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!

Thursday, November 4, 2010


You have got to be kidding me. I've never seen such fantastic furniture for a small home. Check out this transforming furniture and be amazed!

-(found via Unclutterer)

I'm in serious love with those wall beds. I want a small apartment just so I can get one. Probably the one with the desk...because you don't even have to clean off the desk. Brilliant!

Monday, October 25, 2010

One is Enough

When Ian and I moved in together, we had doubles of most things. Over the past two months, we've given away (or eaten up) most of the doubles. That alone was a big step and cleared out lots of space. Then I started thinking about other things that were duplicated like dishes and clothes.

We went from an overflowing shelf of glasses to a not-quite-so-packed shelf of glasses. We gave away plates we hated. We got rid of the fancy drink glasses and just kept the wine glasses.

While that was a huge step (I come from a family that never gets rid of anything) I'm still feeling overwhelmed by all the dishes.

Before Ian moved in, I used to live with only one set of dishes (plate, glass, fork, spoon, etc) and really loved it. Washing one plate every night felt better than watching 12 pile up in the sink. Spending 3 minutes a night washing dishes wasn't nearly as painful as spending an hour washing a week's worth of dishes.

I asked Ian if we could try living with two of everything, just to see how we like it. He hates doing dishes as much as I do so we're never going to be the "wash your dishes right away" sort of people. At least now when every dish is dirty, it'll only take us 5 minutes to wash them all up.

We're not actually giving the rest away at this point (we do sometimes have my family over for dinner), but this exercise will help us learn just how many things we actually need. Hopefully we'll have another box to send to the goodwill soon.

Just the other day, Courtney Carver challenged us to explore the idea of One is Enough. She proposed a mini mission to give it a try for ourselves. She asks us: is one pen enough? Is one jacket enough? Is one plate, one lipstick, one purse enough? Choose your favorite coffee mug and use only that mug for a week. Is it enough?

I'd love to know if you're living with only one thing or thinking about trying it for a while. What is it? How's it going?

So far, the one set of dishes thing is working great! We're still boxing up the stragglers but I look forward to a super sparse cupboard and sink very, very soon.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Weight of Money

My grandma sent me a check the other day. She wanted to treat Ian and me to a fancy dinner. The check was for $50.

There was a time in my not too distant past when $50 was no big deal. I'm currently debt free and make enough money that I can buy pretty much whatever I want. And I did...which is why I don't have nearly as much in savings as I should and why my house is full of stuff.

The check got me thinking about what dollar amount was a big deal. When internet shopping, $75 is the point when I start to squirm and wonder if I should really be spending the money. For Ian, who has watched his spending a lot longer than I have, it is $30.

Since I've been saving and watching my purchases, I've come to learn that I should care about every dollar. Because every dollar I spend on something trivial is one dollar not going to something living in Europe for a year or quitting my day job.

This new perspective is why I now believe $50 is a lot of money. Just look at how much (or how little) $50 can get you:

2 fancy dinners (really only one outing because Ian and I would be together on a date!)
4 lunches at my favorite Indian food buffet
8 veggie burritos at Chipotle
11 gallons of milk
45 lbs. of rice
100 lbs. of flour
250 bananas

10 fancy coffees at the coffee shop
16 regular coffees at the coffee shop
125 coffees at home (bonus: nutcracker mug!)

1 sweater at favorite store
3 sweaters on clearance at same store
10 sweaters at a thrift store

5.5 yards of my favorite quilting fabrics
7 yards if there's a sale

1/2 a day of skiing (lift ticket and ski rental) at local ski resort
1 round of golf
State Park sticker good for 2 years (sticker is good for unlimited visits to 74 Minnesota State Parks and covers as many people as you can fit in your car)

1 train ride from Milan to Venice
1 weeks worth of gas (if I drove a truck)
2 weeks worth of gas (for my small car)
22 rides on the light rail
approximately 1 month of unlimited bus riding

2 books (new releases)
10 kindle books (new releases)
50+ kindle books (classics, my favorite!)

