Lessons From A summer Sublet

All packed up and ready to sublet!

All packed up and ready to sublet!

Hello dearest readers,

Kyle here to share some lessons from subletting my studio apartment for the months of July and August. With a typically-light client load during the summer months, Cary and I usually embrace the time off and take longer trips during this time.  This summer, with an extended east coast trip, a few weddings and parents that live nearby in the North Bay, I decided to sublet my apartment.  I had romantic notions about rural living outside the city, and I wanted to test this theory; I wanted to fully feel what it would be like to not have access to my apartment in the city.  

Here's what I learned:

1. It's Possible to find a great TENANT if you post early enough, and you create some meaning behind your listing

I was lucky to find a great sublet because I posted in April when organized people are looking for summer sublets, versus the last-minute types who are looking in June for a July apartment.  I found a wonderful student from Santa Barbara who was going to be in San Francisco for a summer internship.  After sharing with her the philosophy behind the design of my apartment, she was even more excited to live in and subsequently take care of my things. I returned to a pristine apartment with a thank you note, explaining how my space inspired her to pursue a life of minimalism back in Santa Barbara!  How amazing is that?!

2. OWNING fewer belongings made it super easy to make my apartment renter-ready

I packed up all my clothes, accessories, toiletries, bike, and camping gear, and sensitive items like my passport.  It took one trip in my car to bring my things to my parents house. I left my books and notebooks because they contained no huge, life-debilitating secrets that could potentially be divulged.

3. It's a satisfying reminder that one can easily live out of a duffle bag

While being in different places meant that the foods normally eat and recipes I regularly make were placed on the backburner (punny!), I found it was so easy to live out of a duffle bag. The little things that made a huge difference in my feeling more centered no matter where in the country I was -

  • my trusty, reusable Hydro Flask water bottle (16oz. I find is more portable than the larger sizes)
  • bags of Yogi Kombucha Green Tea (sounds weird; it's so good)
  • a clean wash cloth for my face to use when staying at a friend's or camping
  • a nice toiletries set to keep my skincare regime classy

4. After 2 months, I was ready to be back in THE CITY

During those two months I was mostly away, with the time in between trips spent at my parents' house.  It was wonderful to spend more time with my parents and enjoy the summer weather in the North Bay, as opposed to "Fogust" in San Francisco.  Although I ended up taking on more client sessions than I had planned - which reminded me of the disadvantages of commuting into the city.  While our client locations range all over the Bay Area, they are mostly in San Francisco.  And commuting to San Francisco from San Rafael did have an impact on me physically and mentally. After I returned to my apartment and hopped on my bicycle to get around the city, wow, was I out of "bike shape"!  While I hiked and stayed super active during the summer, I was not biking like I normally do and there was a notable difference.  After a week my body acclimated, but it was surprising nonetheless. 

Would I do it all over again next year?  Absolutely!  Summer is a wonderful time of year to be extra mobile and fly by the seat of your pants.  Would I do it for two full months?  I'll probably just stick to one :)

3 Ways to Reduce Your Plastic Bag use

Clean and healthy oceans = healthy and clean civilizations.

Clean and healthy oceans = healthy and clean civilizations.

Hi there!

Kyle your environmental advocate here to talk about plastic bags.  

Most of us are aware that plastic bags have a disproportionately negative environmental impact for the short-term convenience they provide.  

Why, exactly are plastic bags so bad?  

In short, they don't biodegrade. Instead they photograde, which means they break down into smaller and smaller bits of plastic. In general, plastic accounts for 90% (!) of debris in our ocean. Eventually, plastic will weasel its way into the food chain after marine life accidentally ingests it.  If we eat that marine life (sushi, anyone?), then we are putting those itty-bitty pieces of plastic into our bodies.  These plastic bits are toxic, and contain chemicals that are known endocrine disruptors and something to avoid at all costs.

To be clear, it's not that plastic is inherently bad.  On the contrary, the discovery of plastic was monumental. It provided a way to transport goods using less weight than something like glass. Additionally, its sanitary properties have resulted in unprecedented advancements in the medical field.  But we are simply misusing plastic in our day-to-day habits.  It should be treated like any resource - as precious and valuable.

To use plastic the "right" way means we should use it in high-quality, BPA-free forms; it should be washed and reused and eventually recycled at the end of its lifecycle.  In this way, plastic is treated more like a metal or glass.  The problem with plastic bags in particular is that they do not lend themselves to be easily washed, dried and re-used.  They are also extremely difficult to recycle (they clog the machines) and as a result very few recycle centers actually accept them at all (yes, if you've been putting your plastic bags in your recycling, it is likely that they end up straight to the landfill).

 

3 Ways to Decrease your Dependence on Plastic Bags

 

1. A canvas tote is your new best friend.  

Bring a small bag with you everywhere you go.  Keys? Wallet? Tote bag?  Make it a part of your checklist before you leave the house.  Find a bag that you actually like and feel good about carrying.  Pro tip - The thinner the bag material, the more easily it will fold to fit into your bag you carry on the daily.

 

2. Find high-quality alternatives.

Plastic bags come in most handy in the kitchen, especially for storing vegetables. Decrease your dependence on bags in the refrigerator by replacing with high-quality alternatives.  I invested in some these thick, modular canisters from the Container Store.  I use my cloth totes in the grocery store and transfer the veggies to the plastic bins at home, eliminating my need to use plastic bags to transport and/or store the vegetables.  To keep produce fresher, longer I use these "BluApple" balls to absorb ethylene gas that contributes to wilting.  They totally work!  And for kids lunches, remove the plastic "ziploc" bags from your kitchen all together so that you force yourself to shift your habits and use reusable tupperware instead.  The inconvenience from having to wash and reuse your tupperware is made up for with a happy heart.

 

3. Use paper over plastic.

Find yourself at the grocery bereft of a cloth tote bag?  Cough up the 10 cents and pay for a paper bag at checkout. While paper bags still have an environmental impact, at least they can be easily composted or recycled at the end of their usable life.  Pro tip - If you don't have a small tote to wrangle loose-leaf greens, hunt down a small paper bag (often available in the bulk-bin isle) and use that to bring spinach home.

Thankfully, many cities and states around the nation are passing laws to discourage plastic bag use.  San Francisco was the first city in the United States to do so (wahoo!).  I can reassure you that with a little planning and a small amount of effort at first, this habit shift is really easy to adapt to and quickly becomes second nature.  

 

Resources:

Behind the Scenes: A Minimalist's Smart Phone

Upon hearing that I'm a "minimalist" folks will often ask which are my favorite productivity apps or iPhone hacks.

That question usually comes from someone who is feeling overwhelmed and is looking to carve out more space and time in their day. 

Unfortunately, for them, I don't have the answer they're hoping for. Instead, I share that my minimalist's truth: using apps and hacks to find time to be is like someone with a cluttered house asking what type of bins they should get at the container store. They're seeking something additional and outside of themselves when what they need is the exact opposite: less, fewer, better, slower, simpler.

You can't fight too fast with even faster the same way you can't fight too much stuff with more stuff. Whatever resolution you might arrive at will be temporary and, very soon, will prove untenable. 

The truth is that tips and tricks (like containers and bins) tend to be utilized as a crutch by people who have too much (stuff, obligations). The solution is to be start by removing, and to keep removing until the feelings you actually want begin to emerge: peace, ease, undistracted time and space for what matters, the ability to be discerning, the slowness to work with intention, the room for leisure.

I am not a luddite; I enjoy technology. I've just realized that I need to be as protective, to have as high of standards, for my digital world as I do for my physical one.

 

Here is how you can create your own Minimalist Phone:

1. These are all actual, current screenshots from my phone. My home screen reminds me what phones are for: communicating. I also love that each time I open my phone I see space and the soothing colors of the sunset.

1. These are all actual, current screenshots from my phone. My home screen reminds me what phones are for: communicating. I also love that each time I open my phone I see space and the soothing colors of the sunset.

2. This is my second main screen. It contains only "Calm." Ironically, this might be my best "productivity app," though all it offers are the sounds of nature and simple guided meditations.

2. This is my second main screen. It contains only "Calm." Ironically, this might be my best "productivity app," though all it offers are the sounds of nature and simple guided meditations.

 

1: USE your Phone to encourage good habits.

There is a reason Amazon created one-click purchasing: the fewer the steps, the easier it is to impulsively buy something. The same is true for many apps: one click and then you can scroll for days.

I keep my phone's first and second pages relatively free of apps to give myself a few additional chances to notice my behavior before falling into an app hole. The extra steps are small enough that they're not a terrible inconvenience when I need to access my email or calendar. But often enough those few extra swipes and clicks require just enough effort that I am made aware of what I'm doing (mindlessly seeking entertainment/distraction) and can do something more useful or pleasurable instead. 

 

3. The third screen contains one folder housing all of my apps. I keep them tucked away for yet another step to call attention to my actions before I give my brain mindlessly over to an app

3. The third screen contains one folder housing all of my apps. I keep them tucked away for yet another step to call attention to my actions before I give my brain mindlessly over to an app

4. My first page of apps are my most used/the apps I most want myself to use. Kindle, Podcasts, and Pandora are the apps I use for pleasure. 

