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  • When I am going through my possessions with a goal to reduce and minimize, I often find that there are two very powerful barriers that prevent me from making good judgments when accessing to keep or toss items.

     I am sure they are also the two most common barriers for you.

    1. Usefulness
    2. guilt

    In order to be successfull at cutting the clutter I need to understand these barriers and have a strategy for dealing with them.

    The following strategy will make help you look at each item through a new lens and more easily determine if it’s worth keeping or tossing. It will be especially helpful if you have hit one of the two most common barriers to reducing clutter.

    Many people have heard about Marie Kondo by now. She is growing increasingly more popular after the release of her Netflix show. If you have read the page here at Pine Tree Farmhouse titled Meet Andrea you know about how she has influenced me in my journey. I first learned about her during her first round of popularity after she released her book The Art of Tidying up. The thing she might be best known for is her hallmark phrase “does this item bring you joy?” She encourages her clients to touch each item they own as they are trying to reduce clutter and ask that very question.

    While I found this advice helpful in some categories, it wasn’t so clear in many other areas of my home. When I sort through items that I have needed and collected that don’t bring me joy but  are useful, like power tools, extra hardware,  office supplies, and many kitchen gadgets I can’t say that they bring me “joy.”

    This leads us into our first barrier usefulness.

     When you come across an item that you don’t love the look, or have somewhere to store it and it’s useful, it triggers a particular type of thought pattern.

    You start to think to yourself, what if I get rid of this item and then need it again later, or I don’t like it but I need it. Most often I find this to be a big issue for me with art supplies. I just never know when I might feel like working on a particular type of art project and if I get rid of it I might not have the money to replace it. The same thing could be said for me about fabric.

    The following is several steps to help you decide if a useful item is worth keeping around and storing.

    Remember, the storage of items is not free. There is a cost to storing excess even if you are not outwardly paying for storage units.

    1. Consider how often you use the item.
    2. Consider if you have another tool or item that could do the same job- for example, do you really need a food processor, high powered blender, and kitchen stand mixer?
    3. Consider the cost to replace if you decide you really need it later on.
    4. And then revisit number 1 and honestly ask yourself if you will actually use the item for its intended purpose (this is important, especially if you answered rarely or hardly for question 1). A good rule of thumb is have I used it in the past year? Have I used it in the past 5 years? Have I ever used it?

    Once you have considered all four questions to the “useful” item you can then be more objective about if it is actually serving you to keep it.

    If you find that you really do use the item, but you don’t particularly like the item, you need to make a plan on how to fix your feelings about it. Do you need to replace it with something you like more?

    For example, my husband used to have this circular saw, we bought it new and it was a really nice brand. For some reason that saw just always frustrated him. He claimed it didn’t work and was really difficult to use. I felt frustrated because it was expensive and we have never had a ton of money to throw at anything, let alone tools. We eventually ended up replacing it with an old hand me down generic saw that a friend gave us from some yard sale.  Now we use the saw all the time and there are no more problems. The older cheaper saw works better for us and it’s a much better situation.

    It’s OK to switch a possession you own that is useful, that you don’t like, with something different or new that you love.

    Don’t feel guilty for wanting to enjoy working with your tools or using the items you need to accomplish tasks. If something is useful and you love it you will be far more likely to use it more often.

    This brings us to the second barrier listed in the beginning of the post guilt.

    So many times I have wanted to get rid of an item, or get a different item I like better and I have been stopped in my tracks for feeling guilty. I know this is a very common problem for everyone trying to reduce their clutter and live more minimally. There are many things that can influence us to feel guilt when considering what to keep and what to toss. The easiest items to feel guilty about are gifts, and items that hold dear memories but are useless to us otherwise.

    Let’s take a minute to consider gifts. 

    Think of a gift, or imagine a gift that was given to you by a loved one. The gift giver can either be alive or have passed. Think of that person and then consider the item along with the following questions.