5 tickets to movies at the theater
10 if I plan for the bargain matinee
12 movies at the drive-in (only 6 outings because they show 2 movies. bonus: watching movies outside!)
16 tickets to movies at the cheap theater
25 if it's a Tuesday

1 mediocre seat at the opera
1 ticket to a play at the Guthrie Theater
2 RUSH tickets to the same play at the Guthrie Theater
2 tickets to the Minnesota Orchestra
5 tickets to the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
25 Shakespeare in the Park performances (assumes $2 tip because I'm cheap like that)

As you can see, depending on your priorities, $50 can get you just about anything you want or need. I think my favorite thing on this list is the train ride to Venice...I just need to figure out how to fund the rest of the trip and I'm out of here!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Living Without Goals

I found this article after writing today's post. Leo Babauta talks about living without goals. It's what I wish I could have written this morning...but I'm not too upset because my to-do list didn't include "write something super awesome".

Minimalist Lists

I make lots of lists. I like the simple act of writing out the list and I like to capture every minute step. I don't know why I do this. It's not like I write so many steps because I like crossing things off the list. I never cross things off the list because it makes the list look messy.

The problem with my particular brand of list making is that while writing them makes me happy, looking at them makes me feel constrained and overwhelmed. I MUST DO this stuff! It's on the list!

And then I go home and eat some junk food in an effort to forget the list. And it's usually very easy to do because some of the stuff on the list wasn't actually all that important. And ignoring it all was way easier than doing it all.

I've been trying very hard to stop making these unreasonable and frivolous lists. They're a waste of time and they don't actually keep me on track. But I do like to have some sort of to-do list to help me focus on what's important. I think I've finally hit the sweet spot. The following is my actual to do list for the weekend:

-spend time with friends
-draw something
-sew something
-sort some junk
-remove junk from house

I've resisted the urge to set a time limit for each item or specify a particular number of things I should sort/draw/sew. Instead, I'm just going to do these things and not worry about how much of each I finish. They'll all lead me towards my goal of being an artist, minimalist and all around awesome person.

So, what's your to-do list for this weekend? Is it helping you reach your goals or just keeping you busy?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Minimalism by Theft, Part 2

And now for the things I'm keeping:

minimalism by theft

First, you should know that the green vase is my favoritest vase ever. I promise to give away all other vases I find around the house in exchange for this one. And since I'm keeping it, I need to actually use it and look at it because I love it so much. Why do I put things I love where I can't see them?

Um, exercise band...I can't remember the last time I used it so it's a good thing Ian found it. He swears he didn't put it in the box to trick me into exercising...he actually thought I'd get rid of it right away. Ha! I'm going to use it while I watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The candle in the jar...well, who gets rid of perfectly good candles? My mom gave it to me and it smells nice. I promise to burn this until it's gone and then give the jar to the goodwill.

The square pillar candle has special memories for me. I like to look at it and remember those fun times. But candles are meant for burning and I've had this one for ten years. I think it's time to separate the object from the memories. I lit it last night and felt pretty good about it.

And finally, the two tiny jars of paint. You should know: I love to build and paint old timey monster models. Except, in the few years I've been collecting them, I haven't finished any. This has been a priority that got pushed aside by non-priorities for years. Ian put these paints in here to get me to work on a monster model this month. I'm super excited to make some progress and show you one of my very favoritest hobbies.

Here's one of my grandpa's models for your viewing pleasure:

frankenstein monster model

Anyway, I wasn't sure what to expect but this little game turned out to be really informative. It forced me to see things clearly, both the physical objects and the reasons I'd given for keeping them. It also helped me be objective which is the biggest hurdle in giving my stuff away.

I highly recommend you try a similar project. It's fun and enlightening. I'm already excited to see what Ian puts in the box for October!

Minimalism by Theft: September

It's October 1 and I'm happy to report that my Minimalism by Theft project is working just as planned! Ian did a great job stuffing this box full of my things and I didn't peek once. I also didn't notice even one thing missing, which is interesting because this box is full:

minimalism by theft

First up, the things I'm ready to part with:

minimalism by theft

I found these shutters on the corner a few years ago and thought they would make a cute alternative to a headboard (which I don't have). As you can see, I never put them up and most likely never will.

minimalism by theft

I've had this pair of plant shelves for about ten years. They're nice because they're as tall as me but they fold up so tiny. I used them for books when I first got them but for the last five years they've been folded up in the basement. I was planning to put plants on them this summer but that never happened. I can't imagine I'll use these again (for books or plants) so I'll give them to someone who can. I do really love them though.

