Series 05: For the Love of New Beginnings | Episode 01
Creating Space For Joy With Simplified Living With Emily Ley
Happy New Year and Happy New Series; For the Love of New Beginnings! We’re going to dive into the top of the year with guests who have had to start over, re-invent themselves, embrace new seasons, refresh or reset; and we’ll learn first-hand how they navigated it. Episode one’s guest is Emily Ley; author and creator of The Simplified Planner. A busy Mom (3 kids under 6, including toddler twins) and head of a flourishing company, Emily found that striving for “all the things” was leaving her with no time or energy to enjoy the good stuff in her own life. A champion for helping others organize, declutter, and simplify, Emily’s own life was lacking in simple joys due to a difficult-to-live-up-to standard of perfection she strove to attain. She shares how she had to admit her need to give herself some grace, pare down, learn to say the dreaded “no-“word, and take some steps back in order to move ahead. She’ll also give us some GREAT bringing-order-to-chaos hacks, like answering the question Jen posed herself: “Why do I have 17 spatulas??” Emily’s new book is A Simplified Life: Tactical Tools for Intentional Living.
Narrator: Welcome to the “For the Love Podcast” with bestselling author Jen Hatmaker. Come on in, and join us for a chat with Jen and friends about all the things we love. Now, here’s Jen.
Jen: Hey guys, it’s Jen Hatmaker. Welcome to the show. This is the For the Love podcast. I’m so glad to have you today. We’re in a really cool series that I have learned so much from, and there’s just this content that’s so useful and meaningful.
Our series is “For the Love of New Beginnings.” So what we’re hoping to do with this podcast series is put a lot of practical tools in your hands as we turn into a new year. So I know a ton of us have new goals, or new aims, or we’d love to sort of clean out a little bit, declutter a little bit, and have sort of a purer space in which to operate. And so get a pencil and paper, or better yet, you can pop over to my website where we’re gonna have our conversation transcribed, so you can go bit by bit through it. Because this one is jam-packed with practical ideas and with simplification tools that you can literally start today. They’re not hard; they’re not complicated; they don’t cost money.
And so my guest today is Emily Ley. Now if you already know Emily, you’re already thrilled about this because she is just so good in this space. This is her area absolutely. But if you’re new, Emily is the creator of the planner that I use called the Simplified Planner. It’s this incredible system that she developed and then began to market to help women organize their lives in a really simple but beautiful and fun way. And so it sort of was birthed out of her story which she’s gonna tell us about.
But for years, like most of us have done, she just packed and packed and packed and packed her schedule, and just overdrew every account: her emotional account, her parenting account, her professional account. To-do lists were off the charts, she and realized it just was not sustainable. She decided “I can’t live like this. I don’t want to live like this, I don’t know if everybody else is living like this, but I don’t want any part of it.” And she sort of turned a corner and devoted all of her creative energy toward tools that empower and encourage–not just herself–but all women to simplify their lives.
It is so useful, and so this really incredible community of women has formed around this idea of Emily’s: that simple is better, and we really only need to give our attention to what truly matters. And so she wrote her first book called Grace Not Perfection, doesn’t that sound like a dream, which shared stories from her own life and how she benefited from simplifying.
And now, she’s just had a new book come out in November that we’re really going drill into today called A Simplified Life: Tactical Tools to Intentional Living. It’s like rubber meet the road stuff, you guys. It’s boots on the ground, here’s what we do, here’s where you start, step-by-step ideas to permanently clearing the clutter in your home, in your mind, in your family, and in your closets. It’s so hopeful, you’re going to love this conversation. It’s all so very hopeful and all so very doable.
So what we’re hoping to do in this whole series is look at ways that we can all create new beginnings that are good for our hearts and good for our minds and our spirits. And so today, we’re going talk to Emily Ley about what she’s learned, and how every one of us can really make the most of our days with realistic and achievable and tactical tools.
So, I know you’re gonna love this one you guys. I’m excited to welcome Emily Ley to the podcast.
Yay, Emily! Welcome! Yay!
Emily: Hi. Thanks for having me!
Jen: I love having you on here, girl. We just hopped on the phone a minute ago, and Emily was like, “I want to hug you through the microphone,” and I’m like, “I know, same, same.”
Emily: I do.
Jen: My one beef with podcasting is we have to do it all remotely. I’d love to be in a room with you.
Emily: Right? I know. We need a talk show. That’s what should happen next…we need a talk show.
Jen: That is what should happen. Wow!
Emily: We could sit in chairs opposite each other, Oprah style.
Jen: Yeah. I like this. I like this plan. You got something here. Listen, I’m so glad you’re on the show today. I was just telling you how perfect you are for this exact series, and for this spot, and how many of us are craving your message and your area of expertise and sort of struggling in a lot of areas that you’ve overcome. I cannot wait for everybody to get to know you better and hear what you have to say. We’re going to get into a lot of the good stuff like all these amazing tips you have on simplifying and de-cluttering and everything that our busy lives are craving.
But if you would, for the listeners that don’t know you yet–that are meeting you today–can you go back a little bit? Tell us a little bit about what led you, in the first place, to create your business and sort of that big moment that inspired you to create the Simplified Planner because I think everyone’s really going to relate to it. By the way, I just ordered my Simplified Planner for 2018.
Emily: Oh, my goodness!
Jen: It’s in the mail.
Emily: Thank you.
Jen: I love it girl. Are you kidding me? I love it. I’m going to probably get it tomorrow. So, tell everybody a little bit about your backstory.
Emily: Absolutely. Well, I have a background that has nothing to do with any of this.
Emily: I kind of fell into it. I really just reached a point in my life where I didn’t have children yet, and I knew my husband and I were newlyweds and we wanted children, and I wanted a life that looked different than what I saw other women around me leading. I felt like everyone around me was just frantic and working so much. And for what?
