simple living

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. 








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

One Small Habit: BYOJ (Bring Your Own Jar)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunset's Celebration Weekend: A Recap

It's Kyle, the design arm of New Minimalism, here to share a peek into Sunset Magazine's Celebration Weekend 2016!  

After holding Celebration Weekend for 18 years at their old Menlo Park HQ (read about how we helped them declutter in preparation from their move here), this was an inaugural event at Cornerstone Sonoma, where Sunset has relocated their official test gardens. 

It was so gratifying to have the opportunity to design a booth that would visually capture what we are all about.  After an initial concept was created, we borrowed everything from our own living rooms (and the living rooms of willing friends and family...thank you!) so that we didn't have to buy anything new.  Can you believe it?  The only thing we bought were the lemons and limes for our water cooler.  

Along with our official booth, we were asked to be one out of five (!) speakers presenting our ideas at the Home Stage.   We put our brains together to determine the best talking points for the Sunset crowd, and then we had our graphic designer, Elizabeth West design some beautiful handouts to accompany each point (watercolor background and redesigned logo by Flight Design).   

 

We spent hours writing and then practicing our speech, and were so excited (nervous) when it finally came time to present.  Our attentive audience really made the entire experience -- asking questions, engaging with our philosophies -- it was so rewarding!  The editor of the Home section, Joanna, even said that we were the Home Stage's most-talked about and well-attended presentation for the whole weekend...what an honor!

Pictured above, are Cary and her mom, who flew out from Chicago to attend!  

All in all, we had such a wonderful time at this event.  The hours of preparation and hard work was more than worth it.  We love Sunset and everything it stands for, and can't wait for more events like this in the future!  Check out Sunset Magazine's event page for future events.

The Unbearable Heaviness of Clutter

Image //  via

Image // via

I moved to San Francisco after only two brief visits, knowing in my bones that this eucalyptus scented city was my home.  

Sight unseen, I signed a lease on an apartment.  It had easy access to my work and, more importantly, was close to my girlfriends who were already settled in the city.  

I'd found a Craigslist gem: a ground floor five bedroom that I shared with four other roommates.  We had two bathrooms, a dishwasher, a window in each bedroom, and *gasp* a washer/dryer right in the hall.

The apartment was situated in what I imagined to be a dream locale: within blocks of a sweet little park, close to gorgeous, historic homes and right up the hill from fun, funky, vibrant strip of restaurants and bars.  

An empty parking lot next door served as the hub of our micro-neighborhood and attracted all matter of people: drum circles and hula-hoop enthusiasts, skateboarding teenagers recording each other doing tricks, a trio of kindly homeless men and their mutts.  

It felt like quintessential San Francisco, a place where vast swathes of people co-exist peacefully, where we all live and let live.  

Unfortunately, a growing group of hostile individuals were encroaching on this lovely shared space.  Slowly, other groups ceased returning to the lot.  This new group cat-called every passer by and said things to me that make me shudder to this day.  One afternoon I returned from a run to see my roommate being held up at gun and knife point at the corner of that very lot.  

The final straw occurred in the middle of a warm fall night.  My female roommate left her window a few inches ajar to enjoy the night breeze and woke up to two strange men inside her room, passing her computer out the window to a third robber.  Luckily, everyone was unharmed, but the violation of our space made it impossible for me to feel safe, even inside my own home.  

When I moved a mile across town I was worried I would miss my funky neighborhood, my roommates, my walkability to friends.  But that next morning when I walked outside of my new apartment for the first time, I realized what I had been dealing with.

I paused at the door of my building to "armour up": emotionless expression, focused posture, eyes straight ahead, prepared to ignore obscene remarks and gestures directed at me.  

I exhaled, walked outside and it was....quiet.  Peaceful.  I felt safe. 

The release washed over me.  I think I laughed.  I might have cried a little.  I let my shoulders down.  I actually looked up at the sky and saw the soft hues of a fading sunrise.  The lightness was visceral, felt throughout my body.

I hadn't realized the profound weight of that experience until I was free from it.  