4. My first page of apps are my most used/the apps I most want myself to use. Kindle, Podcasts, and Pandora are the apps I use for pleasure. 

 

2: Have your iPhone make your bad habits less convenient

After the few extra scrolls and taps, I arrive on the third screen which contains my app folder. I've intentionally arranged these apps in order of important and positive influence on my life. It adds yet another, very small but meaningful, layer between intention and distraction.

  1. On the first page of my folder I have the apps I use the most (email, maps, calendar, weather, WhatsApp for work) and the apps I believe are most beneficial to the habits that add value for me (music, books, podcasts).
  2. My second page has lesser used work and personal finance apps.  
  3. The third page I rarely turn to. Here I keep: apps whose functions I primarily access by swiping up (like calculator, clock, camera and photos), because apple insists (app store, wallet), or because they are infrequent but important (my two-step website authenticator and find my phone). IP free, if you really want to know, is an amazing and free period tracker that I've been using for years (data=cool).

 

5. My second page of apps are less frequently used/mostly used for work purposes.

5. My second page of apps are less frequently used/mostly used for work purposes.

6. My third page of apps are ones Apple won't let me delete or apps I rarely use.

6. My third page of apps are ones Apple won't let me delete or apps I rarely use.

 

3: use your device to eliminate bad habits all together, (aka: things you won't find on my phone):

Games. I decided I would never have a game on my phone after 1) watching my husband (briefly, but obsessively) play angry birds, and 2) getting briefly, obsessively sucked into a game called two dots myself. My thought: games are used when you want to "waste time" and I believe we're all more interesting and creative than to need to resort to that.

Uber. I first removed Uber from my phone several months ago when their appalling internal politics came to light. Since then I've kept it off my phone (Lyft isn't in Boise yet) because I don't want to take cabs or pay for rides places. Walking and biking are far better matches for my values. In a pinch, I'll simply download the app, request my car, and then re-delete it from my phone once I've arrived. It takes 15 seconds to download (they save your account info = creepy but quick) and by not seeing the app on my phone the rest of the time, I'm training myself to not think of it as an option. 

Social Media. I haven't had Facebook or Twitter or Snap (SnapChat? Forgive me, I'm old.) on my phone in years. But the biggest hurdle for me was removing Instagram, my social drug of choice, which I did at the end of last month. Why did I do this? Because I had to; I was an Instagram addict. I used to check Instagram every time I was in line, when I woke up, while I went to the bathroom (sorry, gross but true), and so on. Instagram was my adult pacifier, preventing me from ever feeling bored or alone—which also prevented me from daydreaming, reading books, connecting with the people around me. I'm not sure whether I'll reinstall after the weening period is complete as I do love Instagram's capability for connection, but I also love not being a phone zombie, so....

News apps. This might be controversial for some people, but I've found the cycle of outrage, fear, and impotence that the news makes me feel these days to be unproductive. How do I stay informed? I read the Sunday New York Times when it's delivered each week and will listen to a selection of episodes from my podcasts (The Ezra Klein Show, On Being, Pod Save America, Fresh Air, The Cosmos in You, The Weeds) while I walk the dog or go for a jog.

 

What does your phone look like?

Do your apps distract you or support you? 

Are there apps you "can't live without?" 

 

5 Benefits from Disconnecting for 5 Days

Kyle here, freshly returned from my first ever backpacking trip. It was an ambitious initiation - we hiked twenty five miles in mostly sand over three nights down the northern half of The Lost Coast, CA, with one night of car camping at the beginning. Our team was made up of three of my badass lady friends and yours truly.  

While I've been camping countless times, I'd never been backpacking before, where I would have to carry everything that I needed and filter fresh water from sources as we went. Camping in this way totally reframes the idea of a "need" versus a "want". Do I need three pairs of socks, or can I get by with only two? Do I really need more than one pair of pants? The answer is two and no.  It is a wonderful exercise in living minimally. The feeling of self-sufficiency is unmatched. 

Going into the trip I knew I would not have cell service. So when leaving the car in the parking lot to take the shuttle to the northern end, our starting point, I left my phone in the car. Without the distraction to "capture the moment" with photos on my phone (thanks, friends for doing this for me!), I was truly able to disconnect from the digital world. 

Here are the top five benefits I experienced from completely disconnecting for five days:

1.  Time to process the past.  

In the inevitable quiet moments, when our group would spread out along the path and I would be walking alone, I was able to sit with and mull over life's events (i.e. a recent breakup).  Having this time allowed me to pay attention to my "mind chatter" and become curious about the thoughts I kept returning to.  I could delve deeply into my patterns to come to terms with my new reality, and take stock of where I am today.

2.  More space to imagine for the future.

Free from incoming emails and the daily hustle of city life, I was allowed space to imagine the future ahead. How do I want to experience the second half of 2017?  What are my top priorities and how to I want to allot my time?  What goals have yet to be achieved and what steps are required to get there?

3.  A clarifying of my to-do list.

Without a mounting list of to-do's, requests from incoming emails, or social events, I was able to clarify my to-do list for when I returned home.  There were those few loose ends that still needed to be actioned when I returned home and having the quiet time to clearly prioritize increased my sense of control over my obligations.

4.  Relief from FOMO.

Fully present in what we were doing, we created our own little universe.  With no cell phone service along on the entire coast, there was no social media seeping in to inform us of what everyone else in the world was up to.  Of course we love our friends and want everyone to be enjoying life, but being freed of social media updates can kept us rooted in our current experience.

5.  Clear focus on the objectives at hand.

I was relieved of the responsibility to take care of an expensive electronic device.  I didn't need to worry about breaking my phone by exposing it to too much sand or water.  The environment we were in was constantly changing from wet and foggy, to sunny and dusty.  It was nice to focus solely on the important things, like avoiding rattlesnakes, the times of high and low tide and the available water sources.

Sunny expanses leading into foggy respites.

Sunny expanses leading into foggy respites.

I hope that this summer allows you the time to disconnect from your digital life and sink into your real life. We can miss a lot of what is happening if we are buried in our phones or computers. It may take a literal time-out (like leaving your phone at home or going to place with no cell-service). I encourage you to utilize your email vacation responder setting and give yourself a digital detox. Doing so for even just one day will have its benefits!  

 

Summer Goals: Stop Wasting Food

Perhaps the greatest joy of summer are the long, wild weekends spent exploring, connecting with friends, disconnecting from the daily tangle of the interwebs, celebrating birthdays and weddings, and visiting with my ever-growing (taller) and every-expanding (#5 arriving in September!) pack of nieces and nephews.

Sure, we come home each Sunday night with clothes covered in dust and reeking of campfire. And somehow miscellaneous sticky substances always end up caught in Bodhi's fur. And lord knows the transition back to work on Monday morning isn’t always easy. 

But the hardest thing about these weekends away is that we tend to waste food. Sometimes a lot of it.

All seasons require transitions: from what we wear to what we eat to the time of our pup’s sunset walk. While I’ve gotten much more accustomed to enjoying seasonal food, I struggle with the requirement of the summer season: having just enough in our fridge to last the 4 or so days between our adventures. 

I've tried to pack up the whole fridge's contents into our cooler if we’re driving and have learned a number of lessons (mostly involving smashed, spoiled, or "freezer burned" produce from packing, moving, and direct contact with melting ice:).

I felt a twinge of guilt when we returned home from our first long trip in May and had to remove a bunch of produce from our stinky fridge. But then I'd shrug my shoulders and reassure myself, It's ok, we will do better next time. At least we compost!

But this stinky fridge/food waste has happened now several times. It seems to a habit we (and by we, I mean I) struggle with breaking: buying too much yummy food and the leaving it to go bad. 

If it's a priority, you can make the time.

I learned from my wise little sister a trick that has had a profound impact on me: don't ever say "I'm too busy." We all have the same amount of time each day and the truth is that the things that are most important to us somehow always get done. So instead of giving the excuse "I'm too busy" try out stating this more honest reason something didn't get done, "It's not a priority." 

If that feels fine to say, then voila! You can cut out that commitment/habit/obligation/activity without guilt. Such sweet clarity!

However, if that feels icky, this act of saying that something isn’t a priority, then you know you need to make a change. 

The truth is that not being wasteful is a priority for me. A very big one. 

I can't even get out the phrase "Not wasting food isn't a priority for me" without my palms getting sweaty and my anxiety spiking as I picture tossing out my local farmer's precious tended to crops (and wasting all the energy used to grow, transport, purchase, clean, and store it). 

So it's clear what has to happen: I have to stop wasting food asap. I'm a few weeks into my waste-free experiment and I wanted to share what has worked for me so far.

 

My 4 tricks for a (food) waste-free summer:

1) Meal plan. 

As with most things in life, having a plan reduces all kinds of waste. If we know we're home for only 4-5 days, Cam and I now plan out and shop for 3 dinners as well as basics for breakfast and lunch.  We find that three meals can often leave us with leftover ingredients or meal leftovers, both of which make excellent lunches or dinners for that week. For breakfast Cam and I each always have the same thing—omelette for him, green smoothie for me—and we know exactly what 4-5 days of each require ingredient wise. Precisely that (plus a bag of salty snacks and a sweet desert) is now all that ends up on our list. 

