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?

Recent Press: A Round-Up

Over the past few months, we are thrilled to have been featured in some of our favorite publications. Below we've provided a round-up of all links for easy access.

Thred-Up - The largest online vintage and consignment retailer asked us some interview questions and published the conversation to their blog.  You can find the article here. Bonus - if you'd like to know more about Thred-up and their super interesting process, it has been captured in an article by Fast Company.


Well + Weird - We sat down with Holly Lowery of the Well + Weird podcast to talk about decluttering and how one's space has an impact on well being.  Basically, everything is connected :)  You can link to the podcast on the the Well + Weird website, or access the podcast directly from iTunes.  Note: our conversation starts 12 minutes into the recording.


mindbodygreen - Is a fascinating website that takes an integrated and holistic approach to wellness.  They attest, "there are no 'right' ways to have a wellness journey; just dive in and start exploring." And we couldn't agree more!  We've been contributing writers to mindbodygreen since May.  You can access our articles by searching for Cary Fortin's author page.  And a new article is coming out later this month!

We hope you enjoy!



New Minimalism Workshop at Zendesk


Keeping it "Beautifully Simple"

At the end of September, we presented a workshop to the lovely team at Zendesk, headquartered right here in San Francisco. Their mission–to keep it beautifully simple–inspires us, their Scandinavian aesthetics delight us, and their employees always ask the most thoughtful questions. In short: it was fabulous.

We wanted to share with you, our faithful blog readers, the 5 core New Minimalism principles from our workshop. Before and after illustrate these points, but because some of the images are confidential (you'll have to wait for our book to see those!), we've included only the public photos.   

We hope you enjoy!



In a time when material goods are abundant, we have to increase our standards for what comes into our lives.  It requires stepping outside of certain habitual cycles, like that of gift-giving and impulse shopping.  You can still show your love for the ones around you and still feel stylish even if you replace those habits with a new behavior. 

Action:  The next time you are tempted to buy something you don't really need, take a picture and let it sit for 48 hours.  You will likely find that the impulse of see > want > buy fades away.


We have been programmed to think that more is better -- that having a litany of choices creates a sense of freedom and bolsters creativity.  When in reality, an abundance of choice can lead us to feel overwhelmed and paralyzed.  Barry Schwartz describes this in his book, The Paradox of Choice

Action:  Take the time to automate one decision in your life for an entire week.  We love the example of a work uniform.  Try wearing the same version of an outfit to work all week long - maybe it's black pants and a button down.  Or a simple dress.  Whatever it is, decide at the start of the week and do not stray and experience the freedom that comes from not having to make that decision every morning before work.


Our homes have physical limits of square footage.  Are you asking too much of your space given your square footage?  If your space feel chaotic, asking too much of your space is commonly the culprit.  If your goal for your kitchen is to easily whip up a simple dinner for the family, but your cabinets are crowded with specialty baking dishes and fancy tools, your kitchen is not functioning the way you want it to. 

Action: for each room in your home, designate the #1 activity that takes place there.  Then assess, is that room optimized to support that designated activity? Additional activities can be added to the space as long as they do not detract from the stated #1 activity.


The answer "I'm so busy", to the question "How are you?" is often revered in our culture.  We admire those who cram as much as possible into their days.  And we can't ignore how this over scheduling is reflected in our homes.  Slowing down is a big part of minimalism.  It requires hitting the pause button to take stock of what you want, and how you spend your time in support of your deepest wishes.  If you always say "yes" to invitations, you will likely end up burning out and not having the time to spend taking care of yourself. 

Action:  Pad your calendar with extra time between activities and commitments.  It will allow you to completely wrap up something once it is finished (ie unpacking that bag from your weekend trip), and will allow you to gracefully and thoughtfully enter into the next part of your day.


Our clients often have a hard time describing what type of style they have when it comes to their homes.  We are always surprised to hear this because after working together, and asking several questions, it is clear that they do have preferences and a sense of style.  It comes down to listening to your gut and understanding what makes your heart sing.  If you decorate your home with this heart-singing standard as your guiding light, you will never go wrong. 

Action: Gather up your 5 favorite decor items and place them side by side.  Look at all the items and examine what threads of continuity exist.  What items contrast in an interesting way?  If you live with a partner or roommates, make sure to include them in this activity, so that everyone feels represented in the home.  


We love bringing the message of simplicity, intention, minimalism and mindfulness to innovative groups and organizations. Email hello@newminimalism.com to learn more. 

Lessons From A summer Sublet

All packed up and ready to sublet!

All packed up and ready to sublet!

Hello dearest readers,

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

Here's what I learned:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Ways to Reduce Your Plastic Bag use

Clean and healthy oceans = healthy and clean civilizations.

Clean and healthy oceans = healthy and clean civilizations.

Hi there!

Kyle your environmental advocate here to talk about plastic bags.  

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

Why, exactly are plastic bags so bad?  

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

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

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


3 Ways to Decrease your Dependence on Plastic Bags


1. A canvas tote is your new best friend.  

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


2. Find high-quality alternatives.

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


3. Use paper over plastic.

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

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



Behind the Scenes: A Minimalist's Smart Phone

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

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

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

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

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

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


Here is how you can create your own Minimalist Phone:

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

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

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

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


1: USE your Phone to encourage good habits.

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

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


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

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

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

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


2: Have your iPhone make your bad habits less convenient

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


What does your phone look like?

Do your apps distract you or support you? 

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


5 Benefits from Disconnecting for 5 Days

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

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

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

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

1.  Time to process the past.  

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

2.  More space to imagine for the future.

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

3.  A clarifying of my to-do list.

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

4.  Relief from FOMO.

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

5.  Clear focus on the objectives at hand.

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

Sunny expanses leading into foggy respites.

Sunny expanses leading into foggy respites.

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


Summer Goals: Stop Wasting Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

1) Meal plan. 

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

2) Get creative/be flexible. 

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

3) Find adaptable recipes. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please share!

What is "Waste"?

image // via 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let's all go Scandinavian.

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

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

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

This post originally appeared on mindbodygreen.

A peak inside my post-100 Things Challenge closet.

A peak inside my post-100 Things Challenge closet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's how the challenge panned out:


The Good

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

The Okay

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

The Ugly

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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