This is the second interview of the series “Simple Lives: The Women Who Create Them.” If you missed the first one, you can read it here. This is a series where women from all over the country, in all different walks of life, inspire and motivate simplicity in life through their lives.
Who: Mary Beth Johnson
Where: Atlanta, Georgia
So I have been fortunate enough to know you for about a year now, but for all those who don’t know you, share a little bit about yourself!
Thanks for having me! I’m the second oldest of fourteen children (you read that right), mom of four kids, business owner of EverywearKids, and the ten-year veteran wife of Steven Elmo Johnson. His middle name is literally Elmo. I’m 29 and I’ve made a pact with myself that I will always proudly tell everyone my age, no matter how old I get.
Hold me to it.
What are 3 of your favorite books?
- Gifted Hands, by Ben Carson | The inspiring story of Detroit native, Ben Carson, and how he overcomes poverty and prejudice to become a world-renowned neurosurgeon and the current US Secretary of Urban Housing and Development.
- Surprised By Oxford, by Carolyn Weber | A compelling memoir about an agnostic finding Jesus at Oxford university. Do not let the 480 pages scare you away. The writing is excellent with all the elements of a good story in tack – interesting characters, conflict, romance, and a great ending. I grieved when it was over and have bought several copies as gifts for friends.
- The Secrets of Successful Families by Bruce Feiler | Bruce takes a surprising collection of advice from experts in the disciplines of business, science, sports, and the military, curating them to write a bestseller with a blueprint for the modern family. We’ve adopted some of the philosophies in his book, such as a digital budgeting system for our kids and a mission statement for our family.
- How I Built This with Guy Raz – The amazing stories of innovators, entrepreneurs, and idealists behind companies such as Whole Foods, Aden + Anais, Crate and Barrel, and more.
- Marketing School with Neil Patel and Eric Siu, bite-sized, digestible online marketing information for running a business. When I need a little motivation to keep learning and growing, I reach for this.
- Chris Loves Julia, a show about DIY, Home Design, and Family. At first, I thought, “How much can one talk about home decor?” (and I love interior design.) But the couple is witty, funny, and engaging and I can’t stop listening. Lately, they’ve added in more conversations about the nitty gritty of their business…working with sponsors as bloggers…renovating together as a couple…and hot topics, like “Is the Instagram bubble going to pop?” Worth listening to if you appreciate design and home-based business.
What is the first thing you do in the morning?
Pray. I’m the kind of person whose mind is constantly racing with ideas, so the minute I wake up I like to get calm and live with intention before the day gets crazy. And it does get crazy. 😉
What do you do/how do you make time to relax?
I’ve started proactively scheduling a babysitter once or twice a month for a date night with my husband (even if I have no idea what we’re going to do!) I’ve found that just getting it on the calendar forces us to get out and have some fun, without making excuses.
My favorite, during-the-week, relaxation trick is to get everybody loaded up in our van and drive to Starbucks. I go through the drive-thru; order coffee; then I park in the parking lot and turn on the DVD player. I let the kids veg out while I sit and read a book that makes me laugh. I do this for two reasons. One, there’s just something about changing up the scenery that lifts the mood. And two, because the kids are contained in their car seats they can’t make messes someone will have to clean up.
All things I swore I’d never do as a parent when I first started.
You live and learn, folks.
How do you run a business, a family of 6, and manage to homeschool on top of that?
Whenever a person who is accomplishing a lot is asked what their secret is, they will most likely tell you two things. The first? They’re not doing everything. And the second, “DELEGATE!”
One day, I woke up and stopped trying to be a stupid hero and learned from that.
I wrote down everything that I was good at and what was really important to me. I gave up on the stuff that wasn’t on that list or delegated it to someone else. This means, that I’m not doing elaborate science projects with my first grader, but we do go for jogs together and study nature. This also means my bathrooms are hardly ever clean, but I almost always have fresh sheets.
The older you get, the easier it is to accept this. You just can’t do it all. So do what’s important to you.
So! I run a business because I love building things and watching them grow. I teach my kids about discipline and personal responsibility and animal conservation because those are the things I love to talk about. I work extremely hard because it’s apart of my personality and I want a lot out of life.
