Thursday, March 23, 2017

Hygge for the Minimalist

Over the last year, the word Hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) has been the newest way of living as the idea of minimalism becomes old news. You may have heard by now that this Danish way of living is all about being cozy at home. It's a very broad term, and could mean anything from lighting candles, curling up with a blanket and a book by the fire or opening the windows to let the fresh air in. But for the minimalist wanting to incorporate hygge, it's important to remember that you don't need to buy a candle, blanket or book to be cozy and happy.

Here I've compiled a list of ways minimalists who are interested in this way of living can buy into the concept of hygge without actually buying anything.

1. The Entertainer

There's not many things that will make a home cozier than having friends and family over for a gathering. Even better is when the food preparation and clean-up  is shared by all. If the weather is lovely, take the dinner party outdoors where stories can be shared late into the night and under the stars. You can enjoy any leftover flowers and wine guests brought the next day, which will also be a little reminder of how lucky you are to have those people in your life.

2. The Baker

There's something so hygge about the smell of fresh baked bread or chocolate chip cookies right out of the oven. If you love to bake, grab your favorite cookbook and find a recipe you already have ingredients for and get in your cozy zone. You can even double the recipe and share your goods with a neighbor.

3. The Weekender

Weekends can be slow and hygge, as they should be. You don't have to tackle that to-do list or even leave the house for that matter if that is your cozy. Put the digital gadgets away and read a book or magazine for a change and indulge in your favorite comfort food. The world will not end if you don't check your email every 5 minutes.

4. The Relaxer

When was the last time you soaked in the bathtub until your fingers and toes were wrinkly? Baths are not just for children, and your muscles deserve to relax for a while. Take care of yourself and indulge in a warm bath with a little bit of scented bath salts or bath bubbles. It doesn't get much more hygge than that.

5. The Gardner

Unless you spend the entire day outside in your garden, then you're not enjoying your hard work as you should be. Grab the scissors and cut some flowers to bring hygge inside and enjoy in your home. If you have an abundance of flowers, bring some cozy to some to your friends as a gift to share the wealth of beauty you've grown and nurtured. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Beauty of Imperfection

Nothing lasts.
Nothing is finished.
Nothing is perfect.

The recent surge of interest in minimalism would lead you to believe that it's a new and trendy ideal. But the truth is that it's a way of living that is centuries old and celebrated by many cultures across the globe. While living with less may be a new idea in the United States, it's been a practiced way of living in Buddhist communities for ages. If you look at the core beliefs of minimalism and the choice to live with less, you will find similarities to what the Japanese call wabi-sabi.

Wabi-sabi is a Zen Buddhist philosophy that there is beauty in the natural and imperfect. Instead of seeing a broken heirloom tea ceremony bowl as a loss, the Japanese use gold to not only repair the bowl but to also highlight the cracks as part of the story. This process is called kintsukuroi and is a work of art in itself. Wabi-sabi also emphasizes that there is no such thing as perfection and see moss
covered stones or the color of copper that has oxidized as more beautiful than the siding covered pristine homes and immaculately manicured lawns that are common in the United States.

The name means wisdom in natural beauty and represents humble grace; living with less clutter and modestly.

"Threre is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in." - Leonard Cohen

If you're just starting your journey to simplicity or interested in how to implement the simplicity of wabi-sabi into your way of life, here are some ways you can look to incorporate a more natural, accepting and forgiving mindset:

Give things new life

Patch the hole in your favorite sweater or turn it into a pillow cover. Have your grandmothers chair reupolstered. If it's an item that tells a story, it's worthy of the respect and time required to mend it so you can continue to appreciate its beauty and carry on it's story.

See the beauty in imperfections

Aging is something to be dreaded in America and people go to great lengths to dye their hair and have plastic surgery to hide the wrinkles and age spots of time. But wabi-sabi finds beauty and wisdom in crows feet and silver hair. The scars are part of the story. These imperfections are our equivalent to the rings of a tree and how they show it's age. Each ring representing a page of a story.

