• Name: Kathryn O’Brien
  • Location: Southern California
  • Occupation: Author, blogger, educator
  • Blog/site: Kathryn O’Brien

Tell us one way you are simplifying your life.

I’m simplifying my life by taking control of my technology, before my technology takes control of me. It’s not like I’ve given up electronics altogether; I’d rather give up my toothbrush than my laptop. But I have made a few changes. For one thing, I’ve discovered the most brilliant feature on my smart phone; it’s called the off button. Turning off my notifications has allowed me to use social media on my terms, when it fits into my schedule, rather than at the whim of a tiny machine.

Kathryn O'Brien's simple living story

Additionally, I log-in less frequently throughout the day, keep my phone out of sight in restaurants, refuse to engage digitally in the company of an actual, real, live person, sometimes write notes to friends with a—what’s that thing called again? oh—pen, and reach for my Bible each morning before I reach for my cell phone. Ahh. Simply refreshing.

What’s the background story —what compelled you to make this change?

Like an awkward guest at a pool party, for a long time this tech-challenged, forty-something, mother of three watched from a nice, safe distance as my friends and family jumped into social media. It took a while, but I eventually waded in, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, even blogging on my own website. Wow. This party IS fun.

Rather quickly, though, all of those continuous notices, posts, and photos started to feel a bit overwhelming. My life seemed a little cluttered. It was also getting noisy, electronic devices beeping, buzzing and alerting me throughout the day. Keeping up on “likes,” checking messages and responding to chats started to feel more like an obligation to comply rather than an opportunity to connect. The night I was reprimanded by all three of my kids for sneaking my iPhone to the dinner table, I knew it was time for a change.

Kathryn O'Brien's simple living story

What were the obstacles?

Not that it’s been easy. Releasing the compulsion to be on social media throughout my day felt a bit like being hungry on a very strict diet. With a piece of chocolate cake sitting in my purse. It was uncomfortable and a little depressing. Like something was missing. No wonder people get addicted to technology; writing messages to friends, posting cool pics and checking out videos are way more fun than folding laundry, cleaning the bathroom or staying focused at work. It took commitment, but it was well worth the effort.

How has this simplified your life? Or, how does it help you to live simply?

Taking control of my technology has been incredibly empowering. I feel free. I get things done that need to be done. I spend more time outside. I have more actual conversations than digital ones. I only engage in technology when I don’t have more important things to do (like visiting with a friend, listening to one of my kids or hanging out with my husband). It feels good to laugh out loud more than I type it.

Kathryn O'Brien's simple living story

Refusing to let my electronic devices dictate my life has given me my time, my schedule, and my priorities back. And now that I call the shots, social media has once again become a wonderful addition to my life rather than a negative distraction.

What inspires you?

I’m inspired by the word balance. Not the physical kind that I just can’t seem to conquer in yoga class, but the spiritual, emotional, daily-life kind of balance that gives me great joy. I have always loved Ecclesiastes 3:1—“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens.”

The good and the bad. The sunshine and the rain. The neat and tidy with the impossibly messy. Every once in a while I am blessed with the perfect day… working hard and relaxing well. Discussing very serious, grown-up matters and belly-laughing about something silly. It’s taking the three-mile hike AND the long, leisurely nap. It’s eating the broccoli AND ice cream (not generally together). Balance to me is pure inspiration.

Share a favorite quote, guiding motto, or perhaps your life’s purpose statement.

My recent battle with breast cancer and subsequent bilateral mastectomy has given me a few new thoughts on life, one of which has become a simple guiding question: “What do you have to lose?” Before my diagnosis, I struggled with fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of taking a chance. Fear of what others will think or say or do.

I wasted far too much time worrying about the little stuff. Cancer has an oddly powerful way of erasing those pestering thoughts and replacing them with a different kind of attitude, one that shrugs its shoulders at the unknown, disregards the petty side of life and is willing to try new things. Why not? I ask myself almost daily, What do I have to lose?

How do you celebrate everyday successes, no matter how small or large?

I celebrate success of any size by giving thanks to God. When Jesus heals the ten lepers in Luke 17, only one of the men turns to say thank you. “Where are the other nine?” He asks. I don’t want to be one of the nine. I also share successes by writing about them. Ever since I learned to string a few letters together like a little girl, I’ve been hooked on the written word. Putting words on paper (or a computer screen) allows me to humbly share my hurts and hopes, disappointments and victories while inviting others to do the same.