I thought, you know, my mom, she was a teacher for 40 years. I said, “I want that.” I want to be able to have a career that I enjoy and have the flexibility to be the kind of mom I want to be. I started making greeting cards on my home printer and selling them. Etsy was new and Twitter was the thing. There was no Instagram or any of that. And, it just kind of started to take off.
It was a good, steady job. I was able to leave my full-time career in university fundraising and had my first son. And when he was about a year old, I was pacing my house with a child on one hip and a laptop on the other. I was nursing on conference calls to keep him quiet and trying to do all the things, and I just hit a wall. I was on the phone with my good friend Lara Casey, and I said, “I absolutely cannot keep living this way. I can’t keep up. Every woman I know has perfect hair and six inch heels and dinner on the table at six; and she’s wonderful, and her life is easy, and she never has problems. Why am I a disaster?” I said, “You know, I’m going to live a life of grace, not perfection.” That phrase became this cornerstone to what I wanted my life to be and what I wanted the business to be as well.
I knew I needed a tool to help me figure life out and wrangle everything together so that I could have a fresh start. But everything else that I found in all the stores just had so many boxes to check and things to fill out like: “How many cups of water you had today?” and your budget, and…
Jen: I just can’t. Listen, that’s asking too much.
Emily: Like, “Unsubscribe.”
Jen: I can’t count my water. I just can’t do it.
Emily: No, and by the way, I had like four diet cokes, so I don’t even know what to put in that box.
Jen: Exactly. Does that count?
Emily: Right! So I said, “I just need something that’s a fresh start and doesn’t make me feel like I’m failing at everything.” I took a binder, and some notebook paper, and a sharpie and made a little planner for myself. It was called the Simplified Planner. I took all the money the business had. We had run the company debt free since day one. So I took all the little bit of money we had in the beginning and sent it off and printed some planners, and they just took off because women really identified with my own overwhelm.
Emily: My books, and this recent book, and my first book, Grace Not Perfection, everything has really just come out of that place in me that says, “I want to live a life that is different. I don’t want to be so frantic all the time.”
Jen: Okay. I just love everything you’re saying, of course, because, as you know, you’re singing our song. You’re singing the song of our generation, and what I see–because I serve women all the time too–and I see us all lamenting this, but nobody knows the way out.
Jen: We don’t like it. Nobody is here for the system except we just keep hustling and keep adding. I think my first line of connection to was Grace Not Perfection…your philosophy. Which in just three words, says everything. So, can you talk about that for a minute? Just thinking about all the women that are listening today, and the desperate need we have to learn to give ourselves grace as moms, as professionals, as wives, as friends, as Christians.
This is what I think is hard: it’s hard based on what you mentioned a minute a go. What it seems like we’re seeing played out in front of us every day is everybody else’s perfect-looking life. Whether or not that’s true or not, I don’t think it is. I think that’s curated information. I think we’re getting a version of somebody’s truth. So, can you just talk a little bit about Grace Not Perfection when this seems to be the swirl around our heads all the time, that everybody else is, in fact, perfection?
Emily: I have to go back to when I moved to Tampa, Florida. I left my home in Pensacola where all my family was, and I moved here to marry my husband. We were long distance, and I didn’t make a lot of friends when we first moved here. I had a really hard time making friends because I was in a place where I was in my young 20s, and I was starting to get my feet under me, and I felt like every woman I met here had it all together. Like, everything together. It was that woman with the heels and the hair, and I couldn’t connect on that level because I just couldn’t. It was when I started letting myself be real with myself, first and foremost, but also taking some barriers down in my community and in my friend groups that I was making where we started being real with one another and sharing stories of like, “Hey, I went to Target today, and I had to hightail it out of there because my kid knocked down an entire display, and I had to leave, and I was really sad about that.”
Jen: So, when you say barriers, you mean this friendship structure that keeps it all on the surface, that skips along as if most of us are not struggling, or things went sideways today, or… is that what you mean?
Emily: Yes. Absolutely. There’s a lack of transparency, I think, is the best way to put it. That we’re not being honest with ourselves. We’re not being honest with each other. And I’ve started to see recently–just in my own friend circles here in my community, I’ve been lucky to make really, really great friendships since then–but when people started to be honest, and we start to share our struggles and not just our highlights, there’s real connections that are made, and we all start to feel a little more normal.
Jen: Yes. I cannot possibly agree more. I’ve built a whole ministry on this premise because it’s true that authenticity is very contagious. It’s incredibly liberating. It sometimes requires, like you mentioned, somebody to go first. Which there’s risk there, and I get that. But in my experience, I would say, easily, nine times out of ten, that risk is rewarded with depth, and with connection, and with truth telling. It’s very rare that I regret saying what’s true. Some people are listening and thinking, “I don’t have that kind of community,” or, “I don’t have that sort of relationship with women.” But I contend that we can create it. Don’t you think?
Emily: Absolutely. I mentioned in Grace Not Perfection that you have to make friends second grade style. You can’t stand around in the cafeteria and wait for someone to invite you over. Sometimes you just have to go take a seat and say, “Hey, here I am.”
Jen: That’s it. Even since you’ve adopted this mantra, “Grace Not Perfection,” obviously even written a whole book about it … which is, by the way, so beautiful. One of the most beautiful books I’ve ever seen. Just absolutely gorgeous. Even then, you’ve got some new hurdles: some health issues and maybe even a little bit of a new kind of approach to simplifying even more. Can you talk for a minute about what’s going on in your life and how life basically got crazy again–all over again–even despite all these great tools as your business grew? And then what led to some of this new paring back that you had to put in place again?
Emily: Oh man. I hope we have six hours here, because it’s a long story.
Jen: Let’s hear it.