Now, because we don’t have a lot of family support, I’ve had to get creative about how to actually see my goals become a reality. I get the bulk of my work done in the early mornings before the kids wake up and/or during nap time. I homeschool for a few hours in the mid-morning and use the in-between moments to get as much cleaning and picking up done with the kids as we possibly can. I use my membership at the YMCA about 3 times a week for childcare while I work in the lobby on my computer (it’s where I’m writing this!) and sometimes on the weekends I go to a coffee shop to plan or work. I have a no-work rule after the kids are in bed and use this time to catch up with my husband, watch a show or read, and eat popcorn. I try to take one of the kids out by themselves for a special little date with me about once a month (this morning I took my oldest to the theater with her friend and we had a blast!)
I have an insane amount of energy like my dad. So, if you’re looking at me and wanting an extra dose, just know it’s a blessing and it’s a curse. Ask my husband.
What does simplicity mean to you?
Simplicity means not running around like a chicken with its head cut off. Ever seen a person like that? It’s everything I don’t want to be.
Does it come naturally to you, or is it something that you have to work for?
As a Type A, I fight for simplicity. I could easily sign the kids up for chess club, debate club, drama club and writing club because…OPPORTUNITY…SELF GROWTH…THE PURSUIT OF GREATNESS. But, we are a family of 6 people melded into 1 unit, with varying capacities. I have to be sensitive to that and flexible to change what we’re doing if our family begins to feel like that chicken I mentioned.
I think the greatest kick in the pants to create simplicity is to count the remaining summers you have left with each of your kids. My oldest is 9, which means I have, at best, 7 summers with her home. Do I want those spent stressed out because I signed up to make homemade cupcakes at her class party?
Not worth it to me.
If you ask my friends, I’m that girl that does store-bought everything. There are those moms that are extremely detailed and bring cookies to school with delicate icing and then there are those women that are beyond thoughtful and buy you just the right gift.
God bless them.
I used to run around trying to be like them until one day I realized they were totally in their groove. And I wasn’t in mine. You know how I knew? I feel alive when I’m in my groove and when I was outlining Christmas cookies for a party of fourth graders who could care less, I felt exhausted. Know your strengths. Use them.
Outsource the weaknesses to a Whole Foods bakery.
Was there a point in your life where you felt it was a necessity?
I feel this is a necessity every day. My time is constantly being hacked at by very good things, but it takes a secure, self-aware person to say, “No. I don’t have the time that thing or that person deserves, but I trust God will provide it in His perfect timing.” When you learn the art of The Best Yes, it will change your life. You start to see that THE most important people in your life are right in front of you and when you say “no” to certain things you create space for “yes moments”. Every day.
I look at it like this: my kids need a mom that doesn’t yell and my husband needs a wife who cares enough about his day to ask him and I need a heart that can actually hear God above all of the noise.
How has simplicity transferred into motherhood?
When I think of simplicity in motherhood I think of women who parent their children with a mission. They’re not easily deterred to the left or right pursuing popular ideas for the sake of fitting in, trying to get self-worth from their children, or attempting to receive validation from the internet or parents or social circles (and destroying themselves in the process). She’s quietly confident about her role as a mother, honest about her weaknesses, generous with her strengths, and actively working towards creating an intentional future for her family.
This is what I strive for every day.
What are some of the ways that you have “automated” your life? And what does that mean?
I view automation as the process of outsourcing and making your life work for you. I read the book The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris and it totally made me rethink how I’d always approached business, home management, and personal habits. In short, time is your most valuable asset. Use it to your advantage.
Here are some things I’ve done that totally worked…
- Sign up for a grocery delivery service, like Instacart or Shipt.
- Buy a Roomba, or a knock-off version.
- Consolidate your software to programs that offer more than one capability you’ll use.
For example, use G-Suite for email while also backing up all of your digital files. Use Google Docs and Google Sheets for personal and business use and then link it to that G-Suite email. Download the Google Docs and Sheets apps on your phone and have constant access to all of your files and lists from any device.
- Use Evernote for seamlessly organizing and turning paper documents into digital.
- Delegate! Depending on your children’s ages, divvy out household tasks to your kids and pay them a weekly allowance. Or, hire a house cleaner.
And lastly, what is your drink of choice? Do you prefer it out, or making it at home?
I order the Iced, Coconut Milk, Mocha Macchiato from Starbucks at leeeeeast 3 times a week. At home, I mix a simple Starbucks dark roast cold brew coffee with some milk and a splash of caramel syrup.
I’m committed to cold.
It could be 10 degrees outside and I’d be sitting there, shivering, drinking my iced coffee.
Till death do us part. Amen.
Thanks so much for having me, Nicole! It’s been an honor!