71 Transcript: How to Live Simply and Put People Before Stuff (Tsh Oxenreider)

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J: You're listening to the Vibrant Happy Women podcast, episode number 71.

T: And because I don't spend as much time being a stuff manager, we can have more time for people, you know, we can spend a whole Sunday afternoon just kind of doing whatever.

Intro: Welcome to the Vibrant Happy Women podcast, stories of vibrant women living happy lives. And now, your host, Jen Riday.

J: Hello, hey there, everyone, welcome to Vibrant Happy Women. I'm Jen Riday and I'm so glad you're here. So a while back, several members of our Vibrant Happy Women community emailed me asking to form in-person meet up groups, talking about the podcast and other happiness topics. And so in these emails, people were saying, “Jen, give us some kind of training so we can become mini Jens and have kind of like a book club on steroids,” and I was like, “Oh, that's fun.” You know, in today's age, we tend to spend more and more time online and less and less time meeting with other women in person, and I think we kind of suffer socially. And so this idea really, really resonated for me. So many of you have kids going back to school sometime in August or September, and that would be the perfect time to form your local Vibrant Happy Women meet up group. To help you get ready, we've created a 6-week training that will give you a Vibrant Happy Women meet up coach certification. You'll have the skills to lead your group with confidence, to set the agenda, know how to get people to join, and you'll learn just tons and tons of topics related to happiness, authenticity, vulnerability, boundaries, all of those things we talked about on the podcast that help you to live a happy life. So let the wheels churn a little bit. If this resonates for you, then send me an email at support@jenriday.com and I'll tell you more about it. Again, this is really, really resonating for me and if you feel excited about that and it lights you up a little bit, then send me that email at support@jenriday.com.

On our last episode, I spoke with Salina Knight all about becoming a self-made woman. She grew up in a broken home, but she is not a broken person and she inspired me so much. And today, we have another inspiring episode for you from Tsh Oxenreider, host of The Simple Show, a fantastic podcast, and she talks about how she chooses to live simply and put people before her stuff. And, wow, talking about forming meet up groups and in-person interactions, this really, really resonates for so many women. We crave that connection, that community, and it's so important that we put some effort toward forming that. So let's go ahead and dive into my interview with Tsh.

I’m talking with Tsh Oxenreider today and she's the author of several books including her new one, ‘At Home In The World’. She's the founder of the community blog, The Art of Simple, and the top ranked podcaster of The Simple Show where she encourages big-hearted people to live simple, unconventional lives. Tsh currently lives in Austin, Texas, with her 3 kids and husband and eats tacos several times a week; yum! She's equally happy, snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef and puttering around in her backyard. And welcome to Vibrant Happy Women, Tsh.

T: Thanks for having me, it's good to be here.

J: And let's start the show out with your favorite quote.

T: Well, it's hard for me to pick just one, of course, and I know probably lots of people say that, but what's resonating with me right now is from Parker Palmer, a great thinker in the world of vocation, and he says, “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.” And I've been thinking about that a lot so it really resonates with me right now.

J: So what do you feel like your life is telling you who you are?

T: Well, I'm big into studying just what it means to have a vocation because ‘vocation’, the word the… the origin of the word means ‘calling’, right? And so it's this idea of what you are made to do and what your life speaks and that's kind of why he says, you know, “Listen to your life because it says something.” And so, for me, it's a lot of figuring out this intersection. A guy named Frederick Beuker… Buechner talks about as where your deep gladness in the world's deep hunger meet. And so, for me, I've really been parked there, thinking a lot about that as, you know, my book has come out, my latest book anyway for a few months, and… and what it means to be a writer, what it means to be a podcaster and sort of a connector of people through information and communication and things like that. So there's a lot I just kind of continually wrestle with in that department.

J: So tell us about your book because I want to talk more about vocation equals calling rather than vocation equals income. (Laughs)

T: Oh, for sure. Yeah, yeah, I think vocation and job are 2 different things. I wrote a book that came out not too long ago called ‘At Home in The World’, and it is a travel memoir that basically walks through my family's year of traveling around the world in one direction the 5 of us with nothing but a backpack each on our shoulders and doing life and school and work and everything in between as we went.

J: So fun! Isn't that the dream? So was it as great as it sounds?

