7 TIPS TO DECLUTTER AND ORGANIZE YOUR PANTRY

This post originally appeared on the Project Juice blog, Ritual Wellness.

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When we talk about spring cleaning, we think of dusty closets, old clothing and sweeping out those crumbs from behind the fridge. But what about the food pantry?  This part of the house is often overlooked when considering spring cleaning, yet it’s a vital part of your day-to-day experience. At New Minimalism, we have worked with many clients to declutter their pantries.  It’s definitely not the most-requested category to address, but because of its daily interaction, the results are always the most appreciated. 

We would venture to say that regularly tending to your food pantry is even a basic building block of healthy living and eating. It brings attention to the food that you have on-hand, and helps to stimulate ideas of what to cook at home. Contrary to the general assumption, a lean pantry can actually challenge you the most, creatively, because you have to work within constraints.

The pantry is not the most-requested category to address, but because of its daily interaction, the results are always the most appreciated.

7 Tips to Refresh Your Pantry

  1. Start fresh — Remove all food items from all the cabinets and drawers and place them on the counters.  Use a step-ladder to reach the items hiding at the back of the upper cabinets. This forces you to assess each and every item, like the ones you might glaze over out of habit. Don’t forget about the spice collection and the condiments in the refrigerator.

  2. Consider the planet during this clean out — Compost any food that has expired.  Rinse and recycle plastic and glass containers.  Warm water and soap works well for cleaning out glass jars and bottles.

  3. Release the need for variety — Follow the lead of zero-waste pioneer, Bea Johnson, and simply keep one variety of food at a time. Choose one type of grain to use at a time and only store this option until you are finished with it. For example, you have a large jar of brown rice.  Then, brown rice is your “chosen grain” for the next few recipes, and you don’t buy another grain until you are finished with the rice.  This approach keeps your pantry items super fresh, and simplifies your decision-making when it comes to what to cook.

  4. Break the rules — Part of the fun of cooking is to try new things.  When following a new recipe, try to use some items you have on hand, rather than run out to buy the exact ingredient that the recipes calls for.  If your recipe calls for white vinegar and you only have red, you could try using the red vinegar for a twist on the recipe.  This also might create your own version of the recipe with something you typically have on-hand, making it easier to cook this recipes in the future.

  5. Glass storage containers — Using your own glass containers keeps food fresh, longer and just looks nice.  When using your own containers, it can take some practice to know the right sized container for the type of food, but don’t be dismayed.  Just know this is part of the process.  It can be helpful to “set it an forget it” rather than constantly shuffle from one size container to the next. If you normally buy 24 oz. of granola, keep the granola in a jar the correct size for 24 oz, even when there is only 4 oz. left. This will simplify your brain, and will reserve the space for when you re-up on your Project Juice  granola. Otherwise you can get into a constant shuffle that isn’t actually all that impactful in the long run.

  6. Aspirational food items, and what to do with them — During your clean sweep, you may be reminded of a food item you brought home at some point to try out a new recipe — let’s call these aspirational food items.  But it’s been six months and you still don’t feel like making Aunt Jean’s casserole with the specialty noodles.  Give yourself a deadline to use these items. When I did my own pantry clean out, I was reminded of the rice paper I bought to try my hand at homemade spring rolls.  Now that they are back in my attention, I’ve pulled the rice paper down to the counter top.  If I don’t use them over the next week, it’s time to give up on that food goal and donate or compost.

  7. Sharing is caring — My neighbors love to be the recipients of food that is still good but I, for some reason, personally don’t want to eat.  I was avoiding gluten for a time and realized I had two boxes of gluten-filled crackers.  My neighbor happily took them off my hands.  If I had waited around until I was eating gluten again, they probably would have gone stale.

The change of season from winter to spring is a natural time of renewal — the days grow longer, flowers and trees start to bloom, everything turns green—let’s embrace this change with a pantry spring cleaning of your very own at home!

5 Decluttering Tips You Won't Find in Marie Kondo’s “Tidying-Up” method

5 Decluttering Tips You Won't Find in Marie Kondo’s “Tidying-Up” method.

Marie Kondo’s Netflix series, “Tidying Up” is another cultural phenomenon!  We love that Kondo has taken to the screens of aspiring minimalists everywhere.  No matter where one are on their journey towards an intentional lifestyle, more exposure to the philosophies of decluttering means more people thinking twice about their consumption habits which means progress towards the paradigm shift required to live as a sustainable species here on planet Earth!  We have lofty purpose-driven goals over here at New Minimalism.

Back in 2015 when Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up first came out Cary and I were thrilled to witness the widespread public interest that followed.  We had been practicing our method of decluttering for a few years at that point, and when Cary and I would describe the work we did at New Minimalism, we would be met with puzzled looks.  Contrast that to the reaction after Kondo’s book began to circulate, and it was like night and day. “Decluttering” had become a familiar, household word that stimulated a ton of conversation. From the beginning we affectionately described Marie our “Japanese spirit sister” (we are officially fans!).  But there are some super important aspects where the KonMari process falls short.  Below we’ve described the five decluttering tips that you won’t find in the Kondo method.

Enjoy!


1. The promotion of environmentalism and removing toxins from your home.

Kim Warp, The New Yorker, April 2019

Kim Warp, The New Yorker, April 2019

Obligatory rant: We started this company because we care about the planet and know that consumption rates are a considerable part of the equation.  Sustainability imbues every part of our business: We donate and repurpose everything that can be, even the unexpected items: art supplies and office paper are donated to a local school; food goes to a local soup kitchen; we even connected with a local organization who gladly accepts pre-owned socks that are clean and in good condition! 

