How My Family Discovered Our Core Values

I’m a big believer in living simply. It’s become my life’s work, in fact, encouraging other people to simplify their lives so that they can freely live according to their unique passions and values.

But there’s one problem with living simply: it’s not easy.

See, “simple living” isn’t just a checklist of things to do or not do: drive only one car, live off the grid, grow your own food, toss the TV. Those might be some things you do because of a simpler life, but they don’t define it. No, in my experience, the definition of simple living is, quite simply, this: “Living holistically with your life’s purpose.” That’s it. It’s a simple manifesto that believes that living simply happens when all the parts of your life—your work, where you live, how you spend your free time, how you educate your kids, how you spend your money, what books you read, who you spend time with—are all pointed in the same direction. And that direction is towards your life’s purpose.

So when people ask me where they should start with that behemoth of a goal called “simplifying,” I always, always tell them to start by first finding your family’s life purpose. Once that happens, it’s a million times easier to make those little daily decisions that make up the sum of our life—those things that make up our family’s core values.

The next logical question, then, is, “How do we discover our purpose in life?” That’s quite the question, really. I mean—that is THE question, right?

Since I’m a follower of Christ, I believe the reason I’m here on Earth is to know God and enjoy Him forever, much like the time-tested Westminster Catechism’s classic statement. But what does that look like? There’s not a formula for discovering our purpose—it simply involves prayer, reflection, wisdom, and tapping in to that still, small voice from the Holy Spirit.

A few years ago, I spent a few weeks in serious prayer and exploration, asking God questions and journaling my thoughts. I asked questions like this:

What makes our family unique?
What gets us excited?
What bothers us?
How do we relax and enjoy each other’s company?
What would make us proudest about our legacy to future generations?

And after days upon days in quiet introspection, I scribbled out this purpose statement, showed it to my husband, and we agreed collectively that this was our family’s unique purpose:

As a family, we will…
• Put each other first
• Cultivate deep relationships with one another
• Extend love to those around us
• Live simply
• Be true to who God made us
• Take care of our health
• Be good stewards of creation
• Be lifelong learners

We eventually had this purpose statement printed on canvas, and it has hung in our living room over the years in our many homes—having it front and center helps us remember what we’re about when we’re faced with a decision. Now, we don’t literally refer to our purpose statement every single time we need to make a decision (“What toppings on the pizza tonight, dear?” “I don’t know—let me check our purpose statement”), but it totally helps when we’re torn between something that’s good versus something that’s best.

For example, if we’ve been spending too much time outside the house apart from each other, we might say no to another outing with other people—we need to put each other first and cultivate deep relationships with one another. When we’re tempted to buy something we don’t need only because it’s on sale, we’ll remember that our family is called to live simply. We can live out our daily decisions in peace, because we know they align with our purpose.

These are the things that make up our core values. And our values are the stuff of our daily life, our liturgy.

Creating a purpose statement isn’t a formula, but it’s certainly helpful. It’s helped us narrow down what makes us, us—and it’s helped us live simpler because our daily decisions reflect our core values, our purpose. We sense a deeper tapping in to our Creator and His unique ways for our clan.

Living simpler has become—well, simpler. I’m grateful.


Tsh Oxendreider

Tsh OxenreiderTsh Oxenreider is the founder of (previously Simple Mom), a popular community blog dedicated to the art and science of simple living. She’s the author of Organized Simplicity and One Bite at a Time, a regular contributor to (in), an advocate for Compassion International, and a top-ranked podcaster. A graduate of University of Texas, Tsh currently lives in Bend, Oregon with her family.

For more information

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Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World

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From Drab to Fab: Learn How to Re-purpose Your Own Furniture

Recently I was asked to take a look at a few classes from an amazing website called Craftsy. I am excited to share those classes with you here over the next year. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I heard of Craftsy. I didn’t expect to find such an extraordinary resource. But it is really an invaluable wealth of information.

Click here to see the class I took with Craftsy and enter to win your very own class!