T: It was, but not in the most conventional ways; not how everybody thinks. You know, you get to see all these things and try all these foods. We did do that, but what made it truly great were a lot of the smaller life lessons and family togetherness and even the hard stuff, you know, that we… we pushed through to make us better people and a better family unit. That kind of stuff is what really made it great.

J: So the book's title is ‘At Home in The World’. Do you feel kind of like you're all better travelers and can say you're at home in the world now?

T: Well, you know, the premise of the book is really that it's a travel book about home.

J: Mm-hmm.

T: Because I didn't know when we went on the trip, when we started that, ultimately, the biggest lesson I would learn is what it means to be at home. And, you know, if, you know, our backstory at all, we have lived in lots of different places. The longest we've ever lived somewhere as a family has been 3 years. We've lived overseas, we've lived stateside, and, you know, all sorts of ways. And so, for us, home has always been elusive; there's never been one particular place for us. And so I wrestled with the question and then in the book, like, “Does home equal a particular place on the map?”

J: Mm-hmm.

T: “Or does home equal people? Does home equal where you put your stuff? You know, what is it exactly?” And so that's what the book chronicles as I weave it through other, you know, events that we experience and the people we met and the food we ate; things like that.

J: So if you had to boil it down, what does home equal? (Laughs)

T: Well, home, actually I… you know, before the trip, I would probably say, “Oh, home isn't a pin on the map, it's actually just people.” But I would actually say, “Home is where you know and are known.” And so, to me, that equals people, but it also actually kind of equals a tangible place. I think there is something important about being in a place and that place mattering to you. Now, it doesn't mean it has to be some exotic exciting place, I think there's something to be said about every single pin on the map around the world. And, you know, in our trip, one… one thing that was just really struck me was how many people there are in the world and how many are these small seemingly insignificant places we call home, and yet they matter so much to who we are and, you know, basically there's a theology of place really that resonates through our psyche and our souls that affects who we are all together. So it's both the place, it's also people, but really it's where you know and are known by others.

J: And so our society… in our society, people move more frequently and it would be great if we could stay where we were born and just be known because that's great; community and family. But what advice would you have for those who have traveled and they want to make it feel like home as quickly as possible?

T: Well, you know, I'm… I'm both a serial traveler and a homebody; I love both, and so I understand that. Sometimes it feels like those are in tension with each other, you know, that they seem like a paradox, “How can you love to travel and explore the world?” and, “How can you also love to be at home?” And really, I’d say that there are 2 sides to the same coin.

J: Mm-hmm.

T: What it… what we're doing whenever we're constantly traveling and we just have all this wanderlust and we keep having this bucket list that never ends, and what we're also doing by trying to make our home this perfect place that we see in magazines, is really it's a search for the ideal.

J: Hmm.

T: Both of those things are fueled by the same search for the ideal. And the way to be at peace with both of them and to truly enjoy both traveling and exploring the world and being at home is to let go of this idea that there are some ideal the sight of heaven; that's just not reality, there's no place that's perfect. And to embrace the imperfections and to almost lean into them and to make of them what you will, whether that's like learning more about your own character or making them a better place, you know, getting involved in your community and righting the wrongs. That is where we truly feel at home, whether we are just exploring or whether we're, you know, parked and not going anywhere. So the advice I give to anybody who feels like they want to live somewhere new and different and exciting is to embrace the idea that nowhere is perfect.

J: Yes, and feeling grateful for… for all that it does have, yeah. Well…

T: Exactly.

J: Well, let's dive into your low points, something that you struggled with in the past and then what you learn from it and how you're able to live happily today.

T: Sure. Well, you know, it's… it's interesting that we're talking about place and travel. I would say the lowest point of my adult life was probably about 10 years ago because this is the 10th year since we moved to Turkey. My husband and I moved to Turkey when our oldest was 2 years old and it was about 6 weeks later into moving there that I got pregnant with number 2.

J: Mm.

