Sunday, January 4, 2015

Decluttering 2015.

I made a Facebook post yesterday about a wonderful book I have just finished and the impact this book has had on my home so far.  I have cleared out over 20 big tubs of clutter in the last two weeks.

The book I read is called "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing" by Marie Kondo.  

I would highly recommend purchasing it on Amazon for yourself, because obviously, she's the best-selling author...not me.

However, I'll give you a synopsis, in case you'd like to get started right away!

This young woman named Marie Kondo (a famous professional organizer in Japan) has come up with a method of decluttering and organizing that she calls the "KonMari" method (a combo of her two names).

It. Is. Incredible.

You guys.


Everything she says in this book is the opposite of how I've always been told to do it.

I have books......  
and books and books...
and more books about organizing and housekeeping and being a better home manager.

This is obviously a struggle for me.

All of these books have the same advice.

- Break it up into chunks.
- Go room by room.
- Do a small part of your house every day.
- Buy a storage system that works for you.
- Don't try to do everything at'll get overwhelmed and quit.
- Get rid of one item every time you bring a new item into the house.
- It's all about the binders...the office supplies...the HIGHLIGHTERS!

Okay, I added that last one, but surely some of you can relate to me there!!!


I have tried to declutter and keep a clean house using these methods and, let's be honest, IT DOESN'T WORK.

Kondo gives reasons that these things don't work and it makes SO MUCH SENSE.

If you break it up into chunks or do a small part of your house every day, you will be decluttering for the rest of your life.  You will get one room decluttered and by the time it's all neat and tidy, the room you did last week will be a mess again.  It's a vicious cycle.

If you spend dollars on intricate storage systems to try and "organize" unnecessary clutter, you're not only wasting dollars, but space in your home.

She says that a formula, such as "getting rid of one item when you bring one new item in" isn't really practical and will actually limit the number of items you get rid of.

Kondo tells her clients to do a "special event tidy", all at once.  Go big or go home!

She didn't really say much about the office supply problem, but come on...I know some of you are right there with me at Target being drawn to the office supply aisle EVERY SINGLE TIME.


Like I said, I definitely recommend that you read Kondo's book, but here are some steps to get you started.

1. Write up a "vision" for how you picture your life after you've decluttered your home and have it exactly how you want...a sancutary of sorts.  

My vision of life involves being able to spend more time with my husband and children, relaxing in our home, and time to work on being a better teacher and building my photography business in a way that will help my family without taking moments away from them.

2. Add the "why" factor to your vision.  

My "why" factor includes serving my husband and being able to provide a peaceful home for him, giving the girls memories to look back on as they mature, and teaching them how to not allow the "stuff" of life to clutter their minds and hearts.

3. Start discarding.  

This is the real deal.  The big dance.  The life-changing moment that you've all been waiting for.

Kondo says to sort and discard by categories, starting with your own clothing.

She recommends starting with shirts.  Get all of your shirts in the house and put them on your bed.  Get shirts from the dirty clothes, from the closets, from your drawers, and from anywhere else you store them.

Pick up each shirt and say, "Does this shirt spark joy?"  If it does, great!  If not, into the "get rid of" pile it goes.  This could be a donate tub, a garage sale tub, or a trash tub.  Wherever you choose to put it, do it right away!

Go through each category of clothing like this.

Shirts, pants, hang-up clothes, seasonal clothing, accessories, bags/purses, socks, underwear, etc.  
Make a list and stick to the list.  

4. Clean and put back.

Once you've discarded your unwanted shirts, decide where you will store them.  The KonMari method includes lots of great tips for folding your clothes in a way to keep them nicer for longer (check out YouTube to see these in action!).  

Clean the space you're going to put these shirts and put them back nicely and neatly.

Every time you do laundry from here on out, you'll know RIGHT where the clothes go.  Make a space and keep it!

5. Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.

After you do the clothes, move on to another category...books.  Find all the books in the house and go through the same process, asking yourself, "Does this spark joy?"  If it doesn't...out it goes!  If it's something that you "think you'll read later'...out it goes! 

After books, move to paper, then to CD's & DVD's, then to skin care products, makeup, valuables, electrical equipment, etc.  You can make up a category list based on your own home.  

Think of a category, collect all the items that fit into that category, and ask yourself, "Does this spark joy?"  

It is much more effective to decide what DOES spark joy and what you WANT to keep, than it is to decide what to part with.

