Simplicity.

As I mentioned in my Goals for 2017 post, I am trying to minimize and focus on living a more simple, and meaningful life.

I am wildly intrigued by minimalism and the thought of doing more with less. If you haven’t heard of The Minimalists, check them out.  Their documentary is viewable here as well as on Netflix and they have authored three books that share their journeys into minimalism (I recently purchased Everything That Remains, if anyone would like to borrow it).  I also subscribe to their podcast and I love it!  If you commute to work, prefer stories over songs when working out, or just need to change up the pace, give them a listen.

The thing that I love most about minimalism is that it’s different for everyone.  Every person has a different definition of minimizing, living simply, and what is valuable to them.  For me, being a minimalist is all about finding value in the possessions that I have.  While, I hate clutter, and don’t want to ever live in a way that allows clutter to rule my home, my journey is most importantly about building a relationship with the stuff that I do have and recycling-tossing stuff defeats the purpose of minimizing waste and impact, so donate, repurpose, etc., please-the things that don’t add value to my life.

I’ve always been a pretty simple liver, but I finally started my adventure into this minimalism thing when I was living back at my parents house over Christmas break.  Being home for almost a month gave me ample time to sort through the junk in my room at their house.  I haven’t used most of the stuff in that room for a large portion of the last five years, and I know they’re not using any of it.  My twin brother, Adam recently moved out of my parents house too, so our room now felt awkward, like somehow it was no longer ours.  It was weird to be sleeping in a room that now felt lifeless.

My door was still covered in pictures from high school cross country, and old Runners World magazine snippets that I had cut out for inspiration.  Clothes that no longer fit littered my closet floor.  Posters hung limply on the walls-with the exception of my autographed Switchfoot poster, which definitely adds value to my life, I realized these posters no longer represented the person I am today-so I tore them down and tossed them.  Cleaning my room and sorting the stuff that is no longer needed from the stuff that will be kept felt so good.  It made the space feel a little more like mine-if even only for a few more days.

Since coming back to Verm, I have tried to make conscious decisions as far as my relationships go.  Is this person, thing, or activity adding value to my life?  Am I happy with this?  Is this just taking up space-even though I have literally nothing in my apartment, it is still a thought that I have?  I love that The Minimalists define living minimally as living with only the things that you value.  To me that is the perfect definition of how I prefer to live.


I recently downloaded a book on my Kindle that is written by a worship group that I love.  I have been a big fan of Rend Collective for quite a few years now, and they just released a devotional book that supplements their latest album-I just had to download it.

What I love most about Rend Collective is that they release Campfire albums every few years.  They unplug from the world, pack up their bags and instruments, and head into the wild.  There they are able to get back to the basics and produce simplistic and meaningful music that reflects who they are as a group as well as focusing on the things that really matter to them.

The first devotional in this book is titled Simplicity (also a title of one of the songs on the album) and talks about the reason why they go into the wilderness to write music.  It talks about the beauty of nature, the wonder of the stars, and the fact that today’s society is so focused on things that distract us from simplicity-from what is really important.  There is a quote in this reading that I am absolutely in love with.  It reads:

Simplicity is the art of restoring a clear and unobstructed view of the things that really matter.

This quote struck me because it really defines the emphasis on value and relationships in the minimalism movement, and the reason that I am so intrigued by minimalism in the first place.  Removing distractions and going back to the basics-stopping to smell the roses, if you will-helps me to realize the things that are important to me and why I value them.


I am also reading a book called The Longest Race by Ed Ayres.  I chose this book because it is written by an iconic ultra-runner, and as you all know, I love running.  Ayres articulates how I feel about running and minimalism in a great passage from his book, which is actually the inspiration for this post.  It reads:

As the world gets more complicated, people become more appreciative of the things that remain simple-and few things do.  Running is in some ways the simplest of all sports.  All you have to do to run, is open the door and go out.

Ayres explains that one of the great appeals of running is it’s simplicity and I couldn’t agree more.  In fact, I am attracted to the simple sports-the ones with few rules, little to no equipment, and those that require very little coordination, competition, and grace, but lots of attitude, stamina, and heart.  It’s why I love running, swimming, and hiking…and have enjoyed dabbling in yoga recently, too.