T: And so I was dealing with all the usual stuff of being pregnant, along with raising a toddler, while also living in a… not only a new country with, you know, things like language differences and things like that, but I was also separate from friends and family that I knew and we were basically hitting the reset button and starting life all the way over; we had moved for work reasons. And so I hit a huge low point whenever. I woke up one day and I realized, you know, my whole life I had wanted to be an expat; well, I say my whole life, probably since I really started thinking about what I wanted to do. My husband and I met overseas and Kosovo doing nonprofit work and I thought, “You know, this is the kind of thing our family's going to be involved in lifelong.” I looked at my husband, Kyle, and I said, “I don't think I want to do this.” And not only was it a low point because I realized, “Oh gosh, we just did this huge major thing,” but it was the first time I felt like I could be honest with myself, and it was sort of this like realization that I've been not honest with myself for many years now. And so both of those things just sent me spiraling into this depression that I was later clinically diagnosed as having severe depression. So what we had to do because we were living in Turkey is, the organization we are with, this nonprofit, sent us to a… more or less, a center for people for expats who are just struggling all the way to Thailand. And the reason it was Thailand is because that was literally the closest place we can go to that had services that we needed as a family.

J: Mm-hmm.

T: You know, there were some places that didn't allow kids or whatever and we also… they were trying to avoid us going back to the States for insurance reasons and for just other…

J: Uh-huh.

T: … boring logistical reasons. And… but if, you know, your geography, Turkey and Thailand are not exactly close to each other.

J: (Laughs)

T: So we had to fly all the way there, you know, we had just barely a few months into starting to make Turkey at home, we had to fly over to Thailand; we spent 2 months there. And I met with a therapist about 3 times a week extendedly for 2 months, which turned out to be one of the best things ever that I needed, and I didn't… I never would have known that had I not done that. And from there, we worked out a plan to figure out, “Okay, what is life in Turkey going to look like?” And once that happened, it started looking up, but that did not mean the depression went away. I spent the rest of our time living in Turkey dealing with depression and having to take very concrete steps to make that manageable.

J: Yes. And I'm sure so many women can relate with what, I think 1 in 4 women over the age of 40 having depression these days. So you dealt with the depression and the therapy helped a lot what… what good things to remember from being in Turkey?

T: There were a lot of good things. You know, I've heard this phrase about, ‘Tragedy plus time equals comedy,” because when you're in the thick of it, it feels, you know, like the worst thing ever, but with hindsight, sometimes you can look back and say, “Oh, that actually ended up being a good thing.”

J: Mm-hmm.

T: And so a lot of the things I can look back now and say we're good felt hard at the time. So the cultural differences is probably the number one thing that felt really hard, but I knew, even then I knew was good, but I can look back and really see how good they were. For example, Turkey is a very relational culture compared to the US where we are very efficient and very task oriented. And I ended up writing about that in my second book about, you know, what the differences they are living in a relational culture versus a task oriented culture. And that fueled a lot of passion in me to carry that with me whenever we lived back, you know, here in a task oriented culture where we care so much more about getting things done, and that… that's a definition of a good day…

J: Yes.

T: … is getting things done.

J: Uh-huh.

T: And it's almost hard to divorce those 2 ideas like, you know, “Can a day be good when you got absolutely nothing done?” Well, in Turkey, I learned that, you know, and I saw how our neighbors would invite us out for lunch and lunch was actually 6 hours long.

J: Wow! (Laughs)

T: You know, it's just how it's done because people come first; you know, it is completely understandable if you just ditch your to-do list if you were spending time with people. And, I mean, what a way to live and how different that is than the US. So looking back now, I can see those ideas that, you know, when you're in the thick of it, you don't realize how counterintuitive that is for you having been raised here that we would fight against that. It would feel so hard. We'd be inpatient. We would really struggle with this idea of slow living. But, you know, 10 years later and now that we're back in the States, it's still such a high value of ours that we almost feel pretty counter… countercultural here in the US trying to incorporate some of what we learned, but we're so much happier for it and we're more who we are; so it's worth it.

J: Okay, so I if you don't mind, I have to dive into that very topic because sometimes I think exactly what you just said; the US is just so achievement-oriented and we're all, in the process, quite isolated. So how do you live in the US and have a people rather than an achievement focus? What does it look like? Because I'm sure lots of people want to try that kind of living.