minimalism by theft

Some shirts that can go to a good home. That white and blue striped tank-top belonged to my dad and I've been holding onto it for sentimental reasons. But, I can talk to my dad on the phone any time I want so there's no need to be sentimental about an old shirt.

minimalism by theft

Miscellaneous stuff I'm not at all sad to see go...I don't even know how I got most of it.

minimalism by theft

My parents gave me these posters for my birthday one year. I love Monet and it really was a thoughtful gift. But, I haven't put them up in the new place yet and probably won't so they can go to someone else who loves Monet.

minimalism by theft

Martha Stewart I love you! I keep these because they're full of cool stuff and pretty pictures and yummy recipes. Except, I never look thorough them and forgot about all the cool stuff inside. For years I've wanted to go through them and photograph the interesting recipes and inspirational projects. Ian put this in the box to make sure I actually started going through them. Tricky! I've already put two magazines into the recycling. Turns out, there were very few pages of actual interesting content. Now these pages are on my computer taking up no physical space.

There were a few things I wanted to keep so I'll post about those later today.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Sock Situation

I was sorting my socks this weekend. As usual, there were several socks without mates. Drat! How to solve this problem?

At first I thought a separate box would be great. I'd toss all the lonely socks in there until I did enough laundry to make a match. Yes, the "lone sock box" was probably my most brilliant organizing idea ever!

After a minute of celebrating my cleverness, I thought about the situation from a minimalist perspective. A minimalist would probably have only one type of sock and probably just a few pairs...enough to get through a week or two. And there would never be an extra sock because they would all get washed at the same time. There would be no need for a "lone sock box" at all.

Like Leo Babauta says, minimalism is the end of organizing.

So, while this post is technically about socks, it's also not about socks. It's an example of how I used to think (which is what got me into this mess) and how I want to think (so I can get out of this mess and live the life I really want). It's nice to know that these behaviors I thought were a part of "me" are really just learned habits. And it's getting easier to unlearn them.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Better Things To Do

Most people reading this blog know me from my other blog, Sonnet of the Moon. There I talk about things like fabric and quilting. Not very minimalist, I know...but I have a soft spot for making things that are pretty and in an effort to make them useful, I stumbled across quilting.

For a while now I've wanted to try some sewing techniques that are more complicated than the simple sewing required to make quilts. A year ago I picked up The Art of Manipulating Fabric by Colette Wolff and I flip through it on occasion, awed by the things she can do with a simple piece of fabric.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about my future as a minimalist and focusing on what I want to accomplish in my life. For the past few years I've been "too busy" to create anything important. I fancy myself an artist yet I don't make any art! While workng to rediscover my creativity, I remembered this book and a project I had always wanted to try.

I was flipping through the pages on my lunch break when a co-worker walked by and stopped to see what I was reading. She's sewn a few things before so I knew she'd be interested.

What she said next was completely unexpected. She looked distainfully at the book and said "this sort of thing is for people with nothing better to do."

I thought about this after she left and I'm pretty sure I know what she was really saying. She was saying that her life (her cooking and cleaning and laundry and watching the soap operas she records while she's at work) is all so important and she simply has NO time to do silly things like work on challenging projects or pursue meaningful interests. And she took it out on me, tried to make me feel silly for pursuing things that are, in her mind, not important, a waste of time.

And that's fine. Because I took her statement as a compliment. No, I really don't have anything better to do because everything I do is the best! I'm in the process of freeing myself from obligations and distractions which leaves me time to focus on all the awesome things I want to do! Like going on a nature walk with Ian, having coffee with a good friend, creating art, developing skills.


Life is too short to watch soap operas! I have better things to do!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Little Changes

I just dropped off 6 boxes and 2 lamps at the Goodwill. I was in such a bad mood while packing up all my treasures this weekend. Treasures I found in a box that had been sitting in the basement, unopened, for 5 years. Most of it didn't matter but a few things were pretty and I remembered them fondly. Now they're (hopefully) on their way to someone who will treasure them as much as I did. And I'm in a much better mood, even if it was hard to give my things away. It gets easier each time, though.

I very nearly met my goal for the weekend which was to set the living room and kitchen to rights again. Ian and I have been living in a sea of boxes and we finally had some time to devote to getting things put away (and giving things away). Two more boxes to unpack and we'll be able to use the kitchen table again.


