

Smartphones give us the opportunity to do holiday shopping any and everywhere.  You are able to research the best prices, research the best gifts to give, and making the final purchase.

Holiday Shopping Tips

Make the most of your holiday shopping and beyond.

Research before purchasing - Gone are the days of thumbing through thick catalogs for ideas. Smartphones make researching online and accessing customer reviews easy while on-the-go. Many apps offer rich visuals, videos and content for brainstorming. For example, YouTube gift guides are a popular and effective way to get quick ideas, Amazon has millions of product reviews, or users can search and create gift idea lists on Pinterest.

Avoid long check out lines - The mobility of smartphones is one of their key benefits. Many consumers want to physically see and touch what they’re going to purchase, so visit stores to find a product, but actually make the purchase online to avoid long check-out lines. Many stores even allow for an item to be purchased online then picked up at the store for free, which is perfect for those last minute gifts!

Keep great lists - Nearly 70 percent of people are totally undecided or considering multiple gift options when starting holiday shopping, according to a 2016 Google Consumer Survey. To be more organized while out browsing, utilize the notes feature on your device or take photos of what you want to purchase for a loved one.

Keep cybersecurity in mind - It’s estimated that 64 percent of smartphone owners use their phone to manage finances once a month or more, according to U.S. Cellular’s consumer survey. Smartphone users should ensure phone security by using secure passwords, using familiar and secure websites and being wary when using public Wi-Fi to conduct holiday shopping online.

What is the gift you are most looking forward to giving this holiday season?

¹ Between Nov. 10-17, 2016, a total of 701 online interviews were conducted among a nationally representative sample by Consumer Insights, in partnership with Maritz CX.

Top Wireless Accessories for the Holiday Season

This is a sponsored post in partnership with U.S. Cellular.  All opinions are my own.

I can't believe we are already at the time to start thinking about gifts for this holiday season!  With a very long list of people to buy for, we are always looking for the perfect gift.  Today I have some awesome options for the tech lover in your life.

U.S. Cellular has helped me create a list of 8 awesome accessories for every budget.

Top Wireless Gifts for Christmas

Under $30

JLab JBuddies Studio Kids Headphones or eKids Frozen Headphones make the perfect gift for the kids in your life.  I know both of my kids have headphones on their list this year.

The Ventev Fast Charge car charger is a great present for driving teens and adults.  A perfect gift for those of us who frequently forget to charge our phones before we leave for work!

Under $70

Audio enthusiasts can jam out with JBL E15 Earbuds or a JLab Crasher Mini Bluetooth Speaker.  I use my bluetooth speaker constantly throughout the day for my kids to listen to music, and I frequently make dinner while using my earbuds to listen to my favorite podcasts (Sorta Awesome Show anyone?!)

Anyone that uses their iPhone all the time knows the importance of having something at the ready for charging, and Samsung Fast Charge Wireless ChargingStand or iWalk Scorpio Portable Charger definitely would fit the bill!

$100-$200 range

You can easily transform your home into a "Smart Home" with the use of Google Home or Amazon Echo.  All you need to do is talk to them and they can be used to play music, answer questions, get weather and news updates as well as most other needs you may have like controlling lights and thermostats.

$300 and up

Help your friends and family (or give them a hint for yourself) to get on track with their fitness goals and sync their favorite playlists right on their wrist with with Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS) or a Samsung Gear S3 Classic.

With the use of wearable technology on the rise, having some of these awesome accessories is a must for this holiday season.  U.S. Cellular has all of these amazing accessories right in store or at their website.  

Do you have a must have accessory for this year?

31 Days of Finding Freedom in Simplicity - Encouragement Going Forward

It has been an eventful few days here at Townsend House.  I expected to have my final 31 Days posts up on the actual days in October, however, life has a way of changing things.

We had a bit of a power outage here for the past few days.

It was definitely unexpected to have hurricane force winds come through our part of the country, and lose power for 3 days, but honestly, it was kind of nice to lose power for a few days at the end of this series.  It put a lot of things in perspective for me, thus you are receiving a bit of a different conclusion than what I had originally planned.

It gave me quite a bit of time to reflect, to slow down and to focus on the bare essentials.  Making sure that our basic needs were met, making sure all the kids wore enough clothes so they would be too cold in our 55 degree house. 

The reflection was the most significant though.  Our days slowed way down.

We had no commitments because most places didn’t have power.  There was no TV or internet, so the kids (and I) didn’t have screen time.  I did have access to the internet through my phone, but my main concern was trying to find out when power would be restored, not following the news or what one of my Facebook friends was doing. 

It was nice.

It was something that was needed.

Something I have been thinking about for a long time.

To just unplug for a while.

What were some of the things that I did during our forced sabbatical from the digital world, and the busyness of the normal day to day activities?  Well, there was a different sort of busyness.  Making sure I had boiled water so that I could do the dishes, and make sure everyone was clean.  Figuring out creative ways to make meals, and realizing that I need to make sure that I have some sort of way to make coffee with cream when we have no power.

I spent a lot of time reading.  The kids each read a couple of books.  They played together.  The older two started NaNoWriMo on paper, filled with fun ideas.  I pulled out my knitting (partly because working with wool helps keep my hands warm!), and remember how much I miss doing this in my daily life.

It made me consider what mattered most.  What were the things that I could let fall to the wayside, and what were the things that I wanted to make sure I did if I possibly could.  Things like my morning quiet time, still up before the sun, but instead of writing by lamp light, I was writing by candlelight.  Taking the time to sit and drink my coffee.  Talking to my kids.  Reading to my kids. 