So try it out.  See what you think.  It is rather addicting once you get started!

If you need more convincing, or for more motivation and detailed inspiration...check out Marie Kondo's book!  

I'd love to hear your thoughts and about your decluttering progress in the comment sections! 

Thursday, January 1, 2015


Ah.  There is something so fresh and new about that word.  


It's a chance to start over.  A chance to make a "new you".  A chance to move past the things of the previous year and set some goals for yourself.

I have had 30 years of Januarys now.  Well...about 25 or so that I can actually recall.

Starting somewhere in high school, I started to set New Year's Resolutions for myself.  I would stick to a few and not stick to others.

Each year, though, one thing never changed.  I set too many resolutions and some of them weren't attainable at all.  

And are my 2015 goals.  

Simplify our belongings.
Become healthier.
Get better at paperwork.
Focus on frugality.
Blog more often.
Be more like Jesus.

Here's the deal.  

2014 was a year of BIG changes for the Newkirks.  

We welcomed baby #3 into the family.
I cut back on my photography business.
I changed my teaching job description by departmentalizing.
I lost 15 pounds.

These things were great for us.  However, these things also came with some transitional bumps in the road.  

Mattie was born on June 11th.  I had about 2 weeks off school before she was born and I used that time to clean and organize the house (with lots of help, as I was not very comfortable!).  We kept it really clean until school started.

When my teaching partner and I decided to departmentalize, I was thrilled.  However, it was a whole new ballgame for both of us and we are still learning.  Due to these big changes in my job, I slacked big time on the housework.  I stayed late at school, worked on lesson plans at home, ate out way too often, and quite frankly, kind of stunk at being a wife and mom.

My photography business had already been cut down significantly, in March of 2014, due to the impending arrival of Baby M.  However, after she was here, I realized how much I would miss photography if I cut it out completely.  And so, I started to work some sessions back into my schedule.  In 2015, I'm going to continue to work sessions into my schedule, using a year-long plan that I will reveal with all the juicy details next week.

Having a baby and cutting down on the photography sessions I was doing also really affected us financially.  We have insurance and therefore were charged some astronomical fees by the hospital.  In fact, we are still paying on these bills (the last payment will be THIS MONTH...thank you, Jesus!!!).  This was a big chunk of change out of our budget every month.  Add these payments to the fact that I wasn't cooking at home, and let's just say we had to put the debt snowball on hold for the last few months of 2014.  

This had it's added benefits, as I was FORCED to cook at home in November and December.  In fact, by cooking weight watchers meals at home, I actually stuck to my Weight Watchers plan and I have lost over 15 pounds since August.  I call it the "I can't afford food, so I just won't eat very much" diet.

2014 was a great year.
2014 was a difficult year.
2014 was a beautiful year.

We had some growing pains.  We had some heartache.  We made lots of memories.

I'm looking forward to 2015 and can't wait to share progress on my New Year's resolutions as the year progresses.

Thanks so much for sticking by my side through these last few years, even though I'm the worst blogger ever.

I appreciate each one of you.

Happy 2015!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Logo Love

When I first decided to start Newkirk Photography, there were many things that just didn't cross my mind.

I knew I wanted to capture people through photography and other than that, I hadn't thought much about the "business" aspect of things.

One of the things I didn't think about for a LONG time was a logo for my business.

For many months (perhaps even a few years), I would just watermark my photos with a little text line of "Newkirk Photography" with no real beauty or meaning to the logo.

A few years ago, I started looking into having someone design a logo for me and I realized that I could probably do this on my own.  I started to experiment with various fonts and ended up with this...

The two hearts on the left side of the logo represented the reason I got into this two darling daughters, Harlee & Claire.  The bigger heart, of course, represented Harlee and the cute little heart represented her little sister, Claire Bear.  People asked me where my heart for my darling husband was.  Well...he's right there in the "Newkirk" part... :)

This past June, though, something changed.

We added Miss Mattie to our family.

After getting used to the whole "three children" situation (who am I kidding?  We're still adjusting and she's six months old!), and getting back into the swing of things, I realized that my logo once again needed to change.

Here is the new and improved version...

Isn't that tiny little Mattie heart just adorable???

Anyway...on this cool December morning, my heart is just full and I thought I would spend some time sharing about the story behind my logo.

Thanks for all of your love and encouragement friends, and Merry Christmas.

