Monday, April 7, 2014

Accomplishments and Failures

Good afternoon to you all. It's been a very long time since I posted here. And that's okay with me. I just like to know that this blog is here, for when I'm feeling weak, when I need a reminder of what's important to me.

And today is one of those days. I have some accomplishments and some failures that I want to talk about and to get off my chest.

First, the accomplishments!

-Ian and I have finally moved to the city. We moved in August, actually, and have been living the city life for eight happy months. No, I did not fit all my stuff in one car-load but Ian and I donated two minivans-full of stuff before our move. And we donated another car-load after our move. And we just donated more things last weekend. Figuring out what we really need to be happy is a work in progress. We're just as happy (if not happier in a lot of ways) living in our small-ish apartment than we were in our two story house with full basement and garage.

-We moved to an apartment just under 2 miles from my work, which was a goal I set for myself over 3 years ago. We also live half a mile from an awesome co-op grocery store. Ian and I walk there for small grocery runs and plan to shop there more often now that the snow has melted. And for better or for worse, we also live half a mile from an old timey ice cream parlor that has the best cookies and cream ice cream I've ever tasted!

-I walk to work and back every day (with very few exceptions). I have since August. I walked through the worst heat-wave I can remember. I walked through rain and wind. I walked almost every day through the coldest Minnesota winter in 20 years. If it was warmer than -40 degree wind-chill, I walked. I bought boots, I dressed in layers, I figured out how to stay warm. It was an amazing challenge for this indoor-loving girl. But I did it and I am very proud of myself. I have a goal to walk 1,000 miles in 2014 which includes walks to work, restaurants, shopping, meetings and walks just for fun. I'm up to 162 miles so far...I have a lot to go!

Change can be a truly wonderful gift, as I've experienced firsthand. It can also be so wonderful and exciting that it's easy to lose focus on other important aspects of life. It's taken me a while to notice but I have let some things slide.

-I've been spending a lot of money. I don't exactly know where it's going but I know it's too much. I want to save for my future, for trips to far-away lands, for expensive and nutritious food at the co-op down the street. I'm keeping track of everything I spend and re-focusing on the necessities. I'm working to find some balance.

-I have a new hobby and with that comes lots of new supplies to buy and store. This is where lots of my money is going. It's fun to buy things and make things but I now have more yarn than I will ever be able to use in my entire lifetime. And that makes me sad. And yet I still want to buy more yarn. Just to have it for someday, just in case, just because it's pretty. But this too must stop. I have enough. The yarn can live at the store until I need it. And I won't need it for many, many years.

-I eat way, way too much. Walking every day has increased my appetite but that's not the whole truth. The truth is that I have no interest in controlling my portions when we're eating delicious food. And Ian and I make some really delicious meals! I want to be someone who eats for nutrition and pleasure. I think both are important. But moderation is also important.

-I used to be vegan. And then I was mostly vegan. And now I eat cheese and sometimes (although rarely) eggs which, if I'm being honest with myself, makes me just a plain old vegetarian. And that bothers me. I am making bad choices. I'm allowing my love of all things cheesy to be my excuse for harming animals. And dairy and egg farming does harm animals. And harm is really just a polite word for torture. I've seen things that can be described no other way. I do not want to be the kind of person who ignores suffering in exchange for pleasure. Nothing in the world is that delicious. And even still, I know I will have to remind myself every day. It will be hard but I will try and I will be better.

Now that I have put my feelings and failures into words, I see that there are obvious paths towards change. I must simply start walking. And we all know that I CAN do I'm off to a good start.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Fortunate Life

Ian and I have been watching football on Sundays. Actually, just one game every Sunday. We cuddle on the couch and watch the Vikings lose spectacularly. And sometimes we bake bread and eat it with homemade hummus. And Ian throws a fit because my blanket is touching him and why do I need so many blankets anyway?

But that's not what I want to talk to you about. What I've noticed while watching TV for those few short hours is that people love stuff. Or at least, that's what companies want you to believe.