Drab to Fab Furniture Upcycling

I LOVE LOVE LOVE vintage furniture, but most of the time it requires a little TLC. I have done my fair share of sanding and painting with a lot of mistakes along the way. But it is always such a rewarding experience to take a drab piece of furniture that you have owned for years, or a $5 flea market find, and give it all new life!! I would definitely say that I have struggled re-purposing things in the past simply because I didn’t know exactly what I was doing. I was winging it and sometimes that was obvious in the finished product :). I was excited when Craftsy asked me to take a look at their Drab to Fab: Furniture Upcycling class! First, because as I said before, I LOVE upcycling, but also because I could use a little help in this area (ahem).

To put it bluntly I was blown away by the amount of instruction included in this class. If you plan to do some re-purposing of furniture, whether you have never done it or you have done it for years, this class is truly amazing. It gives indepth instruction on all of the tools and techniques you can use for re-purposing furniture and sets you up for success. The instructor has years and years of experience in movie set art and mural art, as well as furniture re-purposing. After learning how to paint pots, tables, picture frames and a metal chair, you will be all set to take on whatever re-purposing surface awaits you!!

Drab to Fab Furniture Upcycling

Craftsy’s, Drab to Fab: Furniture Upcycling class is truly a class for the novice to the professional!  It was incredible!

Like I have said over and over again, one of the best things about taking the class online, besides the valuable information, was the ability to start the class and pause the class whenever I needed to. When the kids were in bed, or when I had a few minutes during the day to spare, I would sit down and watch a bit of the course in the comfort of my own home. It was so convenient! Craftsy is the perfect solution for us busy moms who want to learn, but don’t have time to leave the house and attend a class.

Here is a little more info about Craftsy:

Craftsy offers online crafting classes, taught by world renowned instructors who love the craft as much as you do. Craftsy classes are online, so they are available to you anytime you want for as long as you want, there are no scheduled class times, so you can enjoy them entirely on your own schedule. Each class is taught by an acclaimed instructor and consists of several hours of HD-quality video content… but Craftsy classes are much more than just a video!

While taking a Craftsy class, you can:

Ask your instructor questions, upload photos, and get personalized responses

Participate in discussions with your classmates

Access supporting class materials – including recipes and helpful tips & tricks

Bookmark your favorite moments in the video so that you can easily re-watch them and take notes that you can refer back to anytime

The great thing about Craftsy is that there is a class for everyone! You can learn knitting, photography, cake decorating, sewing, cooking and more!

Today we are giving away a Drab to Fab: Furniture Upcycling class away to one of you!!!

Click and Enter to win below!!

If you are ready to check out Craftsy —->> enter to win your very own Drab to Fab: Furniture Upcycling class by clicking here.


Ruth Schwenk

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Craftsy. The opinions and text are all mine.

6 Summer Projects for Your Tweens & Teens

Are you a mom who dreads the summer months with your teens, fearing the unscheduled time and worrying about them being on their screens too much? Do you feel anxious about the rhythm of packing and unpacking for camp drop-offs and pick-ups in between family vacations?

Imagine being the type of mom who looks at the calendar and sees a blank canvas ready for doing life together, especially with your tweens and teens.

That’s what I’ve asked the Lord to do in me this summer, recognizing that I only have a few years left with my tween and teen at home. I’m so keenly aware that now is the time to make life-time memories, while also seizing the moment to train them up with the skills I’d like to see them take into their future.

Summer Projects for Tweens & TeensSo rather than letting a summer pass without purpose, I’ve come up with six summer projects that I can do with my tween and teen that will enable us to connect while expanding their skill set.

1.  Paint a Room {or Something}

Learning how to paint a room or a piece a furniture is a skill worth having, so look around your home — or maybe a grandparent’s place — for a small space that can be painted in a day with a gallon of paint. This is a low budget project that offers a great reward!  Work with your teen, teaching them how to pick out the paint and supplies as well as prep the space:  clearing out the room, getting the walls ready (Spackle, sand, etc), taping edges, cleaning the floor before painting, etc. And then do the job with them, showing them how to roll, cut in, etc. If painting isn’t a skill you have, watch some tutorials on YouTube and do the research together before you start.