Friday, October 10, 2014


Lately God has been convicting me about my schedule.  My way of life.  Who I have always been.

You see, way back in late-spring when we hired our new minister, he sent me a list of sermon topics that he was going to speak on.  For our fall kickoff, however, he asked for some suggestions of what we needed.  I spoke with our worship planning team at ACC and we kept coming back to the idea of balance, busyness, and being overwhelmed with the "stuff" of life.  Out of this conversation, came the series title for our fall kickoff in September..."Overload".

Brother Matt had three sermons that absolutely spoke to me.  

The thing that stuck with me the most was when he said that we should focus on the jobs that ONLY we can do.  For example, me being a wife to Matthew.  I'm the only person who can fulfill that role.  Being my girls' mom.  I'm the only one.  It's just me.

We all have roles like this.  The ones that only we can fill.

And yet, what do we do?  We push those important roles off to the side in the name of people-pleasing...involvement...caring for others, outside of our family circles.

When we found out we were expecting Mattie, I made the decision to step back from my photography business.  In doing that, I was able to reevaluate how my home, my classroom, and my business were being run.

I was able to think.  A lot.

And I came up with some conclusions.

Having a clean and organized house is good for you.

I'll be the first to admit that we really struggle with keeping our house neat and tidy.  However, this summer, when we implemented chore charts for the older two girls, the house stayed clean, they played well together, and we all lived a less stressful, more peaceful life.  It was incredible.

We all felt better, knowing what was expected of who.  We worked together to keep the house picked up and it was actually (gasp) enjoyable.

Supper on the table at night and clean laundry to put on in the morning was icing on the cake.

A business doesn't have to be everything to everybody.

I was at a spot with my photography business that I was taking pictures every waking moment and spending lots of evenings and through the night to edit those photos and get them to people.  

It was ridiculous.  

It was unfair to my family and unfair to myself.  It was even unfair to my clients.  I felt rushed in editing and wasn't able to spend the time I wanted to spend on my work.

So when I decided to make some changes, I blogged about the changes and received wonderful support.  

What I didn't anticipate is how much I would miss taking pictures.  Or the hospital bills that would follow Mattie's birth.  :)

So I decided to take some sessions.  But only a few.  And only the ones that I felt I was able to do well.

It has been so freeing.

My teaching job is a huge part of my ministry.

I knew from a very young age that God created me to teach.  In fact, when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I don't remember an answer other than "teacher".  I don't think I even went through the veteranarian phase that so many kids go through.   

I knew that I was MADE for this. is definitely a passion of mine and something I enjoy, but when I was so overwhelmed with photography sessions and edits and orders, I know I was doing a disservice to my students by not being able to focus as much on my fulltime career as I would have liked.

In taking a break from photography, and stepping back significantly when I did come back, I've been able to be a better teacher to my babies.

I am constantly learning.

Life doesn't come with a manual.

Every situation doesn't have a cookie-cutter answer.

And that's okay.  I'm 30 years old and I'm still trying to find what works for me.

Thanks for going along on this journey with me, friends.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Well, it happened again.

My summer break has almost come and gone.  

I have enjoyed this summer immensely and I had some time this past week to reflect on last school year and this summer, as our family enjoyed our annual lake vacation. 

Here are some of the things I thought about this week:

First of all, I was pregnant for the majority of last school year. 

I was the sickest I've ever been in the early pregnancy stages. I didn't have much "morning sickness" with the other two girls. I got a few pretty hardcore migraines when I was expecting Claire, but with this pregnancy, I was exhausted. I was nauseous. I was HUGE. 

I realize that with two older kiddos to follow around and with me being (cough) 30 (cough) now, maybe I'm just not as young and able to bounce back as I once was.

Regardless of the reason...I was tired. And therefore, I was not as good of a teacher as I could have been. I sat a lot. I closed my eyes and rubbed my temples sometimes. I ate lemon-drops like they were going out of style.

And although my students were wonderful during the whole year, I'm looking forward to a year filled with energy! A year marked by me feeling GREAT and not sick. A year where I walk around the classroom...and keep my eyes open...and lose weight instead of gaining it! 

Yes, I'm looking forward to THAT kind of school year!


Secondly, I reflected on the changes I've made in my photography business. Wow, what a difference a year makes! 

At this time last year, I was swamped with sessions. My weekends consisted of photographing families and I was at the studio editing, ordering, and trying to stay caught up at least three times a week...sometimes late into the evening.