Slowly, things are becoming lighter...both in the house and in me. I'm noticing so many things that I never thought about before. Like just how much stuff I feel like buying just because it's there. Or just how much stuff there is to buy! Ian and I went to Target last night to buy some fake meat and the amount of stuff was overwhelming. It was all bright and shiny and tempting...but totally useless. Ma Ingalls would have freaked out.

I nearly freaked out! And I was happy to notice this because it means I'm changing. It means that stuff is losing its power over me. It means I've finally learned that stuff won't make me happy. It means I'm becoming a minimalist for real! How cool is that?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Things to Ponder

I found these articles particularly interesting and thought you might too:

Minimalism Explained and 3 Lifestyle Myths.

And finally, the one I'm focusing on the most lately: Being Busy is NOT That Important (and this goes with it too).

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Say Things That Matter

I've been challenged by Everett Bogue (not personally, of course, but through his blog) to say something that matters today.

Years ago, I kept an online journal. At some point, I made a promise to myself. I decided to stop talking about what I was going to do and instead, talk about what I'd done.

For example, I used to write "this weekend I'm going to clean the house and go to a museum and see a play and finish a painting and save the world!" Pretty sweet, right? Except that I never got around to doing any of those things. It sounded like I did them and soon I started to fool myself into thinking I was busy doing all sorts of fabulously important things all the time.

But deep down I knew I wasn't. I finally got fed up with dedicating so much effort to talking about things I'd never do, with wasting time dreaming of the life I wanted to lead but never leading it. When I made the switch to talking about the things I'd actually done, things I'd actually accomplished, my journal became strangely silent.

But only for a while. Soon I started doing cool things so I could write about them. Then I was doing cool things just because they were fun and rewarding. Then I gave up the journal and started my very own blog so I could show off all the cool stuff I was creating.

I'm not perfect, I still think about doing things more often than I actually do them. But I'm learning to sort out the important stuff from the busy-work and that's helping.

So, what have you been "going to do" for a while? Can you change that into something you "have accomplished"? Can you do it today?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Minimalism by Theft

The other day I had, what I hope will turn out to be, a great idea. In the book Et Tu, Babe, Mark Leyner (both the author and main character) is caught stealing a vile of Abraham Lincoln's morning breath. His punishment is that every week, the authorities come into his home and remove one item. He doesn't know what it is (it could be anything) and if he discovers it missing, he's not allowed to replace it.

I used to think that was a terrible punishment (what if he needed those things someday?) but now I'm intrigued by the idea. In fact, I've even asked Ian to help me implement a similar project.

The rules are simple: every day Ian takes something of mine and puts it in a box. I don't know what it is and it could be anything. At the end of the month, I'll go through the box and keep what I think I need and give away everything else (especially things I didn't notice were missing). If I choose to keep something, I have 30 days to use it or it goes in the donation box for good.

Also, if I go to use something but can't find it because it's already in the box, it can come out so long as I actually use it that day. If I remember correctly, they took Mark Leyner's toothbrush and I can imagine Ian might find confiscating similar objects similarly funny.

I'm really excited about this idea. I'm especially interested to see just how many things I won't even know are gone. So far it's day 15 and I haven't noticed anything missing. I haven't peeked in the box either, although it is tempting. I'll show you September's collection on October 1.

Friday, September 10, 2010

On Books

I love books! I'm always reading one but more often two. I like to switch back and forth, picking the book I'm most in the mood for that day.

Ian has about a billion books and before he moved in, I promised he could use the floor to ceiling (and wall to wall) bookshelf in the room that would be his office. But where would my books go?

About this time I read a great article about breaking the sentimental attachment to books. I stared at my piles of books and no longer saw my trusty friends of old. In their place I saw battered paperbacks that I bought because they were only a dollar. I saw multiple copies of the same books, because, you know, one was just not enough. I mostly saw books I bought because I was going to read them someday.

I looked at those books and felt sad. I'd deceived myself, lost sight of what was truly important. All my friends, all the adventures...they are not books, they are not pages. I thought I loved books but that love was misplaced. What I actually love is reading.