2) Get creative/be flexible. 

Many artists will tell you that working with a restricted palette helps to expand their creativity. The same rule holds true for cooking with a limited amount of ingredients—you'd be surprised how much fun and how delicious experimental meals can be! Yes, you might end up eating goofy combos (asian stir fry and quesadillas anyone?) or having breakfast for dinner, but some rules were simply meant to be broken.

3) Find adaptable recipes. 

Some types dishes are simply more forgiving than others. Think of the thousands of ways you can eat pasta or breadth of items that can be savored in a salad—these types of meals are your best friend the night before you head out of town. Personally, I find that a base of quinoa with some salad greens goes well with just about anything that might be lurking in my produce drawers: fried eggs, teriyaki tofu, roasted or fermented veggies, all kinds of fruit. You can't go wrong. 

4) Keep a few crucial staples on hand...

There are a few items with longer shelf lives that I always keep around: garlic and onion, a grain or two (rice, quinoa, pasta), a few cans of tomatoes, and dried or canned beans. A very simple meal couple be made out of just these items and the very dredges of your fridge.

5)... And a frozen meal for when times get desperate.

We also always keep a couple of Amy's frozen meals or burritos in the freezer. These guys come can be lifesavers when we're busy packing or arrive home late and have an empty fridge (success!). 

What are your tricks for dealing with food when you go out of town? Are you someone who travels a lot year round? What habits have you adopted for longterm success?

Please share!

What is "Waste"?

image // via 

"I can't get rid of that! It's in perfectly good shape—I don't want to waste it."

I couldn't begin to count the number of times a lovely client has said some version of the line above. Kyle or I will be holding up an object and encouraging the client the consider donating it, but the powerful urge to "not be wasteful" prevents them from letting go.  

Mind you that most of the items in question are unused, often never-used. Sometimes the items  are still in their original boxes or still have their tags on. Frequently they're covered with dust, so far in the back of the pantry or the bottom of the closet that the very same client did not realize they still owned that item until we excavated it for them.  

These unneeded belongings take up precious physical and psychic space in our clients homes and yet they seem to hold some power over otherwise very astute and self-aware people.

Why would we rather keep items we never have and almost certainly never will use—things that are only in our way, clogging our homes and weighing on our minds—than let them go?  

Why is it viewed as wasteful to donate something that you don't need, but it's not wasteful to let that same item expire in the pantry, dry up in the cupboard, or go out of style in the closet?

The most thoughtful and comprehensive answer I've ever heard to that question was shared with me by a ZenDesk employee when Kyle and I spoke at their headquarters last month. 

This gentleman grew up in rural seaside Scandinavia where there simply wasn't opportunity to acquire many possessions. Items were hard to come by and expensive, therefore objects that were purchased were done so very mindfully and items owned were taken care of and mended exquisitely. 

Even as greater wealth and connection to commercial centers rose throughout his childhood and early adulthood, his culture's way of relating to objects did not change: things were to be acquired only with great intention and taken care of with great thought. There was no mindless online shopping, no shopping as hobby or habit, no President's Day Sales binges. He was taken aback when he moved to America; shocked by the constant high level of acquisition we seem to be in, even as our homes already overflow with stuff. 

Through his observations of his friends and co-workers he arrived at the following conclusion: in America it's viewed as wasteful to give up "perfectly good" items that you've already acquired, while in Scandinavia it's viewed as wasteful to acquire things beyond your needs to begin with.

In America it’s viewed as wasteful to give up “perfectly good” items that you’ve already acquired, while in Scandinavia it’s viewed as wasteful to acquire things beyond your needs to begin with.

We need to redefine "waste" and our relationship to it.

At New Minimalism we fully support our clients' noble desire not to waste. In fact, we want to strengthen and emphasize that no-waste muscle—we also want to apply it earlier in the consumption lifecycle as the Scandinavians do. 

By the time an item enters your home, most of the wastefulness has already occurred: money has been spent, resources have been used up, and an object we never needed gets added to the pile of underutilized items. 

Typical donations haul from a single day session with a client. 

So let's all go Scandinavian.

Americans are already in love with Scandinavian design and the cozy, candlelit hygge trend. What if the quickest way to live this lifestyle is not by buying more flannel blankets or wishbone chairs but by embracing the root cause of this elegant, refined way of life: greatly reduced, intentional, kind consumption?

Maybe is was embrace that Scandinavian definition of waste—instead of acquiring, storing, tending to, paying off so much stuff—we too will have time to light a dozen candles and have a relaxing weeknight meal with friends!

I Tried Living With Only 100 Things. Here's What Happened.

This post originally appeared on mindbodygreen.

A peak inside my post-100 Things Challenge closet.

A peak inside my post-100 Things Challenge closet.

My journey to minimalism began in one of the least romantic ways possible: I was broke.

I’d love to say that I woke up one day and decided that I wanted to live a more conscious life, but that’s not the case. Nope, what I really wanted was to get the hell out of my cubicle and corporate law office. I wanted to leave so badly that I decided to forsake my generous salary and all the free meals and perks that came with my steady gig. Oh, and I did all of this in the heart of the recession in 2010.

In order to make ends meet, I knew that I would need to drastically reduce my spending and likely sell of some of my possessions. Like, immediately. I fully expected the experience to be a sacrifice—likely a painful one—but I thought that it would end as soon as my next stream of corporate paychecks came in.

Imagine my surprise, then, when about three months into my self-imposed, ultra- frugal experiment, I realized I was really really happy.

I didn’t feel restricted at all by not buying shoes and iPods (this was 2010 folks!) on my lunch breaks. In fact, I felt the exact opposite. I felt light, liberated, confident and free.

I was astonished that I’d ever lived with overflowing closets and crazy high credit card bills. I was also hooked: removing all of the extra stuff I didn’t really need from my life and donating it to people in my community felt amazing. For the first time I felt like the me I wanted to be: generous, thoughtful, and at ease.

Several years into my minimalist journey, though, I felt I’d hit a plateau.

I was hungry for the hit of dopamine that decluttering inspired—the personal growth that had come from simplifying in the past. As luck would have it, it wasn't long before I stumbled across a book by a man named Dave Bruno titled The 100 Thing Challenge. It was about, go figure, a guy lived with exactly 100 personal items for a year. And he didn’t just keep his other stuff in storage—he donated or tossed anything that didn’t make the cut.

“This is it!” I thought to myself. “This is how I can get that feeling back; this is how I can get even more clear, even more free, even more generous.”

If you can already sense that this was a bad idea, or at least poor reasoning for an iffy idea, then you would be several steps ahead of me. While I eschewed the greedy consumerist mindset of “more is always better,” I didn’t pause for a second to consider that “less is always better” might also be untrue.

Instead I charged ahead, creating all kinds of rules. I decided that I wouldn't count household items like plates, furniture, and the like, in my 100. I would count any of my personal possessions including pens, journals, shoes, jewelry, clothing, etc. As far as how I would count them, a pair of socks was one thing, a bikini was one thing, and a "library" of 25 books counted as one thing. (What can I say, I love books!).

Here's how the challenge panned out:

 

The Good

As I went from around 300 to 175 things, I felt sleeker and lighter. Letting go of so much felt a little bit risky, but in an exhilarating way. Everything I let go of was replaceable, and yet I didn't end up replacing any of it.

The Okay

175 to 135 things. In hindsight, this was probably sweet spot of the challenge for me. It was hard, don’t get me wrong, and more than a little uncomfortable. But it also helped me reach new levels of self-awareness. It helped me break a number of long-held stories and beliefs about stuff I’d never realized I held. Parting with these items was challenging but liberating. Had I not been so stubborn and so proud (and more than a little bit holier-than-thou) I would have declared the experiment a success and complete right here.

The Ugly

When it was time to whittle 135 things down to 100, sanity left me and obsession took its place. I simultaneously hated and obsessed over every. single. thing. I. owned. I counted and compared value and prayed for holes so that I could force myself to let go of things that I really loved. Getting to 100 things required me to totally override my internal sense of what felt good, and in doing so I ventured into a hollow, controlling emotional space.

The end of the experiment re-ignited a piece of my brain that I’d not felt since I was an early teen who struggled with food issues. It became about proving a point, imagining that by contorting myself to fit a made up standard, I would suddenly feel the way l craved. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t.)

Instead, I ended up getting back into the habit that I turned to minimalism to relieve in the first place: I became obsessed with my stuff.

 

Which is why you might be surprised that I would nonetheless recommend everyone try out the 100 Things Challenge.

Just with one crucial caveat: do NOT count your stuff. I believe this challenge is fatally flawed because it rewards rigid, obsessive behavior.

Counting is a form of keeping score. It’s how we get competitive; it roots us ego; and it removes us from the bigger picture of why we’re simplifying in the first place. Life is all about fluidity and flexibility. Philosophies and values keep your actions aligned with what matters to you, while rules keep you penned in. There is a crucial difference.