T: Yeah. Well, you know, I… I would say first that there's a foundational idea that you have to know, kind of what I said at the beginning, your vocation; your vocation is how your life speaks. If you know specifically what your vocation is (and that's what I teach a lot in my classes) then everything else flows from that. Because if I give any sort of black and white to-do list of, “It needs to look like this,” then it's not even really living slowly in relationship oriented for you if it's only my prescription. So first, I would say, you got to know your vocation. But from that, for us, it looks like a lot of practical choices that, in some ways, end up being unconventional, which to us, feel perfectly right and true and normal with who we are, but aren't as common as one would think. For example, for most of our family's life for well over 10 years, we were a 1-car family.

J: Hmm.

T: We… we only got a second car within the past year, this year, for practical reasons, but most of this time, you know, we have 3 kids and we deal with school and work just like everyone else and we were 1-car family; that worked well for us.

J: Mm-hmm.

T: We prioritize travel over having a big house.

J: Mm-hmm.

T: So we actually, as a family, live in a pretty small house for 5 people; at least American standards. And one of the reasons is because we would rather put more of our money toward experiences over things. So we don't have a lot of stuff; you know, I don't want to be a stuff manager. And part of the reason or a part of the way we can do that is by keeping our property and our… you know, what's ours pretty small.

J: Mm-hmm.

T: And therefore we have more resources. So, for us, that's how it looks to live slowly. And… and because I don't spend as much time being a stuff manager, we can have more time for people. You know, we can spend…

J: Yes.

T: … a whole Sunday afternoon just kind of doing whatever because I don't have to go home and… and organize my stuff. But that's not to say we figured it out; not at all. You know we live in a fixer-upper right now. So right now, we are devoting more time than we prefer to our house so that it actually functions and works. So there are definitely seasons…

J: Yeah.

T: … when it doesn't all look the same, and that's okay. But its overall embracing that what you're about, your vocation, that everything stems from that makes it a slower, simpler life.

J: Awesome. Well, can you speak a little more about finding your vocation, how did you find yours and have you seen others figuring out their vocations as well?

T: Yeah, well, thousands of people because that's, you know… and that have taken the class that I teach. What vocation is, you know, to me, there's a direct correlation between vocation and simple living. Simple living, to me, is not a to-do list of, you know, only have one car, for example, or…

J: Mm-hmm.

T: … you know, some kind of green or minimalist to-do list. To me, simple living is living holistically with your life's purpose. And so what that means is all the little parts of your life are lined up in the same direction, and that direction is your life's purpose. Well, your life's purpose is your vocation. That's literally what it means; you know, your calling. And so the way I found is easiest and actually most helpful is to look at the things that my life is already saying and dig a little deeper. Because if what we're doing is listening for how our life speaks, we need to first

start with the most obvious. And so I like to take people through the process of happen… you know, whatever is happening around you right now, describe your best day, for example. If you just take that one exercise of describing your best day, you can unearth all sorts of things about you that matter to you, you know…

J: Mm, yeah, yeah.

T: … how you spend your morning, you know, in an ideal or in a realistic way, not in a ‘pie in the sky’, you know, kind of way.

J: Yeah.

T: But… but just that simple exercise pulls out all sorts of interesting tidbits about you that you wouldn't have known, but are really right in front of you. So it's not exactly a lot of rocket science or taking personality tests, even though there's some value, I find, to some of those. And so I… I take people through a number of those exercises, pretty methodically and systematically, like in an order from easiest to kind of more deep… deep, you know, deeper because as you start knowing yourself more and more, you really can dig into that. And then you ultimately figure out this pretty basic plan of who you are and then how who you are intersects with, like what I was saying, that Frederick Buechner quote about your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger. And, to me, that's ultimately where the vocation is. And it has nothing to do with job. It has… the job can play into vocation, but it has so much more to do with how your life speaks.

J: So if people wanted to learn more about your class, where would they find it?

T: Well, right now, I'm in the process, like as we're recording, completely overhauling the whole thing and going to re-release it this summer. But right now, you can find it at theartofsimple.net/classes, and it'll take you to what will ultimately be the main home for that place. It'll… it'll be… I don't want to give like a hard URL that might change (and, in fact, it will change in a few weeks), but right now, theartofsimple.net/classes and it'll link to what we ultimately reframe it as.

J: Okay, theartofsimple.net/classes?

T: Yes.