Emily: So, things really took off with the business. I guess it was 2015, I was approached by Thomas Nelson and asked if I was interested in writing the story of “Grace Not Perfection.” I said, “Absolutely,” and then I said, “Absolutely” again to another business opportunity. Then another awesome speaking thing would come up, or just really good things. Some involvement with my church, and things would happened, and I would say, “These are great opportunities, and it’s good to spread this message. This is God’s work. This is grace. This is stuff that I am obligated to do. I have to further this.” And I said yes to all the things because they were good. And they still are good. They’re very good. But I said yes to all the things.
Right after Grace Not Perfection came out, I was just on the heels of that release and all the busyness that came with that. My business had grown from me in my guest room with my printer to a team of six women all around the country selling to over 800 stores around the world. So…
Emily: Sounds awesome, right? Like, great line in the bio there. But it was really, really hard on my family. I have a six-year-old little boy, and I have two-year-old twins, so it’s a lot over here.
Jen: It is. You’re in the weeds, girl.
Emily: In the weeds! It just became a lot. I hit a wall, and I have to say it was Shauna Niequist’s book, Present Over Perfect that changed things. That chapter…there’s a chapter in there about chairs. She tells this story about two pastors talking to one another, and one is an older pastor of a very medium-sized, wonderful church. The other is a pastor of a very large, quick-growing church. They’re talking about the growth in their communities. The young pastor said, ” You know what, our church is just so big, and I don’t even know what to do about it. It’s just so wonderful. It’s so big. But it’s just so much.”
The older pastor said, “No. You did that. You, on purpose, made those decisions. And it was a wonderful thing, but you kept putting out the chairs.”
When I read — I was actually listening to it on Audible — I heard that, laying in my bed one night, and the floodgates of my heart and my eyes just opened, and I started sobbing. My husband came running, and he was like, “What’s the matter?”
I said, “The chairs. We put out the chairs. Too many chairs.”
He was like, “Okay. Let’s talk about what you’re saying and what this looks like.”
I said, “There are opportunities that have come our way, and some of them are from the business, and some are just community things we’re involved in, and I feel like a different person. I feel like my hair is on fire all the time. I feel like my kids see stressed-out mom. I feel like I wrote this beautiful pink book about “Grace Not Perfection,” and somehow I ended up reliving that again.”
God said, “Write this book.”
And I said, “Cool. I wrote it, and I want to put it on the shelf and walk away.”
And He’s like, “No, I need you to live it again. You’re going through it.”
Jen: Oh, man. That’s the truest thing you’ve ever said.
Emily: Yes! So I walked through this season of just complete overwhelm at the end of last year. I have to say, it was my wonderful husband who can put it to me straight. He said, “Listen. We got to take down some chairs. What’s it going to be?” He was like, “I don’t care what the ramifications are financially or whatever. We’ve got balls in the air, and the one we can’t drop is our family, so what are we going to do?”
The one we decided to drop was our wholesale program. We cut, I think it was about 40% of our income from the business. It was terrifying, and I thought everyone was going to be angry at me. We made that big decision, and we also made some smaller decisions to just start paring back, but the message of living a simpler life was planted in my heart at that point. I started to think again, “What could life look like if we approached it with fresh eyes, with a renewed spirit, with a fresh heart and said, ‘What can we say no to?'”
We get to make the choices. There’s so many things outside of our control, but there are so many things in our control. So what are we going to do about it? So, we did. We dove in in January of this year and just started simplifying every single area from our house, to what we put on the table for our kids to eat, to how we deal with parenting stuff. Everything. Even like screen time and technology. How do we deal with all of these overwhelming parts of life so that we can pare back and make room for grace to come in for margin…for breathing room?
It has been the most life changing thing I have ever done. I sit here today, a year later, honestly, like a completely different woman.
Jen: I love this story so much because I think you unpacking your own story is really, really helpful. Because the truth is, these sort of decisions require a discipline. I like this because you literally wrote the book on “Grace Not Perfection,” and then had to revisit it again. I think when it comes to life chaos, it’s like entropy. It will tend toward chaos. So if we don’t keep our finger on it, if we don’t pay attention, if we let the tail wag the dog–despite putting in every sort of bunker and boundary–it will trend toward chaos again.
I like that, first of all, your message is, “Nobody’s going to do this for you.” They’re not. I really appreciated what you said because you mentioned that a lot of the opportunities you had were all good. Of course they were. No one’s asking you for garbage work. It’s amazing, and you believe in your message. That’s where it can get really, really tricky. I think the truth is for most women is that we’re presented with a set of options that are mostly all good. It’s not easily discerned. Even then, if we pile up too many good things, we absolutely ruin the whole system.
I really appreciate the risk you took in eliminating the wholesale market. Girl, that was brave.
Emily: It was scary.
Jen: I bet it was.
Emily: Oh man…
Jen: You don’t regret it now, right?
Emily: No. You know what’s funny? I really believe when God puts a seed in your heart, and it just kind of sits there. And I knew He put it there long before, but I would kind of push it down and say, “Don’t grow. I hear you. Stay there. We’re doing good over here.” But it just kept growing because He’s just kind of relentless like that. And it just kind of kept growing and growing to the point where I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I thought, “You know, our lives might look a lot different after this.”
We crunched all the numbers. We knew we could keep our whole staff, which was awesome. But we also knew that the reason–the sole reason I started doing this in the first place–was to have flexibility as a mom. That’s it. So I had to revisit that heart of things. I also knew that if that was the heart of things, that there was something to that belief and also something to the margin that was going to open up in my life. It was going to make space for the rest of what we had to grow. It’s like a garden. You have to weed it and deadhead the plants and make space for things to grow.
And it did. And honestly, when we started as a business pouring back into our customers one-on-one, rather than having retailers as the middle person, wow! That side of our business took over. It just filled that void right up. It’s been so affirming to see that we got back to our roots and what we love the most, and that’s building a community for women who want to simplify. And it works.