Now, these are things we all do most days, but looking at them in a new light was interesting.  I wasn’t concerned with making sure we got x, y, and z done so we could move to the next item on our list.  Instead, we were able to sit back and enjoy the time together more.  Perhaps because we all were cold and wanted to stay under the blankets for a little bit longer, or maybe having that forced respite from social media and all the other outside requirements, we were able to enjoy the small moments more, not thinking about what was next.

So what is next?

Well, we have power back, and obviously I am posting to my blog, so we haven’t completely given up the internet.  But, I think that I personally need to be more aware of my time, and make sure that my kids are as well.  It is amazing how resilient they are.  They are able to move ahead and adjust. 

Do we need to adjust?  Do we need to make decisions that are less about keeping up with everything around us, and instead more centrally focused on our small families and communities around us?

It is amazing what happens when your world suddenly becomes so much smaller because of the lack of social media and the internet.  It reminds me of how my childhood was; less about the stress and big world problems, and more about community, and making connections locally.

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I’m not saying that we should ignore the big world problems – because there are many, and they are stressful – but what if we were all trying to make our local communities a little bit better.  What if we start there, and see what kind of change that can make.

It is about remembering and clinging to those small moments, those small accomplishments working towards your goals, making those small connections with your kids that they will remember into adulthood rather than the newest present at Christmas that lays forgotten by the end of January.

Finding real freedom in simplicity means enjoying those small things that we often give no time to, and making sure we make the time for those small moments. 

When your kids ask you to read them one more story, when you teach them a new skill, when you take the time to read and have time for self-care in the evening instead of rushing out to do more errands.

We all can let that weight go.  You don’t have to feel like you are drowning, that you aren’t sure what is next, and you don’t know the steps you need to take.  In the words of Elsa, you can let it go.

What do you need to let go of in order to find that inner peace and tranquility that you and your family desire?

Find the entire 31 Days of Finding Freedom in Simplicity series here.

31 Days of Finding Freedom in Simplicity - Putting it all Together

When I started this series, I had an entirely different layout.  I wrote out my ideas, I knew where I was going to end up.  However, how I got here completely changed.  When you start writing, sometimes your writing takes you a different direction.

What does it mean to find real freedom in simplicity?

The easy answer is to be able to breathe, to observe the relationships you want to have, to have confidence in your decisions even if they are outside the norm.  Or if they are the norm, to still believe you are doing what is right for you and your family.

Having that confidence is then the main concern.

We see it through social media every day, the mommy wars, trying to one up everyone else, the vitriol that the news has on every day.

You have to make sure that you can step away from that.  That you aren’t so wrapped up in everything else that you forget what is right in front of you.

It is easy to get sucked up into the busyness of the everyday.  How many appointments and drop offs you have to do for your kids, or for yourself.  Making sure you run all the errands, get all the gifts and make sure that you have everything you need all the time.  Honestly, it is exhausting.

How do you easily break away from something like that? 

Well you can’t easily break away.  That is why you need to really look at your values, at your family mission statement, and make sure that the busy, all of the decisions you are making with and for your family are the things that truly matter to you.

Now, of course there are always going to be seasons where it is stressful no matter how much you simplify, but it shouldn’t be for years.

A season is a short amount of time, and you need to be able to look at your everyday and know if it is a season, or if it is something that can be changed so that your everyday is not so difficult, not so jumbled.

It isn’t something that is one and done either, you have to continue to pursue this simplicity as you move through life otherwise life has a way of leading you along to places you don’t necessarily want to go.

I know personally that I am constantly re-evaluating.  Sometimes that can be easy, and sometimes it makes me take a real hard look at what I am doing, and I realize that I need to scale things back dramatically.

I want to encourage you to be aware of all of your decisions.  Really look at what you are doing, what your family is doing, and make the hard choices – especially if you feel like things are spinning out of control.

I know that oftentimes when we are moving away from our family mission statement in our decisions, life doesn’t seem to be in balance, things seem off kilter, and I can never place my finger directly on one thing that is wrong that I can change.  But, when you take a few moments to breathe, and then look back on those values, on those statements you created about your family’s purpose, you will be able to bring it back to balance, and be happier for it.

Find the entire 31 Days of Finding Freedom in Simplicity series here.

31 Days of Finding Freedom in Simplicity - Financial Resources

There are affiliate links in this post.  Thank you for supporting Townsend House!

Starting a budget and taking control of your finances is not difficult to start even if you have never thought of budgeting before.  There is a bit of a learning curve, but I hope through some of these resources you are able to get control of your money, and start making your way towards financial freedom.

The first and best resource I recommend is the book The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey.  I purchased this book way back before my husband and I even had kids, but unfortunately did not really read the book until 2013.  Some of the ideas are a bit radical, but the stories are incredibly motivating, and it definitely helps get you into the mindset of paying off debt.

If you are already trying to get out of debt, or save for a large purchase, I would also recommend his podcast.  Most of the calls, and especially the debt free screams, are encouraging and definitely keep you on track to make the best financial decisions for your family.

I budget using a plain old excel spreadsheet.  Each book is for the entire year.  I break the book into sheets for all twelve months as well as a sample budget we can use if we are trying to figure out different scenarios (like renting out space in our home, or buying a new house, or our ideal budget), and a sheet that holds all of our debt amounts that I keep updated.

I also like to use Quicken to keep track of all of our money.

If you like a more digital product that you can easily access and update from your phone, a few good options are  everydollar, YNAB, and Mint.

The most important part about keeping track of money is just that, keep track of your money.  Know where all of your money goes each month, and make your money work for you.