This month we are delighted to be joined by Heather Hall from thesiftedlife.co. Heather has developed a programme to help people ‘sift’ their lives – to get rid of clutter, to find simplicity and create more time for the things they love. She lives, and works, by this mantra: “There are two ways to get enough: one is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less” (G. K. Chesterton). Her aim is to support and guide people who are feeling overwhelmed by ‘stuff’ and help them live better, with less.
Sit back and enjoy her insightful, thoughtful interview. We think you will love her ideas on carving out a simple path through this crazy world.
Thanks so much for joining us today, Heather Hall. Can you tell us what you do and how you came to be doing it?
I’m a mama and I’m a maker; I capture my world in still images and words. I have friends for coffee and am a lucky breed of mamas who takes naps. I can do these things because we’ve embraced the idea of less, the idea of slow, the idea of intentionality in our lives.
We stumbled into the sifted life because we faced a drastic change in finances (two incomes, a single-bedroom apartment and debt free to one income, a mortgage and a baby) and learned through spending less that there was actually more life to be enjoyed. Less was liberating. And now one of the things I really love to do is to take others by the hand and lead them into their own sifted life, whether through writing helpful and inspirational content, speaking to groups of women, or standing next to people in their homes and helping them make sense of the mess.
If you had one piece of advice or wisdom to pass on to your younger self, what would it be?
Knowing her tendency to both idealism and practicality, I would encourage her with this truth:
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
The pursuit of happiness is empty. It is inherently self-centered and small. But contentment, usefulness, honor, compassion…now there is substance and purpose, and they are far more worthy of living for. So stop hungering for more. Skip online browsing. Bypass Target endcaps. Bypass Target. Stop mindlessly hemorrhaging your hard earned dollars on frivolities, thinking some impulse buy will make your life feel complete. Look at what you already have with satisfied eyes and a grateful heart. Your home and the people in it are already enough, and they need you to be present, big-hearted and content.
What is it about the simple life that you find appealing?
In a word, freedom. Freedom from stress. Freedom from debt. Freedom from clutter. Freedom to live as we please.
In our sifted life, we have separated the distractions from what’s important, making room for the things that matter.
Because I don’t work a full time job for someone else, I get to be present with my littles and read them stories and teach them kindness; to love learning and making. It means I get to be a creator as a photographer and homemaker. Because we don’t have more than we need or want, I spend less than an hour a week doing laundry and almost no time cleaning. It means I can have loved ones over at the drop of a hat without panicking. It means everything we use is our favorite. Because we don’t watch television, we have time to grow our food and play and write. Because we are not in sports or lessons, we have time to eat as a family every night. It’s a beautiful life, and we have cultivated it by trading the chains of busyness for a life of slow. The bondage of mindless consumption for the gift of intentionality and creativity.
Tim Ferriss said it best: “Luxury is feeling unrushed. It is designing a life that allows you to do what you want with high leverage, with many options, all while feeling unrushed.” Catch that bit about “designing”? Design requires thoughtfulness and the liberty to choose. More time. More happy. That’s the life we choose.
How can we counter the pulls of content-sharing and curating images of our lives with the need for being in the moment?
This is such a fine line we walk. I have no secret wisdom here or nuggets of gold. As a photographer, I feel the tension of this daily and have nothing more than thoughts to unwind.
I want to capture. I want to remember. It is the photo after the moment that helps me more fully recall it. I understand the value of photography. But then there’s my husband who – poor man – just wants to eat his gosh darn cookie instead of watch me photograph it to death as if it were a highly paid model on set. And then there are my kids who are barely capable of staying still for more than a second so mama can snap “just one more.” (Never is.) And then there’s me who sees beautiful light in the hallway, perfectly illuminating Alice, torn over wanting to simply sit and stare in awe versus the feeling of obligation to make it digitally permanent. It’s a war inside me.
Another strand of thought is this. As a mama, I don’t always want a piece of glass between me and my littles. I want them to see my eyes, not my camera lens. (Insert “phone” for “camera” if that’s the way you roll.) I want the familiar weight of my camera to be replaced by the even more familiar weight of my toddler, squirming into my arms for tickles and roughhousing.
Between photography and social media, every time I get my camera out it will cost me at least sevenfold. I will take the shot. I will then upload it, store it, cull it. Edit. Export. Upload. Blog. Share. Crop. Caption. Hashtag. Whew! My need to document comes with a heavy price in the commodity of time. I am more calculated now when I get my camera out.