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2.  Prepare the Food

How about having your tween or teen plan the family’s menu for a week, or for an upcoming trip, and prepare all the food? Offer them a budget as well as assistance in the shopping and food prep time. Use the process to teach about how to select produce and meat, what unit price really means, shelf life for food, how to determine quantity, measurements, etc. Depending on your son or daughter’s maturity, let them handle as many of the responsibilities as possible. You could even toss in an incentive for an older teen, such as “Here’s the amount we spend on food per week.  If you can fix our meals for less than that amount, without us eating bread and water all week, you can keep what you save.”

3.  Purge Something

I’m guessing that you have a closet, storage room, garage, or cabinets that need some purging and reorganizing. Maybe even your tween or teen has a personal area that needs some TLC — like their dressers, bedroom, or old toy room. Let them pick one space to totally purge and reorganize. Be involved in the process in the beginning, but also give them space to figure it out on their own. You can keep it simple and have them focus on “keep, give, toss” for the space. If there is enough to give away, considering letting them organize a Yard Sale and keep the proceeds for themselves.  Or, if your budget allows, you can let them redesign the area, including painting and creating organizational systems.

4.  Put on a Party or a Small Gathering

Since everyone doesn’t have the gift of hospitality, learning how to put on a party or small gathering is another skill worth developing. Consider hosting a party for a birthday, anniversary, or a milestone celebration, or put on a small “themed” gathering for your tween or teen’s friends or your own friends. Have your son or daugther organize the details, including the invitations, menu, decor, party schedule, and setting up the house as well as clean up. Offer a budget as well as working with them through each step. If you do not have the gift of hospitality, don’t fret. Here’s some help just for you, and ideas for a simple tween party here and here.

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5.  Pick a Project

Is there a project your teen would like to work on, but needs your approval, input, and budget help? Maybe it’s learning a new instrument or developing a new skill, like how to paint with watercolors or write an app for a smart phone. Take your tween or teen out for ice cream and ask them, “What is one thing you’d like to learn how to do this summer?” Help them brainstorm and offer your support in the process, making a timeline and setting attainable goals.

6.  Plan for the Future

This one is definitely the most serious of projects, but worth the investment of time. Have your tween or teen begin the process of preparing for their future — specifically their college years — by creating for themselves a College Bound Checklist & Portfolio (CBC&P).  They can do this either in a binder or notebook, or online using Google Docs, which they can share with you. Their CBC&P can be divided into sections based by grade-level, with a “to do” list for each year. We’re using the Countdown to College: 21 To Do List for High School as our guide. Your teen can also include in their CBC&P a list of college scholarship opportunities (something that can be researched throughout the summer), college picks, and a record of their volunteering, work experiences, and awards throughout high school.

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What summer projects are you doing with your tween or teen?

How are you using side-by-side experiences to connect with your teens while they are still at home and train up skills they’ll need in their future?

Shine Bright,

Elisa &


For more ideas on how to connect with your tween or teen, especially a daughter, visit


On Finding Home in New York


He’s doing it again. My sweet beagle is staring me down, tilting his little head to one side. Its his passive way of begging me to take him for a walk. I need fresh air, fresh inspiration, and to move a bit in the great outdoors, and so I give in quickly, gather his lead and plop my shoes on to head out. Its not until I’m crossing the street and spot the sign of the CNN building that my surroundings hit me. Just beyond the next batch of trees, its there, peeking out: The Empire State Building. Seeing its spire has become a part of my daily rhythm, but every once in a while it catches my breath and I realize that I’m actually standing in Central Park. I actually live in New York City.

I wish you were walking with me, gazing across the water of the reservoir at the Guggenheim, eyeing each curve around the path until we reach the rowboats and see the silhouette of the Plaza Hotel to the south.