    1. Do you really like or use the item or do you only keep it because it reminds you of that person?
    2. Is that item the only thing you have to remind you of that person?
    3. Would that person want to give you something for you to feel burdened by it?
    4. Did they give it to you with the intention of you keeping it forever, would they care if you donated it?
    5. Can you take a picture of the item to help you remember the specific memory and then let the actual item go?

    Most of the time you will find that if you are even considering the item in this manner you don’t really like it and would rather not have it anymore.

    You are likely only temped to keep it because of your guilt.

    Often you will have other items to remind you of the person who gave the gift to you. If it is really the only thing you have to remind you of them, and you still don’t love the item, then it’s OK to keep it for that reason alone. Consider making one small to medium sized box with a label “keepsakes” for it and other items like it.

    When most people give gifts they don’t intend for the recipient to feel burdened by the gift. In many cases they might not even remember they gave it to you unless they see it to spark the memory. Try to remember that most people give gifts out of love and they are meant to be enjoyed for the moment in which they are received. They move on and look forward to the next present they will buy for you.

    Sometimes you may feel guilty over the money spent.

    If this is the case consider if the item has resale value and sell it. You can also have a conversation with the gift giver about things that you need or would love to be gifted in the future that you both could feel good about. In our home we try to keep toys minimal. I feel so guilty when the grandparents buy the kids toys and then they break, or end up getting donated shortly after receiving them. We have started asking for season passes to places we would like to frequent but can’t afford ourselves. It has been a great compromise for us, as we are no longer feeling like we are just collecting clutter and we are getting something we love and cherish while they get to feel good about giving.

    Above all, try to remember that gift giving gives the most joy to the giver.

    If they want to go shopping and have a wonderful time thinking of you and buying for you then that is what they should do.

    The gift serves its purpose in the moment you receive it. It tells you they love you and thought of you and spent time on you. After that the purpose of the gift fades. Show them love and be grateful and let go of your guilt if you don’t want to keep the item forever.

    As far as items that hold memories but are otherwise useless like children’s school papers, or old clothes and toys consider keeping only the best of the best. The rest you can take pictures of and store on a CD or in a file on the computer. Remember that “keepsake” box from earlier? Keep only enough items that will fit in a medium or small box. Focus on making new memories, and not living in the past. This can be hard to do sometimes, especially if we have lost loved ones or feel nostalgic for times past but your life is meant to be lived. You are meant to feel joy. Focus on that and move on towards your goals.

    If you can blast through these two barriers there will be nothing stopping you from achieving your dreams.

    Like I always say, living simply is a process. Take it one step at a time and stick with it. You have got this; I know you can do it!

    Leave me a comment and let me know how you break though these barriers when reducing clutter. I would love to hear from you.

    Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own

    I have been working with sourdough for the better part of a decade. During this time I have made many different types of bread with my starter. Whenever I can I try to use my starter to make healthy, simple bread at home.

    This can be a more difficult process if you let it. It’s meant to be simple and dependable. My hope is to encourage you to start out on the sourdough and help you along the way.

    One of the ways we live simply is by cooking with whole food ingredients. I love knowing what is in our food and knowing all the ingredients. We strive to buy our foods to have simple ingredients such as flour, milk, cream, sugar, oil, salt, and so on. When I shop I spend time looking at ingredients and always remember less is more.

    We try to eat a whole food diet.

    Years ago I started making all of our own bread at home. I have fond memories of my grandmother baking bread several times a week. I find one of the hardest items to shop for with simple ingredients is bread. However if you do find some it can be pricey compared to what’s actually in the bread.

    One of the things I dislike about baking bread is working with commercial yeast.

    I don’t like anything that is more difficult than it should be and yeast breads feel exactly that. For instance I have to make sure my yeast is active, and that the temperature is correct, and that the rising time is just right. It becomes very process oriented and feels like a chore instead of an easily achievable activity. If one thing is not right the bread will not rise and it feels like wasted time. Consequently I became naturally drawn to baking with sourdough.

    I have been working with sourdough for what feels like a long time now. The longer I bake with it the harder it is to go back. Yeast breads just taste more and more like cardboard. Sourdough is so versatile that you can bake almost anything with it, quick breads, tortillas, crackers, and sandwich bread. The list could go on.

