Our $200 Christmas

December 12, 2013


We have a $200 Christmas budget this year.  I feel neither sad nor deprived about this.  We’ve been leaning into simplicity over the last few years in order to focus on what’s important.  This is just an extension of our goals around voluntary simplicity or frugality.  How did we get to the $200 amount?  It’s the amount that we have in our virtual Christmas envelope.  Let me back up a few steps.  Charlie and I have been fundamentally pro-budget since we’ve been married.  Over the years, as Charlie’s income has gone up, our spending to the budget has declined.  We would do a budget, track our spending, but then mostly use it as a tool to look back and see how we did.  We had considered going to a total cash budget, but we were both enthusiastic about travel hacking and maximizing airline miles on credit cards.  Thus, we put off the cash budget.

We have periodic budget meetings.  Over the last few years, they’ve been (roughly) quarterly and mostly grim.  In other words, we spent more than we wanted to.  We were continually frustrated with ourselves.  I usually brought up the cash budget, and Charlie usually wanted to continue to try to get our acts together financially and optimize airline miles.  Over and over again, we seemed not to be getting ahead.  Not saving as aggressively as we wanted to, although we knew that we should be able to with Charlie’s income.  In early autumn, Charlie did some detailed analysis for our spending over the last year.  What he found made us both get a catch in the gut.  We were actually spending more than Charlie’s salary.  I know.  Rookie problem.  The reason we were able to keep going and not go into debt is that we were making ends meet using his bonuses.  Our lifestyle didn’t seem over the top to us.  It just seemed sort of normal. Normal for Menlo Park.  Which is to say normal here is different from “normal” in other areas.  Menlo Park is the hub of venture capital.  So, there’s a lot of money here.  People have a lot of cool stuff.  Really big, nice houses.  Cool cars.  Which is all fine, except that it can distort your sense of what is actually normal.

This is where my being involved with poverty alleviation gives me a bit of perspective.  Being involved with issues surrounding poverty helps me remember what’s true.  What’s true is that most people on the planet live in a space the size of my dining room.  What’s true is that access to clean water is considered a clean water source less than a mile away.  With that definition, 345,000,000 people still don’t have access to clean water.  What’s true is that if your family earns $35,000 a year, you’re in the top 1% of global income earners.  So, I can look at Menlo Park and set my norms based on that.  Or, I can learn about what is actually normal for the majority of the world and re-set my norms based on what I know to be true.

This has led our family to an attitude of abundance.  I recently took an on-line class from Brene Brown.  It was wonderful for so many reasons.  One of them was that there was a ton of emphasis on practicing gratitude.  Practicing gratitude is different from “trying to be grateful”.  Practicing gratitude is like practicing yoga.  You actually have to make yourself slow down and be grateful.  There is a mindfulness and an intentionality.  Sit down and write about those things for which you are grateful.  Write them down.  Look at your list.  Ponder it and add to it.  Once you start down the rabbit hole, you find an unending list.  I know where my next 365 meals are coming from.  My kids never go to bed hungry.  I have shelter every single night.  I have central heat.  My kids have access to a great education.  I’m married to a man who I deeply love and respect- and who feels the same way about me.  We live in a safe neighborhood.  I have five places in my house where you can turn on a tap and get fresh, drinkable water .  We have access to hot water whenever we want it.  I don’t even have to heat it myself.  If my kids are sick, I take them to the doctor without even thinking about it.  Which is to say, we are rich.  There is plenty.  There is more than enough.

This attitude of abundance was incredibly helpful when I looked at the $200 in our Christmas envelope.  Knowing how good we already have it, I can look at our $200 budget and realize how rich that is.  Because we started our new budget on November 1, we only had two months to save for Christmas.  Thus, $200.  Next year we’ll likely have more money to spend.  That being said, I like our Christmases to be quiet and peaceful.  There is so much to gaining white space in your Christmas.  I’d love to hear from you in the comments on how you’re slowing down or spending less during this holiday season.

Click on my other posts below on slowing down during the holidays.

Christmas with White Space

The Gift of Nothing

Hundred Dollar Holiday

Advent Conspiracy



Fair Deal Christmas Special

December 10, 2013


I would love to invite you to check our our Fair Deal Christmas Special over at the Frustrated Farmgirl store.  We love Bryan’s recycled chopstick soap trays over at Chopstick Art.  Buy three bars of Frustrated Farmgirl soap, and we would love to give you a Chopstick Art soap dish for free.  It’s an $8.50 value.  We think you’ll love our soap (and Chopstick Art soap dishes) as much as we do.