As obvious as that is, you'll think I'm an even bigger idiot after I tell you I own a Kindle.

reading Jane Eyre

For almost a year, I've been happily reading books on my Kindle. No paper, no pages, just words and stories and emotions and adventures. I take it everywhere. I carry all my books at all times. Without realizing it, I'd stumbled on the nearly perfect minimalist approach to reading (and collecting) books.

Letting go of the physical pages wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. Here are the books I thought I couldn't live without:

books I couldn't live without

And these are the ones I'm keeping for now:

books I'm keeping for now

Quite a difference! And this stack might get smaller if certain books become available for the Kindle. For instance, I'm rather particular about translations and the Oxford Classics version of The Three Musketeers is my favorite. Don't be fooled, the Kindle version is NOT the same translation.

I wrote down the titles of all the books I was "going to read someday" and then gave them away. I feel lighter and a little sad, but that's alright. In just 60 seconds I can be with my old friends again. And that's what's truly important.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Moving Day

Ian moved in with me this weekend and try as I might, he wouldn't let me apply my new minimalist fantasies to his stuff. Consequently, we had lots of stuff to move!

As I hauled box after box down the stairs, I'd yell things like "Next time I move, I want all my stuff to fit into my car!" or "when I move, I want all my stuff to fit in only three boxes", and so on.

I've only recently noticed that Ian already lives a pretty minimalist lifestyle. Aside from books, cd's, canned goods and exotic "someday" cooking ingredients, he owns relatively few things.

But as I hauled box after box, I wondered how someone who doesn't own much stuff could still fill an entire moving truck. It got me thinking about how some stuff can add up to too much stuff pretty quickly.

While I've actively avoided making rules or deadlines for my minimalist journey, I'd be silly not to take away a few lessons from this weekend.

I think in an ideal world, I'd like to be able to fit everything I own into my car. I'm not sure I could actually go any smaller because I'm not willing to give up some of my hobbies at this point. Still, I feel so free when I think about my tiny car packed with only a few boxes! I could go anywhere and all it would take me would be a day of packing. How absolutely liberating!

But then I think of all the stuff I'd have to get rid of and I start to feel panicky.

To fight this, I've come up with a few schemes for getting rid of stuff gradually and hopefully by next summer I'll have reduced my stuff by half or more. Maybe I won't be able to pack it all into my car but it'll be a great start.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


After reading many minimalist blogs, I feel the need to confess: I own a car.

I've never really thought that cars were bad. My dad worked at the Ford plant building trucks for 30 years. We're a simple car kind of family.

I've been thinking a lot about this and my current goal is to move within 2 miles of my work by next summer. If I bike/walk/bus to work every day, I could give up my parking spot and save money on gas. I'd also prefer to live close to a grocery store so I could bike there as well.

That's the good news. The bad news is that if I'm to be a proper minimalist, I should probably give up my car when I move...and I'm not going to do that. Not right away anyway.

To me, minimalism is about living a simpler life and concentrating on what's important. It's about having fewer expenses and obligations so as to have fewer things to detract from priorities. To me, minimalism isn't about giving up things just to give them up. It's not about paring my life down in ways that limit my happiness.

I imagine that someday I'll get rid of my car. For now, though, here are the reasons why I'm keeping it:

-My car is paid off and costs me very little to maintain (for now).

-My good friends live 15 miles outside the city and I visit them at their house a few times a month.

-My parents live 150 miles outside of the city. I visit them about once a month.

-Even though I'm giving up buying "stuff", we'll still need to buy bulky things like cat food, cat litter, milk and laundry detergent.

-Emergencies and/or last minute, unplanned events (fun or un-fun).

-Drive-in movies (yes, that really did make my list of priorities)

drive in sign

These are all, in my mind, good reasons why I need a car. Of course, I understand the other side of the argument: I can take a taxi, bus, rental car or ambulance anywhere. I can ask my friends to come to my house. I can hitch a ride with my brother when he goes up north to visit my parents. I can buy all my bulky items at once and take a taxi home from the store. I can rent a zip car to go to the drive in or I can go with friends.

I could also telecommute or work for myself and not have to worry about living close to my work. I could live closer to my friends or to my parents or to my favorite grocery store/coffee shop/bike path/whatever.

I'm going to take the next year to think this over. Right now the car is winning but who knows...a year practicing minimalism might open up more car-less opportunities. I'm excited to find out!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What would Ma Ingalls do?