    It can be a little tricky to find good, easy instructions for how to use a sourdough starter.

    I do remember in the beginning I slogged through so much information online trying to understand how to make sourdough bread. I could find a ton of information on how to catch a wild yeast and get a starter going but I had a very hard time finding information on how to actually use the starter to bake. For that reason I want to share my collected knowledge with you because I want to make your experience easier.

    There are two ways you can get started with sourdough.

    1. Catch the natural yeasts from the air and culture them.
    2. Purchase an already established starter culture from a reputable retailer or get one from a friend.

    There are some great tutorials out there about how to catch natural yeasts from the air and get your sourdough going from scratch. I have tried it a few times and I have seen people I know be successful with it. I have also seen people fail. My personal opinion is that this is the more difficult and unpredictable method, which I will explain more about later on.

    I suggest you get started the easiest way possible.

    I would recommend to any sourdough beginner to either get an established starter from someone local or purchase one.

    Personally I like “>Cultures for Health. I have used them to start my sourdough up more than once as we had to take a break due to needing to eliminate gluten from our diet for a year. Many people will say that buying an established strain is expensive, but if you consider the time you put in to catching a wild starter, and the work you do to get it healthy enough to raise bread, 12-15 dollars is not that expensive. Not to mention all the flour you will go through if your starter fails when trying to catch the wild yeast. We use organic flour and so just throwing that flour away for 10 days without the promise of success is the more expensive option for our family.

    The benefits of using or purchasing an established starter are that it will be predicable and stable. When you are attempting to catch wild yeasts you may not catch any. You may only catch a few causing your starter to be weak. You may also get mold in your starter due to the cultures not being robust enough to fight it off. Thus you may have more struggles than success.

    If you really want to try your hand at catching a wild strain and making a starter from scratch go here to read how.

    When you purchase a starter you will get good, clear instructions on how to make and keep it healthy.


    Often you can get going for free as people who have a starter can be more than willing to share. I have given mine too many friends and family members. In addition to starting with something that is already active and working you will get instructions and ongoing help if you can find someone to get an active starter from.

    In my opinion I don’t really know of any benefits of catching wild yeast and making a starter from scratch.

    Catching a wild strain can be hard during different times of the year. You will have the most success during summer when you have a lot of yeast activity due to the warm temperatures and growing vegetation. If you are a person who likes to rise to a challenge then catching wild yeast might be for you.

    I have always bought the San Francisco strain. Over time it is most likely that a purchased culture will convert over to a local wild yeast strain all on its own.  Depending on how you care for your starter you can alter the taste; it can be more or less sour. The following are the basic instructions how to care for an established starter. Part two of this series will be the introduction on how to use the starter.

    Keeping your starter healthy:

    We keep our starter in a quart Mason or Weck canning jar.

    I have tried other containers and nothing has been as easy to work with as canning jars.

    You will need to feed the starter every 24 hours.

    Use the best flour you can buy and filtered water. We like unbleached, non enriched organic white flour.

    You will need to double the amount of starter with every feeding.

    This is easiest if you pour off some to either store for later or bake with. If you start with a starter that was just ½ c flour and ¼ cup water at the last feeding, at the next feeding you will pour off half and then feed it the same ratio.

    Sometimes I cheat and feed mine for more than one day.

    I can only do this once or twice before it will outgrow my jar. So if my last feeding was ½ cup flour and ¼ cup filtered water and I didn’t pour any off I will feed it 1 cup flour and ½ cup filtered water. If I were to do this again a 3rd day I would do 2 cups flour and 1 cup filtered water.

    Be careful of how much starter you have in your container.

    However feeding this way for 3 days will overflow my jar so I don’t do it that often. I try to use my starter about every 3rd day. For instance, if you want to bake a lot of items on one day, say cinnamon rolls, then dinner rolls for Christmas day then feeding several times a day to build up a lot of starter is what you should do.

    Always keep your container lightly covered.

    When I use a Mason jar I use a white plastic lit and I don’t screw it on. However the Wreck jar works great with the lid and no seal or clips.