Jen: That’s a really good message that, to some degree, we don’t even know the fruit and the advantages on the other side of those hard decisions. You go in with a trust that you’re making the right choice for the right reasons. Then it’s such a wonderful surprise. I know for me, a couple of years ago …
As you’re talking, I don’t know if you can hear through the microphone, but my head is nodding off because I did the exact same thing. I loaded up my schedule with so many good things because individually, they all work. When they come across my desk, I thought, “Well, that’s amazing.” “Well, that’s good work.” “Well, that is important.” Or, “My skillset is really uniquely suited toward that. I should say, ‘Yes.’” Then you pile them all together, and I would say…I don’t mean to be dramatic, I think our family was in a bit of a crisis.
Emily: Oh yeah, same here.
Jen: By how taxing it was on me and then by virtue of that, on everybody else. So I realized that this was on me. I am the person making these decisions, and I closed my calendar. It was funny because I had to catch up to it for almost two years. I was booked out for two years. How dumb is that? Is that so unwise?
Emily: No, we all do it.
Jen: It’s so unwise. I had to catch up two years to my calendar. That’s how long it was booked. Then I took an entire year off and only really traveled again last month for the first time.
Emily: Wow. That’s fantastic.
Jen: We recovered. We absolutely recovered, and all this fullness of life had room to flourish again. I just keep thinking, “What if I hadn’t made that decision?” Of course, I thought the same thing you probably did: “This is career suicide.” You know? “If I say ‘No’ to this, I’ll never get these opportunities again.” But that’s just a lie.
Emily: It’s absolutely a lie.
Jen: Yeah, that’s absolutely a lie. That’s not how this works. So I want to funnel down into some more specifics because I think people are listening to us talk, and they, too, are probably nodding their heads off. What you lend here to this conversation is not just a life well lived, but you have some really good practical steps toward it. So, you’ve got this new book, A Simplified Life, that just came out. It’s very, very practical in terms of helping women literally achieve simplicity in their daily life so that they’re better able to enjoy their life. Oh my gosh. We get this one life.
We’re going to drill down a little bit into some of your approaches, but right before we do, I’ve heard that it was your mom who really, initially helped you discover organizing and simplifying. Can you talk about that a little bit? How’d she model this for you?
Emily: Oh my goodness. You know, first of all, she’s incredible. Like I said, she was a teacher for 40 years. Growing up, we just had a very typical family lifestyle. There was two children. My parents have been married for 40 years. We lived behind a white picket fence, literally. There was an actual fence. Things just felt, on the family side–like the structural side of eating dinner at home and that sort of thing–it all felt very normal. Very easy. Effortless, I have said before. Which my mom thinks is hysterical when I say, “It was effortless.”
But then, I became an adult and I was like, “I’m sorry. I have to pay for toilet paper? What? That’s dumb!” I’m like, I’m sure we’ve all done this. “Mom, how do you defrost the chicken? Do you put it in the sink, or can I just put it in the refrigerator? Do I need bowl under it?” You know, there was things where I was like, “What? This is complicated.”
I have had so many talks with her since then where she’s said, “It’s very strategic on the back end.” She worked a full-time job and had two kids at home who were involved in everything. She’s like, “We just had to, on the backend, be prepared and have a plan.”
My dad always says–I don’t think it’s his quote. I think he quotes somebody else by saying this, but–“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” So they always had a plan. It was flexible, but they would have meals planned for the week, and we would eat dinner around the table together. It was just easy. And when I became an adult, it was hard.
So she lives in Pensacola. I live in Tampa. And when my kids were born, after both births, my mom and dad both came down for a couple of weeks and stayed with us. It was during those few weeks where I really just started to see the magic that she knows. I’ve developed my own ways of organizing and simplifying, but during those two weeks, after both of those births, my mom would just follow me around the house and say, “Nope. Listen. You’re going to do laundry every single day. In the morning when you get up, you get your coffee. You’re going to walk around the house and get all the laundry and put it in the washing machine. Don’t worry about the colors bleeding. Use these Shout color-catcher things. Put it all in there on speed cycle. It saves water, saves energy, saves time. 29 minutes. Take it out. Fold it and put it away. Get it put away, and do it every day.”
Jen: Ah! Why is it so hard?
Emily: Why is it so hard? It’s so hard. Laundry is the bane of my existence.
Emily: But she taught me these practical things and there’s so many of them that are second nature here and now, that when the idea for this book happened, I got so excited because I love the inspirational stories of Grace Not Perfection, and I love that kind of thing. But I was thirsty to share some of these tips, but even more so, I was thirsty to hear other people’s ideas. Like, can somebody tell me how they feed their kids three times a day? My kids are hungry all the time. It’s ridiculous.
Jen: Why do they eat every day?
Emily: I just fed you last night. You think you want to eat again this morning?
Jen: Never ending.
Emily: Somebody tell me. It goes back to that community of girlfriends. I’ve had so many amazing girl’s nights where we’ve gone out, and somebody will start a conversation and it’s like, “But seriously, how do you do X, Y, and Z at your house?” It’s just so life giving because I start to feel like, “I can do this.” Like, we can get our act together, and I know that I can simplify the things going on in my home so that my home feels not like a place of chaos but feels like a place of rest, and of…
Jen: That’s really important. I think–what I relate to as you’re talking, and I think probably a lot of women can too–when our lives are generally marked by a lack of planning and thus disorder, there’s shame around it. It’s like a black heavy cloud on my shoulders. I can’t even necessarily put my finger on it, except for I feel out of control. I feel like I’m not in front; I’m constantly behind, and everything is sort of coming apart at all times. So that sort of low-simmering shame, it’s just bad for us. It’s bad for our souls. It’s bad for our marriages. It’s bad for our kids. Because, I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling that way, I project it outwards, like, “Why aren’t you guys doing a better job of picking up your crap.”