Halllllo?! It’s 2019. If you haven’t read the news, we are literally drowning in plastic. The fact that Marie Kondo overlooks any sort of environmental stewardship in her process is shocking to us because it is the #1 reason that motivates us to do what we do at New Minimalism.  

The piles of plastic bags filled with garbage and donations in the TidyingUp show makes our hearts hurt.  Single-use plastic bags are a BIG “no, no” in our world. Instead, you can use a use a large bin that you have on-hand and simply take the bin back with you after wards.  We also use large paper “lawn” bags and cardboard boxes when we can’t repurpose what is on-hand at the client’s home.  We promote cleaning products that are free of fragrance (not laced with endocrine-disrupting fake fragrances). Curious about that last sentence? Open this link to watch a 7-min. "Story of Cosmetics" video on the subject … after you finish reading this, of course!


Thankfully the KonMari process doesn’t promote buying new containers and instead advises to use what you have.  But we wish that there was discussion of material choice and the importance of whether an item can be donated, repurposed, recycled, or composted.


2. “staging” should be orderly and systematic.

This type of staging is hive-inducing for most!

This type of staging is hive-inducing for most!

The first step of the New Minimalism decluttering process is “staging”. This is when you pull everything out that belongs to a particular category from where its been hiding in various parts of your home — for clothing you grab your jackets from the front closet, the ski clothes from the attic, the t-shirts in your dresser and anywhere else clothing might be.  At New Minimalism we stage items in a super methodical and organized way, so as to not overwhelm the client and increase the feelings of chaos that likely already exist in abundance. We neatly stack all pants together to make the decision-making process for the client more approachable — it is easier for your brain to understand what you have. You can easily pull out your never-fail-guiding-light-favorite jeans to compare them to the less-than-ideal / ill-fitting / tired AF jeans. 

An orderly start also initiates the process of respecting the object by placing it with care in an orderly way. Rather than pile your mattress high with a mountain of every single piece of clothing you own and then pick away at it piecemeal, we think systematic and orderly staging is a vital component to tackling your decluttering projects.


3. The indispensable value of an outsider’s perspective

“Oh, now you need to make a ton of difficult decisions? See ya later!” Marie and her assistant leave the client for the hardest part! Decision-making is often the most difficult part of decluttering and is usually why a client has hired us in the first place.  I can’t imagine piling the bed high with a mountain of clothing and then saying, ok BYE!  Good luck! We are there to guide the decision-making and help the client see their blindspots that got them into this mess in the first place! If you can’t hire us, you can trick a friend into helping you! Having someones else there keep you on track and out of the black hole known as memory-lane and other common distractions.


It is also through the decision-making process that we as the designers of the space come to deeply understand how a client needs to use the different rooms in their home and what objects they need access to daily, monthly, etc.  It is from this detective work we can create new systems that will actually work for the clients’ particular needs.


We are there to guide the decision-making and help the client see their blindspots that got them into this mess in the first place!


4. Folding isn’t always the answer.

The vertical “file” folding method that Marie Kondo has become famous for is a smart optimization of space, for sure.  But in the typical American household it’s not a lack of space that’s the issue.  It’s too much stuff in the space to begin with. We even say at New Minimalism that a complicated organizational system (or complicated folding, in this case) is often indicative of needing to do a deeper, more thorough decluttering.

Take, for example this badass lawyer client of ours who lives in San Francisco.  We were decluttering this working mother’s wardrobe and it was clear from the state of her room that she lead a busy life that resulted in clothing chaotically strewn about the master bedroom.  At work she was killing it, at home it was a disaster zone.  

KonMari folding method doesn’t work across all scenarios

KonMari folding method doesn’t work across all scenarios

Looks great. But can we talk about the fact that YOU HAVE 32 T-SHIRTS?!!!

Looks great. But can we talk about the fact that YOU HAVE 32 T-SHIRTS?!!!

After discussions on the value of slowing down to “end the cycle of busy” and a deep clothing purge, we were able to easily fit about 10 cotton shirts in a drawer in her dresser.  I observed, “So it looks like folding is not a priority for you.  Would you say this is true?”  She laughed at my phrasing and agreed, so I gave her “permission” to let the cotton t-shirts float free as contained chaos within the single drawer.  Her eyes opened wide and she said, “Wait, so I don’t have to fold?! Wow, you just blew my mind!”  It was like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders at this fact.  In this case, a “contained chaos” approach works.  And since with this client we were starting at a beginners level of organizational prowess, it would be unrealistic to ask her to fold her shirts neatly. Baby steps.  She’s not going to go from throwing her clothes all about her room to neatly folding cotton t-shirts in a dresser drawer.  Getting the clutter under control and manageable is the first step in the overall behavior shift that will translate into keeping an orderly space. This will improve over time, and with commitment and desire from the client. The main takeaway is that the vertical folding technique of the KonMari method works in some cases, but should not been seen as a cure-all storage solution for every item in your home.

Getting the clutter under control and manageable is the first step in the overall behavior shift that will translate into keeping an orderly space.


5. Design matters!

We detail 12 Design Principles in   our book!

We detail 12 Design Principles in our book!

What about the design of the space after your decluttering sweep?  Many of the spaces either feel bare and bereft of character or don’t feel different at all.  How about the rearranging of furniture? Repurposing that gorgeous rug as wall-hanging piece of art? A fresh coat of paint? When you thoroughly declutter, you have to redesign the space to accommodate the new needs.  Tricks like placing your dresser in your closet, displaying everyday objects as art or repurposing sentimental items for decor are overlooked parts of the KonMari process.  We have 12 Design Principles in the New Minimalism book that tackle this subject head-on.  We recommend spending time and effort on redesigning the space so that it retains a warmth and character and actually inspires New Minimalism clients to continue to care for their spaces long after we are finished working together.