Like the frog in warm water brought slowly to a boil, I'd just gotten accustomed to a way of living that I couldn't have imagined before and I would never return to now.  

The same is true of clutter.

People live with clutter because they don't actually understand the effect it takes on them.  They're so accustomed to being bombarded with visual stimuli, piles in the corners, piles on the counters, dozens of to-do's staring at them, just waiting to be done.  

You might think it doesn't bother you, but your subconscious has to armour up for these moments.  Your home, your very sanctuary, is a constant reminder of what you need to do, where you're not succeeding, all of the promises that you made to yourself and others that you're not keeping.  Even if you are not actively dealing with your clutter, your brain is working on overdrive to ignore it all being there.  

The most universal reaction from our clients after we work together is exactly that -- a casual laugh, a dropping of the shoulders, a sensation of lightness and clarity where it hadn't even seemed possible before.  It gives me the chills everytime.

Are you ready for that?  

The freedom, the release of the clutter-free life?  

Here are the 11 Decluttering Questions You Should be Asking YourselfHow to Let Go of Something You Used to Really Love and Why I Donated My Wedding Dress to get you started!

Let Go of "Just In Case"

To date, Kyle and I have spent thousands of hours working with clients guiding and helping them declutter their homes.  We've probably spent even more time still speaking with each other and friends and acquaintances and colleagues about minimalism.

And do you want to know the single pain point which comes up the most?  

Just. In. Case.

Often it shows up to in response to me suggesting that someone might prefer to donate an item they've never used / don't particularly like / wish they'd never purchased to begin with.  

(Think: a third box of 2,000 staples in a paperless office, a dress with tags on purchased 2 sizes too small, a stack of old and unread magazines which just might hold an article or photo that might be referred to if they end up deciding to learn to sew after all.)

With an incredulous stare, I get back the questions: "But what if I need it someday?" or "Shouldn't I keep it, you know, just in case?" 

I'm not going to argue that you will 100% guaranteed never need any of these items again.  

That would be pointless.  I'm not a fortune teller and I cannot know the intricacies of your life moving forward.  But I am going to encourage you to let go these "just in case" items anyway.  

 

3 Reasons to Let Go of "Just In Case" Objects.

1. Consider the costs of keeping the item.  Anytime a particular topic or idea shows up across all spectrums of lifestyles and situations, it signals to me that something very human is going on.  And the truth is that biologically speaking, humans have evolved to be more motivated to avoid pain than to seek joy.  Meaning that as a species we're naturally going to give more weight to fear of having to potentially re-acquire something than the pleasure of an uncluttered space.  

What our lizard brain is not considering, however, is the hidden pain of keeping so much stuff around.  We don't consider what a burden it is to maintain and upkeep these items.  We don't consider all of the physical and mental space they take up.  We forget about the hard, crappy decisions we have to make (like spending a gorgeous weekend cleaning up the garage or not moving to a new space because there isn't enough storage) in service of these items that we don't even use.

2. Experience the under-acknowledged joy of knowing what you don't have.  Imagine I ask you to find an old, semi-functioning raincoat you've kept just in case...  You would maybe look in your regular closet.  Then the coat closet.  Then perhaps with your stored winter gear.  Then perhaps check your camping bin.  Or maybe it's with your costumes under the bed?  Or is it possible that you leant it to a friend awhile back?  Or maybe it is in the coat closet in the way, way back?  20 minutes later you're sweaty, frustrated and still don't know where the raincoat is.  

If instead you make a habit of releasing excess items, you'll know right away what you have and where it is -- and you'll also know right away when you don't have something.  Rather than wasting time searching, you can jump right into reacquiring, borrowing, substituting, or making do without.  It is liberating.

3. Leave room for yourself to grow.  Whenever we hold onto items "just in case," we're locking our future selves into a certain way of being.  One of the most beautiful things about being human is that we are constantly evolving as people.  Our habits, priorities, and hobbies shift and vary as we continue through life.  When you hold onto old items "just in case" you're committing to staying in place, to having those same exact interests or to living in the same space.  When you let go of those items you are giving yourself permission to be flexible and flowing, to grow and change.