Emily: Right! Exactly.
Jen: The truth is I don’t have a decent system in place. We don’t have good accountability in place. I’m not saying, “Hey, here’s the ten minutes when we are all going to go around and pick up our things.” So I just get so irate at the chaos of the house, and really, the truth is, so much of this is under our control. It could be. So let’s talk brass tacks bout some of the areas of your book because here we are, it’s New Year, and this is just that time of year when a lot of us have kind of a renewed sense of hope that we can go into 2018, the holidays are behind us, and we can begin to sincerely put in place some good and positive practices that might just get our home and our family life, our professional life, and our souls back on the rails. Let’s be specific. Talk to us about one thing we can do when it comes to, let’s say, finances. So one, really good, tactical habit, if you had to say was most helpful to you, what would you recommend?
Emily: Well, when Brian and I got married, this is something I’m so proud we did and glad we did because finances is not my forte. It’s his. But he said, “Do you want to be CEO or secretary?”
I was like, “First of all, CEO, but what are you talking about?”
Then he was like, “No, I don’t mean like that. Do you want to handle the long-term retirements and investments and those kinds of things? Do you want to handle the day-to-day of that long-term stuff? Or do you want to handle the day-to-day bills that come in the mail, and budgets, and that sort of thing?”
I was like, “Oh, B. I would love to be secretary because that fits my personality and my constant need to stay on top of things.” It worked. He loves day trading and all those big picture things that he’s more fit for. So we set roles for ourselves and really just divided the responsibilities. Knowing who does what, and who’s in charge of what takes the guesswork out of the finances.
Now, we are both involved in every financial decision, but when it comes to, “Who’s the point person?” There’s a point person. So when you get the mail, I know which ones go straight to him because he’s handling those kinds of things and which bills get laid on my desk for me to pay the next day.
Jen: That’s so simple, except it matters. If there’s not a clear division of labor, that is when things get missed. And, for us, I know that’s where we open a big wide front door to resentment. Because for some reason, I think, “Well, why didn’t you handle it?” And he’s thinking, “Well, why didn’t you?” It’s because we didn’t plan it, and so, I think that really clear: “I do this. You do that. We collaborate, but this is the division of labor,” is really simple and smart.
Jen: Okay, let’s talk about schedules. I think for a lot of us in this season of life that we’re in, this is the bane of our existence.
Emily: Oh my gosh.
Jen: I’m managing my five kids, so it’s not just my schedule. It’s everybody’s freaking schedule.
Emily: Everybody’s schedule.
Jen: It’s so much going on. There’s so many moving parts, and I’m full-time career person too, like you are, as is Brandon. So since there never seems to be enough time to do it all, what’s a super simple thing that you would recommend that somebody could try today, let’s say, without a ton of effort or energy that could really help them lean into streamlining or simplifying their schedule?
Emily: Oh man. We lived through this, and we’re in the forefront of this. Our kids are just starting to get involved in things like the little ballet classes and things like that. I’m starting to feel the pressure of, “Oh, my goodness. I need two more arms and four more people to help me do all of this because you’re all going in different directions.”
Honestly, the best thing that’s helped us is to have a central family calendar. I just got some cheap dry erase thing from Target, and I put it in the middle of our living room. It’s not the cutest décor for the living room, but who cares? It helps us figure out who’s going where, what’s for dinner, and what’s going on. So having a central family calendar has helped us a ton.
Also, just looking at your schedule and saying, “What can I say no to? Are there things, like we said, that are good but maybe not good right now? So that you can say, “Thank you, but no thank you. I’ll do this later.” Freeing up just some empty space in your day is so valuable.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve gotten in places where I’m like, “Okay, I have six and a half minutes in the car from my house to the preschool. I can turn the Trolls soundtrack on, and they can listen to that, and I’ll take a conference call for four and a half of those minutes. Then we’ll sit in the parking lot, and I’ll answer two emails.” I mean, what is this life?
Jen: What is life?
Emily: No. Just don’t do that to yourself.
Jen: That feels like nursing with a baby on a conference call. It’s like the same sort of hustle.
Emily: Done it. Terrible. So, you know, I just finally told myself, “I don’t have to do all the things. I just don’t. Nobody is standing there telling me that I have to do all the things. I don’t have to be all the room moms. I don’t have to be all the volunteers for all the things. I don’t have to do all the work things.” So I just said, “No,” and nothing fell apart. It was okay.
Jen: I say that all the time. When I learned to say, “No,” a couple of years ago, it was with much trepidation that I did it because I’m a “yes” person. My “yes” valve is just constantly open, apparently, so I felt like a “no” was just going to be catastrophic in some way. I wasn’t sure what, but it felt that way. Yet when you start handing out no’s, politely, with respect, nobody dies.
Emily: Nobody dies.
Jen: They don’t, and a lot of its superfluous. That’s what I learned. I didn’t even really need to be doing all that in the first place.
Emily: Yes. Right. Absolutely. And you never know when you say “Yes” to one thing, you’re saying “No” to something else even though you may not realize it. The same could same for physical stuff. Like how much stuff we have in our house.
Jen: Oh, I like this. Talk about that a little bit.
Emily: Oh man. Honestly, chapter one of the book is all about simplifying your space, and I could have written an entire book just on that because that was the big part. And honestly, it’s the foundational part of simplifying your life. When there’s stuff all around–all around your home–calling for your attention, every little thing is sending you a message. It’s overwhelming mentally. So I always say, “Physical clutter is mental clutter.”
You know what we do? We have all stuff in our house with strange emotional attachments to lots of things like the jeans we’re going to fit in one day or that vase we paid too much money for we could get rid of. When we finally start to address some of that stuff, it opens up margin not just in our homes, but in our hearts and our brains as well. So a tactical thing with your home is to be ruthless.