We love hearing from you! Did these 5 tips deepen your own decluttering insights? Please share on Instagram your own decluttering tips :)

A Pro Declutterer Takes Us Through Her Studio Apartment — And Spills How She Keeps It So Tidy

All photos by  Ryan Devisser

All photos by Ryan Devisser

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON MINDBODYGREEN, 2/28/19

Kyle Quilici knows a thing or two about maintaining a dreamy home. As the co-founder of New Minimalism, a decluttering and redesign company, and co-author of New Minimalism: Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living, Quilici spends her days helping other people get organized for good. Her own apartment, a tiny San Francisco studio she shares with her boyfriend, is the ultimate test of her skills. Here, Quilici shares her top tips for keeping even the smallest of spaces looking clean and pristine.

What are three words that describe your design philosophy at home?

Simple, functional, and cozy.

What decluttering tips do you lean on living in a smaller space?

I co-founded a company called New Minimalism, so if it's not already obvious, I care deeply about intentional spaces and mindful consumption! But that's not to say that it comes 100 percent naturally to me. It takes some work to maintain a space like this, mostly in the form of keeping a high standard for what is "allowed" in and regularly removing items if they are no longer useful to me.

If I had to boil it down to just one of the 12 principles found in our book, "A home for everything" is essential and just plain necessary to maintain sanity. It's actually a blessing to have such a small space because it forces us to consider what we have around us.

What criteria does a new item (furniture, accessories, etc.) have to fit to come into your space?

I think it can sneak up on you: the ease with which items come in—the thoughtful gift from your friend, the "perfectly good" (yet insanely hideous) shirt from your company event, etc. It's a regular habit to notice these clutter sneak attacks and not let them linger

Now that we have lived with less, we actually prefer it. So this motivates us to refrain from acquiring in the first place. At this point, anything new that comes in is likely replacing something else. If I'm inspired by something out in the world—let's say a vintage, chunky wool sweater—I'll get rid of a sweater that has been loved and is ready to move on to a new owner.

What habits have helped you share a small space with your partner?

We seem to have similar personal tidy factors (PTF). Our preferred levels of order and cleanliness are aligned, so that is hugely helpful. We also have spaces that are totally one person's domain: his and her sides of the closet, his and her secretary desks, etc.

The entire point of decluttering in the first place is to spend less time managing your stuff.

How often do you declutter your space? Can you walk us through your cleaning routine?

Keeping clutter at bay requires some regular maintenance, but it shouldn't be overwhelming. The entire point of decluttering in the first place is to spend less time managing your stuff!

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I think what often gets overlooked is that your home first requires a deep, thorough purge to get to the point of maintenance. Rules like "1 in, 1 out" can only work if you've completed a thorough decluttering to begin with. If you find you are spending too much time managing your things and maintaining your home, it's a sign that a more thorough decluttering is in order.

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For cleaning, I like to turn on music or a podcast and open all the windows. After dusting I use a simple water, white vinegar, lemon, and essential oil solution to wipe down surfaces and the floor. We also don't wear shoes in the house, so that seems to help keep the floors cleaner for longer.

What's the oldest thing in your home? Newest?

The oldest is probably the wooden headboard. It used to be a drying tray on an apricot farm. After the apricots were picked, they would be placed on these wooden pallets to dry in the sun. The newest is actually a vintage lamp from an estate sale…so "new" to us.

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What noises can be heard in your home? What smells?

We are lucky to live on a quiet street. During the day we often have the windows open to listen to the birds. We make dinner at home most nights and like to listen to disco music or something fun. Sometimes you'll smell a fire or Palo Santo.

What's the most sentimental thing hanging on your walls, and what's the story behind it?

We each have one family photo hanging on the wall opposite the bed. His is with his mom and two brothers at the beach. Mine is a black-and-white photo of my mom's mom on her wedding day.

How does your home promote health and wellness?

We don't have a TV, which is nice because it doesn't become the default to watch something at night. Streaming something on the computer still feels like a treat! Cooking at home is a priority for us, and it makes us feel so much better than eating out a lot. Nontoxic, fragrance-free cleaning supplies and beauty products are the norm here. Now that I haven't used toxic, fragrant products, my nose and skin have become really sensitive to them.

What's the best compliment you've ever received on your space?

I like when friends say it doesn't feel a like a studio. We can accommodate 10 friends for drinks and hangs; they all casually lounge about the love seat, on the rug or on the bed. The layout of the apartment is super smart (we credit the architect who designed it!), so the orientation of the rooms helps it feel open and airy, despite the small footprint.

Professional's Workshop with Shira Gill is back!

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The Professionals’ Workshop with New MinimalismShira Gill is back by popular demand! ⚡️

Online, Tuesday, March 19th @7pm PST ✨


WHO IT’S FOR

Professional organizers, coaches, home decorators and stylists, zero-waste educators, minimalists or those aspiring to be any of the above. 

You will learn some of our best practices with clients, and then we'll open it up to an extended Q and A. No topic is off limits - from budgeting to scheduling to generating new clients and programs.

 With a combined experience of over 15 years in the industry, this workshop is guaranteed to add value to your freelance, home-based business.

We are here to serve you! As such, there will be plenty of time allotted to answer your specific questions.  Get them ready!

ABOUT THE HOSTS

Shira Gill is the founder of Shira Gill Home, a lifestyle brand focused on clutter-free living, that merges minimalism, home organizing, and styling. She is the founder of the Virtual Closet Makeover Program and her work has been featured in GoopStyle Me PrettyWho What WearMy Domaine, and Rue Magazine. She is also a contributor to Real Simple Magazine,  Parents Magazine , My DomaineSunset Magazine, and other national publications.  