You see the desire for perfection everywhere in our culture. Grocery stores sell only the most perfect fruits and vegetables, but anyone that gardens or has visited a farmers market knows that beautiful isn't always better, and food grown organically and naturally looks nothing like what you see on the shelves of the supermarket that were grown in a chemistry lab. Everyone knows a tomato grown in a garden may not be as large or perfectly round as a "hot house" tomato, but it has much more flavor and color because it was grown naturally.

Understand the natural order

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose. Wabi-sabi is about appreciating the Beauty of the decaying leaf and the process of age. It's the natural order and the circle of life. We must learn to respect the seasons we are in and understand that it is only temporary. That means appreciating every second we are given, and know that whether it be a good or bad time in our life, this too shall pass and we must learn from it, appreciate it and accept it. It would be a shame to spend our time feeling sorry for ourselves or wallowing in pity knowing our time is precious and few.
It also means using our time wisely in relationships that are meaningful and doing things that bring us happiness.

Respecting the seasons is also an important aspect of wabi-sabi. Instead of buying a bouquet of flowers, forage your yard for flowers in the spring and summer and branches or dried flowers to adorn your dinner table in the cold weather months. Try to plan meals around what vegetables are in season instead of what's available at the grocery store.

Look to nature for inspiration

Nature is to be respected and emulated. When choosing housewares and clothing, choose neutral colors and natural materials so that your living space mimics a setting similar to one you would find in nature. The closest you can get to an organically curated life is ideal. Incorporate as much nature and natural elements into your life as possible and learn to appreciate the cracks in wood bowls, chips in your special chinaware and rusted door hinge.

For more information on the philosophy of wabi-sabi, I suggest the book Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence by Andrew Juniper.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Season of Slow

I remember as a child rushing through life. I had learned that the faster I did things the quicker I could be finished with chores and on to more interesting things. My father was constantly reminding me to slow down, especially when I would be moving so fast that I would trip or drop something. But it's hard to explain to a young person why it's important to slow down. It's not something that can be accomplished without dedication and intent. It's a conscious way of living that must be learned and appreciated. The gift of slow means you are aware of the world rushing around you without letting it affect you. The next time you get stuck walking or driving behind an older person, instead of getting frustrated and deciding they need to hurry up, take it as a friendly reminder that maybe you need to slow down.

These winter months of shorter days and cold temperatures keeping us indoors are natures way to force us to slow down. If you've chosen this time of year to slow down as a resolution in the new year, here are some areas you should look to change in your life:

Do Less

It's as simple as that. Have you looked at your to-do list lately? Are all of the items on that list nessesary? Do items on that list benefit you enough to take up your time and energy? Even taking one item off that list will make all the difference. Taking that one item off your daily task list will give you more time to slow down and be more focused on the remaining tasks.

Buy Less

If you buy less you can work less. Do you work a second job to be able to afford that second car? Do you even need a second car? Remember that whatever you buy you have to work to be able to afford. Is that second car worth the hours of life spent working to be able to have it?

Consume Less

Our fast lives of 30 minute lunches at work and getting kids to and from sporting events have us eating fast at every meal. We eat so fast that the food hasn't reached our stomach in time to tell us we are full by the time we've overeaten. The slower you eat, the less you will eat because you will be in tune with the signals your body is sending you. If you have a hard time getting used to eating slower, close your eyes and focus on what you are eating without distractions.

Unplug More

Get out of the digital world and be more present in the real world. Did you know that the light from watching TV or looking at a computer screen or electronic device before bed can interfere with your sleep patterns? We are confusing our internal clock with too much stimulation. I know it's hard to believe in the world we live in today, but there are plenty of things you can do with your time that do not require electricity and will benefit your mind much more than taking Facebook quizzes or Snapchatting. Things like reading, taking a walk, meditating, doing yoga, doing a crossword puzzle, playing a board game, playing cards, walking the dog, writing someone a letter, drawing or painting.

Walk More

You don't need a treadmill or gym membership to get exersise and fresh air. Walking around your neighborhood is free and more importantly it will get you out in nature. Even better, go for a walk without your music so you can listen to the sounds you hear and just enjoy the quiet and slowness of life without every silence being filled with ads for things you don't need. Try bird watching or documenting the things you find in a journal.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

These Are A Few of My Favorite Things: A Home Tour

It's easy to constantly change the look of your home. Especially when all you have to do is shop a website to find what you're looking for. You find something you like, it's cheap and you don't even have to go pick it up because the company offers free shipping. The problem with furniture made today is it tends to be made of cheap materials. Things like a cardboard back to a cabinet with a wood grain print on it and stickers to match for covering up shelf peg holes. There's little to no real wood in these pieces and most are made using pressed particle board. These pieces will not only fall apart over time, but they have no history or added benefit to your home.