I love this quote Erin Loechner shared in her book Chasing Slow: “There is only today, with holes in our pockets, with time spilling out. We cannot keep it for tomorrow. We cannot mend our seams to hoard, save, carry. Ask a bird how to fly, and it might tell you to remove the weight from your wings.” All of those RAW files and hashtags can become burdensome chains if we’re not careful. Best not store them up.
Who inspires you?
My biggest thought influencers are Tim Ferriss and the many inspiring people he interviews with their varied lifestyles, life hacks, and thoughts I’ve never thought before. The Wild + Free community which shows and encourages us how to cultivate a lifestyle and love of learning with our children. And I dearly love Erin Loechner’s way with words, particularly in her latest book Chasing Slow.
My literary heroine is Anne of Green Gables. We’re kindred spirits. I’m forever indebted to Lucy Maud for creating such a friend for me all these years later. And more than that, Lucy has inspired me to crave a simple life, good words, and insightful character studies. She knew the best and worst of human behavior and honored our humanness in the most beautiful, truthful way.
What are your essential homeware items/ things you couldn’t do without?
Oh my! That is tricky when everything you own is your favorite. At the risk of feeding consumerism and the idea that these things will somehow make your life complete, let me just say that if I lost all of these things and could never have them again, I would still be content in this life. That being said, these are the objects and tools we’ve come to enjoy immensely in our home:
- Fellow’s Stagg Pour-Over Kettle. For coffee, for house plants. I use it every day. And it looks so pretty living on the stove.
- Bodum’s Copper Chambord French Press. The perfect amount for me and a friend. Or just me.
- Cast iron skillets. My grandmother gave us three of her old ones and they’re in rotation at nearly every meal.
- Linen napkins. Sustainability and stewardship are big components of our family philosophy, and we’ve eliminated paper waste by not using disposable napkins or paper towels. Bonus that it feels luxe to use linen all day long.
- Mason jars. Cheap and aesthetically pleasing, we use these for everything from holding the kid’s cereal in the morning to making shaken espressos, in addition to their traditional function for canning, which we do a lot of in the late summer.
- Norwex towels. These silver-lined microfiber towels have helped us eliminate chemicals in our household as well as waste. Just add water and a little elbow grease and they can clean anything.
- Black Pilot Precise V5 Extra Fine Pen + a healthy supply of pretty stamps. I love to send letters to friends. It’s one of my love languages.
- L.M. Montgomery’s books. I’ve been gathering antique copies for the past few years and have nearly every book Miss Lucy ever wrote. I adore her stories and characters. When I need to feel rested or renewed, I pick up one of these. There’s always one on my nightstand.
- Canon 6D, Sigma 35mm F1.4 ART Lens, Langly Alpha Pro Bag, ONA Leather Brixton Bag, Hold Fast MoneyMaker Water Buffalo Leather Harness, Lightroom 6, ASUS Monitor. As a photographer, this is the camera and editing gear I absolutely could not do without.
- Roots School Tribe Bag. I have an older, larger version of this that The Mister bought me seven years ago. It’s been around the world and still goes right outside my door on a daily basis. Pairs nicely with a men’s wallet I picked up from Fossil around the same time.
What would you like to be doing in 10 years’ time?
I hope in ten more years The Mister and I will be as playful as ever. That we’ll have grown our tribe. That I will be doing life alongside them and inspiring them to love learning through chasing sparks of curiosity, reading great books and playing in nature.
I hope that I’ll have spent time with Marte Marie Forsberg in the English countryside on one of her photography retreats. That I’ll have engaged more mothers in the message of less and freedom from stuff. That I will have invited countless women across my threshold to sit on my couch with a cup of good coffee and a new kindred spirit.
That I’ll have lived ten more years in the pursuit of the true, good and beautiful.
What’s the wildest thing you’ve ever done?
Once upon a time, The Mister and I hiked an active volcano in Guatemala and roasted marshmallows over flowing lava. Or there’s the year we spent living in Argentina, not yet knowing Spanish but hoping God would see us through. Then we made some kids…eeeek! They’re adventure enough for now…
I’d like to finish with this thought: “Here is the secret to subtraction. It doesn’t matter what you remove. What matters is that you stop adding it back.” – Erin Loechner, Chasing Slow.
Wow, so much to reflect on! Thank you Heather Hall for sharing your wisdom and experiences.