Kyle Quilici is co-founder of New Minimalism, a home decluttering service based in San Francisco, CA.  She co-wrote, New Minimalism, Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living.  New Minimalism has been featured in The New York TimesOprah.comS.F. ChronicleSunset Magazine, and The Huffington Post. She gets excited about creating beautiful and functional spaces by-way of removing the excess. Environmentally focused, all viable goods from her sessions are donated to organizations in need. 
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3 Common Decluttering Mistakes (And How To Get Over Each)

This article was originally posted on mindbodygreen.com

image //  via

image // via



As a minimalist and a professional declutterer, I've seen firsthand how changing your space can change your life. I've seen just how powerful the transformation from a cluttered and overwhelming home to one that is simple, beautiful, and streamlined can be.

The process of creating these spaces is actually quite simple: Step one is to go through your stuff. Then, you keep the very best of it—the items that are your favorite, that inspire and delight you, and that are useful to you right now—and donate the rest.

 But just because it's simple doesn't mean it's easy. Our relationship with stuff can be complicated!

According to one new poll by Porch, a digital network of home professionals for hire, over 61 percent of us are ashamed of the extra stuff we hold onto. Let that sink in.

So why do we do it? Why do we hold onto stuff that makes us feel so bad? 

Imagine a baseball cap. An objective observer might note that the cap is worn out, ragged, and ill-fitting. But to the owner, this is the hat they got on their first date with their first love. It's the hat they were wearing when their team finally won. It's the hat they always grab when they go to the beach. Or it's a hat that works perfectly well and doesn't need to be replaced, thank you very much.

All of those reactions to the cap are actually about much larger forces: our relationships, our sense of self, our values. So maybe you know the hat is on the fritz, but it's still hard to let it go.

Porch also detailed three "reasons" or mental blocks that we most frequently use to convince ourselves to hold onto items. Their findings aligned completely with my experience and the archetypes I detailed in the book I co-authored with my business partner, New Minimalism: Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living.

The good news is that these blocks can be fairly easily worked through. With self-awareness and self-kindness, you can release these shame-inducing items and create the home you've always dreamed of.

Here are the three main reasons people give for holding onto clutter, and how to overcome them:

Reason No. 1: "I might need it someday."

Archetype: Practical

Practical people are mind-driven, tend to be logical, strategic and pragmatic; they see potential use in all objects.

The key for the Practical personality is to reframe what exactly makes something useful and to elevate your standards accordingly.

So rather than asking yourself if a third box of paper clips is potentially useful, ask yourself if those items are useful to you right now. Consider not just the costs of perhaps needing to replace something someday but also the costs of keeping items that you don't need. How much space do all of these items take up? How much time do you waste hunting for things you do need or wondering what you have around?

Reason No. 2: "It was expensive."

Archetype: Frugal

Frugal types tend to be very self-aware and clear on their priorities. They are intentional about where they spend their precious resources. They don't like the idea of wasting, whether that be money, time, or energy. This gets tricky when Frugal folks come up against items that aren't useful or wanted but for which they've invested precious resources.

The most important lesson for the Frugal archetype is self-forgiveness.

It can be frustrating to have made a purchasing "mistake." While you can't go back in time and undo that action, you do get to choose how you feel about it moving forward. You can keep items you regret and feel a pang of guilt and shame each time you see them. Or you can acknowledge the sunk cost, internalize the bigger reason this investment didn't pan out, and let the item—and your negative feelings—go and vow to do better next time.

Reason No. 3: "It brings back good memories."

Archetype: Connected

Connected folks are heart-led; they value relationships and shared memories above all else. In general, if objects elicit positive feelings, this is a good thing. But homes oriented toward memories can quickly become museums of the past that don't allow space for new experiences and relationships.

Allow one to stand for many.

Don't feel like you need to part with everything from your beloved grandmother or treasured travels. Instead, select an item or two to represent the relationship or experiences you want to recall. Rather than sticking all of these items in a closet, choose to display and interact with those couple of items and then graciously let go of the rest.

Welcome NYTimes Readers!

The New Minimalism Book, click to purchase.

The New Minimalism Book, click to purchase.

Wow, oh wow. Cary was interviewed by THE NEW YORK TIMES for an article on digital decluttering.

This was the top of our dream list (besides being interviewed in person by Oprah or meeting any member of the Obama family). It seemed impossible when we began this blog in 2011. It seemed like a million miles away, when our book was just one long Google doc. But here we are! We’re incredibly grateful to Brian Chen for the interview and to all of you who’ve been cheering us on.

If you’re new, welcome!

To learn more about creating a beautiful, simple, streamlined life, read our bookNew Minimalism: Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living.” (Penguin Random-House 2018), or our read more here, on the blog.

To read an excerpt of the New York Times article, continue below.

With a new year and a new Netflix show that features the Japanese organizing guru Marie Kondo on the art of “Tidying Up,” many of us are experimenting with how to simplify our lives by purging our homes of unwanted possessions.

But what about the stuff we don’t see?

Think about the digital junk we hoard, like the tens of thousands of photos bloating our smartphones or the backlog of files cluttering our computer drives, such as old work presentations, expense receipts and screenshots we have not opened in years.

In addition to the digital mess, tech hardware adds to the pile of junk that sparks no joy in our lives. Everyone has a drawer full of ancient cellphones, tangled-up wires and earphones that are never touched. And the things we do use every day, like charging cables strewn around the house, are an eyesore.