Instead, I would encourage you to take on this challenge basing your “success” on how it feels.

Note that if this is the first time you’re deeply decluttering, it might feel a bit uncomfortable. A mild or even medium amount of discomfort is a good thing: like our muscles feeling sore after a challenging workout, intellectual discomfort is how we know we’re growing. So stretch a toe outside of your comfort zone and hangout there for a moment.

Are you actually ok?  Does this maybe even feel better?  Then keep moving forward and testing your limits, but please do so more mindfully than I did. Push yourself until you hit your real limit (which might be a good amount further than you thought it was!) where tension is growing and the benefits of further decluttering falter, then honor yourself and stop there. That is how you really succeed in decluttering.

 

Click here to read this post in it's original format.

6 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Minimalism

This article was originally published on mindbodygreen.com

Like yoga studios and juice cleanses, minimalism has evolved from a less glamorous past. Thinking about minimalism used to conjure up images of hard-lined living in sterile, monklike conditions. Lucky for all of us, the new brand of minimalism shows the trendy side of a life with less. Yet misconceptions about the age-old practice still exist, so let's debunk a few right now:

1. All minimalists are young bachelors.

While, yes, there are certainly a number of single dudes in their 20s and 30s living minimalist lives, there are also families large and small doing so, such as the Birch & Pine trio and Zen Habits home of eight. There are minimalist couples and roommates, minimalist baby boomers and millennials. Sure, it might be easier if you don't have to check with a friend, partner, or child before simplifying your home. But trust us, some of the most meaningful conversations you'll have with your living partners will come from deciding what a shared minimalist life will look like together.

2. Minimalist homes are nearly empty and void of color.

No way! Perhaps one thing that most minimalists have in common is a reverence for items that are as functional as they are beautiful. It all boils down to being thoughtful and selective about your décor and surrounding yourself with things you love. This pretty much always equates to a home rich in personality and history.

3. You must own fewer than a certain number of possessions to be a true minimalist.

This is a false trap that I fell into early in my minimalism adventures when I decided to own only 100 things. When you focus on counting your possessions, you lose the greater mission: to live mindful, intentional, beautiful lives. There is no set number of items that can get you there. Instead, try to focus on a sensation: lagom. This Swedish word is sometimes translated as "enough," but it actually means "just the right amount." The best part of lagom is that it is inherently personal and fluid. Everyone decides what the right amount is for them.

4. Minimalists must wear the same thing every day.

To be fair, some minimalists do swear by a more uniform approach to dressing. However, you can also be a minimalist who is passionate about clothing and personal style. To embody minimalism and maintain a sense of personal style, you simply do so from a smaller pool of options.

5. Minimalism is self-centered because it's primarily about focusing on yourself and space.

While minimalism might start in your closet or your kitchen, it's actually a part of a greater ethos of community and global sustainability. As you cut down on your items, you can donate the ones that no longer serve you to local nonprofits. (Soup kitchens take unexpired food, kindergartens take basic art supplies and paper, women's shelters accept toiletries, etc.) You will notice that you begin to care more about objects, how they're made, and what they represent. Plus, as you pare down, it will shift your purchases moving forward and change how you approach consumerism in general.

6. There is only one way to be a minimalist.

True minimalism is inherently unique: It's about you, your experience, your truth, your goals. Where you live, who you live with, how you spend your time, what you're passionate about—all of it should be taken into account. The only time minimalism doesn't work is when you try to follow someone else's version of it. Feel free to try the strategies that others recommend, but let some stick and others fade away. At the end of the day, whether your home is quiet and white or an explosion of color and brimming with people is totally up to you.

You can read the article in it's original form on mindbodygreen.

5 rules for mindfully furnishing your new home

The pleasure and anguish of an empty home.                                                 image // via

The pleasure and anguish of an empty home.                                                 image // via

As those of you who've moved recently -- or sworn off moving due to trauma with a past move -- know, moving is hard.  And it's not just the act of purging and packing up and schlepping your stuff across town or the country that can wear a person down.  You also -- all of the sudden -- end up in a new, empty space with all of your old stuff.

Cam and I have moved twice in the past 12 months.  Each time our family has moved into a larger, architecturally different space.  From our San Francisco psuedo-Victorian one-bedroom rental, to a little cottage in Marin County, to now being homeowners (!) in Boise, Idaho.

It was a beautiful mid-September day when we got the keys to our first home.

In a few short hours we were moved in; by that evening we were fully unpacked (#minimalismperks) and feeling mighty proud of how quickly we got ourselves settled.

And yet when we woke up that morning our house felt... empty.  It was strange how suddenly out of place and bizarre our possessions seemed in this new space.  All of the sudden, much like unframed posters after college and mini-skirts in your mid 30s, our hodgepodge of Craigslist finds and apartment-sized hand me downs felt inappropriate, out of place.  

I felt particularly worried when I told people I'd newly met what I do for a living.  Terrified that they just might invite themselves over, expecting to find an airy, effortless, clean, white home, when instead they'd find partially furnished, mix-and-match rooms.

Find some grace.

What I hated the most was the feeling of being unfinished.  I finally understood why some people just open up a West Elm or Restoration Hardware catalogue to furnish entire rooms.  To be done.  To feel settled.

And yet I knew that rushing around to "complete" a home leads to waste, mistakes, poorly made furniture, poorly made decisions, and, worst of all, a home that feels like it's missing some soul.  

So as I imagined my earth guides Anne Lamott and Glennon Doyle Melton would say, I found some grace for myself and my sweet little mix-and-match craigslist home.   I slowed down.  I allowed myself and my home to exist in it's imperfect, incomplete state.

 

The 5 rules for mindfully furnishing or renovating a new space:

1. Fight the impulse to get it all done.  NOW!

Within a few days my neurosis settled and I saw clearly the honest truth: which is that I love our Craigslist couch and consignment chairs.  I love the lamp I found on the side of the street.  I adore the planters my husband got on sale a decade ago.  I loved them in San Francisco and in Marin and here in Boise.  If I'd run around trying to finish everything at once, I'd have missed settling in with these charming pieces and seeing how at home they really did feel in our space.

2. Know yourself.

I remember right after college watching a show on HGTV where people were choosing their kitchen countertops from two options. My heart broke when they couple chose a pretty nice looking utilitarian surface over an expensive, goooorgeous, high-maintenance stone.  At the time I was certain I'd never make that "mistake" -- use over beauty.  Now, however, I'm crystal clear that for my needs and lifestyle, my kitchen is all about function.  I would never select a material that wasn't first and foremost highly utilitarian.  If it's beautiful, too?  That's just a bonus.

3. Get to know your new lifestyle.

Is your new space close to amenities and it turns out that you're loving eating out all of the time?  Is your home perfectly oriented for entertaining and you relish in hosting your large, extended family?  Did you happen to get a puppy who is in a "chewing phase" and particularly enjoys gnawing on your couch?  It is wise to spend time getting accustomed to the ways your life might have shifted since you've moved before making purchases!

4. Get to know your home.

If we'd run out to purchase furniture right away, we'd have done so without knowing the angle the sun hits the living room in the winter, which makes a perfect nook for lounging.  Or where the dog likes to snuggle for his mid-afternoon nap.  Or where the trees flower in the spring.  All of these learnings have influenced where in our house we like to spend our time and how we like to use our space.  

5. Bird by bird. 

It can feel overwhelming, all the changes or purchases you might want to make when you move in (which I believe is what leads to rooms looking exactly like catalogs).  The best advice I received had nothing to do with furniture per se, but everything to do with how to handle a seemingly daunting task: go bird by bird.   In other words, start with one small project and take it one at a time.  Maybe start with a coat of classic white paint in your brown living area.  Then perhaps you can hunt through second hand stores for the perfect desk for your office nook.  And so on you go, calmly, wisely, bird by bird.

 

What about you? What are your tricks for moving into a new space? Did you jump right into projects or take your time? 

Do Buddhists Set Goals?

Meditation is a process of of trusting the basic goodness of what we have and who we are, and of realizing that any wisdom that exists, exists in what we already have.

-Pema Chodron

We talk a lot about being in the present moment at New Minimalism.  We solve clutter problems that exist in the house, today.  We redesign the layout using the furniture and materials that are already present in the home.  We help clients to embrace who they are now by releasing outdated versions of themselves - which is often reflected in their belongings.  

What both Cary and I have learned through our personal meditation and yoga practices is that the mind has a life of its own (often referred to as "mind chatter", the ego, the identity), and that this wild and unruly mind will habitually dwell in the past or pull us into the future without us even realizing it.  The mind is very good at avoiding the present moment.

What's so bad about this? If you spend too much time reminiscing about the past, or wishing you had done something differently, you eventually live your life there 100% time.  You also miss the opportunity to appreciate all the beautiful things happening around you - right now!  

It's easy to understand why living in the past has a down side.  But what about planning for the future? Micro managing your path forward is hard to resist, and more difficult to see the potential downside.  Using your smarts to plan / strategize / anticipate is essentially what makes us human, right? 