When we found out we were expecting...things changed.  I had already decided that I needed to cut back and spend more time at home with my darling husband and girls. At the thought of three children, I started looking at our budget and seeing what I could cut out to make the transition from basically a full-time photographer, to a less than half-time photographer. 

We had really made a lot of gains on our debt snowball using my photography income and with some cutting back in other areas, we realized I wouldn't really NEED to photograph anymore. 

I could just take a few weddings and a few sessions every season, for the sheer joy of capturing the journey! What a blessing!


The third thing that I spent much time thinking about on our lake trip was the various changes in my ministry over the last several months. 

I have always thought of my teaching as a huge part of my personal ministry. Every year, God seems to put students and families in my path who need to be loved on. 

Sometimes, it is as simple as meeting a student where he or she is and not giving up on him or her. God always fills my cup to overflowing through these situations, with encouraging cards from parents, "just because" gifts from students, and of course, those homemade coloring pages that say, "Mrs. Newkirk is the best teacher ever."  

Sometimes, the situations aren't quite as easy though.  Like this past school year, when one of my kiddos lost his mom.  I'm not gonna was rough.  I was unsure of what to say sometimes...unsure of when to not say anything at all.  But again, God gave me an awesome opportunity through the situation, when I was able to talk about Jesus at the funeral.  That just doesn't happen in the public school system, and yet last fall, there I was, sharing my faith in front of a bunch of strangers.

I have been singing in our praise band at church for almost as long as I can remember.  I think I probably started helping with leading worship shortly after junior high.  I joined the worship planning team after high school and have been involved in the planning aspect of our services since then.  It has been a joy and a reward to be involved in this manner.

In the last six months, my role has changed significantly.  Both our senior minister and associate minister moved on to other ministry positions this past spring.  They were both mostly responsible for the worship planning and leading in the past years.  When they both finished their ministry with our church in March, the responsibility fell back to the worship planning team. 

Because of my involvement with the band for the longest amount of time out of the current band members, I was asked to plan the service and lead worship.  Of course, I said yes.  But I'll admit, it wasn't without some reservation.  

Things have been done a specific way for many years.  The congregation was accustomed to a specific style of worship...a specific group of people on stage leading every Sunday.  I, myself, was used to (and completely satisfied with!) the way we did worship at ACC.

However, as usual, God came through in a mighty way.  The other band members have been such a huge help through this process...continuing to show up every Sunday for practice, helping to get out the music, and sharing in the planning of each service.  The congregation has been so encouraging.  

I've been blessed beyond belief by stepping into this role, even though I was so, so nervous at the beginning of the process.  

It hasn't been easy and it hasn't been perfect, for sure.  There have been days that I have stopped the song because I started it too fast...or in the wrong key.  There was even one Sunday when I accidentally turned the volume all the way down (which almost abruptly ended the song!), even though I meant to just make it a little quieter.  

The mercy and grace that the congregation has given me during this time has been so humbling.  So edifying.  Just wonderful.

It's a great reminder of the grace Jesus has shown us, even though we are a messed up group of people.  And perhaps a greater reminder of the grace I need to extend to others.


My family life, school life, photography life, and church life have changed a lot over this past year.  

And I'm so, so very grateful. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Budgeting, the Newkirk Way: Step 4

Well, I took a little break from posting to enjoy the 4th of July holiday week with my girls.

But I'm ready now to share about Step 4 of our budgeting plan.

Step 4 will include using the monthly calendar to track bills, like my mother-in-law showed me a few years ago.  

This is a step that might seem a little unnecessary to some people, but it is SO nice to have things written out on paper.

Okay, so the first thing you're going to do is buy a cheap monthly calendar.  I have found that the kind of calendar that has one month on a two-page spread works the best.  The boxes are big enough to write in, but you can still find these calendars for next to nothing.

After you have your calendar, you're going to get your monthly budget out and start plugging in your income on the dates it will come in.  Matthew gets paid on the 5th and the 20th, while I get paid on the 25th and the 30th.

Our bills are due at all different times.  The time period between the 5th and the 20th is the time we have to make our dollars "stretch" the most, so we only plug in the bills that are absolutely due between that time period on our calendar.  The majority of our bills get paid between the 20th and the 30th because the majority of our income comes in then.  We also track our fuel expenses, groceries, and other expenses on this calendar.  