I got to take a line from For the Love, from you: “Let yourself off the hook.” If you’ve spent too much money on a couple of things, forgive yourself for doing that. Put it in a garage sale. Donate it. Gift it to a friend. Walk around your house with a trash bag and just start collecting things to throw away. Then walk around with another one and start collecting things to donate.
Actually, I was just talking to a friend earlier about towels, for example, and how many towels we have. Some of them have bleach spots on them, and some of them have to be washed separately. That’s just silly. So a couple of years ago, I went out–this is another good tip from my mom–went out, took all of our towels, took them to the dog shelter, and donated towels to them. They loved it. And I went to Target, and I bought the $3 really cheap, white, thin towels. Let me tell you, those thin towels dry faster, they don’t smell weird, and you can bleach them. Easy, right?
Jen: Easy. All the same. Every towel in the same load.
Emily: Every towel in the same load. And then every bathroom has the same towel. It’s not like, “Oh, the blue one goes here, and the pink one goes here.” That’s just too many decisions. The least amount of decisions you can have to make during a day, the easier your mind’s going to be, and the freer you’re going to feel.
Jen: It’s so true. Brandon and I went… I’m a de-clutterer by nature. I’m not super sentimental, and I like clean. It’s just what you said. For me, clean spaces equals clean mind. That’s when I thrive, and the opposite is true, too. So, last month, we went through several closets and drawers that had just succumbed to disorder. I mean, absolute entropy. It’s so funny because what you say is the truth about what it does to your emotional well-being.
We had one closet that we absolutely gutted. Cleaned out entirely. Gave away, threw away, organized, the whole thing. For probably four solid days, I would just walk past it, open the door, and look at it.
Emily: That’s so great.
Jen: It gave me such a good feeling. I was like, “You know what, I don’t have control over everything in my life, but look at this freaking closet.”
Emily: That’s exactly it. That’s why it’s chapter one in the book because it’s so foundational to give you confidence in the rest of your life to start simplifying that. If you can tackle your house… Even opening your drawers in your kitchen. Why do you have three carrot peelers? Are you going to be peeling with three hands? You do not need three carrot peelers. You need one carrot peeler.
Jen: That’s true. Why do I have seventeen spatulas? Why?
Emily: Why? Exactly.
Jen: I cannot explain it.
Emily: So imagine this. You open your kitchen drawer, and you look at it. All you see are the best, your favorite, and the essential. The end. Nothing else.
Jen: Why aren’t people telling us that more? It feels so liberating to imagine. So think about the gal who’s listening right now. It’s the beginning of the year. This is just the moment that a lot of us want to just go yard sale here. We want to clean out. We want to simplify. We want to organize. But for most women, it’s a super overwhelming task. I mean, we’re talking about a whole house, plus the garage. Everything is crazy. What would you suggest to her on getting started and making this manageable? Do you have some granular tips to even just starting the engine here?
Emily: I do. Buy a box of trash bags, first of all. That is the only thing you need to buy. And I sell day planners for a living, so I can sell you a planner. But you do not need a planner. You do not need anything. You need trash bags, and then you need a plan. And your plan is that you start in the hardest area. That is your kitchen because we spend so much time there. Now, you can also start in your master closet because that can be a little difficult, bringing others, spouses, whomever, on board. But eventually, they’ll start to see the freedom in it too. I know my husband definitely has.
But, a couple tips: do not spend a single dollar. Because as you go through your kitchen, let’s say, you will start to look at your pantry. You take everything out of your pantry. Whatever it is you’re cleaning, take everything out. Then you touch every single item as you’re putting it back in, and you make a decision about every single thing that you’re going to keep. So when you’re organizing your pantry you might think, “I really need some beautiful clear boxes from the container store that I can line up beautifully to make a cool Instagram photo.” No you don’t.
What you do is write a note to yourself and say, “I could use a couple of boxes in here to hold all these bags of oatmeal,” or whatever you have going on. Then when you’re cleaning out your guest room closet two hours later, you randomly find boxes you didn’t know you had, and boom. They go in your pantry. You didn’t have to spend a thing.
Jen: That is so true.
Emily: I could go on and on, but my one other tip is, we often look at certain parts of our lives and think, “If I just had the right organizational tool, I could fix it.” “If I just had the right shoe rack, my 17 pairs of flip-flops would be organized and the problem would be gone.” So we go and buy the shoe rack, and we put all of our flip-flops on our rack. And do you know what happens? It becomes an absolute mess because we didn’t need a shoe rack. We needed to get rid of some pairs of flip-flops.
Jen: That’s so true. Rather than just organizing everything we own, pare it down.
Jen: And, I found, because I have no qualms getting rid of stuff ever, I’m a good partner in this. So sometimes, women can employ the help of a friend who’s ruthless. If you’re not ruthless, if you’re hearing this thinking, “I can’t do it. Everything’s too precious. Everything’s too wonderful.” Bring your friend in who’s like, “That’s out of style, get rid of it.” “Those shoes are ugly, bye.” Or, “You have four pairs that look essentially the same.”
Emily: I love this. I absolutely think that is the best gift you could give a friend, to show up with coffee and a box of trash bags and say, “Let’s go.” My mom has done that for me so many times. I swear the last time she was here, she walked in the front door and said, “There is a lid. There is a lid in your kitchen without a bottom. What’s going on? Help me find the lid.”
Jen: You know what’s funny and what’s true, is that even though some decisions feel like absolute torture, you think, “Oh, I really feel like I’m going to want this, and this feels hard to give up.” I promise you, hand to the heavens, in two months, you will not even remember what you had. You won’t miss it. I promise. You will not miss it. You will find out that you didn’t actually need all that stuff after all, even if it felt really laborious to pry your fingers off of it. In two months, it feels free.