Why are people so terrible about tech hoarding? Cary Fortin, a professional organizer for the company New Minimalism, summed it up: “We don’t really think about the cost of holding on to things, but we think about the cost of needing it one day and not having it.”

Food Packaging: 4 Ways to Reduce Waste in the Kitchen

At the start of the new year, it’s a perfect time to pause and take inventory. Acknowledge the ways in which you are crushing it in life, as well as examine the ways in which you are just gently squishing it…think weak hand holding a stress ball. From this quiet, retrospective place can you set bold goals for the year ahead.

Aside from my perpetual goal to “improve my Spanish and regularly meditate” (ambitions that have been on the list for years now…hmmm…), I had to think, what goal resonates with me this year? What is something that internally motivates me and I can actually put some mettle behind? The answer came easily when I looked in my trash can:

Strive for zero-waste in the kitchen.

When I examine our household “waste stream”, most of the culprits that are destined for the landfill are in the form of food packaging.

Do a quick audit for your own household waste. Yes, go to your trash can and dig around a little bit. Gross, yes, but remember, only you are to blame for just how gross your trash is.

Our itty, bitty trash bin.

Our itty, bitty trash bin.

Side note - Diligent composting of food scraps means that I can safely rummage through my trash without fear of encountering anything too disgusting. Add the fact that we don’t eat meat or dairy at home, and it’s pretty tame in that little, ol’ rubbish bin.

Our bin is the size of small planter pot. Using a strategically small bin reprograms the brain to what feels like an “appropriate” amount of trash. All of the sudden it becomes unreasonable to add one of those Barbara’s Cheese Puff bags and take up the whole bin (more on this later). In the photo, we are repurposing a plastic ice bag as the garbage bag. When we don’t have a plastic bag to repurpose, we use the compostable BioBag’s so we an send landfill-bound waste down the chute in our building.

When you add on the holiday hustle and the irregular grocery runs that accompany it, it is really easy for food packaging to creep back in and suddenly be a “thing” again. I proclaimed to my boyfriend after looking at our trash bin that we were officially re-instating the goal for zero-food-packaging-waste in the kitchen (thankfully, he hails from the mountains and adores Mother Earth and so is naturally on board).

There are the tried and true tips: buy from the bulk bins, use glass jars to store your food, and cook more at home. But, when I look at my own trash, I have some specific culprits. Below I’ve outline 4 of my personal weak spots and how I plan to fix them:

These bags instantly make our trash full. Not acceptable!

These bags instantly make our trash full. Not acceptable!

1. Where I get stuck: Snacks

We are not a huge snack household, but I definitely like to have something on-hand. Namely, Barbara’s Cheese Puffs. If you know, you know. They are painfully delicious. And today, I looked at a bag in the grocery store, took a picture of it, and WALKED AWAY. This is the #1 culprit to dashing my zero-waste dreams. So I resisted. Instead, I filled a brown paper bag with salty, crunchy plantain chips from the bulk bin. This will satisfy the snacking desire without the plastic bag. And in the meantime, I’m going to relentlessly submit anonymous comments to the makers of Barbara’s Cheese Puffs to request sustainable packaging.

Also on the snack list is finding a local restaurant where I can buy tortillas from using my own bag.


2. Where I get stuck: Recycling too many glass bottles (vinegars, olive oil, sauces).

It’s time to get to cut back on my consumption of vinegars, oils and sauces, even if they come in recyclable containers. The aim is to just keep stocked one primary vinegar at a time, master recipes using it, and move on to another vinegar for the next phase. Hot sauce, well it’s going to take a while to get through our now-hearty stash, but I’ll try my hardest (insert sweating emoji).

3. Where I get stuck: Caught at a store without bulk, when we “need” something like, tahini.

I think the biggest improvement here will come from creating a shopping routine. The challenge of a super flexible work schedule is that I go to a variety of stores, depending on where I am in the Bay Area and for different purposes. I need to create a routine and simplify this so that I don’t cave and buy a package of rice when I’m at a store that doesn’t sell it in bulk. By creating a routine of where/when to buy certain goods, this will remove the inevitable run-around and hopefully lead to overall feelings of sanity. We eat a lot of soba noodles, so finding that in bulk will be a top priority.


4. Where I get stuck: Recycling too many glass bottles (WINE).

Wine deserves its own category. When it comes down to it, this is what mostly fills the recycling bin. After a quick search, I found a local purveyor of wine who refills bottles: Tank 18. They have monthly BYOB refill events, and you can bring any empty wine of bottle and they will fill and re-cork it for you! Amazing! It’s on my calendar for later this month…in the meantime, dry January???

The thing about recycling

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Yes, recycling is better than not recycling. But, recycling takes up a lot of energy: water and transportation costs, mainly. In case you didn’t hear, back in Jan. of 2018, China stopped importing plastic recycling (hmm, is it any wonder why? We were sending barges upon barges of dirty recyclables, much of which were contaminated so that they couldn’t even be recycled). Before this, China previously took about 50% of the world’s recycling. Which means recycling will become more expensive, and our solutions will have to be more localized. Like, deal with your own trash, people.

But, this is progress. China refusing our barges of recycling is progress. Feeling the constraints of our ecosystem and taking action (even if it is reactive) is progress.

More good news:

  1. The European Union banned an array of single-use plastics by 2020.

  2. Taiwan also banned plastic bags, plastic straws and plastic utensils by 2030 (too far away of a deadline, but at least it’s out there)

I recently had a (somewhat heated) debate with a young, educated (white male) from New York City who was humble-bragging that his friend was pioneering a new “superfood “ mushroom dust product thingy. I said offhand that I hoped his friend’s little packets would be made of compostable materials. This New Yorker was pretty adamant that this was a pointless pursuit and would have no impact on the environment. Obviously, I disagreed and said debate ensued.