I'm a very visual person. I love things that are pretty. They don't have to be useful, I just love looking at beautiful things.

Unfortunately, it seems that pretty for its own sake does not mix well with minimalism. When one owns only 100 things, each thing must have a purpose, it must be useful.

While I was fretting about giving away all my beautiful things, I thought about Ma Ingalls. I've looked up to her for as long as I can remember and I find her to be particularly inspiring when I feel overwhelmed by the world and my own life.

I admire her because she never wasted anything, because she made clothes for her family, because she worked as hard as Pa and because she cheerfully survived in the harsh wilderness.

Actually, the thing I admire most is that she did more than just survive, she thrived! She took pleasure in her daily tasks, in a job well done. She created a happy home filled with treasures, a few tangible but most not. She opted for beauty when plain would have sufficed:

"In winter the cream was not yellow as it was in summer, and butter churned from it was white and not so pretty. Ma liked everything on her table to be pretty, so in the wintertime she colored the butter...

...Now came the best part of the churning. Ma molded the butter. On the loose bottom of the wooden butter-mold was carved the picture of a strawberry with two strawberry leaves.

With the paddle Ma packed butter tightly into the mold until it was full. Then she turned it upside down over a plate, and pushed on the handle of the loose bottom. The little, firm pat of golden butter came out, with the strawberry and its leaves molded on the top."

It's obvious to me that minimalism does not have to mean sparse, plain or boring. Who says that utilitarian bags and generic clothes and white walls are what it means to be minimal? Useful things, necessities can be beautiful too. And if I am, someday, to own only 100 things, I'd want each and every one of them to be as beautiful (and well made) as possible.

Ian has been asking me to help him make a printed t-shirt for months now. This weekend I focused on the important and we spent some fun, quality time together. Ian printed this sweet t-shirt:

Ian's new t-shirt

And since neither of us had ever printed on fabric before, we did a test run first. Behold, the most adorable Frankenstein resistance fist tea towel ever made:

tea towel

Towels are necessities and damn it, all mine are going to be pretty! I think Ma would approve.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Day I Owned Only 25 Things

A few years ago, my boyfriend and I took a trip to Italy. We missed our connecting flight, barely made the second flight they booked for us and 8 hours later, arrived safe and sound in Milan. Our bags didn't.

While I can't say that I was happy at the time, I'm so grateful we had that experience.

Here are the 25 things I owned during our first three days in Italy:

Things I brought from home in my carry-on bag/wore on the plane:
-large canvas bag
-tiny notebook
-phone (it didn't work in Italy but it was good for checking the time)
-tank top
-cardigan sweater
-2 pairs of underwear
-2 pairs of socks
-tennis shoes
-hair binder

Our hotel gave us:

I bought:
-deodorant (which I would skip next time because Italy was so hot that deodorant didn't actually make a difference).

The only other thing I needed was sunscreen but it was super expensive. Also, we were meeting Ian's parents the next day and I knew they'd have some so I just tried to stay in the shade.

When I think back on that first day, I remember feeling uneasy and uncomfortable. It was so odd to not have any stuff, stuff I thought I needed to have a good vacation, stuff I thought I needed to survive. It took a few hours of walking around Milan before I realized I already had all the stuff I needed. I had money for food and transportation, a place to sleep and an awesome traveling companion. I was in a foreign country where I didn't speak the language, where I had little more than the clothes on my back and yet I was ok. I was even having fun!

For the first three days, Ian and I washed our clothes every night and put them on damp every morning. We saw beautiful sights and it didn't matter that I wore the same shirt every day or that I didn't have any makeup on.

When our luggage caught up with us in Venice, my first thought was "omg, clean underwear!" My second thought was "What was I thinking?! I don't need all this stuff!"

I truly value all the lessons I learned that weekend. I learned how very little I actually needed to survive and to be happy. I learned that carrying everything I own in one bag is a truly awesome feeling. I learned that experiences are more important than possessions. I learned that I'm never packing a suitcase for a European vacation ever again (suitcases + trains = annoying!) I learned that happiness is a freshly laundered pair of underwear and that jeans will not air-dry overnight. And most importantly, I learned that gelato makes everything better.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Organization Vs. Minimalism

I own a lot of stuff. Most of it is stuff I never use. Most of it is sitting on the floor of my studio or buried away in the basement. I thought this was always how it would be. I thought I was just lazy and bad at organizing. How else could I explain why I had dozens of clear plastic bins...all of them empty.