Like, did you know that all ladies want diamonds for christmas? Or that guys want trucks...especially big, manly ones? Or that kids want you to buy them lots of noisy plastic toys this year? And don't forget...if you're too busy to cook a nice family meal, there are millions of places you can go to pick up greasy, fried meat with a side of potatoes covered in meat sauce. No vegetables here, only the best for your precious family!

Even though we mute the commercials, I can't help but watch them and feel sad. Actually, it's more than that...the loud, in your face consumerism turns my stomach. While listening to the news this morning, I learned that a few stores are starting their Black Friday sales at 4am, midnight and...wait for it...10pm on the Thursday before Black Friday (otherwise known as Thanksgiving). You'd better get there early because those waffle-makers aren't going to buy themselves!

A few weeks ago, my parents asked us how we wanted to handle the gift situation this year. Did we want to pick a name out of a hat for a gift exchange? Did we want to spend only $10 per person? My brother and I pushed for no gifts this year. Everyone in my family already has everything they need and we'd rather spend the holidays together for free.

The whole conversation got me thinking. My family and I are so fortunate...we have everything we need. But there are people who don't have what they need. I'm not talking about a Play Station, I'm talking about food, medicine and shelter.

So, after a little bit of thinking (and I can't believe I didn't think of this sooner) instead of giving holiday gifts to my family, I've decided to give gifts for them.

Instead of buying my parents a dinner at Chipotle, a family can feed themselves (and their village) for a year with their new vegetable garden.

Instead of a quilt to keep out the Minnesota cold, these mosquito nets will keep a family safe from malaria.

And a video game becomes books and school supplies for deserving kids.

So, that's what I'm doing for the holidays this year. If you want to do the same, check out Oxfam (or other charitable organizations) and help improve the lives of families less fortunate than your own. Because it is a truth universally acknowledged:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I, Robot

I'm not a great house cleaner. I have a habit of setting stuff where it doesn't belong. Every table has stuff on it, the floor has stuff on it. Stuff piles up because 1) I have too much of it and 2) I hardly ever notice it.

I mean it...even if I put something in my path so I'll remember to take it to the correct room, I just walk over that thing for about a week. I don't notice it, I don't see it. And if I don't notice it for a week, I probably don't actually need it.

Discovering Minimalism allowed me to really see my stuff for the first time. And what I saw was scary! It's taken me almost a year to force myself into the habit of really seeing my possessions. It was hard at first, and it's hard still. It's not something that comes naturally but through lots of practice, it's slowly becoming a habit.

I mentioned cleaning at the start of this post. I'm a terrible cleaner. It's hard to dust when your tables are cluttered by junk. It's hard to vacuum when there are tiny piles of stuff on the floor. And while I'm getting better, I'm still not perfect.

The reason I'm writing this today is to tell you about one thing that's helped me to be a better cleaner, both of stuff and of dust/cat hair. We got a Roomba! Before you think it's not very minimalist of me, just know that 1)vacuums are a necessity when you have three cats and 2)the Roomba takes up a fraction of the space our old vacuum cleaner required. We bought an older model and it works like a dream.

Both Ian and I had forgotten about Roombas until we saw this on our favorite show, Parks & Rec:

We opted to skip the DJ attachment, though.

Anyway, since we don't want the Roomba to get caught on anything, we have to pick up the floor before setting it to run. Consequently, we now try to keep as little on the floor as possible. And while it's vacuuming, we can be doing just about any other thing we want...things that are more important than vacuuming.

Lately, I've been using Roomba time to take a good look around the house and really see my stuff. I've gotten rid of quite a few unnecessary things and have managed to keep our tables and surfaces mostly clutter-free. By the time Roomba is done cleaning, I've managed to pick up pretty much the entire living room and kitchen.

So, to sum it all up:
1) Having fewer possessions makes it easier to keep your house clean and tidy.
2) You can change a bad will probably be hard but you can do it if you actually want to.
3) Roombas are cool and do the work so you don't have to.
4) DJ-Roomba is flippin' sweet!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Priorities and the Holidays

I read lots of blogs for creative inspiration and for fun...but lately, reading blogs has been frustrating. A lot of people are in the "holidays are coming, must rush around and be super busy!" mode.