    You can put your starter in storage.

    Whenever you need to take a break or don’t want to use your starter multiple times a week you can feed it and then put it in the fridge. When you want to use it, take it out and let it warm up for a few hours.

    Remember if you purchase a starter then instructions will come with it. Go and get started and I will see you in Part 2- Using Your Starter

    Making change takes time it is a learning process. It’s normal to start the process and then become very overwhelmed.


    As a matter of fact you may even feel too overwhelmed to begin. There are many things in life that can overwhelm us.

    This post is not about dealing with grief, or other very stressful situations.  It’s about transitioning to a simple lifestyle.

    Consequently with this transition you may be faced with the mountain of possessions you own, or learning new skills. As a result you may feel frustrated and out of control when you are trying to put those skills to use.

    I can feel overwhelmed when I am cleaning, or gardening, or working on fixing up the house.

    In fact the first year we lived in our house I couldn’t even think about our land. It overwhelmed me so much that I would get sick to my stomach. We had gotten a large piece of severely neglected property. The amount of work and the financial cost to bring it back to life was very intense. There was just so much work to do that I couldn’t even comprehend how it would ever get done.  With this in mind I had to learn these following tactics in order to make progress; otherwise I was just tempted to give up.

    Changing how you live is hard because of ingrained habits.

    It’s human nature to focus on the end result and the process can seem like a long and difficult road. The 5 steps below are tried and true for me, and I am positive they can help you.

    Take a moment to recognize what’s making you feel overwhelmed.

    If you start to feel that pressure in your chest, discouraged because you are not seeing progress fast enough stop and really think about those negative feelings.

    Try to figure out why you are stressed. In all honesty you can’t make an action plan, or let the feelings go, if you haven’t addressed them. In my case, with the amount of work I needed to do on our property I took a step back and recognized why it was stressing me out. I even went as far as to write a long term plan, with all the large ticket items that needed to be done. Don’t get too specific; just identify what needs done so you can move forward.

    Focus on micro not the macro.

    Once you have made a general list of tasks you need to accomplish, pick one. Focus on ONE item.

    Don’t think about anything else. Put your energy into the single item from your list and stick with it until it’s done.

    In my case I focused on just one section of our property. To start I picked the visible section, the front of the house. I did all that I could for that first summer to get the vegetation growing and restore the flower beds. Once the growing season was over I changed my focus to building our vegetable garden for the next year.

    For a first step you can focus on reducing clutter one room, say your bedroom. Or you could focus on becoming a better cook so you can eat at home to save money. By focusing on the micro instead of the macro you will have direction without becoming distracted by the journey.

    Set a time to push through and then take a break.

    This is called time blocking. So let’s say you need to clean your kitchen and re-organize it. You have a lot of stuff to go through and it seems like a huge time consuming project. Look at your day or your week, and pick a block of time you have free. Once you start set a timer, say for an hour. Again focus on the micro, pick cleaning out your fridge or sorting pots and pans and work until your timer is done. Then take a break. Go to work, or go for a walk.

    Come back to the task and try again.

    After you have taken a break, come back to the project for another set amount of time. This can be the same day or the following day. If there is a lot to do, don’t expect to get it all done in one setting. Just make sure you are continuing to work on the project and stay focused.

    So let’s say you are overwhelmed because you know you should cook more at home but you don’t know very many cooking skills. You are not going to learn to cook by cooking all day every day

    You would start by cooking for one meal, then you would come back and cook for another meal later in the day. If one meal doesn’t go as you hoped you don’t give up, you keep trying.

    The same goes for clearing clutter. You work at it for manageable amounts of time, over and over and over again. For example, in my case where I have a fairly clutter free household, I still have to go through all the areas regularly and sort items to keep or toss. Maintaining a simple life is a constant process, it’s not once and done. Changing your lifestyle takes continual work to get to an end goal.

    Find a mantra.

    “Do what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible” – Francis Assisi.