Each of these sports requires strength of mind and character.  They are not for the faint of heart.  But they are simple, independent, and can be done by anyone who is able.  They leave minimal impact, require minimal conditioning, and can all be done at your own pace.

There are very few distractions in these sports, and because of that I am able to think, breathe, and focus.  I can focus on the things that truly matter such as spiritual growth, reconnecting with my environment, and listening to my body.

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Another huge aspect of simplicity for me is always remembering to #LiveLikeMike.  Check out this link to read his story.


I look forward to continuing this journey into minimalism and exploring what that means for my relationships with material possessions, food, activities, and people, and the value that I place on each of them.

If you have thoughts on minimalism, feel free to reach out and share.  I’d love to connect.

-Joel

Home.

Happy December 24th (whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, something else, or nothing at all, I hope you all had a fantastic day)!


For me, it’s Christmas Eve and I am home for the holidays.  As I have grown up and have moved away it has gotten harder for me to determine where “home” is.  This year especially, I am struggling to find this feeling of “home”…but my best friend Monica helped me realize that home truly is a feeling and not a place as it is traditionally defined.

I grew up in Beulah, where my entire family was born and raised…and never left.  I love the Lake, the closeness to family, the abundance of nature, and the fact that I can hike or run wherever I want in this county…and know exactly how far away from my house (and a public restroom) I am.

When I moved to Marquette for college, I gained a new “home”.  I fell deeply, madly, wildly in love with the upper peninsula, Lake Superior, the small-town feel in a mid-sized city, and my alma mater.  I fell in love with the new experiences and opportunities that I was offered in Marquette, and I felt welcomed by all of the amazing people I met in my four years there.

As you all know, I have been in South Dakota for the past six months, and I am struggling to find my place there.  I am far away from all of the people that I love.  I am no longer a walk away from a Great Lake.

It’s been tough.  But what I do have there are a few great new friends, an amazing job surrounded by some of the most driven and determined men I have ever met, and a lot of opportunities that I wouldn’t have ever been offered had I stayed in Michigan.


So, while I am more than excited to be back in Michigan for the holiday season, I also have had this weird sensation that something is different this year.  Something seems off.  Something is missing.  I am not sure what this is, but I haven’t been in the holiday spirit as I usually am.  I can’t seem to get excited about anything.  I don’t care to go out and play in the snow.  I don’t like the cold weather (thankful for the 40 degree warmth we had today!).  I don’t want to party or celebrate.  I actually just finished wrapping gifts only for them to be opened in less than 12 hours, and I haven’t put a single ornament on my family tree.

The closest I have felt to myself since being back in Michigan was earlier this week when I made the trip to Marquette to see a few people before we all got too busy with family gatherings and year-end parties.

Those digits are not only permanently on my arm, but in my heart as well.  I was overwhelmed with that feeling of “home” the entire time I was there.  Something about Lake Superior seems to do that to me…

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Photo Credit: Senja Spelman

I was able to catch up with some of my Marquette Family.  Spending time with my breakfast buddy, dear friend, and former supervisor, Alexandra was a highlight of my trip.  Thanks for the place to stay, the cat cuddles, and the constant laughs.

Thank you to two of my greatest mentors, Josh and Sarah for grabbing pizza and drinks with me and for sharing all of your insight about grad school, moving away from home, and all things life.

Jeff, you will always be one of my biggest role models.  You welcomed me back with open arms and I was pleasantly surprised by your support and encouragement in my endeavors as a blogger as well as the obvious support you’ve given me in the last few years as my boss.

I love knowing that Senja will drop whatever she’s doing to grab Third Street Bagel with me and catch a hike up Sugarloaf before sunset and that Ryan is willing to extend his stay in Marquette just to sit at BabyCakes for a few hours with me because we are the same human and both require meaningful conversation, endless amounts of coffee, and great muffins for survival.