So what do you think?  Could you donate some of the things you've been holding onto "just in case?" Do you have any strategies that have worked for you in the past?  

 

Life (Goes On) Without Internet

Image //  via

Image // via

Hello dear readers, Kyle, the other half of NM here.  I’ve been living internet-free for 18 months now and it’s time for a check-in.  Yep, that’s a year and a half without internet at home!  It’s gone by quickly and I must say that the pros strongly outweigh the cons.  There have been moments of falter and frustration, but overall, I am quite happy with the decision and do not think I could go back.

Since beginning this experiment of technological abstinence, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was not terribly difficult.  Leading up to this point, I had started to become more conscientious of my “screen time” and knew that I was more productive and emotionally grounded with less of it.  Was I going to pick up that book I’ve been meaning to read when I had the ability to fall deep into a warm and fuzzy Freaks & Geeks marathon?  I think not.  But now, without entertainment at my fingertips, in my moments of free time I find that I clean, I read, or I write a blog post, like this one.  These are all activities I enjoy and contribute to my overall well-being but I did not always set aside the time to do. 

There are a few reasons I can identify that have made this internet-free pursuit feasible for me: 

1.    I have regular internet access outside of my home: 

For three days each week I work in an office with quick and reliable internet access.  During this time at the office, while I am busy with other work, I still find time to answer emails and basically be “in-touch”. For these three days I am hyper efficient with my online time, because I know that if I do not use it wisely, I will have to find another way to access internet.

Do you have access to internet in your weekly routine?  If so, maybe going internet-free is the right challenge for you.

2.  I use a smart phone: 

If I need to look-up an address or read an email, I can use my phone.  Yes, I guess technically I have access to the World Wide Web.  But it’s not like I’m going to stare at my itty bitty phone for hours on end.  I would say I max out at about 20 minutes of Instagram perusing.   

3.  I have a “third place”: 

If I need to write a lengthy email with hyperlinks sourcing furniture, etc., I will walk the 3.5 blocks to my gym where they have a café with wifi.  This has been my other saving grace.  I have a “third-place” where I can casually pop in and have a concentrated hour of work.  Also what is great about this strategy is that it has the effect of feeling like you are in a foreign country using an internet café.  For some reason it’s like the little timer at the bottom of the screen is counting down fast and so I better finish this task, STAT.  Also, it would be weird if I were just hanging out at the gym cruising Facebook, right?     

Image //  via

Image // via

My moment of falter: 

At one point last winter I noticed that my boyfriend Johnnie was becoming frustrated with the internet runaround.  He is a full-time freelancer and does not have the three-day-a-week internet access that I do.  Feeling guilty for making him internet-less, while concurrently insisting that we stay at my house most nights (geez I’m demanding), I thought, maybe we should have internet.  Still basking in the glory of not paying $80 per month, I approached my neighbor to see if she would be interested in sharing her internet connection.  Being that our building is comprised of all studio apartments, how stringent could her internet demands be? 

Well, apparently this is not a normal thing to ask your neighbor.  She played it off as if she were open to the idea of cutting her bill in half.  But when we parted ways I suppose that she conjured up all the ways in which this seemingly innocuous union could go awry.  Maybe I was planning to download massive amounts of illegal content?  Maybe I would stream action movies day and night, and not only would she hear the intermittent explosions through her wall, but she would also have a slower connection as a result? 

I’m not sure of the reason.  But I do know that after asking twice, and never receiving the log-in information, I decided that Johnnie actually didn’t need internet at my house.  He could find a way around it, right?  And we’ve made it work. 

Try the internet-free life, even for short spurts.

So while there are minor inconveniences of living internet-free, overall it has been Amazing with a capital A.  And I urge you to try it!  You don’t have to cancel your subscription immediately, but try turning off your modem for an entire week, or month.  Convince your partner/children/roommates that it will be a fun experiment and see how it goes.  You might find that it’s not so hard after all.