In the autumn of 2008, our family went to L’Abri outside of Boston.  It was a watershed few months that has changed the trajectory of our family’s story.  During our time at L’Abri, we lived in one bedroom.  While it was snug, it was also sweet.  It was all we needed.  We had a small bin of toys and some basic homeschooling supplies.  We were all living in one room, and the kids were happy as clams.  We have such sweet memories of waking up early and sipping our coffee in the  L’Abri library as the wood stove took the chill off the autumn New England mornings.





We had been struggling for years with various issues around God and faith.  When we left L’Abri after three months of study, we were changed people.  We believed down to our toes that God loved us and that He had come for us.  We were grateful not only for heaven in our future, but for the here and now.  This changed everything.  It changed how we viewed money.  It changed how we viewed our time.  It changed our view of careers and giftedness and children.  It rocked our world in a wonderfully life-changing way that messed up all our plans.  In a way that we totally wanted to get on board with.   It changed what we wanted.   Because we wanted way more than the American dream of the big house and fancy car.  Now we wanted in on God’s plan of redemption.  Now we wanted in on making the earth a more just place.  Now we wanted in on preventing human trafficking and on chipping away at poverty.

Charlie and I both remember the moment.  He had been out of work for several months, which precipitated the trip to L’Abri to begin with.  We had been living quite contentedly in this one room at L’Abri.  We were shaken with gratitude to our cores.  Grateful to be loved by God.  Grateful to have a faith that we could look our kids in the eye and defend.  We were grateful for a new perspective on life.  Grateful that God had changed our hearts.  Expectant for what God was going to do.  So, there was this moment when we walked back into our hilltop house in the Bay Area.  This house that Charlie was having stomach pains over.  This house for which we were in debt up to our eyeballs- and would be for the next thirty years.  This house that I loved with our garden, honeybees and chickens.  And, it was just all too much.  Too much mortgage.  Too big.  More than we needed.  This was the moment when we started wanting less.


Halloween at L’Abri


Snuggled up in our room at L’Abri

It took a while to listen to that.  We were mortgaged up to our eyeballs, and the real estate bubble was freshly busted.  We knew that we were going to lose a ton of money.  And we did.  I’m convinced that God doesn’t pry our hands off our money.  But, I felt Him asking us to open our clenched fists.  Slowly, we felt them begin to unclinch.  I began reading Proverbs and Ecclesiastes daily.  Praying for wisdom and a Godly perspective on money.  We began to read books and blogs on Minimalism.  Charlie and I both felt the financial loss.  2 1/2 years later, it still stings.  Please don’t hear what I’m not saying.  I love Dave Ramsey.  I love budgets.  I love financial planning.  But, this was a time when we felt God calling us to clear the deck and start again with less.  We felt God calling us to trust Him with our finances.  We were fortunate to take a tiny sum out of our house.  While it was a difficult financial loss, we were grateful not to leave the house in debt.

As we got the house ready to put on the market, we started our journey to less.  It was painful and relationally costly at times and wonderful and freeing.  We got rid of silver tea sets and antique furniture and dressers and chairs.  By the time we moved out of that house, our load was about 50% lighter.  Since that time, I would guess that we’re down to about 30% of our original possessions.  While it hasn’t been easy, it has been good.  It’s allowed us to live well in our 1100 foot rental.  It’s allowed us to run our small business within this small space.  It’s allowed plenty of room for games and for homeschooling.  We have plenty of room for our backpacking equipment and soccer gear.  It’s allowed mental space and more peace.  It’s brought about simplified wardrobes,  simplified art supplies and a simplified budget.  But, we have plenty of room for those things that we find beautiful or useful.

We still talk about those early L’Abri mornings around the fire.  They are a sweet memory etched into our minds.  Because they represent what we want.  Shelter.  Warmth.  Relationship.  Faith.  Messy community.  Intellectual stimulation.  Meaning.  Literature.  Art.  Beauty.  Work worth doing.  We want more L’Abri in our lives and less frantic.  More relationship and less financial stress.  More family and less workaholism.  Less distracting stuff and more of the good stuff.

We’re not sure what’s next for our family.  But, we are looking forward to the journey.

New Scents and a Give Away

September 2, 2013


We’re going back to the drawing board to come up with some new scents.  I would love to hear from you about what you would like.   We would love to delight you.  I’m starting with sweet orange and peppermint.  What else would you like to see?    You can see our current offerings over at our web store.

If you comment below, you’ll be entered in a drawing for a bar of our lemongrass soap.  It’s our most popular scent, and I hope you’ll love it.  We’ll do the drawing on Thursday.