I don't judge, I've been there before. It's just that when I was busy and rushing around and buying presents and decorating the house...I was miserable. And these people sound pretty miserable too.

I will tell you now that I'm an atheist. Even though the rest of my family is catholic, we never went to church, not even on holidays. To me (and to my family for the most part) christmas is just a nice time to get together, have a good meal and wear pajamas for two days. And I can't be sure about this but I assume that if I were religious, christmas would be a time to reflect on my relationship with god and do nice things for other people.

Now that I'm living mindfully, it surprises me that so many people (my old self included) seem to lose sight of what's important around the holidays. There's constant frantic screaming from the tv in the form of stupid commercials for diamonds and toys. Even my favorite clothing store was filled to the brim with displays of junky appliances and novelty gifts...all on sale for 50% off...why not buy two?!

What I don't understand is the hectic attitude that's not really about anything important. If the holidays are supposed to be a time to see friends and family or to celebrate your chosen religion, how did all this crazy consumerism and time wasting come about? I'm pretty sure the baby Jesus never ran around screaming "OMG, I still need to hang all these ornaments and string these lights and make these cookies and buy some diamonds for all my ladies! I'm so busy that I couldn't possibly find the time to hang out with my disciples. I'll never get this done in time for my birthday and I'm the freaking Son of God!"

I find it so odd that this time of year distracts so many people from what's truly important. The time, money and effort spent on holiday gifts and traditions could be better spent improving our lives, the lives of our friends and family and the lives of people we haven't even met. Why do these priorities fly out the window the moment holiday songs start playing in every store the day after Halloween?

In lieu of holiday decorating and tree purchasing, I'm donating art supplies through my work's "Sponsor a Family Giving Program". Ian and I had a great time picking out all the art supplies we wished we'd had when we were kids. I feel good knowing that some little girl will know what it's like to use a real paintbrush or to draw with charcoal or to sketch her ideas in her very own sketchpad. These are things I never knew as a child.

I challenge everyone reading this today to live mindfully this holiday season. Take a minute to think about your traditions and why they are (or aren't really) important. Think about the time spent on any given task and decide if that time could be put to better use. Think about the things you'd love to experience, the things that will make great memories. Toss out anything that gets in the way of the truly important things. I promise you'll be happier for it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

More Tiny Houses

So, remember when I said I was going to talk about small houses for a while? Well, while doing research, I found a couple of blogs that are so much better than anything I could (or would) write. So, if you're at all interested in super cool small houses, check out these blogs. Some people are really thinking outside the box which I think is so amazing!

Design Boom
Small Space Living
Tiny House Blog

I've finally figured out what sort of tiny place I want. I was talking to Ian today and he reminded me about "artist's lofts". I love the idea of work space that you can live in.

Rather than several small rooms (like my current house), I'd love one large room that could serve many purposes. The lack of "dedicated" space would allow for flexibility in the layout of furniture and would allow me more space for a particular project, if needed.

In addition to the open work space, I'd like a super tiny kitchen that closes in behind sliding doors. I want a Murphy bed because they're so cool. Oh, and a tiny bathroom would be nice...the smaller, the better.

And I know it's not very "minimalist" to want a vintage diner-style booth but I've always wanted one. It could be used as an eating space but I'd mostly use it as a desk. While I love the idea of wide open spaces for working, I prefer a tiny "nest" for creating and nurturing ideas.

And that's it. No space for "someday", no space for entertaining guests or hosting parties. No dining room, no living room, no home office or library or master bedroom. Just space to create and to sleep. I think it sounds refreshing!

What about you? Would you prefer a smaller traditional-style house or something "outside the box"? What spaces/rooms are the most important to you? What spaces/rooms would you leave behind? Does your current house fit your priorities? Does it help you reach your goals?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tumbleweed Houses

A few months ago, before I discovered minimalism, I was searching for ways to decorate my sort-of tiny house. You know, back when I thought new curtains would make me feel better about my rooms full of junk?