Emily: You know, here’s a good example of that: children’s artwork. They bring home all those things, and they hand them to us. We “ooh” and “ahh” over them. We have these boards in our kitchen, and we hang them up to display until the next thing comes, and then we take it down. You know what we do with it? We throw it away.
I know everybody listening to this is like, “You’re a horrible mother.”
Jen: Not me. Not me.
Emily: But let me tell you. That little thing–if it had a handprint or a footprint on it, I will save it–but if it is a painting of a really awesome pig they made at school, when they brought it home to me, and they handed it to me, it served its purpose in my hands in that moment. Its purpose was for me to say, “Look at you. You are an amazing artist. I love this. We’re going to display it and enjoy it.” And then it’s gone.
Extra special things, keep those. Like where they say, “While I’m at preschool, my mom goes home and watches TV all day long.”
Jen: Totally. I’ve kept, all through the years, the A+ material. It’s mostly writing when they’ve written something either hilarious or wonderful, or really iconic to that year. But the turkey worksheet you did at Thanksgiving, bye, trash. That’s recycling bin.
Emily: And that’s okay.
Jen: It’s okay. So you also have a chapter in the book called “Yourself,” and I think it’s so great because I find with women, we’re generally pretty in tune to other people’s needs and outside projects, running the house, caring for the kids and the husband and everybody. But what are some things you think are pretty important that we can easily employ just to be better caretakers of our own souls?
Emily: Oh, goodness. Aren’t we all so bad at this? I know I am.
Jen: I think so.
Emily: I still struggle here a lot because we’ve just got a lot of kids, and we’re busy. I just want so much for them. I pour and pour and pour into them, and then at the end of the day, I’m dead and empty inside. So I just started unapologetically carving out an hour a week for myself…or two…or three! That meant saying, “No,” to a lot of good things, but I realized saying, “Yes,” to myself was even more important. I went through some health stuff, even. With all the stress of last year, I ended up being diagnosed with a thyroid issue that we believe was really brought on by stress.
I knew, obviously, for health reasons, but more so for my heart, I was going to have to feed myself this year. So I started working out, and I never thought I would be the kind of person that would do that because I don’t like sweating. But I did, and I started spending three hours a week or so just working out or running. Even though it was hard, I felt my soul getting stronger. I realize that sounds kind of ridiculous. But I…
Jen: No. It sounds absolutely true.
Emily: It happened. I felt my body getting stronger. I did not lose one single pound. I’ll tell you that, because I started gaining muscle and just becoming stronger mentally and physically. That made such a difference for me. That and feeding myself. This is silly, but I would absolutely die if one of my children missed breakfast. I would absolutely die. But do you know how many breakfasts I’ve skipped in my life? A zillion.
Jen: Oh, yeah. So true.
Emily: It’s terrible. I just started by making a list of three easy breakfasts that I could make for myself, and I taped it to the refrigerator. My husband laughed. He’s like, “What are you doing?”
I’m like, “I have to remind myself while I’m feeding them to eat something that’s good for me.” So avocado toast, yogurt with granola on it, or scrambled eggs. Easy peasy.
Jen: I like that. I like the tiny, simple discipline of not just making a decision, but writing it on a piece of paper and sticking it to your refrigerator. There’s something about that step right there, which seems to put the gas down towards actual execution. There’s such a gap between “I’m having this thought in my mind” and actually pulling it off, and it’s just that simple. For me, if I write something down, I feel like I’m ten times more likely to do it which is why I make lists of tasks. Because all of a sudden, there they are, and know I’m looking at them with my eyes, and I can cross them off, which is incredible satisfying.
Emily: So satisfying. You know, in the book, there’s so many checklists because I literally love the way it feels to just cross it off.
Jen: It feels so good. I’m sure you have done this, but as a person who needs that little sense of accomplishment, I will sometimes, on a list, write down a thing that I’ve already done just to cross it off. I just need to remind myself, “You also did this, even though you didn’t write it down.”
Emily: No shame.
Jen: I don’t even care. I want everybody listening to know you’ve got one million more ideas like this in your book. It is a treasure trove. It’s a really simple guide through simplifying, through organizing, through streamlining. What I like is it’s not add, add, add, more, more, more. It’s really subtract, subtract, subtract. I think that is exactly where we’re all hungry for change. We’re going to move into a show wrap here in a second, but before we do, if you could just speak for one minute, because to some people this whole idea, the whole process of organizing and streamlining our life, it just doesn’t feel attainable. You have some natural gifts, and you’ve got your mom as this great example. Some of us had moms that were hoarders. Or we just have never been good at this. Or we believe this set of lies about our capacity here. Can you just speak for a minute to the women who feel like, “I can’t do it. I can’t pull it off.” In fact, this is attainable to everybody isn’t it?
Emily: It absolutely is. You know, it’s funny when we announced the book a couple of months ago, it was right after some really tragic things had happened in our country. I was getting ready to do this Facebook Live and announce it tens of thousands of women that were going to be watching. I just had so much heaviness on my heart, like, “Why is this important? Why does this matter? What is this really? What are we really doing here?”
And I felt like God really just shook my shoulders. I was in the car, and I felt like He literally shook my shoulders and said, “This is important.” This is important in the grand, eternal scheme of things because there’s so many things in the world that we can’t control. And a lot of times those things makes us feel like we can’t control the things inside our home or the things inside our hearts.
It’s a lie. What we have to do is realize that while there are so many things that we can’t control, we can control those things, and all it takes is a little bit of step-by-step work. It takes a heart change, and I think that’s my biggest piece of advice is that. There are some worksheets in the book that really walk you through, “Why is this important to you? Why does it matter?”