And yet!  This looking ahead can lead to expectations, grasping for something to play out precisely as planned.  If a best laid plan doesn't work out you can find yourself disappointed and frustrated. As Marianne Williamson writes, "Goal-setting is trying to get the world to do what we want it to do.  It is not spiritual surrender."

So here we are in February, a month after you've made resolutions for the year ahead. But how do these resolutions, these goals fit into living in the present moment?  All these questions lead me to Google the following question:

"Do Buddhists set goals?"  

What I verified is that Buddhist teachings do not necessarily disapprove of goal setting.  There are goals within the practice:  "to awaken", to achieve enlightenment, to relieve suffering.   Yet I think the important distinction here is that these are not necessarily end-goals.  They instead require the discipline and dedication of daily practice. I think this dichotomy is the most fascinating -- the difference between attainment of an end-goal versus the practice of continued discipline and dedication towards a value. Because growth, growth is an essential part of the practice.

Whether you identify with Buddhist teachings or not, goal setting has its place in life.  It is great for measuring your progress, for knowing where you are, for creating a vision of where you want to be, and for filling in the steps in between.  There is nothing inherently bad about goal setting, but as a culture prone to achieving, we must stay attuned to the motivation behind our goals. Do your goals stem from comparing yourself to others?  Or feeling that you need to check-off particular things in order to be a fully-functioning, "successful" adult?

I worked for a company that spent a lot of time on employee goal setting.  It was amazing!  It was so refreshing to take that time to really think about what I wanted and what I valued.  But what was interesting is that everyone's goals started to look the same!  I think once everyone started to read everyone else's goals, it seemed everyone had "run a marathon" in their health goals.  Setting goals based on comparing yourself to others is the fastest route to unhappiness and dissatisfaction. Because then you are not intrinsicly motivated to achieve goals that are not your own, and not fulfilling your goals can lead to frustration.  

We can lead our life so as to become more awake to who we are and what we’re doing rather than trying to improve or change or get rid of who we are or what we’re doing. The key is to wake up, to become more alert, more inquisitive and curious about ourselves.

-Pema Chodron

When goal-setting perhaps one of the most important pieces to understand is your personal tendencies. Are you prone to sit back and relax, go with the flow? Maybe more discipline in your life would be contribute to your personal growth.  Or, are you a Type-A achiever who has a hard time slowing down and taking a break? Maybe a planned sabbatical, whether an hour-long or a month-long, would be the best path towards personal rejuvenation?

Buddhism refers to the middle path, the idea that everything matters and at the same time, nothing matters. So when checking in with your new year's resolutions, now that we are a month into the year, what continues to resonate with you?  And what has already fallen to the way-side?  Let the goals that really light you up, that truly motivate and inspire you, lead the way.

So the moral of the story?

Yes, you can live in the present while continuing to grow.  In fact, a spiritual path requires intentionality and direction in order to lead to true growth and learning.  What's important is to accept your current circumstances, while at the same time continuing to test yourself and expand beyond your comfort levels. 

Inspiration for this post:

The Wisdom of No Escape, Pema Chodron

A Return to Love, Marianne Williamson

The Paradox of Having Goals in The Moment - Wildmind

Maria Popova interview - On Being

Image via The Master Shift

Image via Kelly Sparks

Holiday Happiness Hack: Travel Like a Minimalist

Baby penguins, notoriously minimalist in their holiday packing.

Baby penguins, notoriously minimalist in their holiday packing.

Ahh, the holidays.  

As much as we look forward to snuggling up by the fire, meals with family, and the celebratory air that surrounds this time of year, there remains a perennial downside: travel.  Specifically plane travel on some of the busiest and most notoriously bad-weather days of the year.

For me, having not lived in the same time zone as my family since I was 18, planes, trains and automobiles are just as much a part of the holidays as reindeer cookies, holiday sweaters and The Hanukkah Song.  

After years of lost bags, aching shoulders and still not bringing the right number of socks, I got serious about packing lightly and have never looked back.  Below are seven incredible benefits to traveling lightly AND super useful tips to get you started packing light a minimalist today!

 

WHY it's so much better to travel lightly:

1. It's an inherently better travel experience.  Less to manage.  Lighter.  Faster.  Better.

2. Checking bags is expensive and a waste of time.  Standing at the baggage carousel for 30 minutes when you've finally landed in your destination is rotten.  Paying $50 for that privilege is insane. 

Bodhi's first plane flight! 

Bodhi's first plane flight! 

3. Make sure you and your stuff end up in the same place.  As anyone whose ever had a tight connection in O'Hare or LAX or Denver over the holidays can attest, the chances of your checked bag and your body ending up in the same location at the same time is highly unlikely.  Sure, it stinks to end up at your destination without your bag, even worse is to say, spend the night on the floor of LaGuardia without even a toothbrush or extra layer to keep you comfortable.

4. You have your hands free for kids (or pets).  Let's be honest, traveling as an individual is enough of a challenge over the holidays.  The added task of keeping small humans (or animals) packed, fed and generally content is made infinitely easier when you have both hands available.  This means crying kids can be soothed and butts can be wiped all without having to constantly drop and adjust the bags you'd otherwise be holding.

5. You can find everything.  No more doing the "oh shit which pocket/pouch/bag is my boarding pass in" dance.  Fewer items all contained in one organized space makes everything instantly accessible.

6. It's an instant upgrade.  Instead of paying $149 for a few more inches of legroom, you can immediately gain a foot of space by placing your small duffel or backpack in the overhead compartment, leaving your feet free to stretch out.  Or, since it is the holidays, you could even choose to be ultra-generous by easily fitting your bag under your feet, leaving space for the single parents traveling with kids or all the noobs who haven't yet figured out the joys of traveling light.

"The ease of traveling lightly is as much a psychic experience as it is a physical one."

7. You have the mental space to be present.  Holiday travel is hard: airports are full, the days are dark, expectations loom.  The ease of traveling lightly is as much a psychic experience as it is a physical one.  Time slows when you have less to manage or keep track.   

Image // via

Image // via

You're convinced?  Awesome, now let's dig into:

How to Pack Light for the Holidays

Let your container be your guide.  I've found that no matter the size of the bag I choose, I end up filling it.  So choose a small duffel or medium sized backpack and, as Tim Gunn would say, make it work.

Choose a palette of durable basics.  This is the key to any attempt at packing lightly.  Bringing a whole new outfit for everyday of a trip adds up when you're gone for longer than a night or two.  Instead, selecting a couple classic pieces with can be worn multiple times and layered with each other means you can get away with packing less.  

Be super strategic about specialty clothing.  On holiday trips it's common to have special events.  Whether that be a holiday cocktail party, family religious services or a New Year's Day brunch, these events can call for a more specific style of dress.  Pick out an outfit whose components can be worn separately and more casually or put together again for normal days.

Eliminate as many pairs of shoes as you can.  Shoes are space killers.  A pair of men's athletic shoes or women's boots can take up half a small carry-on.  Wear your bulkiest shoes on the plane and commit to bringing no more than one additional pair.  I tend to wear a comfortable pair of leather boots and use them for every single occasion.

Create a travel toiletry kit.  It surprises me just how many people opt to check their bags so that they can bring full-sized toiletries with them.  Purchasing a few refillable containers is inexpensive and quickly checking to see that their filled before each trip takes just a minute.  Invest the $5 and 10 minutes now to set up your travel systems and you'll save that time and money multiple times over on your very first non-checked bag.  

Plan on doing laundry while you're there instead of bringing multiples.  If you're staying with family or at an airbnb, chances are you'll have access to full laundry facilities -- use them!  Even if you're staying in a hotel you can easily wash socks, underwear, exercise clothes and base layers in a bathroom sink or shower.

Borrow from your hosts.  Now this might not work for everyone, but if you're lucky enough to have relatives who are your size and not afraid of cooties, this can be huge.  For me, I borrow my mom's running shoes if it turns out that I want to run in the Polar Vortex streets of Chicago or (much more likely) so I can take a class taught by one of my very talented siblings.  In the past I've borrowed a super heavy winter from my little sister (when I still lived in California and didn't own one) and pjs from my older sister.

How do you save space when you travel?  Please share below!

 

5 Clutter-Free Gift Ideas

As the holidays draw nearer, we want to show the people in our life that we care, but how to do it without buying a bunch of things?  These five gift ideas are not only earth-friendly and easy on the budget, they are also just downright thoughtful.

tumblr_no5xuyK6Ev1u9i14bo1_1280.jpg

1.  Play travel agent.

Go beyond the normal gift certificate idea, and plan an activity for that person.  Get into the details.  Plan a picnic where you bring the supplies, and pick out the spot.  Or even something simple, like a round of drinks at your favorite watering hole.  The key here is to be specific.  I once gifted a "day-o-fun" for my friend's wedding gift.  It included tickets to an all-day music festival in the wine country.  I took care of all the details, and just made sure that they reserved the date.  It was a wonderful luxury to spend an entire day together.