    This is one of my favorite quotes. I stumbled upon it during a time of my life when I had 3 little kids under 4 years old. We lived in a very small house with a large dog. In fact I immediately felt encouraged by it, and it motivated me to hang in there and get to work. I said it to myself all the time. I thought of it when things got hard, or if we had a bad day. It became my mantra.

    There is an unlimited amount of motivational quotes that you can choose from. Do a Google search and find one that inspires you. Use it when you feel overwhelmed to lift your mind. It can give you the strength to go.

    Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Don’t let feelings of overwhelm stop you from achieving your dreams. Keep your head up and keep moving forward. When you feel overwhelmed remember the steps; recognition, focusing on the micro, time blocking, continual work, and using a mantra to overcome and you will accomplish great things.

    Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.

    Sometimes you find a remedy or a product that is so good you don’t need anything else. This salve is that product for my family.

    By using it we have reduced much of what we would have otherwise been purchasing for body products and first aid. We use this salve for a basic skin lotion to reduce dry skin and chapping. My husband and kids have taken to calling it the “miracle cream” because they will apply it to minor scrapes and injuries to aid in speedy recovery.  Since it has Comfrey in it DO NOT use it for moderate to deep cuts and wounds. The Comfrey can seal up the wound so fast that you can trap bacteria inside.

    Remember to clean your wounds if you are using it as a healing balm. I am not a medical professional and I am not claiming this salve will heal you, only telling you some of the things we have used it for in our family for relief. If you have a serious medical condition please consult with your doctor.

    This salve is all natural and non toxic. It feels good on your skin and feels good on your conscience.

    Since lengthy intros for recipes are pretty annoying I give it to you without further ado…

    My basic recipe is as follows

                    ¼ cup olive oil

                    ½ cup shea butter

                    1 cup coconut oil

                    1 tablespoon arrow root powder

                    1 cup crushed comfrey

                    ½ cup chopped pine needles (make sure its pine and not Yew).

                    ¼ cup pure beeswax.

                   Essential oils- for this salve I used 100 drops of Copaiba

    The first step is to infuse the oils with Comfrey and pine.

    I use a small crock with a yogurt setting, its like a mini crock pot. You can also use a Mason jar, or put the oils in a double broiler and simmer on the stove for a day.

    To infuse the oils you need to gently warm them with the herbs (Comfrey and pine). You will know when it’s is done because the oils will have changed color. With this recipe they will turn green. I keep mine in the crock on yogurt setting for up to a week. If you put yours in Mason jar you will have to shake several times a day and place it in a warm spot, (by the wood stove, by the furnace vent or in a sunny window) and it can take up to several weeks. The lower the temperature you infuse with the more you will capture the healing benefits of the herbs since high heat breaks down their properties.

    Once the oils have infused you need to strain out the herbs. I put mine in a colander lined with a paper towel. Then I squeeze the oils out with the herbs all wrapped up inside. You don’t want any remnants of herbs or your salve will be chunky or rough, like it has grit in it.

    The next step is to melt beeswax into the oils and add the Arrowroot powder.

    This might need to be done at a slightly higher heat, you can use your double boiler or a saucepan on low heat. I turn up my crock to warm.

    Once the beeswax is melted you add your Arrowroot Powder and stir it all up so its mixed well. Place the mixture on your counter so it can cool slowly. You can also place it in the fridge. Once it’s cool you can add any essential oils you like.

    I like to whip my salve so its fluffy and light.

    Since it’s a salve and not a body butter it will not get super fluffy. I wait until the mixture is cool but not hard and use an immersion blender. If you want a firmer, oilier salve, more like a balm then you don’t whip it.

    After it’s whipped you jar it up into a wide mouthed container so you can have easy access. I keep one by my bed and one in the kitchen.

    I like to make natural products in my kitchen with ingredients I can source easily.

    Therefore if I can’t get it easily outside or pick it up at the local grocery I am not likely to buy it. With the exception of the Copaiba I bought everything on our regular scheduled shopping trip. Shea butter might be harder to find if you are very rural so in that case just sub it out it out with coconut oil. The pine needles came off our Christmas tree.

    Click here for more information about the herbs I used in this recipe.

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