The iconic scenes that make up my day sometimes go unnoticed, but when I remember to really see them, I love to drink them in. They are welcome moments of beauty in the midst of my routine and remind me of the glimmers of grace God has revealed to me during my time here.

You see, dreaming of New York, holding hopes and imagination about this place, and actually finding a home here are two very different things entirely. 

I’ve always had a bit of wanderlust. The urge to go, to move, to see all I could and experience everything new has always propelled my life choices. I deferred my college years to be a missionary in Asia and if I hadn’t met my husband just months before and fallen madly in love, I’m not sure I would have looked back. God has placed something inside of me that has always been up for a grand adventure. So when my husband’s job led us to consider a move across the country, away from all family with four kids in tow? My response was instantly, “Yes, of course! Let’s do it!”

It was quite a cultural shift moving from the green woods of the Pacific Northwest to the famed concrete jungle, but we couldn’t wait! Challenges felt like part of the adventure, we faced life in a 1000 square feet apartment with gusto, we loved embracing the simplicity that came with small space living. Our children were all sharing one bedroom and I’d homeschool them around our kitchen table, that is I kid you not, mere inches away from my front door as it swings open. I found it somehow charming that my garbage was to be sent down a shoot in my hallway to a mystery incinerator and that to get fresh air one must first ride an elevator and greet the doorman on the way to the sidewalk. Without owning a car we’d walk everywhere: to church, the grocery store, the movies, play dates, and the park. When I’d be feeling wild we’d hop on the subway. Figuring out how to live day to day felt like the adventure for nearly a year and kept us busy! Before long though, I just felt tired.

About two years in I began to crash.  Slowly, discontent grew, and I began to long for my old life. I wanted my minivan, my house in the mountains, my family close by and all the ease of a life I knew how to control. I was ready for the adventure to end, ready to get back to regular life.

The New York of my imagination was not the New York of my everyday.

In my everyday felt foreign and uncomfortable. I questioned why I was raising my children in a place that felt nothing like the home we’d left, the home we’d loved, the home waiting for them every summer and Christmas with grandparents and cousins surrounding them. My husband’s job continued to be a great gift to us and one that he adored, but I couldn’t stop shaking my own quick judgement, my lust for adventure that had not considered the cost of this move and I wished I could take it back. Everywhere I looked, I began to see the gray and soot of the city , it lacked color and seemed over-run by litter and grime. Our apartment began to feel even smaller, and my own bleak attitude only multiplied its gloomy atmosphere. I longed for home.

Here’s where I misplaced my desire though: I longed for a place and a history that was tangible to me, that I could describe to you by the landscape and the people and the scent in the air. We all long for places in our past that hold meaning and memories, and we all experience sadness when we have to leave them behind. When we have tasted something so sweet, experienced love and beauty and seen a shadow of heaven in the process, there is a pain when we have to leave it. What God showed me in the strangeness of New York was that I had a deeper longing, not for my own hometown or a place I held dear, but that my longing for those sweet places were guideposts to show me my truest longing for him.

What I really longed for was to find my home in Christ alone.

It didn’t happen instantly, but little by little, Jesus is leading me by faith and I am learning what it looks like to abide in Christ in all circumstances, in all cities, among all people. That’s why I write, because I know that like me, so many of us  are striving to find rest in our seasons of motherhood. I know how quickly it takes to go from a place of expectation to despair and how important it is to remind one another of our Great Hope- to gather it and sing of it daily together. All the glimmers of beauty lead us to One who is Beautiful, and so I drink them in and gather them like feathers and share them with you.

I have found my home in New York because I have never needed to rely and depend on Jesus so desperately anywhere else.

I’m free to see the wonder of this place anew because of the One who led me here, and leads me still, to find my home in him. May you find your heart in Him today too, sweet mamas.



This post is a part of our “Who We Are” Series. For all posts visit,

“Who We Are: The Stories Behind TBM Writers”

Who We Are at The Better Mom

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