Holiday Gift Wrapping.png

2.  Make something yummy.  

It doesn't have to be your regular old apple pie (unless that's your thing - in which case, do it!). Out-of-the-box ideas include: create a custom tea blend and package in little tins, batch-make your favorite salad dressing and put it in reusable glass jars.  You can also be this season's champion of healthy yet delicious treats by offering a sugar free alternative, like these coconut macaroons.  Or for your friend who is hosting a holiday party, offer to make (beforehand) a special mixer for a festive cocktail!  The yummy possibilities are endless . . .

 

3.  Handwrite a letter.

Sit down and write a letter explaining all the ways in which you love that person.  Write a rough draft first, and then transfer to the real card.  We pretty much type on a keyboard all the time now, so this gives you an opportunity to brush up your handwriting skills ;) For extra credit, enlist the help of friends to write their own love notes, creating a small love letter collection!  This takes planning, so do it now!

 

 

 

 

 

4.  Give the gift of a New Minimalism phone consultation! 

For $95 you get one-hour on the phone with declutter expert, Cary.  With lightening speed, she comes to understand all your clutter problems and then creates a specific, actionable gameplan to tackle them! Obviously this is the ultimate clutter-free gift. 

Email cary@newminimalism.com for details!

 

 

5.  Make a donation.

In their name, donate to a charity that the giftee is passionate about.  Thinking hard about a charity that will actually resonate with the person shows that you really know them and care about their interests

And don't forget, when you are out and about, stay away from the holiday-specific gift wrap.  Instead, buy a roll of brown construction paper, and decorate using fun magazine & newspaper photos!  Gift-wrapping becomes a craft in and of itself.  

We hope these ideas help make your holidays meaningful and bright!  Please share any other clutter-free gift ideas in the comments below!

 

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The Great Unsubscribe, aka: Dealing with Junk Mail

I tend to prefer my paper to be in the form of trees.  Image via.

Since moving to Idaho, I've become even more passionate (read: fairly obsessed) with the idea of creating a zero waste home.  

This is somewhat ironic considering that I just left the epicenter of green living for a state that bleeds red.  The godmother of the zero waste lifestyle, Bea Johnson, lived just ten minutes from me in the Bay Area.  Grocery stores were optimized to reduce packaging.  San Francisco set a goal that as an entire city to send NOTHING to the landfills by 2020.  

They made this habit easy on residents and stores by providing recycling and compost bins which they picked up weekly alongside our dwindling trash bins.  

So how fitting for my stubborn, rebellious little green soul to decide now that I live in a city that doesn't recycle glass that I want to seriously zero waste-ify my home.

And yet, of course, the timing really does make sense.  Part of why I loved San Francisco so much was being surrounded by people who shared my environmental sensibilities.  It was made easy for us all to live lightly.  Heck, an entire terminal at San Francisco International airport only served food in compostable containers -- "If you bought it here, it can be composted" read the signs.  

But part of what happens when you are surrounded by compostable, post-consumer recycled objects in a city of hippies is that you get lazy.  Or at least complacent.  You don't necessarily have to try that hard to live lightly.  And you get to be a judgy little a-hole when you go to a *gasp* non-coastal city who isn't quite as innovative in the green arena.  Long story short, it's easy to eco-friendly in the Bay Area.

I figure that if I can be zero waste in Boise, Idaho -- a state equally known for it's love of potatoes, the second amendment and fly fishing -- then it can be done anywhere.

First up on my list of things to tackle: Mail.  

#RUDE

It appears that the absolutely lovely people who owned our home before us liked to shop by catalog as a new one pops up at our door daily.  Literally, every single day.  While my specific goal is to produce no trash and paper can of course be recycled, it nonetheless feels obscenely wasteful to get a hundred pages of paper in the mail each day to only be placed straight in the blue bing.  

It also appears that USPS must have sold our new address info to a million and one home goods and supplies stores, because we are getting non-stop flyers and coupons for every store in town.

And on a related note, the ultimate asshat award goes to: Restoration Hardware who sent me TWO separate thousand-plus-page catalogues, all wrapped up in plastic.  Apparently they've been doing this since 2014 and have continued even after receiving repeated complaints.  #nevergettingmybusiness #notthaticouldaffordyouanyways #dicks

HOW TO ZERO WASTE: YOUR MAIL

1) Catalog Choice.  This amazing, free service allows you to create a profile for yourself (and any past residents of your home) in order to rapidly unsubscribe from catalogs and other mailings.  I've been using this service for years, but it's come particularly in handy with our most recent move.  (Pro tip: create profiles for "Current Resident" and "To Our Friends At" to stop those generic mailings as well.)

2) Call them up.  There are a couple of companies whom CatalogChoice isn't able to help with unsubscribing from.  For those companies, simply find their number on the back of the catalog, call them up and ask to be removed from their mailings.  When asked why I no longer wish to receive their company's catalog, I usually say something along the lines of, "I do all of my shopping online and don't want to waste precious paper."  The super sweet workers at L.L. Bean seemed to appreciate that:)

3) Fill out change of address forms for former residents at the Post Office.  If you, like us, have really kind former residents and you happen to know their new address, you can do this for them.  Otherwise you can write "no forwarding address."  The good news is that this tends to be implemented rapidly (unlike catalogs which can take 6-8 weeks).  The bad news it that this only applies to First Class mail, while Third class mail often doesn't get forwarded.

4) Get it by email.  For mailings that you still want to receive -- not that you want to get your bills, but you know what I mean -- sign up for electronic mailings.  Every single one of my providers in Idaho has an e-delivery option, even the city's recycling program.  It takes a minute or two to create an online profile and account, but it's worth it.  You can also often sign-up for automatic payments ensuring that you never miss a bill in the future.

A Simple Morning Routine

Morning Routines matter.

There have been a million and one studies on what the greatest minds throughout history have done in their mornings.  There is a website (which the voyeur in me loves) called My Morning Routine which profiles modern day creatives across the spectrum.  Everyone varies, but certain patterns stand out to me: exercise, creative activities, time alone without distraction (often meditation).  

Now this time alone without distraction I believe is the hardest thing to come by.  It's because we no longer need other people around or urgent meetings to distract us.  We have our phones, often right next to our beds, that awake us with glowing red numbers, calling out to us the feeling of already being behind.  I used to be a wake up and start chugging away at email person.  It made me feel efficient and like I was getting shit done from the first conscious breath of my day.  

But then the quality of my days over time deteriorated.  I was constantly seeking out the feeling of getting things done.  Which lead to reactivity, to focusing on other people's requests and to urgently responding to non-urgent requests.  It was things that I love the most: the feeling calm and quiet, the space for deep thinking, the room for creativity that became lost to me in this pattern.

All of which reminds me of the year I was living in Cambodia.  

Typical traffic in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 2007.  

Typical traffic in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 2007.  

When I first arrived, physically and culturally jet-lagged, I awoke at 7:30. I'd rush around to get ready for work.  The street would already be buzzing with motos.  The construction across the street would be in full swing.  The heat of the day would have already begun setting it, trapping me in a sweat that would not cease until i came home that night.  It was stressful.  

Life is quiet in the south Cambodia coastal town of Kep. How could I bring that type of serenity to my home in the bustling capital?

Life is quiet in the south Cambodia coastal town of Kep. How could I bring that type of serenity to my home in the bustling capital?

 

Though I was busy with people all day, I felt immensely lonely.  And of course a good amount of that came from being halfway around the world from my family and the majority of my friends, the deepest part of it was a disconnection from myself, a lack or grounding or rootedness.  A loneliness that felt like a complete separation from me and my routines and the habits that I'd honed over 23 years to bring me joy: movement outside, writing, the time alone with my brain I used to get for 20+ hours a week as a collegiate swimmer.  

One of my roommates at this time was a teacher.  He had to be at school at 7am and was often gone before I awoke.  But he rose at 5am to take time to write and listen to music -- his two favorite past times.  So I began getting up with him.  We'd take turns brewing coffee and then would sit at the table on our front porch writing.  The air was the coldest it would be all day and it felt delicious to wear a long sleeve shirt and socks -- to "get cozy"-- before the heat set in.  We wrote together, breaking to chat or for me to ask him about the music that was playing, to get each other more coffee.  It was delicious.  It was spacious.  It made me feel vibrant and connected and energized.

Being back in the states, I no longer had the need to avoid oppressive heat.  I no longer had a job that required me dashing around on the back of a moto through the hectic Phnom Penh streets, and so I let go of those habits that had felt so necessary and joyful in Asia.  In fact, it took me almost 8 years to get back these joyful, centering mornings.  

It actually took one mosquito harassing me and my husband one night, my husband thrashing like a wild man until I was fully awake, to get me up early again.  I needed to entertain myself quietly until my husband and neighbors awoke, so I brewed a pot of coffee and sat down to meditate in the dark, completing my practice as it completed it's brew.  I sat down to my morning pages (750words.com) and just wrote like I used to in my journals.  

That alone was enough to ground me throughout the day.  

Coffee + writing = content Cary

Meditation.  Writing.  Coffee.  Three simple, joyful, accomplishable items.  Whenever I've attempted more ambitious routines (practice a new foreign language for 30 minutes!) I inevitably fail at eventually.  So my goal is to keep it simple.  Light.  Joyful.  To make it be the time I look forward to as soon as my eyes flutter open (from my alarm clock buzz:).