J: Okay, great. Let's go ahead and dive in to you some of your favorite things. What is a habit that contributes to your success?

T: This sounds really boring, but a recent habit (recent, meaning in the past 2 or 3 years) would be bullet journaling. I don't know if you've ever heard of that.

J: Uh-huh.

T: But it's this way of journaling your day that just keeps all your thoughts, at least my thoughts, in a more organized fashion. And I like it because it's this nice balance of, “You do what works for you. There's no like right or wrong rules,” but also, “Here are best practices.” So, for me, ever since I started bullet journaling, I feel so much more in control of my time without feeling overwhelmed because I used to try and do way too much in a day. It's kind of funny, we were just talking about the whole like efficiency thing. So bullet journaling is a good habit of mine right now.

J: So what is a favorite easy meal that you'd like to eat fairly often?

T: I love chicken tortilla soup in the slow cooker. I found the recipe a few years ago from Pioneer Woman.

J: Mm!

T: And it is literally, I dump everything in the crock pot and turn it on and it is so good. And we probably make it twice a month because everyone in our family loves it and it's so easy.

J: Okay, Pioneer Woman. We'll have a link to that on our show notes page at jenriday.com/71; sounds yummy. Your favorite kitchen gadget?

T: Ooh, that's a good question. Ice cream maker. I love ice cream, but as I've gotten older, just sugar does not do well with me.

J: Mm-hmm.

T: So I like to make my own so that I can control the contents.

J: Ah!

T: And so I find I use my ice cream maker all the time, and I love it.

J: Do you have the small like half gallon size or a giant one? What… what do you prefer?

T: I have a 2 quart Cuisinart kind. It's… it's the basic Cuisinart one; I think maybe 2 and a half quart. And it's good for our family of 5, that lasts about 2 days’ worth of ice cream. (Laughs)

J: Yeah.

T: So… because if you make too much for us, then it just doesn't go well. But a little at a time is perfect.

J: Do you have the recipe or roughly at the top of your mind?

T: Just a type of ice cream?

J: Yeah, I mean…

T: Because I make all sorts.

J: Oh, okay. Well, maybe the ratios of cream to milk to sugar or however you do it.

T: Sure. Well, I like to make paleo ice cream for…

J: Uh-huh.

T: … for similar reason. So I do a can of coconut milk, I do… and it sounds weird, but blended spinach. And the reason for blended spinach is because it makes it green and it… it just sneaks in some spinach in my kids bodies.

J: Yeah!

T: And then, I add some peppermint oil because this is mint ice cream, and chocolate chunks and a little bit of sweetener, usually some vanilla and maybe some maple syrup; and that's about it, and I churn that up.

J: Yum!

T: Yeah.

J: So is your whole family paleo; eating paleo?

T: We are paleo-ish.


T: That’s the easiest way… it's like an 80/20 thing. My kids might be more paleo than they realize because we're just feeding them, you know?

J: Right.

T: But we're not diehard about it; we'll eat cheese and… and even gluten every now and then, But we just function best when we stick on that diet, you know?

J: Yeah.

T: We just… yeah, it just goes better for us, let's say.

J: Yeah, that's great. Thanks for sharing that recipe; I'm going to try that.

T: Yeah!


J: And your favorite book or books?

T: Oh gracious, there… it's a… it's like asking for my favorite kid.

J: (Laughs)

T: I'm going to then say just one of my all-time favorites because, you know, last month, I read another favorite book and the month before. One of my kind of ‘stands true’ ones is ‘Animal Vegetable Miracle’ by Barbara Kingsolver. And it's been a few years since I've read it, but, man it is a fantastic memoir about her year of farming at her land and trying to eat nothing more than came from 100 miles from her house.

J: Wow.

T: And she's just such a great writer and it's such a great premise and it really inspired me and kind of changed the trajectory of kind of how our family does life.

J: Okay. That's a great one, and I haven't read that so thank you.

T: Yeah.

J: The best advice you've ever received.

T: Mm-hmm, best advice. Maybe just this idea that kind of stems with vocation which is, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken,” you know, it's a quote from Oscar Wilde. And it's taken me a long time to learn that, you know, because it's easy to feel like you should be someone based on your upbringing your, you know, culture around you. And… and once I started embracing this idea of, “Just be you, people want the real you,” then, you know, life goes much better for all of us, including the people around you. So, yeah, that was a good advice given to me one time.