Our home was built in the early 1920s. We are always finding evidence of stories from previous families that have lived here before us. One example is the chimney we exposed while redoing our upstairs bathroom where a child had used a pencil to draw faces on the brick while playing in the attic. For a home with so much history and character, why would we fill it with pieces that were made in a factory and hundreds of others like it fill homes across the country?

If minimalism means only having things in your space that make you happy or tell a story, then you should be able to tell visitors that story when they ask about it instead of just naming the store you purchased it from. It's not easy to find great pieces, but it's more rewarding when you do. Here are the stories behind some of our favorite finds.

This is a console my husband found on Craigslist for $50. The radio and record player were in bad shape but the speakers and exterior were in great condition. So he gutted it and installed a new radio, record player and storage for records.

This is a card catalog that my mother in law rescued from the dumpster of the school she works at in Ohio. They drove it all the way to Missouri for us because they knew we would take it in. It's great for storage and VERY heavy. Many younger generations have never used a card catalog, but we have fond memories of using this system to find a book at the library.

This is a working 1940s RCA tube radio we purchased off Craigslist. We sold an IKEA dresser to be able to purchase it and we couldn't be happier with that decision. It takes a second for it to warm up and turn on, but when it does there's a light that makes it easier to see the dials. There are presets for things like "police" and local channels. I can see listening to many baseball games on this radio in the future.

This is my grandmothers piano. Even when her memories were taken by dementia in the last years of her life, she could still sit down to this piano and somehow remember how to play songs from memory.

This is a mid century dresser we purchased from a local antique store for only $80. As with most pieces of furniture owned by people of earlier generations, there is evidence that it was loved and appreciated in the way it was very well taken care. It's made of solid wood and even bears the emblem of the local manufacturer. You can smell the wood when you open the drawers and it's a perfect addition to our home.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting My Journey to Simplicity

Starting any new project can be overwhelming. But a project that impacts our personal space and belongings can be even more daunting. No matter how many books or blogs you read, you will never really know what to expect from your experience of simplifying your life until you're in the midst of being surrounded by objects that represent your life. There's no question that being a minimalist and choosing which part of your story to keep is hard, but after 2 years of this journey to simplicity, there's things I've learned about the process and myself that I wish someone had shared with me in the beginning when I was just starting out.

1. It's Addictive
Once you get started, it will be hard to stop. You may start out thinking you're only going to clean out your closets then be done, but then find yourself in the kitchen going through cabinets and in the basement pulling out dusty boxes you haven't opened in years. The reason is because there's a freedom you feel from lightening the load of things taking up residence in your personal space. Things you've carried with you with every move and change in your life you can now let go. Once you experience that rush, it's hard to stop knowing you've only brushed the surface.

2. It's Contagious
My husband thought I was crazy when I started donating and selling everything on Craigslist. He was sure there wouldn't be any anything left at the rate I was going. Interestingly, after he saw how clean and open our home became, he saw there was a method to my madness. Now, if I go to him to ask if he wants to keep something or donate it, 9 times out of 10 he will choose to donate it without hesitation.

3. It's Ongoing
Even 2 years later, after all the dozens of boxes of things I've removed from our home, I'm still find things I don't need and want to donate. I even have a pile of things ready to go to the thrift store right now. It's not that I've brought more things into our home, it's that once you get rid of the clutter, you can better see what you have. Once you have less to work with, you can spot items you're never touching or using. Maybe you held onto a cardigan because you thought you'd find something to wear it with. Eventually you realize it's still sitting in your closet unworn and unloved. It's a matter of honing in and dwindling down.