I found Tumbleweed Houses instead. These houses are absolutely amazing. They're truly tiny (ranging from 65(!) to 874 square feet) and, depending on the model, can be mobile.

I was so excited about the idea that I ran to my work-friend's cubicle and said "Look! You could live in a house that's only 200 square feet!" And he said "But why would you want to?"

Um, hello...why wouldn't you want to? Perhaps it's just my personality but a cozy little cottage feels much nicer than a huge McMansion. Perhaps it's my passion for challenges but designing an efficient house sounds more exciting than designing a house with unlimited space. And perhaps it's just my love of extremes but owning fewer posessions sounds more peaceful than owning the newest and best of everything.

I'll feature lots of other cool tiny houses in the coming weeks but I think these Tumbleweed houses are a great place to start. They're very "traditional" in style which, to me, is quite appealing. I enjoy modern style but if I had to choose, I'd prefer an old-fashioned cozy cottage.

My challenge for you today is to imagine living in one of the tumbleweed houses. Which house would you choose and why? Do you think you could actually pare down your belongings to fit in a tiny house? Would you want to? If you have hobbies, would you have the space to continue doing the things you love? Do you think this whole idea is crazy, awesome or something in between?

I'll go first: if I wanted a portable house, I'd choose The Fencl. It comes in at 130 sqft and has the cutest built-in bookshelves. If I removed all the furniture, the main room would be large enough to baste quilts on the floor. Since I spend most of my time eating, sleeping and sewing, this is all the space I'd really need.

If I went the stationary route, I'd definitely choose The Loring. It's 261 square feet and I'd put my bed in the little gable in the loft. The rest of the loft would be my studio, perhaps? Maybe the studio would go downstairs in the main room. I can't decide.

While I love the idea of a super small house, Ian does not. I think the 461 sqft Whidbey would make for a nice compromise. The front room would be perfect for a sewing studio because of all the windows and large closet. The loft could be the bedroom and Ian's office. The "great room" is big enough for his CD and book collection as well as a couch and tv.

Now it's your turn...I want to hear all about your dream tiny house.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It's all Relative

I'm currently living in a house in the suburbs, 12 miles from the city and my work. I don't own it and I'm not sure how much longer I'll stay. Two years ago I though it was what I wanted but the Crystal of today has changed significantly. Now I dream of a tiny apartment in the city, close to my work, the soon-to-be-built light-rail line and my favorite pizza place. With a Murphy Bed. And this guy's entire setup, actually.

But that's not really what I want to talk about today.

The house Ian and I live in is 1,250 square feet. It has three bedrooms (two of which are only 100 sqft) and 1.5 baths (both super tiny). The house is too big for us but we've managed to fill it up to the max. Not cool.

Our neighbors live in exactly the same house (they're all the same on our block) but they have...wait for it...8 people living there. Two adults, 6 kids, all in 1,250 square feet.

Ian and I each live comfortably in 625 square feet. The neighbors do it in 156.

I'm actually ashamed to have my neighbors over. It feels wrong to waste so much space on only two people. And when I go on to think about the sizes of houses people are buying (or bought but now can't afford), I feel a little sick.

Houses themselves are wasteful compared to apartment buildings but that's not all. Most new (and new-ish) houses are designed to include wasted space, on purpose! I went to school for architectural design and I can't understand why crap like that gets built. Vaulted ceilings, spaces "open to below", master bathrooms, huge bedrooms. And what about houses with living rooms and family rooms and sitting rooms and tv rooms...that's four rooms that do the same thing and you can only be in one at a time.

I understand the need for a pleasing design...but to me, efficient designs are not incompatible with pleasant. People have been talked into buying houses that are mostly filler, mostly space they'll never use. Because that's what people are "supposed" to do, that's what they're "supposed" to want. And that makes me sad and a little angry.

In the coming weeks, I'd like to take some time to focus on smaller, more efficient places to live. I hope you're as excited about this as I am. To start things off, seriously check out the link above. That guy is a genius!