My friend Tsh Oxenreider just released her new book Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World. Tsh is the founder of TheArtofSimple.net (previously Simple Mom), a 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)courage, an advocate for Compassion International, and a top-ranked podcaster. I hope you enjoy her thoughts on how we can all slow down and live with purpose.
KW: What made you realize that you needed to re-evaluate how you lived your life?
TO: It was about six or so months into our new life back in the States when my husband and I looked at each other square in the face and admit that we were rapidly returning to a fast-paced, frenetic lifestyle we didn’t want. We were moving from Austin, Texas to Bend, Oregon, so we had high hopes that moving to a much smaller town, albeit still in our home culture, would create the breathing space for us to slow down and live with more intention, like we did in Turkey.
It didn’t. We didn’t have to wait as much in traffic jams, and we ran into the same people at stores more frequently, but we still didn’t find a slower-paced life. Life was still crazy. And it was then that we realized a slower-paced life wasn’t going to just happen—we’d have to make it happen.
KW: How did living in and experiencing different cultures shape you?
TO: This is the whole premise of the book, really—that we can learn from other cultures how to live slower and simpler. This isn’t to say everywhere but the States is perfect, nor that there aren’t Americans who haven’t fully discovered how to live with intention. But in my experience, it is harder here to smell the roses because our very infrastructure prefers a lifestyle where you drive everywhere, work long hours, fill your calendars, and cram more stuff in your home. This is why it requires pedaling uphill from our culture’s default in order to live with more intention.
KW: Do you have recommendations for people who may not have the same flexibility or opportunity to travel that you’ve had?
TO: Well, I do make the black-and-white statement in the book that I believe everyone should visit another culture (besides Canada) with their family at least once in their life, preferably when your kids are small. I think it’s easier than most people think, once you make small changes in your life that are conducive to more travel opportunities.
That said, though, I do realize our family’s ability to travel often is unconventional, nor does everyone love it as much as us. For the average family, I’d recommend that they become more intentional in making friends that are “different” than them—perhaps a different life stage, a different race, a different background, a different religion. It’s not the same as actually immersing yourself in a different culture, but it’s still something. Get uncomfortable. Go out of your way to get involved, somehow, in a different part of town.
But really… I don’t think it’s as hard to find travel opportunities or the freedom to travel as most Americans think. And it’s important.
KW: What were some of the bumps in the road on your journey toward living intentionally?
TO: Busyness continues to be the biggest speed bump for us—it’s just so easy to pile too much on your plate in a culture that worships productivity. We have to intentionally go out of our way to make sure we don’t cram our calendar full of well-meaning, but ultimately not ideal, events and commitments.
It’s also easy to lose focus of our particular passions and values, and therefore fall prey to what the surrounding culture tells us is the best, “right” way to live. We admit that our family prefers to live a slightly unconventional life. But it’s easy when people question our choices, even well-meaning people that love. It’s even easier to assume people are questioning our choices, simply because we’re recovering people-pleasers at heart.
This culture also has a lot of distractions that aren’t necessarily bad, but really aren’t best; they don’t really add value to the life we want to live. TV shows, extracurriculars for our kids, more stuff to buy at stores… nothing inherently evil, but the sheer abundance of our choices make it easier for us to stray off our path a bit.
KW: How does your faith drive your desire to live intentionally and integrate into that effort?
TO: There’s not much of a point in living with intention without a purpose behind it, so in my experience, it became much easier to make daily, important choices when our life’s purpose was made clearer to us. And we wrote our family’s purpose statement after spending lots of time in prayer, in communion with God and searching His heart for why He gave us our gifts and passions. Once we felt at peace with this, it was like we were in partnership with our Creator, living the way He made us. He didn’t give us our gifts and passions by accident—they’re given to us so that we can live in tandem with God, as a natural outpouring of His creativity.
There’s also not much point in living simply for its own sake; I’m a big believer in Mother Teresa’s admonishment to “live simply so that others can simply live.” Simplifying our life for only our benefit leaves us empty, annoyed, and exhausted, but simplifying so that we can take part in the important work around the world of giving to those who need it, caring for the poor, and dying to ourselves so that the voiceless have more of a voice—that’s eternal. That gives glory to God.
KW: Is there one tip you could give readers to help them get started on this journey?
TO: Just start with one thing at a time. Sometimes the process of slowing down and simplifying can feel awfully chaotic, which is frustrating at best. It’s supposed to be a journey, not a destination, so take the art of slowing down—well, slow. Pick one area of your lfie and make a few daily choices to live in that area with more intention. Next month, pick a few more. Eventually, life will feel a little more how you want it to feel. This is one reason I wanted to divide Blue Bike in the categories of work, food, education, travel, and entertainment—to show that not everything has to be different within one week. It takes time.