The point is this.  Life is happening.  Now.  Each day.  You get to choose how you feel right now.  You get to choose your experience.  

The best way I know to set up my experience as one of creating, enjoying, relaxing is start off with my morning routine. 

How do you spend your mornings?  Are you an early bird or a night owl?  What time do you wake up?  What's been the best morning habit you've adopted?

 

Resources: My Morning Routine

I am not busy.

image // via

image // via

If you looked at my calendar, you'd think I should be having a pretty relaxing day.  

Certainly there were a number of quotidian household duties -- preparing for guests tonight when another just left this morning, navigating household finances, grocery shopping and so on -- and then just writing.  A joy!  Every artist's dream day!  

So why was it that as I went to refill my mug (with fair trade locally roasted french-pressed coffee and adorable glass bottle local Idaho farm half and half) that I exhaled loudly like someone who was so stressed?

Because busyness is actually not just a product of the things we need to get done -- it how we feel about what we're doing.

If you looked at my computer, you would see that I (shamefully) had 8 tabs open.  Tabs to find a good flight deal on my upcoming Thanksgiving travels.  A tab to track the status of our first mortgage payments.  A tab with my favorite writing site open (750words.org) and a tab with New Minimalism's site open.  Then another 3 or 4 open to videos of people celebrating the CUBS WORLD SERIES VICTORY last night (my favorites are Kris Bryant making the winning catch, the man listening to the game at his father's gravestone and everyone of anyone over 90 celebrating -- you are welcome.).

But seriously guys, I was doing it to myself.  

I fell into the classic busy-hole of attempting to multitask and instead ended up distracting myself beyond measure as time flew by.  When it was all of the sudden lunch time and all of my most important tasks were still undone?  It made me feel scattered, unaccomplished and *gasp* even busier.  Which is the great paradox of feeling so busy -- you often feel it the most when you are not actually getting things done.

Bodhi knows how important sleep is.

But sometimes you just ARE busy, right?

On the flip side just this Monday I woke up early, lit a candle, turned on the classical station and drank my tea as I wrote thousands of original words for our book.  All this before the sun rose (to be fair, it rises suuuuper late these days in Boise).  

I then took my dog for a long walk and made Cam and myself a nice lunch.  After lunch I tackled a group of daunting emails and then navigated personal and work financial to-dos for the month.  I felt like I was getting everything done -- and that relaxed me. 

Heck, in college I was the captain of a division 1 team, worked a side job, wrote an honors thesis and graduated a term early and I rarely felt busy.  I was always just focused on the task right in front of me.  At the pool, I swam.  In the library, I studied.  In the lab, I worked.  I was proactive, scheduled thoughtfully, got a good night sleep for sure.  But then I just sat down and got shit done.  My college self (and even Monday self) would have laughed at my today self being such whiner pants.

The good news is it's easy to turn A busy day around by doing these two things:

1) Stop doing everything and start doing one thing.
Make a list and start checking things off.  Do not, I repeat, DO NOT open another browser tab until the previous task is complete.  Relish your feeling of accomplishment.  

2) Tell yourself you're not busy.  
Literally, say it aloud: "I am not busy." That's what I ended up saying to myself as I reheated my coffee, just after I startled myself with that exasperated exhale.  Hearing myself say"I am not busy." helped me to settle into that sensation.  Instead of rushing back to my computer I took 3 seconds to lean down and smell my coffee and then to look out at our fall yard.  My schedule is full, but my mind determines how I feel about that.  And, I am NOT busy.

BTR: A Family Kitchen

Kyle writing to share with you another Behind the Redesign.  In Behind the Redesigns we like to divulge all our little design secrets in the hopes that you'll be able to incorporate some of these tips into your own spaces.  You may have noticed that there have been fewer BTRs posted in the past several months.  That is because we have been saving many client projects for the New Minimalism book!  But we were able the dig into the archives for today's Behind the Redesign, which details the kitchen session of two super cute soon-to-be-parents.  We'll call them Melissa and Adam.  

When we first toured Melissa and Adam's kitchen, we saw that although the surfaces were not overwhelmed with stuff, behind closed doors the cabinets were filled to capacity and the storage was not functional for their day-to-day needs.  With their first baby on the way, we also needed to create space for infant-related gear.

Here is a rough sketch of the kitchen floorplan to give you a sense of layout.

Here is a rough sketch of the kitchen floorplan to give you a sense of layout.

Above left is the before image of the cabinets above the microwave.  As you can see in the floorplan, these cabinets are right in the middle of everything, and should be used for highly-accessed items.  Instead, they were storing serving dishes that were used once a month, and acting as a too-small food pantry.

In the after photo, above right, we designated one cabinet for all things baby.  We know from working with young families (and our nieces and nephews), that baby gear is abundant with small pieces of glass and plastic that require frequent washing.  We wanted to ensure plenty of space for the baby items to spread out and have room to dry.  We relocated the serving dishes to a cabinet near the sink.  We designated the previous food pantry for mugs and glassware.   The food we moved to a cabinet that was larger and better suited for food access since it was above the large countertop where food prep takes place.

The above images are the drawers beneath the microwave.  Again, these drawers are a prime location, but were being used for non-daily items.  The uppermost drawers in the kitchen are the creme de la creme of kitchen real estate.  What happened here, and what typically happens when one moves into a new space, is that our clients just guessed which drawers should be used for what.  Like the junk drawer and first aid drawers in the before photo (left), a few items in these categories needed a home and this was the simplest, in-the-moment solution.  But then, like bunnies, soon the items multiplied to take over the entire drawer.  As we teased apart the storage needs of the kitchen, and saw that there was available storage in other areas of the home, we allocated this drawer space to the essentials of the kitchen - utensils and cooking tools.

Again, the biggest difference in the photos above is the relocation of items.  You can see how the glassware had too much space in the before photo (left), and meanwhile the pantry was cramped in a cabinet across the kitchen.  We swapped the two, and advised Melissa and Adam to make meals using their existing pantry supplies in order to reduce the overall volume (you can see in the after photo, right, that items are stacked, which is not ideal for accessibility).  

Above, creating more cabinet space for pantry items means that countertops can remain clear except for a limited number of quick-grab items.  Clutter attracts clutter.  So keeping countertops clear means that they are more likely to stay clear.  Plus cleared countertops are far easier to wipe down.

Life in the Slow Lane

On a hike to fly fish in one of Idaho's many rivers... 

On a hike to fly fish in one of Idaho's many rivers... 

Cam and I moved…  Again!  

This time we left our little chunk of paradise in the Bay for a slower, more mountainous way of life in Boise, Idaho. 

Cam and I have for years sought to really put down roots in the Bay Area.  We’d imagined settling there for good, buying a house, starting a family, raising our kids and dogs among the redwoods.  We love California for a couple of reasons: the insane and diverse natural beauty, the environmental / social activist culture, and, most of all, our dear group of friends who’ve become our family over time.

And yet, something was always missing.  

Life is complicated, until it’s simple.

The truth about a new minimalist lifestyle is that when you deal with and consider and think through your stuff, you can’t help but gain clarity in other areas of your life.  In the past year it became completely clear that Cam and I were ready for the next phase in our life. 

We wanted to be somewhere slower, somewhere affordable, somewhere with great and expansive natural beauty and — in a dream world — be close to family.

Our Idaho roots

I’ve been visiting Idaho for as long as Cam and I have been together.  His father was raised in Boise and almost his entire extended family remained there.  We went hiking in the Sawtooth Mountains, skiing at Bogus Basin, snowshoeing in McCall.  When Cam’s parents decided to return to Boise after raising him in New Jersey, we were intrigued.  

Boise, while we loved the place, hadn't been on our short list of possible, more affordable locations we would trade in the Bay for.   Our Idaho trips over the past year showed us a new way of life that was open to us: a slower, more affordable pace of life balanced with a vibrant downtown, a line-free regional airport within biking distance and the eternally enthusiastic presence of college students at nearby Boise State.

Once we opened our hearts to the possibility of life in Idaho, the stars aligned in ways we couldn't have imagined. 

We found a home that we love with a sweeping backyard, tumbling down to a creek with our very own water wheel.  We adopted the sweetest, most precious and adventurous dog in the world. 

We walk along the river, have dinners with family, never worry about traffic, bike anywhere in the city we need to go, and spend about 40% less on our mortgage than we did on our SF rent.  We have a whole new sector of this beautiful country to explore and come to know.  We have a small but amazing group of friends who have taken us rafting and hiking and taught me to fly fish (which, by the way, is every bit as romantic and beautiful and meditative experience as the movies make it out to be).  

Ohana is everything.

My older sister recently surprised me by flying to Boise for my birthday.  If that wasn't a gift enough, she gave me a shirt with the perfect saying on it: "Ohana is Everything."  Ohana, Hawaiian for family.

While Cam’s family is without a doubt my family now as well, it was hard to settle away from my folks and siblings.  