It is this PRECISE, shrug-it-off, export-it-to-China, I-can’t-make-a-difference mindset that got us into this huge mess to begin with. Even more surprising, this New Yorker is a surfer, whose partner teaches mediation for a living…seemingly intentional people who like the outdoors, right?

So why the indifference? What is the disconnect to feeling like your actions don’t collectively have the power to make a difference?

I am not leading a 100% zero-waste life, but I am trying. And I hope that I am setting an example by sharing tips to continue to decrease my own food packaging consumption. Let’s be strive to be active participants in this equation! In the words of Lauren Singer of Package Free Shop,

GIVE A SHIT.

Resources

  • http://www.grabco.co.uk/gardeners-compost-guide/

  • https://zerowastechef.com/

  • https://packagefreeshop.com

  • https://ecologfycenter.org/plastics/

  • http://www.tank18.com/byobdetails

what if you're a minimalist who loves to give (and receive) gifts?

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Here is the truth: I love receiving and I love giving gifts.

I've spent the better part of a decade trying to ignore the anticipation and utter joy I feel when I have the perfect gift in mind for a loved one. Or the tingly happiness I feel when someone bestows upon me something that I absolutely adore. I’ve tried to chase these feelings away because I thought that they were in direct conflict with the life I wanted to live personally and, if we’re being really honest, with the life I espouse to live in public.

I’ve tried to chase these feelings away because I thought that they were in direct conflict with the life I wanted to live personally and, if we’re being really honest, with the life I espouse to live in public.

After the thousands of words I’ve personally written and read about how mindless consumerism is causing so many ills in our society… Well how could I look myself in the mirror as I wrapped up one more gift?

Then I tried on the same advice we offer up time and again to reader and client alike: there is no right way to be a New Minimalist.

It’s about living inside my unique combination of values and priorities. And for me, that means leaning into the love I have for giving and receiving gifts in a way that is slow, intentional, and as kind as possible to the environment.

Below are my personal guidelines for giving gifts.

If they work for you, please try them out. And if not, no worries. You keep doing you:)

My family’s holiday card this year. We really do wish you a happy everything!

My family’s holiday card this year. We really do wish you a happy everything!

1) Action and word before stuff.

The reason I feel so confident stepping into my gifting stockings this year is that I’ve taken the time to step back from and really consider the motivation behind my actions. When I was young, I gave as many gifts as my piggy bank would allow. I was so desperate to show how much I loved my family but unsure of how to express myself. So instead I decided that stuff equals love, as in: “the more stuff I give you, the more I love you and the more loved you will feel.”

My relationship to gift giving now is much more reflective, much more specific, more refined. What I hope is not to prove my love through stuff, but to echo in an object or experience what I try to embody in language and action throughout the year: “I see you. I love you. I’m paying attention.”

2) Scale matters.

Something I’ve been really careful with is not writing myself a gift-giving blank check simply because I’ve decided it’s important to me. Like what if I decided to gift Lark a gift every week because I love her and I love giving gifts? I could imagine that within the month that act of giving would feel exponentially less meaningful. And within two months I’d likely resent this unintended weekly chore I’d created for myself. Likewise, if my goal was to accurately represent how much I love Cam through stuff, I’d be overburdened (and very in debt) rushing around to acquire as many things as I could. My decade as a minimalist has taught me a beautiful lesson that often times it is the rarity of an occasion or object that makes it so special.

often times it is the rarity of an occasion or object that makes it so special.

3. Above all else, it is the thought that counts.

You know how people use the word “literally” to mean “figuratively” — it’s opposite?

Like, “There were no parking spots outside! I had to literally park a million miles away.”

To which I’d like to say, “Wow, you are a really fast walker to have circumnavigated the globe 40 times in the past 10 minutes!“ (Sorry. Done being snarky.)

But I bring this up because I think the same thing has happened over time to the expression, “It’s the thought that counts.” That phrase now means something like, “Even though I hate this object / have no use for it / have literally no idea why you got it for me because it in no way reflects my taste, needs or desires, at least you bought me something.”

I’d like to reclaim that phrase and use it as I believe it’s intended. Gift-giving is all about thought. Not about money. Not about quantity. Not at all about checking things off a list. It’s about taking the time to really consider a person’s sense of style or humor. It’s about paying attention to the little things they say over the course of a year about their crummy coffee grinder, noticing how they have to stand on their tip-toes to reach their favorite mug, remembering how they mentioned that smell of vetiver reminds them with deep pleasure of forest where they grew up. This level of thoughtfulness is what actually matters and what meaningfully connects the gift-giver and gift-received in a way that just buying stuff never could

4. Practice gratitude and grace.

My daughter is just entering a phase where nothing brings her more pleasure than to imitate my expressions or noises I make. I typically find this hilarious and precious. But on occasion I’ll look to see her grimacing at me and I panic. Is she sick? In pain? Have something caught in her throat? No, she’s showing me how poorly I’m masking my own anger at having to empty the dishwasher again.

What she’s shown me is that even words and deeds only matter so much; the spirit in which something is done is the most important of all. So sure, I could say, “Lark, be sure you savor your food and open your gifts thoughtfully!” But if I down my own dinner while standing over the sink or quickly start to clean up wrapping paper before really engaging in a gift? Well we can guess which example she’ll follow. So I want to be extra certain this year before exchanging gifts that I personally take the time to slow my mind, to be present, and to feel and express gratitude for not just the objects I receive but the abundance of health and love around me.

