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.