Give Your Gifts

April 18, 2013

You might not even know what they are yet.  You might have a hunch.  You might have a burning desire to do something, but you feel overwhelmed.  By the problem.  By the enormity of the solution.  By the drop in the bucket that you being engaged would make.  Here’s what I want to say to you.  Start.  Take a step.

Whatever it is, if you wait until you have it wired, you’ll never do anything.  You, the overachiever, start.  I live in the Land of Overachievers.  So, this is most people that I know.  Just start.  Take the next step.  You’ll figure it out as you go.

  • Start that business that will press your suppliers to develop more ethical practices.
  • Write that book that calls women to the truest, most beautiful version of themselves.
  • Pick up that paint brush and give it a go.  Put your first painting up for sale.  See what happens.
  • Engage with that ministry that reaches out to refugees.  Give it a go and see what happens.  You’ll never know if you don’t take the first step.

My pastor recently said that your calling is somewhere in the mix of your giftedness, your wounds and your passions.  So, let me ask.  What are you already good at?  What subjects make your heart pound?  What makes you angry?  What is the subject that, when it comes up, you feel tears beginning to sting your eyes?  What do you want?  There is a problem out there that, if you could be involved in the solution, it would make your heart sing.  What’s that problem?  Then, what are your wounds?  Abuse?  Devastating mistakes you’ve made in the past?  What friend or family wounds have had impact in who you’ve become?  Do you have a learning disability?  Have you felt helpless from some wound?  What are you already good at?  Do you write?  Do you have a God-given strong sense of justice- of righting wrongs?  Of defending the weak and those in the margins?  Do you rock as a speech therapist, as a physical therapist?  Do you have a gut feeling that you would make an amazing pediatrician?  Do you have a gut hunch that God might be able to use your gifts as an artist?

The world is broken, and we all need you.  This is God’s beautiful and amazing plan of redemption.  This is what Jesus prayed in the Lord’s prayer when he said “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  That means, let’s make it more like heaven down here on earth.

Take heart, friends.  Have courage.  We desperately need your gifts.  You probably don’t have the whole picture.  Most of us don’t.  I know I don’t.  So, just take the next stop.

The journey will likely be a rabbit trail.  You might have to crawl down some rabbit holes to see where they go before you can know where you’re headed.  It’s not a mistake to take a trail, and then find out that you’re on the wrong trail.  You can’t know until you try.  If it’s not right, course correct. Try the next thing.

Here’s what I’m finding.  Nobody really knows what they’re doing.  When I was at the Freedom Summit in January, this was my main take away.  There are these huge related problems of human trafficking and poverty.  For those that are innovating, it started with confronting a problem that stopped them in their tracks.  Then, what?  You try something.  Justin Dillon said that he didn’t know what he was doing, and he thought, maybe I’ll go make a film about artists who are engaged in the problem of human trafficking.  That’s where we get the rockumentary Call + Response.  Sean Litton, who is the VP of Field Operations at IJM, talked about his task to start a field office in the Philippines.  He recalls landing and Manila, and thinking “now what?”.  He figured it out.  He just took the next step.

Friends, I think that in many cases, that’s all we have.  We have the next step.  The world is broken.  We need you to be courageous.  Take your next step.  Are you putting the puzzle together without the box lid?  Yes.  Will you have the whole thing wired before you start?  No.  Might you fail?  Absolutely.  Is it worth it?  I think it is.  Because, if you fail, then you’ll know what it’s not, and then you’ll be a step further along your journey.

I’m talking to myself as much as I’m talking to you.  Because frankly, my journey scares me.  I have no idea where we’re headed.  But, I do have the next step.  I think you might know your next step, too.

Are you stepping out?  If so, I’d love to hear about it.  It helps me to be more courageous.

Three Words- 2013

February 26, 2013

For the past few years, I’ve chosen three words on which I want to focus.  I’ve had some trouble narrowing and choosing my words this year.  There’s so much that I want to do and be.  Areas where I want to leave space.  Areas where I want to grow and change.  Areas where I want to work a bit harder or focus a bit more intensely.  Having to choose just three words was more difficult this year than it has been in previous years.  We’ll see how it goes. But, this year, I’m choosing margin, simplicity and community.


Margin was one of my goals last year.  While I did ok with it, I feel like I need to focus on it again this year.

Physical Margin

I want to continue to protect my sleep.   I’m working through a soft tissue shoulder injury from swimming.  I need to protect my time in order to do my exercises daily.  In the end, I want to be back in the pool and working out with my masters group.  While I’m hoping to be able to do all four strokes again, I may have to kiss butterfly goodbye.  Exercise is an investment in my mental wellbeing and future health.  Whether it’s walking or swimming,  I need to be moving at least five days a week.