What about you? What are your plans for giving and receiving gifts this holiday season and in the future? What are your personal gift principles? What are gifting-strategies that you admire and would like to try out?

How to declutter when someone you love has died

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There is a reason that the Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning made such a splash in American culture: a significant portion of us either receive or will leave a lifetime’s worth of possessions for someone else to sort out.

The main challenges of decluttering when someone you love has died are threefold. First, in the state of grief and loss, it’s really hard to untangle our desire to feel connection to that person with wanting to be surrounded by their stuff.

Second, it can be overwhelming for anyone to declutter their own lives. When you add another person’s stuff on top and it can feel impossible to know where to even begin.

Third, we know the stories of our own things and that can lead to us being attached. But with our loved one’s belongings sometimes we won’t know what things are or if our loved one valued them, so we will assign value and importance to everything.

If you or someone you care about is dealing with this now, please know we are sending you a big hug, that we are so sorry for your loss, and that we believe in your ability to both honor and cherish the memory of your loved one while living in a space that feels light, calm, and supportive to you.

I’ve been thinking over this subject a lot but it was a question that came in from a reader that inspired me to get this is all out. Below I’ve included a version of the question (removing any personal details for the sake of anonymity) we received and my letter in response.

The most important takeaways are these:

  1. Decide if you’re at a place in your mourning and grief where you are actually ready to begin decluttering. It’s ok if you aren’t. Be kind to yourself and take your time.

  2. Start with your own belongings. This really serves as a warm up. A chance to experience decluttering in a less emotionally challenging area.

  3. Choose a few of your favorite, most treasured items of your loved one. Give these items places of honor in your home and display them in a way that brings you joy and helps you feel connected to your loved one and their memory.

  4. Move into an easier category of your loved one’s belongings. This will ideally be quite small and not emotionally burdensome, like: athletic shoes, tupperware, or office supplies.

  5. Go at a pace and scale that feels right to you. It’s important to stay within the bounds of what feels safe and good to you, and to give yourself a break if you stumble upon something emotionally complicated when you’re not expecting it.

  6. Select an organization (or several) that were meaningful to your loved one or to you and donate their items there. Trying to sell belongings usually extends an already trying process and can feel invalidating when the financial value does not match our emotional experience of the object.

  7. Offer up a few belongings to any interested family members but don’t transfer the burden of decluttering to them or a future generation. This is one of the kindest things you can do for others.

 
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My aunt lived with me for 15 years and she passed away last year. I haven't been able to go through her closet and donate her things because it makes me cry. I also have china, crystal, and silver plate things that my aunt had and also inherited more from her mother and aunt. I also have a lot of craft items, fabric, and various other collections my parents bought me (they’re gone, too). My problem is I don't want to just give away some of these things because they are valuable, but in speaking with an antique dealer, those items aren't wanted. I have no other family so I can't give anything to relatives. I feel so overwhelmed with all my stuff I don't know what to do or where to start. I would follow your directions and start with wardrobe, but I can't do my aunt's clothes yet. Any advice? Thank you in advance for your time and expertise.

Hi there,

First of all, I am so sorry for loss. It makes so much sense that sorting through your aunt’s belongings would be hard. So I guess I would start there, and just encourage you to be kind and gentle with yourself. What you're going through is incredibly challenging and unfortunately very common. We've worked with a lot of clients who've lost parents, spouses, and other family members and it is hands down one of the most challenging projects to undertake.

I'd love to offer up a few pieces of advice or thoughts to mull over. The first would be: do you feel ready to tackle your aunt’s belongings now? It's ok to take your time and to process your grief and return to this later. If, however, you're feeling like you're really ready to make a change and just overwhelmed trying to determine where to begin, read on.

To begin, I'd encourage you to start with your own possessions in a category that will be easy for you. This will be a place where you can get a few big wins, start to make a dent in the amount of stuff you have, and familiarize yourself with the process of letting go. For some people, this could be books (which could then be donated to the local library), while for others it might be kitchenware (which could be donated to an organization that helps to resettle refugees, houses those experiencing homelessness, or helps domestic abuse survivors). Feel free to start really small, like just with athletic shoes or scarves. 

Once you're feeling confident and starting to experience some benefits of letting go you can then make moves into more emotionally complex zones. Before touching any of your aunt's goods, I'd go through and select a few really prized items that you love and remind you of aunt in a happy way. Maybe you'll display a small collection of her necklaces, or a frame a beautiful scarf of hers, or bring four of her best china teacups into your cabinets to use each morning. This will help ensure that your aunt's presence is felt in your home and will give you space to release more items.

You could then move to a tiny category of your aunt's, like bracelets or slacks. Depending on how she liked to dress, those items could be donated to Dress for Success or a local Senior Center or Salvation Army. From there, you can expand into larger or more complex categories, always going at a pace and scale that feels safe and good to you. Usually decluttering gets easier and easier as you go along, but know that grief comes in waves and that you might stumble upon a really tender item when you’re not expecting it. Take the time to process your feelings and honor yourself if and when you need to take a break.

In terms of the items that the antique dealer told you there wasn't a market for, I'm afraid my advice might not be what you are hoping for: let them go. It can be so hard when we've invested money into belongings to simply donate them, but the energy and time and emotional space we take up by trying to sell things at a fraction of their perceived value is ultimately far harder and less rewarding. Instead, I'd select an recipient organization that is important to you or to your aunt and know that these items will be utterly treasured and beloved by people who've not been fortunate enough to have such beautiful things in their life before. Again, I'd suggest one of several organizations that work on housing and helping to create stable, meaningful lives for the vulnerable among us. It might feel really hard as you prepare yourself to let these items go, but once they're gone I think you might be surprised by how much lighter (physically, emotionally, spiritually) you feel in your home. 