I often sort through my stuff and try to put it into bins. In the end, I give up, set it all back on the floor and go eat a snack to smother the nagging feeling in my stomach.

Then I read this article by Chloe Adeline. She told me something quite crazy. Something I had never thought of before. Do you know what she told me I could to do with all my stuff?

Give it away.

Wait, give it away? That can't be right! What would I do if I needed something someday? Like this table or this lamp or this ball of twine or this scrap of paper or this tiny button or this ribbon from that present I got three years ago. It's all important! In the melodramatic words of Alexandre Dumas...had a thunderbolt fallen at my feet, I could not have been more stupefied.

And one second later I felt lighter than I'd ever felt. I can't believe I never thought of just giving stuff away. Like, the stuff that sits on my floor, making me feel bad, the stuff in drawers that I don't ever use, that I don't even know I have? It's all going away and I feel so FREE!!

It'll be a long process so for now I'm focusing on the stuff that I haven't touched in years. That'll be pretty easy and will get the ball rolling. I need to practice before I get to the sentimental stuff or the hobby stuff or the stuff I feel obligated to keep for strange reasons.

I've already gotten rid of many small things but the first big things are these storage drawers. They've been sitting in a closet, packed full of "important stuff" for two years. I got rid of the "important stuff" right away and now these bins are out of my house too.

I put them out on the curb where stuff magically disappears. They were gone within 30 minutes! I feel so much lighter already.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Focusing on the Important

If you had asked me a week ago what I thought was important, I would have rattled off a list of random "projects" I was working on. For example, last Monday my project for the day was to pick out a bed frame and matching lamps and, if I had time, go through my huge stash of fabric to see if I could use any to make curtains for the living room. I obsessed about this all day. Because it was important, right?

Last Tuesday I read an amazing article by Everett Bogue and everything clicked into place. I realized that my entire life was filled with distractions!

It's been coming on for years, this realization. I used to feel great satisfaction after battling a day filled with distractions. Now, I feel good for a while but then I feel empty, like I've wasted my entire day.

Reading that article finally made it clear why I wasn't satisfied with my life anymore. It's because I wasn't actually living my life. I wasn't focusing on what was actually important to me.

I don't know why I was spending so much time and effort focusing on distractions. Maybe distractions are just easier, maybe they're safer. Maybe I've been brainwashed to believe that "busy" equals "satisfied". All I know is that thinking about curtains is not satisfying anymore.

Everett poses a little exercise in his post: Identify the four areas of your life that are most important to you.

I had to dig a little bit to come up with my list...there were lots of distractions to get through. My top four, desert island priorities are: creating, reading, relationships and health.

I'll be exploring each of these as time goes on. Right now I'm working on fighting the distraction impulse, pretty much every minute of every day. It's hard to break habits that are so ingrained.

I've found that thinking "Is this a priority or a distraction?" is usually enough to break the spell. I'm also making an effort to focus on the calm I feel after getting rid of a distraction. It's a slow process but I already feel lighter, calmer and happier.

drive in 5/14/10

Monday, August 16, 2010

Happy...TO THE MAX!

Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost.
-Dante Alighieri

As a young girl, the straightforward pathway seemed pretty uninteresting. To me, babies were the inhibitors of adventures. Marriage was a burden. And I could not understand why someone would prefer a big house to a boxcar.

And yet, it was to be my fate. It was the only life I knew, the only life I thought possible.

I went to college, I bought a car, I accumulated lots of stuff. I thought about buying a house. But all the while I was resisting, feeling unhappy in the world of material goods and superficial relationships.

For 29 years I struggled to live within the ties of conventional life. For 29 years I felt like I didn't belong. I thought I was following the straightforward path until without trying, without realizing it was happening, I wandered someplace completely different. My path is no longer straightforward and for the first time, I feel no fear.


I started this blog for a few reasons, most of which revolve around my goal to live a more minimalist life. I want to be healthy and pursue things that are important to me. I want to explore nature and find balance. I want to exist as I was always meant to exist, to embrace my true nature in a world that tries to force me back in line. Mostly I just want to live in a way that makes me happy.

Happy TO THE MAX! even...but with less destruction.