So after plugging your income in, you're going to write down all outgoing funds on the dates that you'll pay them.  Start with those debt snowball items, add in your other fixed expenses and utilities, and then add in your other necessary items (groceries, fuel, etc.).  

If you fill up your gas tank once a week, choose a day from each week and write "Gas $__" and however much it takes you to fill up.  

If you grocery shop once a month, but seem to run out of money during that pay period, you might have to break it up into two shopping trips or a once a week trip.  We try to only spend $50 from Matthew's first check on groceries and then spend $150 (or less) later in the month.

Add in your tithe and charity giving, your kids' lunch money, daycare expenses.  If any of these expenses are taken out more than once a month, list them on the various dates that you will pay them.

Here is what my budget planner looks like.  We have various expenses that come out during each pay period and I add those onto my calendar in pencil.  When we have some extra income, I plug it in to the first item on my debt snowball and change the expense in this calendar.  I try hard to remember to track even unexpected expenses (and unexpected income!) on here, so we can have a record for building our next month's budget.

When I pay each bill, I put a checkmark through it and when the bill comes through the bank, I mark through the bill completely.

Okay, so that's your job for today...add all of your income and expenses into your monthly calendar so you can make sure you don't miss anything each month!  :)

Hope you're still enjoying these!  

Friday, June 27, 2014

Budgeting, the Newkirk way: Step 3

Today, we're going to actually get a preliminary budget down on paper.

The first step is to choose a form to plug things into.

This can be a paper/pencil format, an online budget-building tool, an excel spreadsheet, an app, or a template on Microsoft Word or Pages for Mac.  

Surprisingly, although I prefer technology for everything else, for this step I use paper and pencil.  

Let me emphasize the PENCIL part of that.  It bothers me to scratch anything out in pen, so I use pencil with a really good eraser.  Otherwise, I have to start all over if I mess up or if something changes.  

Start by filling in your estimated income.  I always shoot LOW on Matthew's checks because he is paid hourly, not salary.  I use a lower number than he usually gets paid and sometimes we're pleasantly surprised by a bigger check.

Next, start subtracting out your monthly fixed payments.  This would be any items from the debt snowball you worked on in step 2.  It would also be any fixed utility bills or other payments (charities, insurance, etc.).  You should have these listed on your notebook paper from the other day.

Finally, subtract an estimated amount for each of your other necessary expenses.  This would be fuel, food, household items, pet items, etc.

When we were first starting to budget, I left off any entertainment items, eating out, and other unnecessary purchases.  We lived VERY frugally for several months, until we got our credit cards paid off.  

After that, as I mentioned before, I became a little lazy and unfortunately, started spending more on entertainment, eating out, and other unnecessary items.

I'm revisiting our budget because of the dollars we are WASTING every month on these items.

In our current budget, we try to plan for eating out two times a month.  We take the girls out once to a nicer dinner and then Matthew and I try to go out on a date every month.  A lot of times, we use gift cards for these nights, but it's good to plan for no gift cards and if we have extra money leftover...that's even better!

In our monthly budget, Matthew gets $100 cash a month.  That way, it's coming out early on and not when I see online that he spent $14.00 a day at Casey's on breakfast.  :) 

When the $100 is gone, it's gone. that you've got your income listed and you've subtracted out all of your estimated expenses, evaluate your spending.

There is a chance, that since you are just starting this budget, you might be at a negative number by now.  Well...that simply can't happen.  You can't build a budget and end up in the red.  So this is where it's time to start cutting.

Of course, the best place to start cutting would be with those estimated expenses you added at the end.  Fuel might be hard to cut down on with the prices going up, but your grocery bill is a great place to start!  I'll be posting about how we plan our menus and do our grocery shopping in another post in a few days!

Your budget should equal $0 by the time you're finished.  After you have cut where you can cut, you take whatever you have leftover each month and plug it into your debt snowball.  By adding extra dollars on top of your snowball, you will start paying off those debts in no time!

When we got to just a few low-interest items on our snowball, instead of putting our extra dollars on top of the snowball, we started putting them into a separate checking account to use for things like medical copays, gifts throughout the year, and our year-end taxes.  

Our main goal is to not touch either savings account through the year, unless it is absolutely necessary.   There have been a few times that it has been necessary, and it is a great feeling to know we've got a little saved back to take care of that. work on that step 3 and I'll be back with another post SOON!

Thanks again for listening!