It matters because you deserve a place, a home–no matter how big or small your home or your family–you deserve a place that is a place of peace, and of rest, and of respite, and of reconnection out away from all the things going on in our world that we can’t control. You get to decide what happens, mostly, inside the four walls of your home. When you put your heart in that place to say, “I deserve this. I am worthy of this kind of happiness, and I can attain this sort of simplicity in my life.” No matter how complicated things feel, that is such an incredible starting point.
It really propels you through the rest of the process as you’re digging through your home, and meal planning, and technology, and motherhood–just all the things that we address in the book. It propels you through those things, and it helps you in the hard parts where you want to give up. Because that’ll happen. You’ll get to a point and say, “This is crazy. This is too much. I should give up now.” That’s where you tap back into that heart piece, remembering that you’re worth it and you deserve it. It will help you push on through.
Jen: Oh, it’s so good. You guys, the book is called A Simplified Life, and it absolutely grabs you by the hand and walks you through it. So if it all just feels like a lot ideas swirling around, I’m telling you that this is a tool that says, “You can do this. Let’s do this together step by step.” It’s just one bite of the elephant at a time, and the prize at the end is peace. And it’s worth it. It’s worth it.
I want to wrap up here. So these are three questions we ask every guest for the “New Beginning” series. We’ve talked a lot about reprioritizing and refocusing. Besides the biggies that you’ve already told us about, can you tell us, big or small–this could even be just one little idea–about a time in your life when you just, boom, made like a 180 degree turn? You blew something up and you started completely over.
Emily: Yes. That would be in January of this year when I said, “I am sick of feeling sick. I’m sick of feeling so tired all the time and frazzled. I want to be happy, and I want to appear on the outside that way as well.” You know what I did? I put on those ratty old running shoes, and I went for a walk. Then the walk turned into a jog, then it turned into a little bit of a run. I’m still not a very good runner, but I still get outside and move, and just deciding to put my shoes on was a pretty big deal. It wasn’t for body reasons or any of that. I just really wanted to feel healthy, and I wanted to feel peace. Peace inside. And it helped.
Jen: I love that. Okay, so as we talk about new beginnings here, what’s something that you’d maybe like to tackle this year? Like an idea or a space, or whatever? Or a relationship? I have no idea.
Emily: Yes. Oh my goodness. Well one of our big goals for this upcoming year is with our kids. Brady is six, Tyler and Caroline are two, and their birthdays are really, really soon. But it’s difficult to have one-on-one time with each one of them because we’re outnumbered, as you know. One of our big goals is to have rotating times where we get one-on-one time. Things like…I take Caroline to the grocery store, or we take Brady on a date night one night. Nothing big and fantastic because we’re not in that season yet, where we can be like, “Everybody, let’s go on a big trip.” That’s misery. But taking each one out to the grocery store to do something small like that, it’s so little, but it’s really meaningful.
I have a goal in 2018 to try once a week–at least once a week–to have really specific one-on-one time with each child.
Jen: Oh, that’s so fabulous. It’s so true that it does not have to be fancy. It could be something you’re already doing. You’re running an errand together. “Why don’t you just hop in the car with me. Let’s do this together.” Sometimes I’ll pull one kid into the kitchen to cook with me. I’m already doing it. We’re already going to be there. That’s doable. That’s actually doable. It just takes a bit of intention.
Alright, finally, this is the last question, and it’s one we ask every guest, every series, by Barbara Brown Taylor: What is saving your life right now?
Emily: Coffee. That was easy. If I’m going to have a vice, I feel like coffee’s a pretty decent vice to have at this point.
Jen: It’s so decent.
Emily: Oh, my goodness. I mean, I live on it. That, and honestly, my husband. You know, releasing some books and having lots of kids, and all that. I married up and got a good one, and he’s just so helpful. I’m grateful for him, too.
Jen: Coffee and your man…
Emily: Coffee and my man.
Jen: … that’s not terrible. That’s really all most of us need, to be honest with you.
Emily: Amen. Exactly.
Jen: Okay. Emily, thank you for being on today. Thank you for your great ideas. Thank you for your approachability. You make me feel–and I bet everybody listening feel–like, “Okay. We can do this. It is doable.” You’re a normal person with a normal life, and it’s like this little beacon of hope to so many of us who really want to start this year out cleaner, a little truer, a little purer. So everybody, all of this is going to be on my website. All the links to Emily’s books, her websites, her beautiful planner–which I use every single year. It is so incredibly useful–Simplified Life, all of it.
Okay, Sister. Loved talking to you.
Emily: Thank you so much. This has been so much fun.
Jen: Absolutely. Have a great week.
Alright. Well, I’m like literally itching, sitting here in my chair, thinking about areas that I just want to grab a trash bag and get going. It’s just that simple. I hope that was encouraging to you and not overwhelming at all. Anybody can get started here. Emily is such a treasure in this area. You guys, over on my website at jenhatmaker.com, not only will we have this entire conversation transcribed, if you want to put an eyeball on it, but we’ll have all the links that you need. Everything that Emily writes, links to her planners, her company, her books. Everything will be super, super accessible to you because her work is kind of all what we need right now at the beginning of this year. The idea of starting fresh, and clean, and new, is so appealing to me, and I hope it is to you, too.
You guys, thanks for being with us in this series. We have more to come. More amazing guests who really want to give us our best leg up on this New Year. So thanks for listening you guys. You’re the best listeners. The absolute best. Thank you for your comments. Thank you for your feedback. Thank you for your subscribing. I never get tired of hearing what you loved in any given podcast. What you listened to, what you heard, what was meaningful to you. Thank you for your amazing feedback and let us know how else we can serve you. Let us know what you’d like to hear about and who you’d like to hear from because we’re always paying attention. Okay, you guys, thanks for being with me today. I’ll see you next week.
Narrator: Thanks for joining us today on the For the Love Podcast. Tune in next week, when we sit down again with Jen and friends to chat about all the things we love.
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