4. It's Lifechanging
It's hard to explain to someone who has never simplified their life how good they will feel after they get rid of their possessions. It just sounds like crazy talk. People love their stuff, otherwise they wouldn't have it. But once you're in it, you want to shout it from the rooftops so everyone can feel this joy you're feeling. You will want to go to your friends house and help them declutter and they will think you're insane for WANTING to clean. The good news is of all the people I've known to do it, never have I heard anyone say they regretted it. There really is no turning back.

5. It's NOT Organizing
If you're an organizer like me, you're not going to like this one. Simplicity is not about Rubbermaid bins and color coded labels. That's not to say you can't organize the things you do keep, but if you're just sorting everything into piles so you can store them neatly instead of removing things completely, then you're not simplifying, you're organizing. There is a difference! Sure, you could say having all your shoes organized is helping simply your morning routine, but not if you own 50 pairs of shoes. It's important to understand the difference before you begin so you realize you should be saving money through this process, not spending it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Minimalists No-Spend Challenge

There's a reason that minimalism and living simply have become something we need to learn how to do. There's box stores that offer lower prices for buying in bulk, theres bigger homes being built that require more things to fill them and the media that tells us we have to keep up with changing trends. Keeping up with all that "stuff" can be exhausting.

There was a time when households survived on only one shared family car. If you live in a home like ours that was built in the 1920s, you know that there was no space left between houses for a garage or driveway because people didn't have a car. Humans have survived for centuries without a lot of things that today we see as essentials: air conditioning, car seats for children, helmets and knee pads for riding bicycles, a separate bedroom for each child, a washer and dryer, etc. Now think of the things we have today that were created because of our consumerism: freezer chests, storage units, multi-car garages, walk-in closets. So why with everything we have today to make our lives easier and more efficient are we so much more unhappy and exhausted than the people from those simpler times that had less?

Here's a challenge for you: see if you can go one week without spending. If at the end of the week you find you enjoyed the challenge and want to see how much farther you can go, turn it into a 15 day challenge and maybe even a month challenge.

There's a phrase you're going to hear repeated throughout this blog post: get creative. The reason is in order to succeed at this challenge, you're really going to have to think outside the box about making what you have work for you. This can mean changes as simple as using busicuts in place of bread or kitchen towels instead of paper ones.

The first step is to take inventory. Make a list of the things you will need during the time frame of your challenge, only including things you absolutely need. Now go through your house and take inventory to see if you have those items. It may mean you will only have enough liquid soap if you dilute it or will have to use toilet paper to blow your nose instead of tissues. For some, the goal of this challenge is to save money. For others, it will be to find out what it's like to be resourceful as our ancestors were.

Now, let's get creative!

Take inventory of your pantry and freezer and come up with meals you could make using only the provided goods available. Make a plan for the length of your challenge so you can strategize what items need to be eaten first because of expiration dates. You will be surprised at how many meals you can get from so little when you get creative. This is also a great way to learn how to make your own bread, noodles or butter.

Plan your errands to save gas. Try to limit your days driving and cut down on the amount of places you go to save money on gas. Going to two grocery stores because one has a sale on meat but the other you have a coupon for toilet paper isn't saving you money when you consider how much gas you're wasting. The best thing would be you not go out at all so you won't be tempted to spend money on eating out or shopping. There are people who live miles away from the grocery store and don't have the luxury of running to the store to get the one thing they ran out of. They have to plan their trips to town and make do with what they have. But if you get creative and really think about it in terms of necessity, you will come up with ways to get by.

Shop your closet when you feel the need to buy clothing. Really think about how you can make do with what you already have. Use accessories like belts and scarves to create more possibilities. If there's a pair of shorts you've been wanting to buy and have a pair of jeans you never wear, simply grab the scissors and make cut-offs. If you have an item of clothing that is damaged, get creative and see if you can patch it, mend it or alter it in some way that you can use it again.

You may be wondering how you can achieve a no spend challenge when there are birthday parties and showers coming up on your calendar. The good news is you have everything you need already, you just have to get creative. Keep in mindgifts don't have to be homemade bath salts or candles. You can always make casseroles or baked goods as a gift using the inventory you already have.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Minimalist Bathroom Organization

There's a little feature about our bathroom on the Urban Outfitters blog! Check out the post for ideas on how to simplify clutter and make the best of your small bathroom.