Which is why Cam and I agreed that as often I needed/wanted/desired to visit family, I would.  I’m on the plane to Chicago right now to help my folks move. I’ll be back in November and for Christmas (with sweet Bodhi in tow).  Part of living in Idaho meant that we would have real space for all of my family to visit whenever and for as long as they desire.  I knew anywhere we ended up long-term (if it wasn’t in my parent’s basement, as I think my dad would have loved) I needed my family to feel totally comfortable and at home in my home. I wanted a real guest room and a real bathroom and an experience of ease the would lure them to the Treasure Valley and keep them here for a long while.

Our little mutt is part terrier and part something that will jump in the river after ducks!

Our little mutt is part terrier and part something that will jump in the river after ducks!

I look forward to sharing with you guys a new way of looking at and living the NM lifestyle, from a much less urban city in a stand alone home, which we own, in the mountain west.  While I’ve always been so proud of my Chicago roots (go Cubs go!), it feels brand new to be an adult not living on the Pacific Coast and all that stands for.  My hope is that these new learnings and adjustments will connect us with and serve a broader range of people seeking out a simple, easy, inspired life!

Big Changes AHEAD

Major moves taking place over here at New Minimalism!

Cary here to share the biggest news ever:  Cam and I moved to Boise, Idaho!  If you’re thinking to yourself, "Wait, didn’t you just move?"  You are right. 

Our new Idaho backyard!

Our new Idaho backyard!

Earlier this year, Cam and I moved across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County.  This was a really beautiful and really challenging time in our lives.  But I will say that this mini-move was the stepping stone that gave us the clarity and impetus to make our real, long-desired, big move to Boise.

When we first moved out of our rent controlled apartment in San Francisco, we knew, intellectually and emotionally, that leaving San Francisco proper meant we were completing a certain phase of life.  Within the Bay Area's housing market, prices have skyrocketed, and giving up rent control made this move effectively irreversible.  Though it was made far less scary knowing we would be a mere 20 miles north, we would never again be able to afford the type of apartment we enjoyed in the city. 

The baby step of moving to Marin untethered us from life in the city and made us savor the quiet evenings of a non-urban landscape.  It forced us to acknowledge that we deeply longed for a place we could put down roots, build community, and care for a piece of land that would feed and nourish us over time.

We are overjoyed with the opportunity to explore a slower, more affordable way of life.  I am so ready and excited to adventure throughout this new landscape will be sharing with you all the lifestyle tips I learn along the way. 

But, what does this means for New Minimalism?

We are using the remaining months of 2016 to adjust to these new changes and set forth a proper vision for 2017.  And in the meantime:

1) We will have limited in-person sessions: From now through the end of 2016, we have only 10 remaining sessions available with the original decluttering duo, Cary & Kyle.  Please reach out to hello@newminimalism.com if you’d like to snag one. We plan to continue in-person sessions in a new incarnation in 2017.  

2) We are hard at work on our beloved book, to be published with Sasquatch Books in January of 2018.  It’s going to be a gorgeous, full color, photography-filled book about our process and client work.  We’ve poured our hearts and souls into the writing (and now the photoshoots) and will keep you up to date as timing gets closer to its release.

3) We are focused on bringing quality, consistent content to the blog and Instagram! We'd love to hear from you in the comments about what questions you'd like answered and which topics most inspire you!

Thank you dear readers for being patient while we have quietly (almost silently) undergone this transition over the past few months.  If you would like to read more specifically about my move to Idaho (and the newest 4-legged member of our family), I will be publishing a more detailed post next week!

One Small Habit: BYOJ (Bring Your Own Jar)

New Minimalism doesn't end after you walk out your front door, that's simply the starting point.

Decluttering your home and donating items is the first step in cultivating a mindful, gentle way of being on this earth.  Many of the habits we practice at home, we also do our best to bring with us into the rest of our lives.  Today's small habit is a perfect example of this.  

One small habit that Kyle and I both deeply value is BYOJ: bring your own jar.  

In this habit, one essentially never leaves home without some kind of container with them.  Kyle and I both alternate between simply using our water bottles (which we also always have on us) or a mason jar.  This jar serves as a personal, always-available reusable receptacle for any food or drink item you may purchase when out and about.  

So far, we've used our jars for: smoothies, acai bowls, coffee (like Phillz Mint Mojito above!), tea, water, avocados, oatmeal, salad bar items, and freshly-foraged berries, just to name a few.

It's unimportant exactly what brand or style you use -- to each their own preference.  What does matter is that the jar is durable (it will be bouncing around in your backpack/bag/bike panniers after all), and that it has a good sealing lid (my purse still smells like cardamom on warm days from a slightly leaky jar of chai latte this past spring).

New habits undoubtedly require a little effort in their originating stages.  But their elegance and beauty comes from the effortlessness of habitualized behaviors -- when it stops being work and starts being second nature.

It takes a little bit of moxie to offer up your jar at restaurants, coffee shops, on planes or at grocery stores.  Do it anyways.  Not only is it a good deed done for our earth (avoiding the constant stream of disposables), it's also more pleasant to eat and drink out of a lovely glass or aluminum container and far easier to travel with than a paper or plastic version.

Each person, each time they use a jar in public, they strengthen the ecological awareness of their community.  When you BYOJ, you not only ensure that far fewer products end up in our landfills (or recycling or compost, which still require resources to process) but you also can't help but start up a conversation or set a small example for your fellow consumers.  You are one more person moving the spectrum, ever-so-slightly, towards environmental compassion and responsibility.  And that small act means a lot.

When Breath Becomes Air

My husband, nature, quiet time -- three of my favorite things.

My husband, nature, quiet time -- three of my favorite things.

"You have to figure out what's most important to you."

I (Cary) just finished reading the extraordinary memoir "When Breath Becomes Air" by the late Dr. Paul Kalanithi.  Kalanithi passed away last April from lung cancer, within a year of the birth of his daughter and his own graduation from neurosurgical residency.  During the brief period between his diagnosis and death Kalanithi wrote this book, with excruciating awareness and sublime honesty, about what it is that makes a life worth living.  

The quote above comes from Kalanithi's oncologist, referred to in the book as "Emma."  Kalanithi asks Emma often about statistics and projections for his illness; he seeks out solid footing in numbers and timelines.  Emma understands that what Kalanithi really wants to know is this: how ought he navigate his new life on this foreshortened timeline?  Her simple, sage advice:

"You have to figure out what's most important to you."  

I was drawn to this book months ago but put it down midway due to a period of loss in my own life.  When I picked it up again, hungry to put words to my own experience, I was drawn in particular to the grace with which Kalanithi grieved the chasm between how he'd imagined his life would be and how it was actually unfolding.  

For me, the bargaining stage of grief was the most illuminating.  In this stage, what it is that one holds most dear becomes crystal clear.  For the first time in my life, I knew with total certainty what I would trade, what I would give up, all of the things that I would, without a thought, toss out the window if it meant that I could have what I lost back.

And at that point, the idea of "stuff' and what we believe we "need" reveals itself in a pure way.  Stuff isn't bad; it brings us comfort and joy, beauty and ease.  But stuff is worth precious little, if anything at all, when we are stripped naked in front of life's big events. 

Minimalism, like grief, is a powerful tool for uncovering what matters most.

"When Breath Becomes Air" is written by a doctor and a philosopher.  Yet more than any book I've ever read about simplification or decluttering or design, Kalanithi's words get at the heart of what Kyle and I aim to do through New Minimalism.  

On the surface, we help people declutter and design their spaces.  What we really do is guide overwhelmed, fatigued folks through a process of peeling back layers (of stuff, commitments, habits, beliefs) until they have clarity around what matters most to them.  

In our sessions, it's typical for our clients to hit roadblocks.  As the morning's coffee fades and they sit, surrounded by so much stuff which they've chosen to bring into their lives, clients often struggle with deciding what should stay and go.  They're adrift in a sea of reasons of why they "should" keep something, why it came into their lives to begin with, and how much they gave up in order to have these items.  

This is where considering the brevity of life is so valuable.  

Trying to sort through million potential futures in order to determine an item should stay ("I might need this some day if I...") is a herculean task.  However, armed with the awareness of the shortness of life, we are instantly called back to our cores, to the very center of what matters.  

Here our clients can step back and say, "Oh, this is what matters to me: how I spend my days; how I feel when I first open my eyes in the morning; how I respond to the cries of my child; how much mental and emotional space I feel in my own life so I can bolster those I love in their lives.  Which of my things help me do that?"    

Which is precisely when the extraneous stuff goes flying out the door.  Spare bathrobes, old shin guards, extra pots and pans, old paperwork, unfinished projects -- what are these objects other than things which are blocking the way or at least fouling up the path as we try to live a full and meaningful life?

The author, Dr. Paul Kalanithi.

The author, Dr. Paul Kalanithi.

There is no reason not to follow your heart.

It would be debilitating to live life with your own mortality in the forefront of your mind each day.  But don't we owe it to ourselves to think about the shortness of life more often?  To, on occasion, strip bare our lives and consider really, truly, deeply, just what matters to us?  And then to do everything in our power to live our lives honoring and investing in what we value?  With however much time we have?

As Steve Jobs said, "Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."