Simplified Lifestyle

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. 








How Your Busy Schedule Is Hurting You

This article was originally written for and posted on mindbodygreen. Click here to check out the original!

 image // Leandro Crespi

image // Leandro Crespi

In our culture, the answer of "I’m so busy" to the question of "How are you?" is respected, even revered. We admire people who cram as much as possible into their days—and this glorification of busy-ness can also contribute to an unhealthy obsession with "stuff."

While most of our at New Minimalism involves dealing with people’s physical possessions, we’ve learned that it's impossible to thoroughly declutter someone’s space without first getting them to slow down. And we don’t just mean pausing on emails or online shopping for the day but making a habit of clearing up space in their days.

Busyness happens when we stop saying no to things.

From where we're standing, busyness is one of the most pervasive and relentless diseases in modern culture. While it may give us a fleeting sense of accomplishment and importance, in the long run, frenetic busyness leads to a profound lack of clarity.

Busyness happens when we stop saying no to things: actual physical items as well as relationships and commitments. It arises when we lose track (or have never clearly uncovered) what is most important in our lives.

Why busyness and clutter are inextricably linked.

Clutter is the result of busyness because it's the result of deferred decisions. Mess accumulates when we put off dealing with objects because we simply don’t have the time or energy. Clutter, in that sense, is physical manifestation of all the things we need to do (aka busywork).

Likewise, clutter is the cause of busyness. Having so much stuff for your space requires constant maintenance. Whether that maintenance is direct (managing things, searching for items, storing and maintaining them, purchasing new objects, working hard to afford more stuff) or indirect (distracting yourself with other forms of busyness instead of dealing with them), it fills our time.

The whole point of decluttering is freeing up time and energy to spend doing the things you actually want to do.

that the time and energy you save not managing and dealing with stuff is time and energy you can spend actually living life. You know, taking photos, being in nature, laughing with your favorite people, and making the world a better place by just being pleasantly not-busy.

So how can you end the cycle of busyness and all the clutter that comes with it?

1. Build in negative space.

We’ve all become so accustomed to "accomplishing things" that even previously relaxing periods of time (the moments before bed, the first light of the morning) are now used to Get Stuff Done. Instead, practice intentionally building in space. Walk your dog without a podcast blaring in your ears. Drive the car without talking on the phone.

2. Automate basic tasks.

Making decisions requires lots of time and energy. One of the simplest ways to create space and remove unnecessary busyness in the day is to automate your life, or remove active decision-making. Some great places to start? Eat the same smoothie or omelet for breakfast every morning. Create a work uniform that you feel great in so dressing each morning becomes effortless.

3. Take the time to figure out what you love.

It's hard saying no to things when you don't know what you want to shout YES to. But when you know how you want to feel, you'll know immediately, at your core, if that shirt or work commitment or relationship is serving you. Marie Kondo uses the standard of "spark joy," which is a great place to begin. Even more powerful? Taking the time to choose those feelings you personally desire most.

4. Say no to things that do not support your best life.

Clarity turns the process of decluttering, which can otherwise feel like a painful parting with things you used to love and items you might need someday, into an empowering—dare I say enjoyable?—exercise in shedding the things that are not adding to the life you want to create. When you know how you want to feel, you can easily identify the things that help you feel that way. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy that will allow you to live with more clarity.

What To Do If You're a Minimalist Who Loves the Holidays

 image //  via

image // via

It's popular to poo-poo the holidays amongst many in the minimalist sphere.

There are the usual downer arguments about how the holidays are simply about buying stuff we don’t want with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like. 

There is the (totally valid) argument about how we are teaching our kids to equate love with stuff. There is connection between the holidays and the rampant consumerism that is destroying our planet.  

But who said that is how we have to celebrate? 

Here at New Minimalism, we have a happier take on the holidays. Now that Kyle and I are both many years into our minimalist lives, I have to say that the holidays feel less like something to rebel against and more like something to embrace. Our families and loved ones honor the simpler ways we like to celebrate, and -- in many scenarios –– have adopted a number of these rituals themselves. 

There are so many ways to celebrate the season and those you love that needn't involve credit card debt or mounds of unneeded plastic junk. There is music and sitting by the fire, there are meals to share, crafts to create, laughs to be had, and even the occasional lovely object to share.

Below are 5 of my favorite minimalist rituals for a light, joyful, and celebratory holiday season:  

 image // via

image // via

1) Light, light, everywhere.  

My favorite way to decorate for the holidays is just to use lights in fun or unexpected ways. We have a strand of globe lights that we hang over the mantle, fairie lights winding up the stems and leaves of our potted plants, and candles spread liberally throughout the house. With so much of our time at home spent with it dark outside, it makes this time feel cozy and special. Bonus? If you happen to be really busy around the holidays (like maybe you have a brand new baby at home) no one will notice that your “holiday decor” is still up as this fits for the whole dark winter season. 