Relational Margin

I want to invest in my relationships with Charlie and my children foremost, then in extended family and friends.  In order to do that, I need to not let my iPhone or computer suck my time away.  Charlie and I need regular dates in order to sow into our marriage.

Financial Margin

I want to continue to save money and to live frugally.  Gotta love Dave Ramsey.  In 2013, we want to move forward in his plan to financial freedom.

Spiritual Margin

I want to give my spiritual growth time and energy.  I want to spend regular time reading the Bible and praying.  I want to make myself accountable to other women in my faith community.  


If you follow my blog, you already know that we’ve been clearing out our house.  I’m loving the way our space feels.  I want to continue to pursue simplicity in our environment at home.  For us, this means not owning too much stuff.  It also means maintaining what we do own so that our home runs smoothly.  We’re pursuing a rhythm of cleaning our house so that we stay on top of it and don’t get overwhelmed by it.  We’re pursuing a rhythm of giving each of the children 15-20 minutes of our time each week dedicated to keeping their rooms de-cluttered and picked up.  We’re pursuing simple food.  Simple isn’t always easy.  The article on junk food from the New York Times last week reminded me how much I want our family to eat fresh, whole foods.  As you know, this takes time and effort.  I want to spend time and money here so that the way we eat matches with what we value.  Over the last few years, we’ve lost sight of pursuing fresh, whole, healthy food as we’ve been getting our company started.  Time to get back on the horse.


Frankly, I stink at community.  It’s always seemed elusive to me.  I want to be good at it.  I want to pursue it.  I have friends who are great at it and who talk about it a lot.  But, I’m not good at it, and I want to be.  So, I want to sow into community this year.  Charlie and I are great with sitting at home and reading a book in our spare time.  Having two strong introverts leading our household makes it easy to just stay at home.  Which works just fine until it’s not fine.  Until we’re lonely.  Until we don’t have the support system that we need to live the lives we want to live.  So, this year, I’m not going to focus on getting community.  I’m going to focus on being the community I want.  I want to be the lady who takes people dinner when they’re having a hard time.  I want to regularly have people in our home for meals.  I want to have kids playing at our house.  Even if the noise bothers me.  I want to sow community in my faith community.  So, I’m looking for opportunities.  I want to be ready to say yes when I see an opportunity to sow community.  It completely goes against my introversion, but I want to change in this area, and I’m ready to lean into my discomfort and my desire to just go read a book.

What about you?  What are you working on in 2013?

Freedom Summit 2013 Prep

January 22, 2013

We’re in the thick of getting ready for the Freedom Summit here in the Simpson household.  Charlie was cutting soap until 10 last night.


Charlie’s term for our tags is “high-touch”.  It’s really true.  Until we can afford to do custom tags, we’re doing them all by hand.  I’m stamping each tag, threading the twine and putting a label with the ingredients on the back of each one.  I’m happy to do it, but they are time-consuming.



Here are the bags from Distant Village.


We also have a new custom stamp to stamp on our recycled brown kraft bags.  I chose the stamp because I liked the look and because it was economical.  Custom recycled labels are expensive.  We’ve had some technical issues with getting the stamp to work correctly.



Can you see that it’s printing the rubber material around the stamp and not just the logo?  Plus the coverage is spotty.

I asked my friend Karin for advice.  She’s super awesome artistic and beyond crafty.  She suggested that we use an exacto knife to cut away the excess rubber.  Charlie never misses an opportunity to use his dremel tool, so he went to work, and here’s where we’ve landed.



We still have to be very careful, and it doesn’t work every time, but it’s certainly better than where we started.  We’re going with it for now.

It’s our first time doing an event where we’re selling soap, so we’re figuring it out as we go.  I tried to find some fruit crates to repurpose for merchandising.  When I looked for new merchandising materials on-line, I didn’t see anything I liked.  Plus, I really don’t want to buy anything new for this if I don’t have to.  I actually like the rough repurposed look, and I think it goes with our brand nicely.

Charlie has the credit card swiper that attaches to his i-phone working.  We purchased a cash box.  We have a banner that we’ll use this time around.  We don’t love how it turned out, but it was the cheapest environmentally friendly banner that we could get.  The alternatives that looked great were hundreds of dollars, which we can’t do right now.  Other than that, my friend Jacki is writing copy for marketing collateral that we’ll distribute, and I have recycled business cards printed.  Signage for prices will be forthcoming later this week.  Phew!  Pray that we sleep.  I’m not an all-nighter kind of girl.  So, we’re working all week to try to prevent that.