We’re here if you have any other questions or would like to work with us directly; many hands can indeed make light work.

Wishing you the best,

Cary

Can You Be a Minimalist in a Large Space?

Image // Dwell. Design // Jessica Helgerson.

Hi friends, Cary here!

The question — can you live simply in a large home? — is something I've been mulling over since we moved into our first home two years ago.

Cam and I had lived, quite happily, in a one bedroom apartment in San Francisco for 6.5 years before our move to Boise. Our intention for purchasing a larger home was to have space to grow our own family –– babies both fur and human (see below) –– and for family and close friends to visit often and for as long as they’d like.

Truly, I love our home. I love our neighborhood: our kind and active neighbors, the dozens of miles of hiking trails right across the street and our fabulous public school down the block. I love our land: the fruit trees, the garden, the hillside and the bike path running past our backyard. But it was a really strange feeling going from an apartment with three closets (which felt down right luxurious at the time) to a home who seemed to invite us to have too much with a basement, a garage, a guest room, and nearly a dozen closets.

I'm not going to lie, I had a lot of anxiety about moving into a larger space.

I was worried that the clarity a smaller space enabled me to have would be lost and that I'd become the type of person who just fills up space in order to fill it. Backsliding into consumerism and mindlessly holding onto unwanted and unloved things seemed unavoidable.

And yet here we are, two years later, in a large and simple home.

How did this happen? By deciding before we moved, before we shopped, before we filled our space exactly how we wanted to feel in our home. It’s been our internal boundaries and clarity, rather than external forces, that have allowed us to create a home we love. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to help you stay the course of your version of minimalism.

 

5 Tips for Simple Living, No Matter the Size of Your House


My side of the closet in our S.F. apartment.

My side of the closet in our S.F. apartment.

1. Don't add storage.

When you have plenty of closets and other built-in storage space, don't bring in additional dressers or cabinets, drawers or shelves. Allow the built in storage to be enough. We, for example, have the same coffee table that we used in SF (a glorious Japanese tansu that was handed down to me). In San Francisco we used the spacious drawers to hold board games and candles and things we used when entertaining friends. Here in Boise, we ignore the drawers all together. The drawers are not the easiest to open, nor is opening them conducive to the layout of the space. So we treat the tansu like a solid cube and enjoy it’s surfaces without utilizing it’s storage.

2) Remove storage where you don't need it.

For us, this looked like removing an entire wall of upper and lower cabinets from our garage. While the millions of drawers and shelves might have been “organized” and labeled to each hold one item – camping sporks in this drawer, headlamps and lanterns on this shelf - we didn’t want a complicated system and didn’t need nearly the amount of storage provided. Instead we have two large open shelving units that hold a bin with all our small camping gear on a shelf alongside our tents, camping chairs and sleeping bags. This makes packing and unpacking for car camping a breeze (Step 1: place bin in car; Step 2: camp; Step 3: remove bin from car and place back on shelf). This smaller, open storage also prevents us from hoarding unwanted and unneeded items out of sight.

 
Our old pantry in our S.F. apartment.

Our old pantry in our S.F. apartment.

3) Redefine “full”.

We have a laundry room. Yes, a whole entire room dedicated to the act of laundry. It's a small space but it nonetheless has a couple of cabinets and drawers. One cabinet houses our large bag of dog food. Another holds the laundry detergent and white vinegar we use for cleaning. Thats it. Each cabinet could easily hold 10x what it has, but there isn't anything else that belongs in there, so we just let them be.

Adapting to a different version of "full."  When we work with clients we are constantly helping them adjust their mindset to what “full” looks and feels like. For many of us, after years of overflowing drawers and cabinets that jussssst baaaarely close, it can feel strange to acknowledge that full is actually much less than capacity — it’s an amount that allows for ease and optimal functionality. In a large house we’ve taken this a step further even. “Full” in a linen closet might just be a spare pillow and seasonal throw or two. The idea is not to be austere, but to let my internal compass rather than my external storage tell me what is the right amount.

 

4) Go slowly.

When we moved we had neither the finances nor the desire to rush to fill-up our home with stuff. For example, in a bright extra bedroom that we hoped one day would become a nursery, we placed just one comfortable chair. A single chair was really all we needed to take work calls or sip coffee in this room’s morning sunlight. Now that it is a nursery I’m so glad we didn’t rush to furnish the room unnecessarily

The same goes for walls. We'd spent six years slowly decorating the three small rooms of our old San Francisco apartment. Here in Boise, I wanted to be just as thoughtful about adding decor rather than trying to rush around and appear “done” without getting to know the space and how we hope to feel in it. Two years in, we’re continuing to slowly add layers and textures and colors to our home as it feels right. I know some people won't be able to stand the feeling of being "incomplete" but I suggest moving forward with decorating as intentionally and mindfully as you can.

 

5) When in doubt, add plants and lighting.

For architectural or feng shui reasons, there are a couple of spaces in our home that feel awkward or unpleasant when empty. I cannot tell you how many times I thought about how if I'd built this house I would have removed a bizarre nook here or an extra few feet there. But instead of turning my back on these off-putting areas, we embraced them by slowly filling each with lovely greenery and lighting (luckily for me, Cam has quite the green thumb). Plants and light sources give purpose and interest to these spaces without adding the weight or expense of furnishings.

Decor doesn't have to be all furniture and artwork. If you don't need another place to sit, don't just stick a loveseat somewhere. Instead, use greenery and task lighting to make a space feel alive without filling it up for the sake of filling it.