Other elements that automatically make a space feel festive? Music (I’m a sucker for Holiday Jazz, The Nutcracker, and my pandora Bing Crosby/Frank Sinatra holiday radio station) and delicious smells (like simmering spices on the stove or naturally perfumed candles and incense like these).

2) Crafting.

I’m not crafty. Or I should say: I don’t craft regularly. I don't have a glue gun or spare pom-poms, let alone a craft drawer or cabinet. But every holiday I nonetheless love taking on some little craft project. This year, I decided to put together a tree decoration kit for my nieces and nephews (inspired by this post) as their holiday gift. In addition to sending these elements back home to Chicago, I bought extras and made lovely little strands of popcorn and cranberries for our tree. I also tried out making persimmon ornaments with moderate success (just baked them and ran a string through). Inspired by a group of girlfriends who I made ornaments and pinecone elves with back in the day, I realized that you don’t need to be crafty or have a ton of supplies to make something special. Certainly crafts take time and are a little frivolous, but that's a small part of what makes them so fun.  

 An oldie but a goodie...

An oldie but a goodie...

3) Holiday cards.  

I. Love. Holiday. Cards. I remember racing home from my elementary school bus stop in December to open my family's mailbox and see if we received any new cards that day. Each envelope we joyfully tore open offered a snapshot into the lives of our friends near and far. There were cards from our neighbors, cards from relatives that we only got to see on occasion, and cards from families whom we kids had never met, but we nonetheless felt connected as we equated these faces with our parents stories and watched their kids grow. We’d revisit the cards well into the new year, finding names we liked and plotted to name our own children, marveling at the sweet, the cheesy, and the adventurous photos on each card. (Some of these families obtained celebrity status within our family, we could refer to them in shorthand throughout the year and know exactly what one another meant. There was my dad's co-worker whose three absurdly gorgeous, cherubic kids we dubbed "the edible children" and my mom's high school friend whose genetically gifted three sons we referred to as "the handsome guys.")

All of this is to say that I long looked forward to sending out cards of my own someday. Yes, it costs money and uses paper and is not the most minimalist of hobbies. But it is a priority, the priority, for me each holiday season. I’d be really sad if I didn’t send a card out and I honor that about myself. This year I decided to procure frames for all of our past cards to act as something of family time capsule (anyone out there happen to have my cards from 2011 or 2013?!) AND to use as decor during the holidays. It's a personal, contained collection that adds a fun bit of meaningful kitsch to our bookshelf, for just these few weeks. 

 image //  via

image // via

4) Gift giving.

My favorite gift to give and receive? Books. Bookstores are my happy place; well-read, thoughtful bookstore clerks hold a place of uniquely high respect in my life. Since my family and my in-laws are all avid readers, I love getting expert advice from the clerks at my favorite local bookstores (shoutout to Books Inc. on Chestnut in San Francisco and Rediscovered Books in Boise). I get to share a few pieces of information--like my dad’s sense of humor, a classic novel he loves, and his adoration of Bruce Springsteen--and then get the perfect recommendation (Barbarian Days, in case you were wondering).

*Shameless plug: our book is available for pre-order if you've got a loved one who is interested in simplifying their lives. The book won't ship until 1/2/18, but we have a downloadable/printable certificate you can present at your gift exchange!*

Other great gifts to give and receive: things that people really need and are of high quality. For example a killer pair of SmartWool socks for a family member who recently moved to a four season climate or a hand-me-down maternity jacket for when nothing else will zip late in pregnancy. You know, just as hypothetical examples.

5) And non-gift giving.

My very favorite gift-giving tradition arose three years ago and actually didn't include the exchanging of stuff at all. My little sister and brother-in-law's wedding weekend in the fall of 2014 was so full of meaning, tradition, family, and love that it sparked an idea: why is it that we only celebrate one another, only toast to how deeply loved and appreciated our family members are at times like weddings? And so we each randomly selected the name of another family member and at a lovely holiday dinner a few weeks later, we offered up toasts and speeches in each others' honor. It was beautiful. It was sweet. It brought tears and intense snorting laughter. It accomplished all of the things we try to say with gifts: I see you, I’ve been paying attention to you, admiring you, noticing all of the ways you are special, because you are beloved by me, and even if I usually just tease you or ask you to help with family errands, I am so so so glad you are here. What could possibly be better than that? 

What are your favorite minimalist ways to celebrate the holidays?

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?" 

 

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.

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!

 

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.

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!