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Catching up with Rory and Nick and hearing about their crazy first semester this year both as RA’s and as science majors was a ton of fun.  I give you both props for being able to balance the work of a RA and that of a person studying anything in the medical field.  You both amaze and inspire me daily.  I am grateful for the time that we spent together while I was still in school and loved seeing you this week.  I can’t wait to see what this next semester brings for you!

And last but not least, Erin, the one who is always as equally a mess as I am.  You woke up late for our breakfast date, and probably skipped a shower so that you could at least grab coffee with me before you ran off to work.  Always thankful to Monica for introducing us…because we’ve been the three amigos ever since (mostly when we are drinking margs at Sol Azteca, but still…).

Every moment in the company of these great pals was another reminder of what it means to me to be “home”.


So, instead of focusing on the place that I am headed and trying to make that place “home”, I want to try to focus on those simple moments in life in which I already feel it.

As Switchfoot once said: This is home.  (That reference was for you, Sam Red!)

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Happy Holidays!

-Joel

Quality of Life: What I Learned From The #52HikeChallenge.

I believe so often in our social media and technology driven world that people do things just so they can snap a pic of it to share on their Snapchat story or post to Instagram.  I mean for real, people take the phrase “pics or it didn’t happen” to a whole new level these days.  Such is the case with social media challenges such as the #52HikeChallenge.

While I do appreciate great photo ops and I love to capture memories from time well spent, I also realized that quite often I am snapping a picture at the last second as I am remembering that I am completing a challenge, and I must document each hike.  I find myself so immersed in the moment and in awe of the scenery and wildlife or the company of those that I am with that I forget to take a photo, or on the contrary, I will have a super busy day or week and I will find myself rushing out for a ten minute hike just so that I can post a silly picture.

Don’t get me wrong.  I absolutely loved participating in this challenge.  I loved my hikes.  In fact, I hiked way more than 52 times and didn’t document and/or share every one.  You don’t have to ask me to join a social media challenge to get me outside or to go for a hike each week…believe me, I am already five steps ahead of you.  I’m out the door, water bottle in hand, and shoes on my feet before you have even thought about a hike.

I want you to know that this challenge is based on a timeline, however, life isn’t.  So I didn’t follow the guideline of hiking once a week for a year.  Some of my posts were two days apart some were eight.  I even took a month-long social media hiatus during my challenge.  During that time I was still hiking, but not using any of those hikes for my challenge.  I picked up with my hikes where I left off after my hiatus was over.

Sooooo…what exactly did I learn from completing the #52HikeChallenge?

I learned that I am madly, deeply, wildly in love with the outdoors.  I learned that I am a horrible photographer, even though I really do enjoy the artistic and creative side of taking photos.  It truly is an art.  The only reason I say I am a horrible photographer is because I am so lost in the moment that I forget to actually take the photos.  Mix that with my crappy camera and I don’t have a very good combination.  I learned that there is a wide, vast, and diverse community of hikers in this big, wide, beautiful world.  I learned that I love connecting with these individuals.  I learned that everyone has a different experience with their hikes, and with nature.  I learned that the way we share our stories and experiences is different too.  I learned that people are strong as well as what the power of nature, hiking, and being one with the outdoors can do for an individual.

Speaking of sharing our stories and the power of nature, I have a pretty amazing one to share with you.

I learned that hiking is a great healing mechanism.  The day after I graduated from college, my best friend and I found out that her older brother (and best friend) had passed away in a hiking accident in Denali National Park.  While I did not know Mike well, I felt like I knew him very well because of social media and the stories that Monica always told.  These stories were filled with laughter, love, nature, the outdoors, hiking, music, tattoos, and life philosophy.  Mike was a dream maker, a risk taker, and a life liver.  His spirit of adventure and his passion for getting the most out of life are two traits that I deeply admire, and since his passing, have tried to adapt more into my own way of life.

After Monica’s tragic loss, I saw a huge change in the way she lived her daily life.  She was devastated, but she was not willing to let her loss and the storm that she was facing dictate her future.  She started connecting with nature in ways that I had not seen her do before.  She lived with intention.  She did things she wanted to do when she wanted to do them.  Monica’s whole life view had changed.  For the better.  She looked to the outdoors as a way of connecting with Mike and bringing his spirit into every minute of her day, every realm of her life.  She sought to share his story and his passion for hiking and music and photography.  Her passion for each of these things deepened as well.