J: Well, I'll remind our listeners, we'll have links to everything, including the book and the Cuisinart ice cream maker, at our… on our show notes page at jenriday.com/71. And now, Tsh, let's talk about your personal happiness formula. If you had to list 3 to 5 or however many things that contribute to your happiness, what would that include?

T: Hmm. Well, you know, I already hinted at the simple living definition, which is living holistically with your life's purpose. To me, that's a lot of knowing who you are and therefore being cool with those little pieces lining up, even if they look different from everybody else.

J: Mm-hmm.

T: So, for me, I would have to say travel is a huge part of my happiness. And that sounds… you know, I hesitate in some ways to say that because it sounds either privileged or… well, yeah, of course it does, everybody would love that. But I actually find I'm a more ‘me’ person’; I'm more Who I am whenever I spend time traveling, at least, you know, it's whenever I can. So travel is a huge part of that formula, and yet it's coupled with staying home a lot; like being a homebody. So, to me, the formula for me is that combination of exploring the world, being at home. And I don't just mean being at home like, you know, according to the calendar, I don't have any trips on the horizon; I mean, actually embracing where I am, you know, getting to know my neighbors, spending time in my community and getting involved, that sort of thing. So it's this blend of being a citizen of the world, you know, a global citizen and a citizen of my community. So those are my 2 main keys that I try to keep in somewhat balance with each other in the happiness department.

J: Nice, I love that. And people don't often put those 2 side-by-side; loving home and loving travels. So…

T: Mm-hmm.

J: I think… I think, when you travel, do you find that you come home and love your home a bit more?

T: Absolutely. And I think those both play well into each other. We appreciate home whenever we leave it, you know?

J: Yeah.

T: And we really love where we… you know, there's this kind of weird paradox that happens. You know, you've even experienced it State side if you never feel… like, I never feel more Texan than when I leave Texas.

J: (Laughs)

T: And it's the same too; you never feel more like where you're from until you leave it. So you grow this appreciation…

J: Uh-huh.

T: … for all this… all the stuff that’s good and bad that comes with you because of the place that you're from.

J: Oh, that's great. Well, let's have a challenge for… from you to our listeners and then you can tell us again where we can find you and then we'll say goodbye.

T: Okay. Well, just sticking with the theme of travel, I would encourage anybody to plan a trip on the horizon, even if that means a day trip into the closest city where you live. So I don't mean anything big or huge, I mean, it can be, but if you've… if you haven't in a long time planned a trip, plan something where you actually leave your house and you go do something pretty different than what you normally do. So you might want to explore some small town nearby that you've always wanted to do, you might check out a museum, you might try a new restaurant, or you could actually, you know, get on a plane and or at least get on the website see what cheap flights are in your area and go do something like that. Because I think so much of… of our life is routine, which is good, but we need to appreciate that routine whenever we shake it up a bit and interact with the outside world around us.

J: And we can find you at..?

T: theartofsimple.net has links to everything, including my podcast, The Simple Show, and all my books and things like that. So that's just the easiest way to tell people.

J: Yeah.

T: theartofsimple.net.

J: Well, this has been amazing. I have a lot of food for thought, plus that ice cream recipe.

T: (Laughs)

J: Thank you so much for being on the show, I really had a fun time.

T: Yeah, I did too. Thanks so much, I appreciate it.

J: Take care.

Thank you so much for joining Tsh and myself today. And I'll be back next week with an interview with Jocelyn Sams, and she talks about how to flip your lifestyle so you can work less and live more dreamy, right? Also, if you like the idea of forming a Vibrant Happy Women meet up in your community with your friends, you want to share the love of the Vibrant Happy Women movement, then email us at support@jenriday.com and we'll send you more info about that Vibrant Happy Women meet up coach training that starts next week. Remember, this is like forming a book club on steroids with real-life friends; hello, in person, not just online stuff. We need that; it's good for us. So, again, email us at support@jenriday.com and we'll give you the scoop. Alright, I will see you next time, and until then, make it a phenomenal week, and take care.

Outro: Thanks for listening to the Vibrant Happy Women podcast at www.jenriday.com.