You can find this story here.

Hiking allowed this growth, healing, and change to occur for Monica.

So, after seeing the changes in Monica’s life, I started hiking with that same intention.  I wanted to connect.  With nature, myself, Mike’s spirit.  I wanted to get more out of life, and I was using my hikes to do this.  I was no longer completing a social media challenge.  I was completing a life challenge.  I was using this opportunity to grow and to seek fulfillment.  I was hiking to live, living to hike.

In wrapping up this refection piece I would just like to leave you with one final thought.

What is the most important lesson that I learned from the #52HikeChallenge?  It is this:

It’s not about the quality of the photo being taken, rather the quality of life being lived by the person taking it.

Hike on,

-Joel

Here are a few photos from my final hike

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Awakening.

I am really not sure how to write this post, so I am just going to dive right in.

For more than a year now, I have been participating in the #52HikeChallenge.  Today I completed Hike 51 (I am almost done!  Once completed, I will be writing a reflection on my experience so stay tuned for that post.  Anywho, now for a reflection on today’s hike).

For this morning’s hike, I went to the Nebraska/South Dakota border, just a few minutes outside of Vermillion, to an overlook called Mulberry Bend.

I like this hike because it is less than a 20 minute drive away, and the trail is just under a mile long, so I can do it even on the busiest of days.  Because of the ease, convenience, and simplicity of this trail, it’s never stuck out to me as anything special.  This morning, however, I saw this trail through fresh eyes.

I was almost back to the overlook from the trail when I spotted a patch of color on a tree off to my right.  It was the first trace of Fall that I’ve seen this season.  I love Fall.  The changing colors are beautiful, and vastly different with every season, every patch of trees.  The leaves change every year, and then drop off, dead.  It’s truly amazing.  This cycle of life shows its presence each year, and yet I find myself falling in love with October again and again.  What’s not to be in awe of?

I was stopped in the middle of the trail.  In awe.  Staring at the leaves.

It’s beautiful.  That’s why I fall in love year after year.  How can one ignore beauty?  You just can’t.  But then I thought about how soon these leaves will fall, turn ugly brown, and decay into the Earth.  I was thinking to myself how sad it was that this beauty only lasts a short period of time.  Why is it that this amazing season of year is so short?  It is overshadowed by this dark and cold time that seems to last FOREVER.  Why?

That’s when it hit me.  For leaves, beauty is in death.  Not life.

Leaves go silently.  They simply live their life hidden in plain sight, showing their true beauty only for a short period of time, and then they drop off.  They fall to the Earth and are covered in a blanket of cold for the next few months.

There it was.  Another sign of Mike’s legacy.  Mike was an autumn leaf.  He lived a short life of simplicity.  Full of life, adventure, and love, he showed his beauty to the world for a short 24 years.  Then one day, his time came.  He dropped off, and gave himself back to the Earth.

This post, is not meant to be sad.  Nor is it even about Mike.  This post is about life, nature, beauty, and simplicity, and how in a single moment I was reminded of each of these things.

I guess what I am trying to say is that in one moment I felt more spiritually alive and well than I have in a very long time.

As you’ve read in recent posts, wellbeing is something that I am trying to incorporate into my daily life.  In this moment, I felt deeply spiritually well.  I felt connected to nature, God, Mike, and my new environment.  I haven’t felt something like this since moving to South Dakota.

I long for adventure, and simplicity.  I miss the way I felt when I was hiking along the shore of Lake Superior.  I underestimated the connection that I have with water.  I underestimated the power of the outdoors.  I never knew how spiritually awake I was simply being in the company of nature.

This revelation from this morning has been on my mind all day.  Moving forward, I seek to live with a spirit of adventure and mindfulness, allowing moments like this to awaken my soul.

Sending peace, love, and positive vibes

–Joel

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Such a small patch of leaves on this tree left such a big impact on my day